Monday, December 27, 2010

NEWS: Petition from Hungary

From MICHEL VAÏS, Secretary General of AICT-IATC

Dear colleagues,
The following message from our Hungarian section contains a link to a petition. I encourage you to sign it, as I did.
Michel Vaïs


Dear Michel,

Thank you for circulating the Hungarian section’s letter to international media among the members of AICT-IATC. We have started a petition on the internet for the freedom of artists and press in Hungary.

During this week more than 1,700 people signed it from all around the world, among them Elfriede Jelinek, Richard Schechner, Luk Percevel, Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Andrea Breth, Joachim Sartorius, Helgard Haug and many others.

We would be very grateful if you could put this link on the AICT-IATC’s mailing list, it would be a honor to have the support of the members:

If you agree with the petition, we also ask you personally to sign it.

Best regards,
Tamas Jaszay, Hungary

Saturday, December 25, 2010

REPORT: Criticism Conference in Caen

Members of the AICT-IATC gathered December 14 and 15 in Caen, France, to interrogate the shifting role of dramatic criticism in the cultural discourse of various countries. Representatives traveled from China, Finland, Korea, Quebec and the United States to discuss how criticism may influence theatrical production in their respective countries—and how theatrical production may affect theatre criticism.

Primoz Jesenko (Slovenia), Jean-Pierre Han (France),
Yun-Cheol Kim (Korea) and Qing-Yan Zhang (China)

In addition to presentations by outstanding international critics such as Jean-Pierre Han (France), Primoz Jesenko (Slovenia), Yun-Cheol Kim (Korea), Matti Linnavuori (Finland), Brigitte Purkhardt (Québec), Michel Vaïs (Québec), Julie York Coppens (USA), and Qing-Yan Zhang (China), those who attended the conference were given opportunities to see thought-provoking productions from the Avignon Festival.

Dream state: The beast and the blind (from La Mort d'Adam).
Photo: Tristan Jeanne-Valès

Jean Lambert-wild, artistic director of Comédie de Caen and co-host of the conference, presented his multimedia piece La Mort d'Adam, which employs live action—overlapped by projected film—and a female narrator who sits to one side of the action as she provides context for Lambert-wild's layered images. Anyone familiar with Western philosophy and religion might easily see parallels between La Mort d'Adam and tales from the bible, from Arabian Nights, from Greek myth, from Shakespeare. In a conversation with the assembled critics the next day, Lambert-wild shared the very specific influences from his own life that led to the piece. Some critics felt that the French text (and its English surtitles) confused Lambert-wild's tale, while others thought the spoken French provided a sonic score that enhanced the director's other elements of spectacle. Facing the critics, eager for a conversation on what may or may not have worked, Lambert-wild bravely demonstrated the possibilities for which Peter Brook argued in The Empty Space (1968):
I see nothing but good in a critic plunging into our lives, meeting actors, talking, discussing, watching, intervening. I would welcome his putting his hands on the medium and attempting to work it himself. Certainly, there is a tiny social problem—how does a critic talk to someone whom he has just damned in print? . . . The criticism that theater people make of one another is usually of devastating severity—but absolutely precise. (32-33)
Art Macht Frei? Silke Mansholt in Wolfstunde.
Photo: Tristan Jeanne-Valès

When all of the papers had been presented and the critical roundtable of Lambert-wild's piece had concluded, the participants were invited to see Silke Mansholt's Wolfstunde (Wolf Lesson). Mansholt's performance piece employs minimal technical elements and ritualized manipulations of the actor's physical body—Mansholt performs with collaborator Clara Garcia Fraile—in an exploration of the internal battles of darkness and light that comprise human experience. Where Mansholt differs from many other examinations of this type is in her use of imagery that speaks specifically to her heritage as a German—and to the echoes of guilt that resonate for many of those in the post-World War II, post-Holocaust generations. Her use of the famous Auschwitz sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Make You Free), strikes chords of memory in the minds of her audience and asks an open question regarding the relationship between art and power. Ultimately, the piece seems to ask if the "power of art" is any power at all.

Throughout the four days, participants enjoyed marvelous French cuisine and wine as they engaged in ongoing discussions on theatre, criticism, culture, and politics. There were tours to sites commemorating the 1944 invasion of Normandy by Allied military forces and to a remarkable archive, in an abbey outside of Caen, that contains the works of many well known writers.

In remarks made during a discussion period following one set of papers, Lambert-wild argued strongly for an international federation of theatre-related groups dedicated to keeping the art form in the forefront of global cultural discourse. In the work generated (and seen) in Caen recently, it is safe to say that a good start has been made on getting that discourse underway.

Monday, December 6, 2010

MEMORIAM: Canadian Playwright David French

From DON RUBIN, President of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association

David French has died at age 71 after a long battle with brain cancer. The playwright was one of the seminal figures in the emergence of modern Canadian playwriting in the 1970s. His plays Leaving Home, part of his Mercer cycle, and Jitters, one of the great satires on Canadian theatre, are deeply loved and profoundly effective plays, major works that have been done all across Canada and the United States, and continue to be done by professional and amateur companies. French’s plays—most of which premiered at the Tarragon in Toronto in productions directed by Bill Glassco—were also among the first to present real Newfoundlanders on a stage speaking in real Newfoundland accents. These plays will last because they truly are genuine works of art written from the heart by one of our first major modern playwrights. French was a dominant force in our theatre through the 1970s and 1980s and continued to write and produce new work. His contribution to Canada's cultural life was enormous.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

LETTER: Response to Hungary Media Law

Andrea Tompa, President
Hungarian Section
International Association of Theatre Critics

Dear Andrea,

The International Association of Theatre Critics fully supports your section’s fight for freedom of expression in theatre and arts. The new media law of your government is dangerous, anti-cultural and anti-intellectual, which obviously attempts to go back to that archaic practice of censorship.

Theatre has always reflected human societies and one of its essential functions is to criticize social complacency to better recognize and understand the world and the humanity. IATC deplores strongly any governmental attempts to control the arts, culture and media, whose critical performance has become even more important in this 21st century of globalized culture.

It is a great pity that such a culturally advanced country like Hungary is trying to implement its control over the arts, artists, and the media. IATC strongly demands that the Hungarian parliament and government withdraw this shameful media law and guarantee its artists freedom and independence.

Otherwise, we will make this issue big and global so that the world may know the danger and corruption in this new media law and its implementation in the form of replacing legally appointed, competent and ambitious artists with docile figures.

Yun-Cheol Kim
President, International Association of Theatre Critics
Dean, School of Drama, Korea National University of Arts

Thursday, December 2, 2010

REPORT: Arts Freedom Under Threat in Hungary

From the HUNGARIAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION, a section of AICT-IATC, forwarded to the United States section by Secretary General Michel Vaïs

Róbert Alföldi

A highly-contested and controversial “media law” of the present government promises serious control over the whole media, including blogs. The new Media authority—formed by members of the ruling party—will have the entitlement to control and punish. This week, independent cultural papers and sites are published with a blank cover page as a protest sign against this control.

Governmental attacks on the National Theatre and its artistic director, Róbert Alföldi, were only rumors until the “case” was recently discussed on the floor of Parliament. Members of Parliament described Alföldi as deviant, rowdy, and treasonous, and called the present National Theatre dangerous and mischievous. They are calling the work presented in the National Theatre obscene, pornographic, anti-national, and anti-Hungarian, and are demanding the expulsion of director Alföldi from the National. The Secretary of the Ministry of National Resources commented: “Everything will happen in due time.”

On December 1, one of the parties of Parliament, Jobbik, organized a demonstration next to the National Theatre’s building with the sole purpose of replacing the director. Artists, writers, critics, and theatre goers—organized by a Facebook group—also gathered in front of the National marking their sympathy for this theatre and artistic freedom. Since the beginning of Alföldi’s tenure in July 2009, the National Theatre has prospered and undergone an artistic rebirth. The director was awarded the precious Critics’ Prize in September 2010 for “renewing the National Theatre.” He also received a similar prize from the City Council of Budapest. Many works presented in the theatre received international critical acclaim were invited to international festivals.

Alföldi’s contract does not expire until June 30, 2013. His dismissal would mean the termination of this contract without any legal base, and this, consequently, could create a dangerous precedent: from that time on the leader of any cultural institute could be dismissed based on the aesthetic ideal of a given political party.

Another major cultural institution in the country, the Opera House of Budapest—the best financed institution—is also undergoing difficult times. The artistic director of the Opera, Balázs Kovalik, an internationally celebrated director, was dismissed this past summer. There is still no appointed general director to take his place.

Because appointments of theatre directors in the provinces are made directly by the local governments, decisions were often based on political sympathies for the ruling political party. This has been always the same, indifferent of political climate. The process has a legal face and an illusory professional basis, because seemingly directors’ applications and eventual appointments are based on competition. There is a board of professionals who evaluates the applications and makes recommendations to the local government. But this board is either formed of people with a particular political view who are certain to make the “right” decision, or it is an indeed free board whose proposal is not taken into consideration. This situation was recently repeated when the new artistic director was named to the theatre in Tatabánya, and a fine previous leadership was replaced.

The independent theatres in Hungary are most vulnerable in this current climate. This is the field that is most mobile, young, and willing to take artistic risks; this is the field that contains all dance companies, and most of the production houses and freelance artists. It has been only one year since the so-called theatre law, which guarantees for the first time that a minimum 10% of the total budget for the national theatre subsidy goes to independents, came to operate. One of the new cultural leadership’s first actions was to cut this subsidy, although it is such a microscopic part of the whole budget.

The theatre law will undergo a serious rework in the spring 2011, and there is little hope that the 10 percent for independents will be maintained. We are addressing you, the international theatre and media community, because we want to preserve the freedom of artistic expression and speech we gained 20 years ago after the social changes.