In this edition of Critical Stages, we are pleased to publish conference papers from the IATC’s symposium at the International Festival of Theatre in Tbilisi, Georgia in the autumn of 2012. Moderated by Margareta Sörenson (Director of Symposia for IATC) and Irina Gogoberidze (President of the Georgian section of IATC), the symposium operated under the title: “21st Century – East European Theatre With and Against Time.”
As the three papers published here reflect, when we contemplate theatre’s movements with or against the changes in our societies, there arise equally important (and inter-related) questions of aesthetics and politics. For instance, in her paper, Romanian critic Ludmila Patlanjoglu considers the ways in which the Chekhov productions of her compatriot, the theatre director Andrei Şerban, both respond to social change and, in their spirituality and humanism, react strongly against the vulgarisation of culture and the brutalisation of humanity that seem, so often, to be driving forces in 21st-century society.
By contrast, Polish critic Konrad Szczebiot’s primary focus is not upon aesthetics, but upon the many changes in the super-structural (that is political, financial and more broadly cultural) factors which have shaped Polish theatre in recent decades. He sees reasons for both concern and optimism in the profound changes which have been wrought since the collapse of the authoritarian regimes of the Warsaw Pact between 1989 and 1991.
For his part, Georgian critic Lasha Chkhartishvili considers the various ways in which theatre artists have responded to both the sometimes difficult course of post-Soviet democracy in Georgia and the dangerous, at one point military, conflict which has arisen between the administrations of Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi and Vladimir Putin in Moscow. From government interference and, even, widely-perceived censorship, to campaigns for and against freedom of expression, and the willing participation of some theatre makers in the promotion of patriotic propaganda on stage, the Georgian case is a fascinating one, with lessons for theatre cultures well beyond the borders of Georgia and the Eurasian region.
All three papers remind us that, in democracies old as well as new, the threats to and opportunities for the theatre are many and varied. Critics should not simply leave it to the artists to ward off the dangers and reach for the possibilities. It is incumbent upon us to be tribunes of artistic freedom.
 Mark Brown is theatre critic of the Scottish national newspaper the Sunday Herald,a performing arts writer for the UK national newspaper the Daily Telegraph, and a doctoral researcher at the University of Dundee. He teaches in theatre studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and is editor of the books Howard Barker Interviews 1980-2010: Conversations in Catastrophe (Intellect Books, 2011) and Oily Cart – all sorts of theatre for all sorts of kids (Trentham Books, 2012). He has two articles in the forthcoming book Howard Barker’s Art of Theatre(Manchester University Press), edited by David Ian Rabey and Sarah Goldingay. His critical writings have been translated into Farsi, Czech and Portuguese. He is a member of the executive committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics, for which he is also Adjunct Director of Young Critics’ Seminars. He is a member of the editorial board of Critical Stages.