Now aged 60, the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) is a senior organisation. However, the Association’s biennial award, the Thalia prize, is a young one – just ten years old.
The prize was created out of a deeply felt need to profile the work of critics throughout the world. The inspiration for the prize came from Premio Europa per il Teatro, in which the international critics were involved.
During the days of the celebration of Premio Europa 2006 in Turin, Italy, there was a very lively discussion about how such a prize should be shaped. The original proposal came from the Romanian critics, and was modified through discussion and debate. Numerous issues emerged, including the central question: should we create another prize for theatremakers, or should we try to establish a prize that was more unique to critics?
The decision was finally taken that the Thalia Prize should be a prize for criticism. We, the critics, aknowledge the importance of criticism and know how appreciated critiques and reviews are by the theatre world and by the audience. However, the space for serious discussion and analysis of criticism as a discipline is very narrow, hidden and neglected. A prize would draw attention to our profession, but also to theatre critics themselves, providing the international cultural discourse with good and inspiring examples.
Then the question arose: how would such a prize be defined?
To give out prizes among ourselves would be a project fraught with difficulties and open to accusations of favouritism and preferential treatment. Moreover, given the fact that we critics work in many different languages, it would be impossible to know the quality of writings we could not read.
After long discussions, we reached a consensus: the prize laureate should be responsible for a body of work in criticism and theatre studies which has been particularly important to us, the international critics, in our profession.
The first Thalia prize, in 2006, went to Eric Bentley, a British-born American critic, playwright, translator and editor of great importance to the theatre world. The following prizes, in 2008 and 2010, were awarded to Richard Schechner (USA) and Jean-Pierre Sarrazac (France), respectively.
As time went by, questions were raised about the relation between the western world and the rest of the globe. The Association’s members felt that the prize should also mirror the IATC and how the organisation today reaches out internationally. Many of the international critics have a rich overview of theatre intellectuals out with the western world, and good proposals were put forward as to how the prize could better reflect contributions to theatre criticism and theatre studies globally.
In 2012, the prize was awarded to Kapila Vatsyayan of India, for her excellent writing on the rich Indian theatrical traditions, which have proved an important introduction to many critics. The 2014 prize winner was the Italian writer and director Eugenio Barba, the artistic leader of the Denmark-based company Odin theatre, which has for decades reconsidered theatre traditions and reintroduced original theatrical languages from parts of the world other than Europe.
The presentation of the Thalia prize has evolved. It is presented during the IATC’s congress, a major biennial event normally hosted by a theatre festival; most recently at the BITEF festival in Belgrade in October 2016, where the esteemed author and critic Femi Osofisan from Nigeria was the laureate.
On this occasion, thanks to BITEF, which is one of Europe’s major theatre festivals, IATC had the possibility to find a rich and public context in which to make the prize known and more respected.
*Margareta Sörenson, president of IATC, is a Swedish theatre and dance critic, and a writer and researcher in dance history. She has written for the daily national paper Expressen since the early 1980s, and for the Swedish dance journal, Danstidningen, in addition to writing a number of books on the performing arts, the latest on Mats Ek, with photographer Lesley Leslie-Spinks. Her special interests in dance and puppetry have often led her to the Asian classical stage arts and increased her curiosity about contemporary ones.