Saturday, August 26, 2017

RUSSIA: Director Under House Arrest

Kirill Serebrennikov
The Russian Theatre Critics Association has issued a statement of its concern over undue pressure applied in the case of director Kirill Serebrennikov, who was arrested under cover of darkness in St. Petersburg and placed under house arrest in Moscow. An English translation of the critics' association follows here, with slight editing for clarity:
The Russian Theatre Critics Association, a national section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (AICT-IATC), has issued a public statement to express anxiety over pressure being exerted on theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov. 
Serebrennikov was deported at night by force to Moscow from St. Petersburg, where he was shooting a movie. The next day he was sentenced to house arrest by a regional court. 
The situation surrounding Serebrennikov grew more tense in July when the opening of the ballet Rudolph Nureyev, which he directed at Bolshoi Theatre, was canceled as controversial. 
Serebrennikov is accused of misusing funds that were targeted for a cultural project titled The Platform. One of the items in the prosecutor’s investigation implies that the production of Midsummer Night's Dream was not created at all. This assertion is false: the production has been seen dozens of times, it continues to run, received a range of reviews in various media, and was nominated for the national theatre prize, The Golden Mask. The investigation continues to assert that the work does not exist. 
There are deep doubts about the motivations for the prosecution of Serebrennikov. The responsibility of the stage director is unrelated to financial and production activities, which is covered by an investigation of the producer and the bursar for The Platform project. Serebrennikov never refused to answer questions in the course of the investigation of the case. 
His house arrest seems an unnecessary use of pressure on the artistic creator. Serebrennikov has never staged blatantly political performances. Nevertheless, the style and issues raised in his works are always fresh, unconventional, and truly innovative. The director was personally outspoken in support of liberal values. He was critical of the trial against the Pussy Riot group, of homophobic legislation, of church obscurantism, and he has supported transparent presidential elections. 
Just a month ago, the board of Europe Theatre Prize announced its decision to award Serebrennikov the New Theatrical Reality prize at this December’s event in Rome. 
Serebrennikov's impact in Russian culture is truly significant. He created several productions at the citadel of realistic theatre—the Moscow Art Theatre—and helped revive it for new audiences. He created The Seventh Studio of Moscow Art Theatre and educated a company of actors who used artistic language matched to a new dramatic style and thought for the generation now emerging. This group has undertaken The Platform project that received The Golden Mask in 2012, titled The Scoundrels, about right-wing radicals in contemporary Russia. 
Serebrennikov supervised the rebranding of a Moscow theatre house as the Gogol Center, which has attracted young crowds and become one of most thrilling places for drama in Moscow. Productions created by Serebrennikov generated discussion and sometimes controversy among its audiences. Now under house arrest, he is unable to complete a theatre production for the Gogol Center in addition to his film about the early the Russian rock 'n' roll generation that was shooting in St. Petersburg. His project of opera film of Hansel and Gretel at Stuttgart Opera house, filmed partly in Rwanda, must be postponed. 
The Russian Theatre Critics Association hopes that the international community of theatre critics will support our attempts to protect the social and artistic rights of Kirill Serebrennikov and of the evolving Russian artistic culture.                — August 24, 2017
Deadline's Greg Evans also reported on August 24 that the European Film Academy called for the "unconditional release" of Serebrennikov in an article that showed the director in an apparent holding cell. A tweet by Pussy Riot is quoted in the Deadline piece saying that Serebrennikov "had been placed under house arrest by 'Putin's butchers.'"

Holding cell? Kirill Serebrennikov Photo: REX/Shutterstock

Friday, July 21, 2017

CALL: Populism and Theatre

Shota Rustaveli State University of Theatre and Film. Photo: Giorgi Balakhadze
An international colloquium on "Theatre and Populism" has been announced for October 4–5, 2017, in Tbilisi, Georgia. This is an event sanctioned by the International Association of Theatre Critics (AICT-IATC) in association with the Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre, and Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi State University of Theatre and Film. Following is an excerpted English translation of the call for papers.
In modern history and, especially, in recent years "Populism" has become a commonly used term in politics and culture. Might we, therefore, deploy this term to describe political, cultural or everyday life? Is it useful as a descriptor for aesthetic, practical, or socio-political dimensions in our experience? Is there even a precise linguistic definition of the term?
For understanding Populism, researchers often refer to 19th century Russian and American populists, to Ancient Greeks, to the slogan of the French Revolution "Exprimer le peuple," to present-day politicians such as Le Pen, Trump, Erdogan, and to Brecht’s political theatre. According to Pierre Rosan Vallon, Populism is the ugliest answer to the dysfunctions of democracy.
With dissonant, contradictory definitions at the core of the phenomenon and with diverse means, possibilities, methods, and resources available for its implementation, we may trace one common feature: that populism functions only if it is targeted to a certain group, stratum, or community of people that can be defined and manipulated. Thus, Populism, like theatre, cannot exist without people, without audience.
The main topic of our 5th International Colloquium launched under the umbrella of the International Association of Theatre Critics and its Georgian Section is "Theatre and Populism." Topics of interest for papers include but are not limited to:
  • What are the traps of populism in contemporary theatre?
  • Populist cultural policy in theatre of different countries: Does it exist?
  • Audiences and Populism: Please or provoke the audience?
  • Populism as the tool for attracting the audience
  • Narration in performances – truth or lie?
  • Does populist playwriting or aesthetic aspects and clichés of a populist performance exist?
Participants are asked to forward abstracts (no longer than 200 words) in English to Ms. Lela Ochiauri, organizing committee member, The deadline is August 10, 2017. Invitations will be dispatched before August 20, 2017. A diversity of proposals from around the world are most welcome. Participants will have at their disposal technical equipment and support of Power Point and DVD presentations. Oral presentations should not exceed 15 minutes to allow time for discussion. The working languages of the colloquium are English and Georgian, with simultaneous translation.
Papers will be published in a special issue of Centaur by Tbilisi State University of Theatre and Film. The complete text of papers (up to 4,000 words in English or French) should be submitted for translation in electronic form no later than October 1, 2017.

Friday, June 30, 2017

CALL: Three Young Critics' Workshops

National Theatre. Iași, Romania 
The International Theatre Critics Association (AICT-IATC) has announced three Young Critics' Workshops to be held in the final months of 2017.

The 10th International Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences: This workshop will be held in Iași, Romania, from October 4 to 10, 2017. The arrival date is October 4 and the departure date is October 10 for a total of a six-night stay. There will be two working groups: one in English and one in French. The size of the groups is limited to ten participants. Monitors will be announced later.

Wuzhen Theatre, China
The 5th Wu Zhen Theatre Festival: This workshop will be held in Wu Zhen (also written Wuzhen and Wu-Zhen, in some sources), China, from October 19 to 29, 2017. The festival will take place between October 19 and 29. The exact dates of the workshop, which will include a six-night stay, are to be announced later. There will be two working groups, one in English (ten-participant maximum), monitored by Octavian Saiu, Adjunct Secretary General of IATC, and one in Chinese (six-participant maxium), monitored by Peng Tao, President of the IATC China section. The waterside town of Wu Zhen has been declared "UNESCO World Heritage Site." According to our colleagues from China, it is the "uniquely beautiful location of the most vigorous theatre festival in China today." Workshop participants will have the opportunity to see performances created by artists such as Katie Mitchell and Oskaras Koršunovas, new works produced by Germany's Schaubühne and Russia's Vakhtangov State Academy Theatre, in addition to a wide variety of productions from Australia, Switzerland, Brazil, Lebanon, Ireland, Romania, and other countries. Alongside such international productions, Wu Zhen Theatre Festival will also offer a varied showcase of Chinese theatre created by young and established theatre artists such as Tian Qinxin, He Nian, Zhou Ke, and Ban Zan.

The 2017 International Association for Performing Arts and Research Festival: This workshop will be held from November 4 to 10, 2017, in Pune, India. The arrival date is November 4 and the departure date is November 10 for a total stay of six nights. There will be two working groups of 6 participants each. The English-speaking group will be monitored by Deepa Punjani, a member of the IATC Executive Committee, and Ajay Joshi. The French-speaking group will be monitored by Mariko Anazawa, Adjunct Director of Training Workshops for IATC. 

American Theatre Critics Association members who are 35 years of age and younger may apply for admission to these workshops by submitting the completed application information below to the Director of Training Workshops, Jean-Pierre Han ( The application is also available on the website IATC website Please send all required attachments to Jean-Pierre Han, before August 15, 2017.

International Young Critics Workshop Application
Other contacts (telephone, mobile):
Language (English / French):
IATC national section recommending:
Other materials required:
1) Short CV and main professional experience (newspapers, journals, radio/TV, web, blog, etc.)
2) Three attached samples of published articles
3) Proof of membership in the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) or other IATC national section

Thursday, March 23, 2017

TURKEY: World Theatre Day

Ancient Roots: Theatre at Ephesus, Turkey

As World Theatre Day 2017
approaches on March 27, thoughts of theatre artists and critics turn increasingly to global concerns over freedom of expression. In Nigeria recently, theatre critics hosted a forum aimed at examining the boundaries that face critics (and artists) when the political grounds on which they stand, to paraphrase the great playwright August Wilson, seem to undergo tectonic shifts daily.

Recent events in Turkey, a country that the West has long celebrated as a significant example of how democracy may work amid the pressures of encroaching theocratic impulses, have raised concerns about the lengths to which those in power will go to maintain a status quo. Turkey is also a physical crossroads of the ancient world where theatre has deep roots and a powerful claim on the imagination and spirit of the populace. Istanbul alone, which literally bridges east and west, may be the truest expression of the cosmopolitan in the dozens of languages and dialects spoken in its streets, and in the scores of cultures across millennia that have been inscribed on its urban landscape. The Theatre Critics Association of Turkey, a constituent group of the International Association of Theatre Critics (AICT-IATC), has issued a clarion statement that is filled with passion and a hopeful outlook for the future of the art form. It is brave, bold, and an inspiration in these times of uncertainty. (The translation below has been edited slightly for clarity.)
Turkish National Declaration for World Theatre Day 
We are at the threshold of twilight. The art of theatre, however, is the essential medium to lead us through the threshold and into radiant days. 
At present, academics who act for peace in our society, have been exported from their university. As a result of these actions, one of the oldest and most prominent theatre departments in Turkey is about to be closed. One of the private theatre schools, which has graduated many young members of the Turkish theatre scene, has been sabotaged by arson as the theatre supported the secular, parliamentarian republic of the present. Other private theatre groups are deprived of necessary state financial support. Theatre artists who stand in protest and call for support of environmental rights are exported from their municipal or state theatre companies. In these times, it is incredible to celebrate World Theatre Day and to perform the art of theatre, yet there is hope as well. 
We, the workers of theatre, never doubt the power of the theatre to change lives and transform people. The theatre is our sine qua non. 
Despite all obstacles it must face, theatre will continue to raise society’s awareness, to guide audiences to critical thinking, to defend freedom of thought and basic human rights, to conceive truth and to help the masses conceive it, too. 
Our word will never end, our curtains will never be closed by force, our limelight will never be extinguished, and our "fine voice" under this "dome of many colored glass" will never surrender to darkness.
In this time of rising insecurity for free expression, when a Pandora's Box of hateful ideology has been unleashed across the globe, one is forced to pause and consider: Will I be so bold when it is my turn to speak truth to power? Our colleagues in Turkey point the way.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

WOMEN: Actors in Afghanistan

Activist Director: Anneta Papathanassiou
Do you think being an artist is difficult? Banned under Taliban rule (1994–2001), Afghan theatre has been making a comeback with many women at the forefront. Playing With Fire: Women Actors of Afghanistan (2014) by Anneta Papathanassiou exposes the ongoing erosion of Afghan women's rights in this powerful film. The director's timely, eye-opening documentary perfectly captures art’s transformative power and the dangers faced by these courageous women artists. It is a stark reminder that every day is International Women's Day.

This story is certain to inspire those who support the creation of living art and freedom of artistic expression. Everyone who cares about the performing arts in the evolving global milieu should see this film. In the coming week, there will be a free, public screening at the Spurlock Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 14.

Iranian theatre critic, director, and playwright Katayoun H. Salmasi will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion. Salmasi is former vice president of the Iran Theatre Critics Association who currently advises the Iranian Cultural Association at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

AsiaLENS Presents
Playing With Fire: Women Actors of Afghanistan (2014)
Directed by Anneta Papathanassiou
Afghanistan (58 minutes)
In English and Afghan (Dari), with English subtitles

AsiaLENS is a series of free public film screenings and lecture/discussion programs—organized by Asian Education Media Service (AEMS) and the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies (CEAPS) in collaboration with Spurlock Museum—presenting recent documentary and independent films on issues reflecting contemporary life in Asia. All AsiaLENS screenings are free and open to the public.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

NEWS: Lagos Critics' Conference

Conference Home: National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos
Our friends in the Nigeria section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) recently hosted a theatre critics' conference at the National Theatre, Iganmu, which received a keynote address from playwright, critic, and 2016 Thalia Prize laureate, Femi Osofisan. The conference topic of "Theatre, Criticism and Politics — Where Are the Limits?" arose, according to Emmanuel Dandaura, president of the Nigeria section as a response to events occurring throughout the globe. In a statement to the press, Dandaura noted that

Politics, theatre, and theatre criticism have long been interwoven and interdependent. In the highest peaks of its history, theatre and other performing arts have been a collective self-representation of society, its basic values, and beliefs, including mainstream political narratives.
When contesting these narratives, theatre has been more ironic, subversive and blasphemous than openly confrontational — although direct theatrical conflicts with society are also well known. 
When theatre criticism appeared as a genre in Western media in the 18th century, it fought the same battle as the (bourgeois) theatre itself. Theatre and criticism were important social platforms in the battle against conservative, aristocratic, and clerical states – even as they advocated a new and progressive bourgeois society. 
In the last two and a half centuries, the relationship between these three "players"—politics, theatre, and theatre criticism—has been fluid. There were periods in which all were going in the same direction—for good or ill.  
In some historical periods, (dissident) theatre was courageous, provocative, and challenging. Criticism, however, strongly controlled by mainstream political power (as with much of the media), could not support it. In some constructs, media demanded that theatre be more politically daring. 
The International Theatre Critics Conference (ITCC), therefore, will interrogate how global theatre and theatre criticism respond to current political events. 
Does theatre, internationally, address these challenging topics? Is there a new political theatre? Is there a growing trend toward the political or do individual cases arise on their own? How do critics react? Are we free (enough) to openly support theatre that dissents from accepted political and cultural norms? Is the social impact of this type of work more relevant than its artistry? How do we recognize a politically brave theatre in societies different from our own? If we recognize it, how do we communicate it to our readers?

These queries and proposed answers were also addressed by an international group of critics led by IATC President Margareta Sörenson. What role do you think critics should play in analyzing and interpreting the political impact of theatre? Does it matter? Is it a factor in your response to theatre?