Festival national de teatru FNT in Bucharest, Romania, October 2018.

Mehrdad Rayani-Makhsous*

The potential of international activities interests me. This is why I accepted the invitation of the Romanian Theatre Festival (FNT). In recent decades, a number of countries, including Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Georgia and also Romania, have been developing and expanding their theatrical activities, and there are many attempts to introduce these to other countries. These efforts are on different levels and at different phases, and in addition to the convergence of the two main sections of domestic and international performances, they have always been enhanced by the presence of guests, critics, international commentators or the presence of suppliers and marketers. In particular, developing a showcase has had a huge impact on this trend and growth.

Miss Julie’s maid Kristin (Jule Böwe) looks in a mirror and her face in the mirror is recorded by the camera. Photo: Mihaela Marin

The Romanian National Theatre Festival (FNT) presents the best new productions seen in Romania, and, since 2005, FNT has invited from abroad relevant theatre and dance performances as well as major companies and directors.

Over the years, the list of FNT invitees has included Josef Nadj, Carolyn Carlson, Angelin Preljoçaj, Patrice Chéreau, Lev Dodin, Thomas Ostermeier, Tamás Ascher, Jan Lauwers, Danielle Finzi Pasca, Luk Perceval, Vladimir Pankov, Jonathan Mills and Georges Banu. Last year’s (2017) festival opened with Robert Lepage’s Hamlet, with Evghenyi Mironov, and ended with Angelin Preljocaj’s Romeo and Juliet and with Juliette Binoche and Alexandre Tharraud’s Vaille que vivre/Barbara.

The sections of the 2018 festival were: national productions (31 plays), international productions (8 plays), a main focus on Theatre and Society (6 plays). In addition, there were events, national and international lectures, workshops, masterclasses, music, and exhibitions, among others.

As the list above indicates, there were plenty of activities in different areas over 10 days. The vastness and diversity of the festival program were truly impressive. For me, in particular, there were two points of interest:

In addition to the main program of the festival there were plenty of activities which were broadly covered on radio. The radio programs were great and sounded with proper and rich harmony. Many national and international critics and journalists, through their guest appearances on the radio, provided their analyses and votes on the festival and its productions, and, most importantly, the broader theatrical discussion was updated and people were involved in the process of all the events. Therefore, a general discussion on theatre plus specific artistic opinions with an FNT focus were ever-present. Despite the “national” in the festival name, a significant number of international productions were also featured in the festival.

In a friendly conversation with the artistic director of festival, Marina Constantinescu, I asked why the festival, with its rich international program, continues to bear “national” in its title; why not change it to “international”? Her answer: We would like to bring Romanian theatre to international attention and play an active, efficient, yet gracious role in promoting the best of Romanian theatre.

In Pomană, two couples are moving on a quadrilateral shape like a capsule. Photo: Mihaela Marin

The presence of the following artists in the 2018 FNT strengthened the international aspect: Simon McBurney, Katie Mitchell (Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz), Ben Kidd & Bush Moukarzel (Dead Centre), Gabriela Carrizo (Peeping Tom), and Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, Crystal Pite, Marco Goecke, Hofesh Shechter (NDT 1).

Strengthening the systems of Romanian theatre, with the use of analogous examples from the international arena, can be a precise and accurate goal and, in this way, it is possible to intend to focus only on accumulating attention to the Romanian theatre and its growth. Correct, but I am still not convinced why this festival does not introduce itself as an international festival. Are there any internal barriers or is it a senior, official order? Furthermore, the number of international guests (my estimate: 35 people) who attended the festival, which, in addition to what was said, would increase the potential of being an international festival. Surely, the most important feature of an international festival is to move towards international audiences, and the first feature then is to attract audiences from other countries.

Maybe FNT cannot or does not aim there. Nevertheless, there are two festivals near Romania, in Slovakia (Divadelná Nitra International Festival) and the Czech Republic (Pilsen Theatre International Festival), which take place annually, have several years of international history, and are also in the business of attracting international audiences; subsequently, they are featured in the calendar of prestigious international festivals in Europe. In particular, the festival in the Czech Republic is becoming a special pole. Such festivals also, with changes in the executive mechanism, have been able to attract international artists. Perhaps FNT, borrowing the experiences of such festivals, can place itself at the level of the international festivals, and my recommendation is, of course, for this to happen. The change in name might increase the level of Romanian governmental support for theatre; it could also drive the festival to internationalization on the upstream list of such activities, and, as a result, would draw the attention of so many international groups and companies as well as audiences and enthusiasts.

A scene from toward the end of Pomană: A woman has been mishandled. Photo: Mihaela Marin

Two performances caught my special attention: Pomana/To_R/Feast and Miss Julie. The dance performance of the Pomana/To_R/Feast was produced by M Studio Movement Theatre, from Hungary. Its director and designer is Frenak Pal. The show’s particular perspective and the feelings of its various movements were remarkable. The most important reason for the success of this show was in its speed and aesthetic aspects, in spectacular and energetic works that combined theatre and dance. The show features seven performers in different situations from everyday life. Three pairs of men and women, in contrast, sometimes accompanied by each other, make different dance combinations. The main element of this group was based on a quadrilateral shape, like a capsule. It enabled the right positions for the movements. Since words were not exchanged between performers, the performers’ share in the creation was twice as great, and, as a result, the performers actively and effectively attempted to combine modern dance with an intra-group narrative (couples). Nevertheless, these couples were gradually driven to conflict. The aesthetic aspects of the performance grew instantaneously and increased their attractiveness rapidly. The most important point in this show was the creation of diversity in combinations and movements without stagnation.

Kristin (Jule Böwe) looks on, as do the cameras both inside and outside the kitchen, when Jean (Tilman Strauss) and Julie (Luise Wolfram) are having a conversation. Photo: Mihaela Marin

August Strindberg’s Miss Julie is produced by Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz from Berlin, and directed by Katie Mitchell and Leo Warner. This 75-minute piece was first performed in Germany, in 2010, and, so far, it has had several tours in various countries. The most important feature of the performance is the use of cameras filming live to show the performance from a variety of angles. The audience could simultaneously see on a screen,from an off-stage angle, the scenes the actors were playing on the stage. This feature was accompanied by a variety of different sound effects, tailored to the moments. A group of performers, on the stage, with different instruments and tools, performed these voices. Embodiment of the cinema and radio sound effects were used as additional media tools to emphasize the intensification of Julie’s and Jean’s relationship. The performance could demonstrate the benefits of technology. Of course, the main weakness of the work was the uniformity of some moments of the performance that arose from the continued use of the mentioned techniques without any variation and creativeness.


*Mehrdad Rayani-Makhsous is a critic, playwright and director as well as a principal lecturer at Islamic Azad University, Tehran Branch, Iran. His PhD was based on theatre studies from the University of Manchester, England. He has directed 20 performances and written 24 scripts so far, and has published 18 books (theories and scripts). Since 2001, he has been active internationally through different positions as lecturer, promoter and director.

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How to Organize a Bridge between National and International