World Theatre Day was an unexpected but great success for the International Theatre Institute (ITI). In 1961, the 9th World Congress of the ITI adopted the Finnish ITI’s proposal and declared the annual opening day of the Theatre of Nations Festival in Paris, March 27th, as World Theatre Day, celebrated this year for the 59th time. Each year, the ITI commissioned known theatre personalities to write a message about the importance of the theatrical art in its social context, whether critical or optimistic. This now long list of writers includes famous theatre artists such as Jean Cocteau, Arthur Miller, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook, Dimitri Chostakovitch, Luchino Visconti, Pablo Neruda, Ellen Stewart and Wole Soyinka. (A collection of all authors and all messages can be found here)
In my research into the work of the former GDR Centre of the ITI (undertaken within the framework of the ERC project Developing Theatre), I coincidentally discovered in the files of the Ministry of Culture such a message by the East German playwright Heiner Müller that had never been used for its intended purpose.
World Theatre Day was widely celebrated in the GDR as well, driven by the efforts of the very active East German ITI Centre. However, because of the huge cultural and political significance asigned to the theatre in the GDR, getting the international messages published often proved difficult. Many of them, although hopeful of the theatre’s ability to transcend borders and make the world a better place, were considered “not suitable for us” because they were either written by the wrong people or expressed artistic views incompatible with GDR cultural policy. The solution was often to ignore the international message altogether and to distribute a separate national message written by an East German artist, which placed the same political expectations on the theatre as the state and the party did.
In 1975, to replace the international message ofEllen Stewart, Heiner Müller was chosen as the author of a national message. Müller had been a controversial figure in East German theatre life. In the 1960s he was repeatedly caught in the crosshairs of the SED, some of his plays were banned in the GDR and he was at times prohibited from working. While his plays were performed and published abroad, his rehabilitation in the GDR was slow. Despite the active support of his theatre colleagues, he was still regarded with suspicion by the state censorship authorities. For this very reason, I found it remarkable that Müller was commissioned to address the theatres of the GDR in a message.
This was the text that Müller submitted to the East German ITI Centre:
“A Buddhist legend tells of a woman who was elevated to the gods. But on the threshold of nirvana, she heard the cry of the world and turned back to mankind. Since sacrifice has become tragedy and orgy has become comedy, theatre has come to this threshold from time to time. These are the times when there is talk of crisis. When it crosses the threshold in the wrong direction, it gives up the condition of its existence. Humanity can live without the theatre, with imperialism it can no longer. Its problems are such that they can only be solved together, and not together. Not with war and not without violence. What can theatre do in the world of hunger and wars that needs to be changed? It does not satisfy hunger, heal wounds or raise the dead. But its illusory world is the semblance of a world without hunger, war and privilege. To all who work on this only possible future, our greetings on World Theatre Day 1975.”
But as with many of Müller’s plays, the assessment of this text in the East German Ministry of Culture was negative. “This is not the message we want” (in the German original “So geht das nicht”) is the opinion shared by the ministry officials in a handwritten comment underneath.
At short notice, it was decided instead to ask the actor Wolfgang Heinz to write an alternative message. Heinz wrote about his friend and fellow actor Hans Otto, who, as a member of the communist party, had been abducted and murdered by the Nazis in 1933. This personal starting point was quickly undercut by the obligation to be ideologically clear and affirmative. Thus, the text asked the East German reader to realise “30 years after the victory over the fascist murderers” that “in the GDR we created and are developing a state in which arts of a pure, truthful and useful kind have their home for good reason.”
Heiner Müller’s text remained in the drawer. In many ways his critical reflections on the world-changing potential of theatre were much more akin to the international messages that the ITI headquarters distributed for World Theatre Day. Like these and like many of his plays, however, it was dismissed as unsuitable for East German audiences and thus not published.
 GDR Centre of ITI. 1973. Protokoll Direktoriumssitzung 14.4.1973. Direktorium DDR 1971-1974. Archive of ITI Deutschland. p.3 [translation mine, RS]
 Heiner Müller. 1975. Botschaft zum Welttag des Theaters 1975. BArch DR1/13620 [translation mine, RS]
 Wolfgang Heinz. 1975. Botschaft zum Welttag des Theaters 1975. BArch DR1/13620 [translation mine, RS]
About the author
Rebecca Sturm (M.A.) is a PhD student of the ERC project Developing Theatre at LMU Munich. In her dissertation, she focusses on the international efforts of the East and West German centres of the International Theatre Institute during the Cold War.
In my functions as Co-Director of the Centre for Global Theatre History and senior researcher of the ERC project Developing Theatre, I interviewed Viviana about her work and her experiences of doing research away from home in times of Covid. The interview is also the first of a series of conversations of the GTH Centre that will be the core of a Global Theatre History Podcast we are currently working on and which will be launched soon.
Nic Leonhardt (NL): Viviana, you came to LMU on a fellowship by the Humboldt Foundation and are currently a fellow of the ERC project Developing Theatre and the Centre for Global Theatre History. What exactly are you working on? And to what extent can our projects here be good biotopes for your work?
Viviana Iacob (VI): I am currently working on the history of international organizations such as the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and their impact on Eastern European theatre practice during the Cold War. My research expands on previous contributions I made to several projects that dealt with East-West cultural and expertise entanglements prior to my Humboldt fellowship. However, the ERC initiative that you and Christopher Balme are developing at LMU inspired me to broaden my focus to theatre connections between Eastern Europe and the Global South. I believe that this topic is still in its infancy in the contemporary scholarship, which, unfortunately, deprives us as historians of a fascinating set of trans-regional experiences central to socialist states’ cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. The ERC project also influenced my theoretical and methodological approach, especially in terms of emphasising the role of international organizations as central actors that structure theatre exchanges and debates.
NL: Your epistemological ‘hobbyhorses’ seem to be the Cold War and internationalisation. Do you (still) know how and when your interest in these topics developed?
VI: Interest in the Cold War started with my PhD research. I analyzed Shakespeare stage adaptations during the first two decades of the communist regime in Romania. I discovered that Shakespeare’s theatre functioned not only as a conduit for showcasing the Soviet experience on the local stage but also as a door to East-West conversations and circulations. This work along with the discovery of a plethora of primary sources (such as those left behind by friendship societies with either socialist or Western countries) made me realize that past narratives about Romanian (or Eastern European) theatre communities as isolated or Sovietized obstructed my and other theatre historians’ understanding of the Cold War period. As I progressed with my dissertation I uncovered more avenues or corridors for international circulations pursued at the time by Romanian (and Eastern European) theatre practitioners. This was a turning point: it led me to understand the pivotal role played by international organizations in the cultural diplomacy of socialist state regimes.
NL: What I like so much and admire about your publications is that they are incredibly well-informed and detailed, and that they contain a wealth of archival sources. How is your archival work structured? Are there differences between the work in archives in Romania and those in German-speaking countries? Which ones do you consult the most?
VI: I start from the premise that archival work on Eastern European theatre history requires the ability to change gears. I seek to alternate between different scales so that I can identify the overlapping layers of theatre circulations and productions in international context. Simply put, I search for sources that reflect both the local and the global. I’d argue that there are three intersecting sets of material that constitute the foundation for such an approach. First, there are archival collections amassed by both party and state institutions or local private collections. They usually provide unilateral perceptions: of officials, of practitioners ‘talking socialist’, or personal experiences. Second, at a regional level, I place this information in comparative contexts, as I seek information about interactions between Eastern European states. Third, these two levels are counterbalanced with archival collections of international organizations. In my experience, the latter are by far the most arduous to work with since more often than not they have yet to be catalogued.
To answer your second query, I would say that the difference between German and Romanian archives is first and foremost one of access. In Eastern Europe one must first discover where one might find a particular document or collection. After 1989, a restructuring of collections pertaining to the communist period took place and archives were destroyed, moved, merged or transferred from institution to institution. Finding them is an adventure in itself. One must also add that, in Romania, even if you find a useful file, let’s say in the historical archive of the Ministry of Culture, it might still be classified, which makes it impossible for you to see it. For several archival holdings, the process of access is at snail pace, if at all. In contrast, I find that German or French institutions that hold similar archives (I have worked with the latter extensively in the past few years) are sometimes just an email away.
NL: In the ERC project, “development”, cultural policy and expert networks after 1945 are important keywords and research fields. Can you give examples from your research in which they play a role? How do you approach them?
VI: I see my contribution to the ERC project as bringing a third dimension, an Eastern European focus to its North-South alignment. I look at socialist theatre experts and their participation in the Cold War epistemic community. The Eastern European input to building global theatre networks stands on a par with that of the West. The West and the East were equally invested in the decolonized Global South during the Cold War. For example, Eastern Europeans built expert exchanges or full-fledged training programs designed for students from the Global South via bilateral relations or progressive networks.
Although there is an increasing volume of literature on the issue of cultural exchanges between the Global East and the Global South, the scholarship on the role played by theatre and the performing arts in these dynamics is yet to fully take off. The scholarship that has been produced in this direction mostly comes from your department: publications such as Theatre, Globalization and the Cold Warand the ERC project you mentioned earlier.
NL: What are the biggest challenges you face in your research?
VI: As I pointed out earlier, access to certain archival collections but also the fact that all the archival material that I research is yet to be digitised. Of course such a process entails first cataloguing the material and as I mentioned, this is still an issue with some collections I have been looking at. I am very grateful to the archivists and custodians that helped me navigate this material or allowed me to study it even though it was not catalogued or was in the process of being archived. This is the case of the ITI archives in Paris, Budapest and Berlin. I do have to say that there is some exhilaration in discovering that very few people, if any before you, have worked on such archives.
NL: A major challenge, I suppose, is the Covid19 situation and its tangible impact on our everyday lives, cultural life and scholarly work. You were in Munich before the Corona crisis became acute. How did it affect your fellowship? Is there a before and an after?
VI: Since my research is premised on “going there” the pandemic has of course affected the way I currently work. The fact that I established a connection with some collection holders prior to the pandemic has helped immensely. The bright side to these difficulties, if any, is that the present situation has drawn my attention to an area of my research that has taken second place until now: the editorial projects of the international organisations that I am studying. The German library system is extremely rich in this respect. The consolidation of library holdings from East and West after the Cold War means that today in Germany one can find Eastern European publications that can seldom be found elsewhere.
NL: From your point of view: How “global” is Romanian theatre?
VI: Romanian theatre is not exceptional but rather typical for the period. I do not think that Romanian theatre or Romanian theatre practitioners were more visible than other Eastern Europeans during the Cold War. On the contrary, Romanian theatre was as global as Bulgarian theatre was. Romanian puppeteers helped set up the Puppet Theatre in Cairo while Bulgarian architects built the National Theatre in Lagos. The visibility of personalities such as Jerzy Grotowski, Radu Beligan or Friz Benewitz during the Cold War was very much the outcome of successful cultural diplomacies of individual socialist states and of the growing role of Eastern Europe in international organisations such as ITI. This movement towards globalization was of course about exporting a socialist civilizational blueprint, but one must not forget that each Eastern European country had its own characteristics and international trajectories informed by domestic specificities and traditions.
NL: Is theatre / theatre history global at all?
VI: I think it can be and recently published work suggests that it should be. As historians we must take on the challenge in order to circumvent methodological nationalism and Eurocentrism. Connecting performativity to trans-regional circulations is, as you and Christopher Balme have argued, bound to bring invigorating richness to theatre studies. Such an approach simultaneously extends and deepens our understanding of local theatre contexts.
NL: What is theatre research/ theatre studies like in Romania?
VI: Romanian theatre studies have been slow in embracing archival sources and international perspectives. In part this has much to do with the difficulties of access to archival resources pertaining to the performing arts. In order to be studied, relevant material must first be discovered. Until very recently, the exploration of cultural policies during the Cold War, performing arts included, had remained the purview of historians of the communist period, who made most progress in accessing the various archival holdings from the state socialist period. Histories of theatre after 1945 have seldom engaged with comparative work. Almost no attention has been granted to trajectories of internationalization. However, considering the global turn in Cold War studies and the growing research on the role of Eastern Europe in international organisations, I believe that this state of things will soon change. One recent initiative that has done much in this respect is the Institute of the Present. This is a research and artist resource platform that tackles the recent history of the visual and performing arts from a transnational perspective, while also encouraging its contributors to explore available public or private archives.
NL: When you talk about your work, your eyes sparkle; your enthusiasm is contagious. Is there anything that fascinates you outside the desk?
I think travelling and exposure to foreign cultures would constitute my “other” interest. There is a level of performativity entailed by that experience that is addictive. This fascination has been of course curtailed by the pandemic. However, I have always brought back tastes, smells and experiences from my travels. During lockdowns I have been going back to them to cope with Covid-driven relative confinement.
NL: What do you recommend to junior researchers and your students?
VI: My advice would be to find an area of study that is relevant for you both on a professional and personal level. I do not think passion for knowledge or opportunity suffices for a career in the academia. Research interest must be both a professional and a personal choice. Of course that entails adaptability and resourcefulness since one must find and fund one’s research.
NL: Where will you go after your time in Munich?
VI: My answer is premised on the impact of the pandemic on future research and job opportunities. The academic market was competitive before, but the pandemic has exacerbated that situation. That being said, at this point it is rather difficult to say what my future will look like after my Humboldt fellowship ends in 2022.
NL: Thank you very much for the interview! And good luck for your future research. We are glad to have you here.
From 23–25 July, the ERC project Developing Theatre will hold its first international conference at the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung. International scholars of disciplines such as international relations, art studies, performance studies, and history as well as representatives of foundations and museums will gather in Munich for discussing Philanthropy, Development and the Arts: Histories and Theories.
Keynote Lectures (open to the public, registration mandatory):
Monday, 23 July, 6pm: Volker Berghahn (Columbia University New York): American Foundations, the Arts, and High Politics, 1898-2018
Tuesday, 24 July, 11am: Inderjeet Parmar (London): Foundations of the US-led Liberal International Order: From the ‘Rise to Globalism’ to ‘America First’
Registration: We cordially welcome external guests to attend the conference and/ or the keynote lectures. Please note: registration is mandatory due to the house rules of the Siemens Stiftung. If you would like to register, please send an e-mail indicating your name, e-mail address, affiliation, and if you would like to register for the entire conference and/ or the keynote lectures, to project assistant Gwendolin Lehnerer (MA): firstname.lastname@example.org
From 23-25 July, 2018, our ERC funded project Developing Theatre will be hosting its first international conference with a special focus on Philanthropy, Development and the Arts: Histories and Theories. At the conference, we seek to interrogate the impact of philanthropy on the field of arts – visual arts, theatre, music, dance, opera, drama education, etc. – between the 19th and 21st centuries. The conference aims at discussing the work, impact, successes and failures of private and corporate philanthropy and NGOs, including semi-statist organizations such as the Goethe Institut, or the British Council, from the perspectives of history, cultural history, political sciences, art and theatre history.
We are looking for paper proposals addressing the following aspects:
Shifting discourses of philanthropy in respect to arts and cultural funding
Philanthropic and NGO initiatives in the arts in countries such as Africa, India, Chile, etc.
From colonialism to philanthropy: the de/re-colonization of cultural aid
Philanthropy vs./ the state: how non-governmental can non-governmental organizations be?
Case studies on the private funding of arts and artists with a special focus on development
Case studies on field officers, representatives and ‘arts experts’ in charge of philanthropic foundations and NGOs
Soft power: arts philanthropy and cultural diplomacy
Other related topics will also be considered.
The complete call for papers can be downloaded here.
The first workshop of the ERC project Developing Theatre is taking place in New Delhi. Organized by Gautam Chakrabarti, PostDoc of the research group, this workshop brings together theatre, art and media scholars and practitioners from India and Europe at the beautiful India International Centre, New Delhi (29-30 September, 2017).
Post-independence India was one of the key sites where the “cultural Cold War” was fought–more often than not– with as much gusto and ruthlessness as its ideological and military counterparts. Theatre was one of the core areas in which this cultural conflict was played out between the 1950s and 1980s, with almost all the major players, both individual and collective or institutional, in contemporary Indian theatre having gone through the ’rite de tomorrow passage’ of ideological training. Academic exploration of these political contestations and problematisations of cultural practices, especially in the Indian context, have opened up larger horizons of possible enquiry. This workshop seeks to bring practitioners, scholars and witnesses of this fascinating history into dialogue with one another.
Participants: V. Akshara (NINASAM, Heggudu) – Christopher Balme (LMU Munich; PI ERC-Project „Developing Theatre“) – Trina N. Banerjee (Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta) – Gautam Chakrabarti (LMU Munich, ERC-Project „Developing Theatre“ – Dwaipayan Chowdhury (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi) – Anirban Ghosh (Jadavpur University, Calcutta) – Rakshanda Jalil (Writer, Critic and Literary Historian, Delhi) – Minakshi Kaushik (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi) – Malashri Lal (Convener, English Advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi, Delhi) – Nic Leonhardt (LMU Munich, Associate Director, ERC-Project „Developing Theatre“) – Raghunandana Sathamarshana (Poet, Playwright and Stage-Director, Bengaluru) – Tripurari Sharma (National School of Drama, Delhi) – Vani Tripathi-Tikoo (Member, Central Board of Film Certification, Delhi) –Atul Tiwari (Theatre-, Media- and Film-Practitioner, Independent Scholar, Mumbai)
The workshop is internal. The programme can be downloaded here.
Since 1957, the year of founding of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR), theatre scholars and IFTR members from all parts of the world (in fact from 44 different countries!) meet for their annual conference.
Both the conference theme and the location vary from year to year. The IFTR 2017 conference has a focus on Unstable Geographies: Multiple Theatricalities, and will be hosted by the University of São Paulo, Brazil.
Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945 reads the title of our new ERC funded research project under the umbrella of the Centre for Global Theatre History.
On Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 12 (s.t.)-2pm the project’s leaders and researchers will introduce to the agenda of Developing Theatre at the Institute of Theatre Studies, Georgenstrasse 11, 80799 Munich, room #109.
This new research project, sponsored by the European Research Council, proposes a fundamental re-examination of the historiography of theatre in emerging countries after 1945. It investigates the institutional factors that led to the emergence of professional theatre in the post-war period throughout the decolonizing world. The particular focus will be on the massive involvement of internationally coordinated ‘development’ and ‘modernization’ programs both East and West. The project will introduce the concepts of epistemic community, expert networks and techno-politics to theatre historical research as a means to historicize theatre within transnational and transcultural paradigms and examine its imbrication in globalization processes.
With contributions by Christopher Balme (PI), Nic Leonhardt (Associate Director & Senior Researcher), Gautam Chakrabarti (PostDoc), Rebecca Sturm (PhD candidate).
The Department of History at Heidelberg University has invited Christopher Balme to speak about his new ERC project Developing Theatre as part of the department’s lecture series on Global History.
The lecture entitled Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945 will take place on Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 6pm. (Historisches Seminar, Grabengasse 3-5, Hörsaal, Heidelberg).
The new ERC project started recently at LMU Munich. For the next 5 years, an international team of researchers will be working on strategies and politics of developing theatre after the World War II. More on this new avenue of writing Global Theatre Histories will be published shortly!