Scenes of Cold War Diplomacy: Romania and the International Theatre Institute, 1956-1969

by Viviana Iacob

at the Institute of Theatre Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München, 25 October, 2017.

Viviana Iacob maps Romania’s involvement with the International Theatre Institute during its first decade of membership. The argument revolves around a number of East –West convergence high points such as the 1959 Helsinki Congress or the 1964 Bucharest Symposium. It analyzes the connections developed by Romanian theatre specialists within the framework provided by I.T.I., the specialized networks they helped create and the domestic impact of these interactions. The article examines the multifaceted Romanian involvement with these projects in national and international context. It begins in 1956, Romania’s first participation at the Dramatic Art Festival in Paris, the forerunner of I.T.I.’s Theatre of Nations Festival. It closes the arc of the story with the 1969 international symposium on training young theatre directors. The article shows that soon after joining I.T.I. ranks, Romanian theatre artist were propelled into the international limelight and were recognized by their Western peers as their equals. It advances the idea that East European theatre practitioners had a role in shaping their respective community of knowledge as much as their Western counterparts did.

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Caragiale in Calcutta: Romania-India cultural relations during the Cold War

by Viviana Iacob

at Spectrum of CommunismSymposium at Blinken OSA, Budapest, 16-17 November, 2017.

In 1969 two plays by Romanian playwright I. L. Caragiale opened in Calcutta: A Stormy Night and A Lost Letter. Both were adapted to Bengali by translator Amita Ray and produced by the group Panchamitram. Ray, a long time correspondent of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad (she visited Romania for the first time in 1959) sent clippings from the Bengali papers attesting to her excellent adaptations skills and the overall success of the two productions. The choice of plays was not haphazard. Unusual as they might seem they were in fact the spear head of a cultural diplomacy program that had the XIX century writer at its epicentre. In terms of exporting Romanian socialist culture to the world, Caragiale had quite the career during the communist period. For example, by 1969 The Lost Letter was produced by 9 different companies around the world and besides opening in Calcutta in 1969, it also premiered in Haifa.

Romania’s branching out initiative to the Global South took cue from the Soviet Union.  In the late 50s, information on India was filtered through soviet journals while cultural exchanges were carried out with the support of the Institute for Cultural Relations Abroad and the Friendship Societies it managed. By 1962 four such organizations were founded in India:  New Delhi, Kanpur (1958), Jaipur and Ajmer (1962). Even though they dissolved in later years, a result of the political turmoil that India was going through in the early 60s, the connections that they helped establish were used to carry further bilateral cultural activities. For example, Amita Ray’s second visit to Romania in 1967 coincided with prime minister Indira Gandhi’s and the 1969 performances in Calcutta, also prompted by Ray, preceded Nicolae Ceausescu and Gheorghe Maurer’s visit to India the same year.

Establishing a viable connection with the Global South was an arduous task. Geographical and cultural distance made finding a conversation baseline quite difficult. Furthermore, the cultural plan that Romania devised for the West, at least with respect to theatre, was also proposed to India and it took the sheer dedication of internationalists such as Amita Ray to ensure its success. The paper will outline strategies employed by the Romanian state in its attempt to expand to the global south by taking theatre exchanges with India as a case study.

Friendship Societies and Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War: The Romanian – Japanese Case

by Viviana Iacob

at the international conference Japan: Premodern, Modern, and ContemporaryBucharest, 4-6 September, 2017.

Abstract

Friendship societies with western countries had a seminal role in pre-Détente Cold War cultural diplomacy. In the absence of diplomatic relations, these associations initiated the first contact with the West and paved the way to blooming cultural exchanges during the Détente (from mid-sixties onward). Their activity was unidirectional in the early fifties, as it entailed the circulation of publications and the organization of events with a rather reduced impact such as exhibitions or conferences. Nevertheless, their main role was to gather contacts and enlarge the network of individuals that could better serve the dissemination of a socialist country’s culture beyond the Iron Curtain divide in the late fifties and early sixties. My paper will discuss the work carried out by the Japan –Romania Friendship Association (JRFA) founded in 1955 by a group of Japanese fellow travelers. By focusing on the cultural exports that were characteristic to this association in the larger context of East –West cultural relations between 1955 and 1965, I intend to underline what type of cultural heritage was favored by Romanian cultural officials in exchanges outside the socialist camp. My paper reveals a new genealogy to the internationalization of a Southeast European culture during the Cold War. It points to specific institutionalizations of encounters that constituted the basis for later transnational circulations of ideas and people from Southeast Europe to multiple corners of the globe. 

Exporting Socialist Theatre to the World: A Romanian Case Study

by Viviana Iacob at the IFTR Conference 2017Unstable Geographies, Multiple Theatricalities, Universidade de São Paulo, 10-14 July, 2017.

In 1961 The Lost Letter, a play by Romanian classic Ion Luca Caragiale opened in Tokyo. This was the height of Cold War, thus making connections between a socialist country and Imperial Japan an interesting case in trans-ideological spatiality and performance. The event was not an isolated one. This play held a center role in the Romanian socialist cultural policy program which internationalized itself through theatre.  Its production history outside the Iron Curtain begins in 1955 and by 1962 the play was performed by theatre troupes and companies in Finland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Japan.

The 1962 Caragiale celebration is in fact the end point of a theatre diplomacy project that started in the early 1950s and entailed translating The Lost Letter in 15 languages, touring with it and staging it in 12 countries.

The production history of this play beyond national borders shows a network of people that strived for cross-cultural communication even when there were no official diplomatic ties to speak of. It reveals the difficulties entailed by the process of exporting a socialist cultural product and by extension of a different understanding of theatricality to dissimilar cultural milieus.

The paper focuses on the routes and connections found by Romanian cultural officials and theatre artists into different national contexts and the instruments they used in order to promote the idea of Romanian theatre as the expression of a socialist culture worldwide.

 

Theatricality and Socialist Realism in Romanian Theatre, 1946-1963

by Viviana Iacob

Originally published in Romanian > “Teatralitate şi realism socialist în teatrul românesc, 1946-1963”,  Studii şi Materiale de Istorie Contemporană, vol. 15/2016.

The article aims to show that when theatricality resurfaced in Romanian theatre debates after 1956, it did not replace the tenets of socialist realism altogether. It was rather a catalyst for the later to evolve into a more sustainable ideological construct in the context of de-Stalinization. The years after Stalin’s death produce in Eastern Europe tremendous changes culminating with the explosive ideological situation of 1956. At a cultural level, these changes unleashed important transformations without displacing however the socialist bedrock. The interwar debates dedicated to the burgeoning issue of theatricality and the western theatre tradition were still filtered through aesthetic coordinates that were put in place during the Stalinist period. The article focuses on debates generated around specific performances which premiered between 1946 and 1963. These events reshaped the socialist realist aesthetic by way of theatricality resulting in a reciprocally corrosive relationship in the following years. The article concludes that the recalibration of the socialist realist formula amounted to a selective process of appropriation that was done both laterally and diachronically. This approach engendered a new form of theatricality. Not a replacement of old socialist realist theatre aestetic but its refashioning.

Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy During the Cold War (1955–1964)

by Viviana Iacob, in Revista istorică, tom XXVI, 2015, nr. 3–4.

The article argues that events such as the visit of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Bucharest and the Romanian delegation at Stratford in 1964 were not singular and momentous achievements of détente cultural diplomacy. They were the most visible results of an exchange program with Great Britain that began in earnest in the mid-1950s. With the start of Khrushchev’s détente in Europe, the countries behind the Iron Curtain capitalized on points of contact that would speed up the cultural rapprochement. Consequently, when it came to engaging with a Western theatre tradition such as the UK’s, Shakespeare was always the starting point for transnational exchanges. From the mid-fifties onward, Romanian theatre practitioners and Shakespeare scholars pursued such interactions not only as a means to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also as a medium for mutual cultural transfers with tremendous impact by the 1960s.

Scenes of Cold War Diplomacy: Romania and the International Theatre Institute, 1959-1964

by Viviana Iacob

at New Europe College, Bucharest,  9 November, 2016.

The presentation focused on mapping the history of the International Theatre Institute and its impact on Romanian cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. The narrative revolved around two main events while also fleshing out their prehistory as it was relevant to Romania’s involvement with I.T.I. between 1959 and 1964.

The first was the participation at the 8th I.T.I. Congress in Helsinki in 1959. Romania’s I.T.I. membership was presented on the background of previous interactions between theatre practitioners and policy makers with I.T.I. – e.g., the participation at the Third Festival of Dramatic Art in Paris in 1956, the forerunner of the Theatre of Nations Festival.

The second was the 1964 Bucharest symposium on the professional training of the actor, the first I.T.I. event organized in Romania.  The members of 24 I.T.I. centres around the world discussed approaches on improvisation exemplified by Romanian, American and Italian students. The symposium proved the willingness of theatre practitioners to achieve a common ground for consolidating the transfer of knowledge through the Iron Curtain.

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