The (International) Theatre Festival
Held in Piatra Neamț since 1969
Thirty editions in half a century
The idea of founding the first theatre festival for young people in Romania was born fifty years ago, in October 1968, in the Theatre of Youth bus somewhere between Bucharest and Piatra Neamţ, on the way back from the Venice Biennale. In a period in which it was rare enough for Romanian theatre companies to take part in international festivals at all, the Theatre of Youth had participated with two productions, both directed by Ion Cojar, in the Festival of Prose Theatre within the Biennale: Vrăjitorul din Oz (The Wizard of Oz) by Eduard Covali and Paul Findrihan and Afară-i vopsit gardul, înăuntru-i leopardul (Outside the fence is painted, inside is the leopard) by Alecu Popovici (which was awarded the Grand Prize for the best production of the Festival). Even if the Piatra Neamţ Festival was not international from the start in terms of its selection, the context of ‘ideological relaxation’ in which it emerged raised hopes that an opening towards dialogue with the European theatre of the time would be possible and beneficial. On 24 June 1969, the first edition of the Festival of Theatre Productions for Children and Young People opened under the management of Ion Coman, a managing director who is a legendary figure in the story of the institution and in the world of Romanian theatre as a whole. It was Ion Coman, Eduard Covali, Paul Findrihan, and Gheorghe Bunghez who together thought out and set down on paper the initial plan and established the directions around which the concept of this biennial cultural event was to take shape: originality, nonconformism, directoral experiment, educating young audiences, and dialogue among theatre professionals.
The foreword of the programme booklet of the first edition was written by Gheorge Bunghez, who was later himself managing director of the Theatre of Youth, between 1980 and 1986: ‘At Piatra Neamţ and nowhere else, at the Theatre of Youth and nowhere else, with productions for young people and children (if indeed there productions that are that alone), with a well established aim or several aims, expressed in writing or verbally, or as yet unexpressed, a suite of productions, of very good productions, exchanges of ideas, a confrontation of opinions, this we think the Festival should be, and we belive, we sincerely believe that it will be. In fact, much has been thought and we will be happy if even more can be achieved. The present edition, and the more so those to come, will demonstrate the strength of our conviction.’
Gheorghe Bunghez is also the author of Teatrul Tineretului. Între Dragonul și Piațeta (1980–1986) (The Theatre of Youth: Between the Dragon and the Piazzeta (1980–1986)), a volume that documents that life of the Theatre from its beginnings to 2010, the year in which the book was published.
The effervescence of the thinking of the creators of this festival can be traced in the materials that survive in the archives (programme booklets, the festival magazine, the themes of the seminar that accompanied the festival), in the recollections of theatre artists, some then at the start of their careers while others were at the height of their creative powers, and in the affective memory of a public formed in this atmosphere of a veritable laboratory of artistic creation.
For objective reasons, no foreign companies were invited to the first seven editions of the Festival, but nevertheless, already in 1969, together with Romanian professionals, theatre personalities from France, the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Greece, and other countries participated as invited guests in the Festival and the seminar.
According to materials found in the archives and reminiscences written down after 1990, the first five editions of the Festival were held every two years, in ‘relatively normal’ conditions, but the next two editions took place at intervals of four years. After Ion Coman left the Theatre of Youth, the editions of 1971, 1973, and 1975 were held under the management of Eduard Covali, and that of 1977 under that of the theatre director Emil Mandric.
What seems like a success story of one of the few cultural platforms for the professionals of Romanian theatre and of a local brand to which the community demonstrated enthusiastic attachment came into conflict with a new cultural scenario, as expressed by Nicolae Ceauşescu in his famous Theses of July 1977. In spite of Emil Mandric’s efforts to organize a sixth edition of the Festival in 1979, there followed a period of refusals on the part of local officials and those in Bucharest to continue this event, though it had already earned national and international recognition.
It was 1981 before a sixth edition took place, at the insistence of managing director Gheorghe Bunghez, who put forward as an argument to convince the decision makers the fact that 1981 marked the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the State Theatre of Piatra Neamţ. The authorities in Bucharest could no longer see the point of the Piatra Neamţ Festival at a time when theatre professionals were replaced with agitators and culture had become an instrument of propaganda, making ‘Song of Romania’ the only festival possible. All the same, this edition aroused the greatest interest with its theme of ‘Debut in the Theatre’, and saw the highest number of participating productions.
The last edition before 1989, that of 1985, was ‘confiscated, the repertoire adjusted, combed, cosmeticized, its very name changed, out of ideological considerations, into ‘Gala of Theatre Productions for Young People’ (to avoid any confusion with the Song of Romania Festival).’ Even the title of the traditional gazette, Festivalul (The festival), was replaced with Gong, and the events of the ‘Gala’, together with production of printed materials, were coordinated by a team of journalists and Party activists, with no right of dialogue and thus with almost no participants. Moreover, 1984 went down in the history of the Theatre as the hardest moment of its existence, as its allocation from the state budget was cut by over two thirds, its number of functional posts reduced by 35%, and exclusively artistic functions combined with stage or even administrative duties. As an echo of the consequences of ideological control prefigured in George Orwell’s novel 1984, the Festival disappeared after the simulacrum of an edition of 1985.
Born (as an idea) in 1968, a year that is a reference point for the history of the twentieth century, and clinically dead after 1984 (as a result of the dramatic changes undergone by the organizing institution), the Festival of Productions for Children and Young People is remembered as a moment of creative and theoretical dynamism in the theatre world of Romania before 1990, as well as offering extremely interesting material for study for those interested in recent history and in understanding the mechanisms of survival in a culture more and more subject to ideological control.
The resuscitation of the Festival took place in 1992, in a world in which the desire to reconnect with other theatrical practices, with other types of artistic action, entering into direct dialogue with artists coming from other cultural spaces led the managing director of the Theatre of Youth at that time, Nicolae Scarlat, to reinvent the event and thus put together the first International Theatre Festival in Romania. In Piatra Neamţ, the first post-revolution edition (the eighth) gave young audiences and those formed by previous editions the chance to see not only seven productions by Romanian theatres but also productions by eight foreign companies, from the USA, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania, and Moldova. The eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth editions (1992–1995) were not competitive, but focused rather on the celebration of meetings between professionals from Romania and the whole world and the Festival audience – ‘A world for all, a world for each.’
In the programme booklet of the 1992 edition, Eduard Covali traces the aesthetic and ethical directions of this new beginning: ‘In its space adventure, humankind has had to leave the Earth in order to acquire awareness of its global possession. The Earth belongs to all and to each of us separately. This is at once a physical and a moral observation. So it appears when seen from above. At the same time, however, looking at the Earth through the porthole of Apollo 11, Michael Collins had an intuition with anxious amazement of its fragility. And this Earth of people is fragile. With the means of information available to us we can establish permanent contact with the most distant areas of the globe and we cannot remain indifferent to the catastrophic fire that is raging in the antipodes, the hurricane that has destroyed so many houses and so many human lives, or the hotspots of war that maintain a tension that could at any time become generalized.’
Starting with the 1992 edition, the Festival was entered by the Ministry of Culture in Romania’s Agenda of International Cultural Manifestations. Contact was established with international organizations (I.E.T.M – Informal European Theatre Meeting, EU NET ART – Informal Meeting of Cultural and Artistic Centers for Children and Young People), and with numerous cultural and theatre structures abroad. Starting in 1993, the Piatra Neamţ Theatre Festival came under the high patronage of the Romanian National Commission for UNESCO.
From 1996 to 2001, the twelfth to seventeenth editions went under the name of Piatra Neamţ Theatre Festival and were organized under the management of Corneliu-Dan Borcia. From 1997, the artistic director was the theatre critic Victor Scoradeţ. The Festival became competitive again, with winning productions being selected on the basis of the following criteria: aesthetic risk, avantgarde spirit, and openness towards other arts. A new element was the contribution of the Festival to a deeper knowledge of other theatrical spaces in Europe or in other continents through the organization, at the suggestion of the respected theatre critic George Banu, of the international section ‘Focus’: the British space (1997), the German space (1998), the Romanian space (1999), the American space (2000), the Balkan space (2001). The theoretical section of Focus included conferences, lectures, and book launches, with the participation of theatre professionals from Romania and abroad, together with workshops led by outstanding Romanian and foreign directors, actors, and scenographers. In 1997, the Festival also launched a programme of theatre in education, involving a number of middle and high schools in the city and managed by the Theatre of Youth’s Education Department, the first such department in any Romanian theatre.
The questions from which these editions started are formulated very clearly and, at the same time in a challenging manner both for that time and for the present, by the artistic director of the Festival, Victor Scoradeţ: ‘How many festivals are not just conjuring tricks, of varying success, designed to induce the illusion of an effervescent theatre life in places where during the rest of the year almost nothing happens? How many are not the effect of mere contagion? And how many have seriously asked themselves questions such as: Who is the festival intended for? The public? (What public? What does it look like?) Critics? The mass media in general? Or, perhaps, theatre people? What exactly does the festival propose to offer its beneficiaries? What is its message? What exactly is distinct about what it offers in the current context of national and international festivals? All this in order, in the light of the answers to these questions, to move on to the decisive question: Is the festival viable? Is it a necessary article on the market of cultural services? Does it really meet a need?’
After an interruption in 2002, the Festival resumed under the direction of Theatre of Youth actor Cornel Nicoară, who had also been managing director of the institution in the period 1986–1989. The eighteenth and nineteenth editions (2003, 2004) had the actor Ion Lucian in charge of selection, and the artistic coordinator of the twentieth was the writer Lucian Strochi. The productions staged were Romanian, including, as in previous editions, creations of the schools of theatre.
For the twentieth edition (2005), the Festival director, Cornel Nicoară, offered his perspective on the existence of the Festival up to that moment: ‘Am unedited film of the Festival would be an international production with actors speaking German, Russian, French, English, with a Boston accent, Japanese, Tuscan dialect, Hungarian, and almost all the Slav and Nordic languages. In this film directed or undirected by Romanians almost all the great actors of Romania are playing, from timid provincial theatres, from the National, from the academies and universities of dramatic arts. There are puppets and marionettes playing too, for what is also interesting about the film is the way in which it democratizes all forms and means of expression. What a unique film!’
The 2006 edition, the first under the direction of Liviu Timuş, who was to direct the Festival for the longest period in its history (eight editions, six of them competitive), was entitled ‘A Theatrical Feast’. The selection comprised Romanian productions, some in the competition, others not, and was prefaced by Liviu Timuş with this declaration of intent: ‘Once upon a time there was a festival, and when its time came it went out into the world to seek its fortune. But it came upon all sorts of ogre directors, fairy primadonnas, gallant prince scenographers, and dragon reviewers and it took them all on fair and square. The length of a long summer’s day fiercely they fought and they threw themselves high in the sky, where they have remained from that day to this. From there they wave to us and beckon us. We only have to find out where to get the hot coals that will give power to our winged horse. Whoever appears in our path we will take from them a sign, and when we are in dire straits we will put it in our palms, and lift our palms to our hearts, and they will come to join us in the search for Youth without Age. We will find it and we will take it to the court of His Majesty THE PUBLIC that he may give us his blessing. Then we will saddle our horses and stick to our courses, for that is our wish, Your Lordships!’
For the twenty-second and twenty-third editions (2007 and 2008), two sections were organized named ‘I Plead for You(th)’ and ‘A Theatrical Feast’ (a section which was organized for three editions). For the twenty-third, the selection for the section ‘A Theatrical Feast’ was made by the theatre critic Alice Georgescu. For the twenty-third, twenty-fourth (2009), and twenty-fifth (2010) there were two selectors: Mihaela Michailov (the Theatre Schools section) and Oltiţa Cîntec (Professionals), while productions outside the competition were chosen by the Theatre of Youth team. The twenty-sixth edition (2011) was a special one. The sections disappeared and the concept of the Festival was ‘Big Productions Staged Small’, adapting to the fact that the Theatre of Youth building was undergoing rehabilitation, which led to a pause of three years until the Festival was resumed in 2015. For the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh editions, the Festival kept the title of the previous two editions, ‘Piatra Neamţ Theatre Festival – I Plead for You(th)’. The Theatre Schools section was given up and there was only a selection of productions by young professionals, together with invited productions outside the competition. For the 2015 edition, the selection of young professionals was the work of Oltiţa Cîntec, and in 2016 it was done by Maria Zărnescu. The eight editions held in the period 2006–2016 took place in the context of the appearance all over the country of new national and international festivals addressed to a young public, young directors, independent artists, young graduates and theatre schools, with projects through which young creators are invited to stage productions in state theatres, with strategies of development and of winning the fidelity of young audiences, initiated by various cultural institutions in Romania. The ‘youth’ of creators and public alike is becoming a real or simulated preoccupation of many institutions, concepts overlap, blend into one another, and those who make their voices heard will not those who come with ready-prepared answers and already tested solutions, but those who never cease to ask questions, regarding both means of expression and perspectives that are fresh and profound in relation to the realities of a world that is now changing before our very eyes.
The 2017 edition was prepared during the interim management of Gianina Cărbunariu (who also made the selection of productions) and marked fifty years since the Theatre of Youth first bore that name. A theatre, especially when it is a cultural institution in a provincial town, has a responsibility to enter into dialogue with the members of the community in which it operates. Thus the concept of the twenty-ninth edition foregrounded the connection between the audience and the Theatre of Youth artists, together with those invited to the Festival. The script of the anniversary production, directed by Gianina Cărbunariu, gathered together the testimonies of audience members and of artists, technicians, and administrative staff who have worked or still work at the Theatre of Youth and presented the current Theatre of Youth company on stage in front of the public for which it currently plays. The discussions moderated by theatre critics after each production generated a direct dialogue among participants at the Festival, and the ‘Critical Spectator’ workshop, the photographic exhibition ‘Theatre of Youth Actors and Spectators’, and the jury made up of high school students from Piatra Neamţ were among the initiatives aimed at consolidating a public formed by previous editions of the Festival and over the Theatre’s sixty years of existence, and also to gain the fidelity of new generations of theatre-goers. Through the nonconformism of their creations, both the young artists presented at the Festival and those already established presented the audience with personal artistic visions or those of the groups and independent companies that they belong to.
In last year’s edition of the Festival we tried to highlight personal stories in relation to the history of the Theatre of Youth. In the catalogue of this year’s Festival we are trying to present a visual selection of the twenty-nine past editions, regretfully aware that any selection is restricted by limited editorial space. For those who wish to deepen their understanding of the fascinating, tumultuous, and inspiring life story of the Piatra Neamţ Theatre Festival, the Theatre’s archives are available, at present in print format.
The thirtieth edition has prompted us to revisit the Theatre of Youth Archvives and to look again at the concepts, the ideas, and the questions formulated and reformulated over the last fifty years, challenging us to define our own positions in relation to such desiderata as nonconformism, originality, aesthetic risk, the ethical dimension of art, dialogue, the community of audience and professionals, gaining the fidelity of the young public, the promotion of young professionals, and the placing of the Piatra Neamţ Festival in a national and international context. A theatre festival is a living organism, in dialogue or in direct confrontation with the times through which it passes; it is a meeting point for artists, critics, curators, theatre-goers, and decision makers who may influence for better or for worse, in the short or long term, the destiny of an event and, implicitly the needs of a cultural and social community for communication.
To all those who created it and raised it, who have fought to keep it alive, resuscitated it or reformulated it, who have stood by it as theatre people, audiences, or decision makers, to all those who are helping it to continue its existence, the Piatra Neamţ Theatre Festival says thank you!
Director and playwright
Manager of the Theatre of Youth
Curator of the Piatra Neamț Theatre Festival