quarta-feira, dezembro 08, 2004

Seminário Internacional de Jovens Críticos de teatro (VII)

Apresenta-se hoje a segunda de duas reflexões sobre o contexto teatral na Roménia, da autoria de Oana Bors.

Romanian Theatrical Reality

After 45 years of dictatorship and communist terror, Romania and the Romanian people try to recover and recreate their own existence. In 1989, the year of the revolution, the whole country was a rusted ruin. Manipulated to become, according to the communist ideology, 'new human beings', all Romanians were, in a way, corrupted. Even those who had been trying, within their families or through their own free-will, to keep their moral integrity, were inevitably becoming entangled in the machinery of the regime. The duplicity, the lie that became the supreme law, the need to survive by all means, in conditions of cold, hunger and fear, the aspirations towards personal fulfillment in a world which disregarded all the established criteria in the evaluation of real talent; all these changed the people and the human relationships. This damage can be mended only in a couple of generations, especially because the shock of the West and a violent reception of a different lifestyle cause further alterations.

What is the place of Romanian theatre in this disorder?

Until 1989, theatre had been one of the most important spaces of spiritual resistance. The auditoriums were full. And not for a couple of hours of 'forgetful' entertainment but for 'serious' theatre. It was a place of liberation where people could utter things that otherwise they would have lacked the courage to utter. The way the liberating messages were transmitted from the stage to the audience is one of the inexplicable paradoxes of the totalitarian societies because each performance was submitted to countless censorships. The first one had the text under scrutiny. Romanian or foreign, the text needed the approval of the superior bodies, which were discovering threats in every word, meanings and connotations harmful to the doctrine. It happened, for example, that a certain minister for culture, who was always asking for the publication of poetry in small books for economy of paper (like the biscuits in the package, as she used to say), eliminated from the theatre repertories all of Shakespeare's historical plays, claiming that they were putting too many kings on stage.

The Romanian texts went through dozens of re-shapings, cuttings, changes of meaning, so that in the end not even the author recognized his/her play. Indeed there existed a politically commissioned, opportunist playwriting, but even when this was not the case, the author's self-censoring was always at work translating into the play the lack of courage. Once the text had been approved, the performance came under scrutiny. There were performances in the history of Romanian theatre, which went through radical changes after ten or fifteen ideological previews at different levels of the political system. There were many forbidden performances, when several heads, both 'theatrical' and 'political', rolled into the dust. There were also directors baned from directing. All this servitude made many Romanian creators of theatre use the first opportunity to remain abroad and complete their artistic destiny in other countries. From the most remarkable representatives of a very powerful directorial movement, with the favourable consequences that we feel today, we missed for decades people like Andrei Serban, Radu Penciulescu, Liviu Ciulei, Lucian Pintilie, David Esrig and many others, who not only put on stage exceptional performances but also contributed decisively to the development of the Romanian school of theatre.

December 1989 meant a total change of situation for the theatre as institution and as space for creation. First of all, the political events following the 'revolution' did not fulfill the expectations regarding the 'banishment' of communism and generated extensive disturbances, collisions between those in power and those who were fighting the establishment of a new nomenclature. As a consequence, feeding on 'street performances' and on live events offered by the television, the audience left the theatre and caused a very serious crisis solved only in recent years.
This period was marked not only by a lack of audience but at the same time by a creative void in Romanian dramaturgy. Even if the fear of the Securitate [the secret police] and of repression was paralyzing, the people involved in theatre were sure that every important playwright had hidden somewhere in his/her drawer texts worth producing, texts that reinstate the truth, texts that, after years of politically imposed productions, would be willfully produced by the Romanian directors. However, the drawers were empty, and the directors turned towards those universal texts that were prohibited stage existence during the dictatorship.

The playwrights started writing about reality again but, in my opinion, no important play related to this reality has been written in the past decade. Now we have many new plays, too many perhaps. Playwriting is encouraged by contests and awards. Young playwrights express their despairs, anxieties and beliefs but both new and established playwrights can hardly find directors to put their plays on stage. The reticence of the directors and of the theatres, the unfulfilled texts bring about a lack in the production of Romanian plays which is a sad situation in a theatrically rich society.

Immediately after 1989, there were some attempts to found some independent theatre companies. Some of them toured the country with established successes but unfortunately without much interest from the part of the audience. Others worked hard to gather the money necessary for new productions but resisted only two or three years with huge sacrifices and losses. But what was the situation with the institutionalized theatres? In 1990, when the art critic Andrei Plesu, an important intellectual harassed by the Securitate during the Ceausescu regime, was appointed the new Minster for Culture, he invited all the important Romanian artists and intellectuals to come back to the country. Between the first ones to arrive was Andrei Serban who was readily appointed director of the National Theatre in Bucharest and who tried to change radically this mammoth institution with then over 1000 employees.

After the Minister for Culture was replaced and the old political power reinstated, Andrei Serban was forced to resign in spite of the fact that the National Theatre had a new face and many important productions were luring the audience back into the auditorium. Moreover, between 1990 and 1996, the main obsession of those in power was to replace the valuable people holding important positions after the revolution, with their political clientele. As the majority of the theatres (over 40 allover the country) were all depending on the Ministry for Culture, the 'replacing' operation was extensive and disturbed the activity of these institutions. The Romanian theatres are repertory theatres and as such, every artistic director has to or should have a programme. The changes caused disturbance in the usual working process. From the artistic directors appointed by Andrei Plesu, only one continues to hold his position. Namely Gabor Tompa, a director who leads the Hungarian National Theatre in Cluj-Napoca, where he managed to put together a valuable company involved in a coherent programme, ranking the theatre between the most valuable in Romania.

His theatre toured Europe with various productions, being overtaken in number of productions and success only by the National Theatre in Craiova, where the artistic director in the '90s, Emil Boroghina, toured with Silviu Purcarete's productions from Australia to Canada. Moreover, the talented director Silviu Purcarete left the theatre in Craiova only to take over the Dramatic Centre in Limoges where he founded a theatre academy and is now having his own company in France. The most notable damages left over in the theatre by the communist structure are the unlimited contract offered to the actors and the wage increases based on age and not on value. For five decades, the actor who interpreted almost all the main roles in the plays from the repertory and acted night by night, had the same wages as the super. Moreover, a very serious lack of discipline was needed for somebody to be sacked from a theatre. In 1996, Ion Caramitru, the new Minister for Culture, tried, first of all, to reform the organizational system.

He did not want to impose a reform not agreed upon by professionals of theatre and decided to organize a referendum, unfortunately with negative results. In periods of transition and implicitly of poverty, the reduction of the company to the essential number would have left unemployed a huge amount of people and, as the unemployment law was vaguely regulated, the Minister (himself an actor) would have left his fellow actors on the streets, decision which he could not take. The years passed and from the lumber of the companies many people retired and young actors were employed with limited contracts. Thus, the number of employees at the National Theatre in Bucharest was reduced from 1000 to only 400. Certainly, the big actors who are retired are still employed with a contract for a part when is required.

As time passed, there appeared independent, alternative companies, most of them initiated by women and led by a director or an actress. Such a company is usually formed for only one performance of a preferably contemporary, international play or of a play written by a young Romanian playwright or even by members of the company and attracts especially a young audience. An underground, indy movement has been well shaped during the last couple of years, sometimes linked to institutional theatres (like 'Ariel' in Târgu Mures) or clubs, cafés, unconventional spaces (often used by well established directors as well).

From the independent and reforming companies, the only one stable and successful with all categories of audience is the ACT Theatre, founded and directed by the great Romanian actor Marcel Iures, which, through sponsorships and personal financial efforts, manages to survive. The theatre has personal performances but its unusual stage space (a transformed basement) is used to host performances directed by young directors, actors, readings from contemporary Romanian and international plays. A cycle of readings from contemporary German plays resulted in the staging of some of the plays at the ACT Theatre or at other institutional theatres. Similar enterprises can be found in Oradea, for example (a Hungarian company).

The Romanian theatre benefited in the 20th century from some exceptionally talented directors. Starting with the period between the two World Wars, the director gained, step by step, the supreme position in theatres and today the repertories of the theatres are constructed according to the programmes and proposals of the directors, some of them proving that in the hands of an ordinary director even the best Shakespearean play can be a failure. In general, our most talented directors are employed by a theatre, but they direct anywhere if the company suits their demands and some of them are even invited to direct abroad, as those who live abroad often return to Romania for an important staging. In this theatrical season we had the opportunity to see plays directed by Silviu Purcarete, Petrica Ionescu,Lucian Giurchescu, etc. Besides Andrei Serban, a favourable presence through talent, precision, imagination and commitment was that of the director Vlad Mugur (who lives in Munich) and who directed some event-performances at the National Theatre in Cluj, at the Hungarian Theatre in the same city (5 performances), at the National Theatre in Craiova or at the Odeon and Nottara in Bucharest.

For the last three years, the theatres are full again, 80% of the audience being young people. The older generation, faithful audience during the communist regime, struggles with financial problems, with the adaptation to a new society and rarely goes to the theatre. The fact that the tickets got more expensive (they are still very cheap compared to the Western prices) represents another hindrance. There is a category of audience going to the theatre to watch great or well known actors and another going to see the event-performances staged by established directors. The alternative, independent companies have their own, young audience. Moreover, the texts used by these companies tackle with the problems of the new generation from our country and from all over the world. Thus, a play written between the Two World Wars, staged traditionally but with great actors filled theatres with over 1000 seats, and, at the same time, a Hamlet staged by Vlad Mugur and contradicting all conservative stagings enjoyed the same success. The theatrical offer being varied, every production finds its audience. Certainly there are theatres whose existence is not justified because of the lack of inventiveness and audience. But, because our transition towards a normal society does not know energetic measures, the closing of such theatres is not decided on the grounds of power policy.

When the mining, the metallurgical and the iron-and-steel industries use the budget money without any profit, it is hard for me, as a journalist involved in the theatrical life, to argue for the closing of a theatre with 30-40 employees. Thus, they live how they can, surviving from one day to another.

OANA BORS graduou-se pela Universidade Nacional de Teatro e Cinema em Teoria do Drama. Foi membro da direcção do The National Theatre Festival durante três edições (2000/2004). É editora da revista "Theatre today" e dramaturgista no Teatro "Nottara", em Bucareste.

Contactos de teatro na Roménia.

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