|Were there no theater festivals in Romania up until that time?
There was a theater festival organized by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and one other that was organized jointly by several theaters. However, when I say theaters they were of course all national theaters in the communist era and basically the government was involved in their management. Also the festivals were strictly national festivals, not international ones.
When I started organizing our own festival, the first holding included eight performances by companies from three countries. Our second festival was held in 1994. I knew some Japanese people (such as the translator of this interview, Mr. Shiga) from my college days and from the time I started organizing our festival, I had wanted productions from Japan to participate. For the 1996 festival we got one production to come from Japan, and after that the number grew to two and three.
Participation in our festival grew exponentially with each holding. The program for our second festival had 28 productions from 12 countries and the third had 35 productions from 15 countries. By the fourth holding we expanded the program to include a special category for works of the famous theater companies and directors, the existing category for theater school student productions and another category for dance theater.
The first three holdings of our festival were scheduled at the end of March to coincide with World’s International Theater Day, March 27. By the fourth holding, however, we had 80 productions from 25 countries and we naturally needed a longer festival run, and that is when we shifted to a period from late May into early June. At the same time, we added an open space category for what you could call street performance. We also began adopting themes for each festival and decided to become active as a member of the European theater festival network.
At the time in Europe festivals were beginning to get a bad reputation in some cases, due to the fact that when countries had a change of administration the political persuasions of the new administrations would greatly influence the characters of the respective festivals. In order to ensure that our festival wouldn’t be influenced by anyone in that way, I thought of getting something like a copyright for the festival. So I went to the Patent Bureau and registered a patent under the name “Sibiu International Theater Festival, Chiriac.” At the same time we created a foundation to support the festival financially. The name of the foundation is the “Democracy through Culture Foundation.” The combination of these measures keeps our festival free from political pressure.
It was also decided in 1997 to create a Theater Department in Sibiu University. And we are proud to say that the graduates of this department continue to have a 100% employment rate. This says a lot about the quality of the school and the high level of education going on there. It means that if a person can graduate from this school they will become a theater professional.
Our festival has continued to expand in terms of performance spaces as well, and we are now using a variety of spaces around the city of Sibiu. In particular, we made efforts to enable us to use the city’s famous historical ruins and sites. Also, in 1998 we held the first theater arts market ever in Central and Eastern Europe during the run of our Sibiu festival.
In 2000, Romania’s only Theater Management Department was established in Sibiu Univ. Furthermore, we began an Initiative Committee to begin action to make Sibiu a European Capital of Culture by 2007. From 2001, we began inviting famous directors to create works for the Sibiu festival. We invited Andry Zholdak and Silviu Purcarete. That was a period when we were building both the quality and scale of our festival. By this time the Sibiu festival had become fairly well known and a growing number of companies and artists were hoping to participate.
In 2002, the Radu Stanca Theater where I am director had its first performance in Japan with a production of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot directed by Andry Zholdak. In 2004, our achievements at the Radu Stanca Theater were recognized by government and we were designated a national theater. Then I was invited to an EU Committee meeting were I was able to announce our case for making Sibiu a European Capital of Culture in 2007. It was a very difficult announcement to make because the European Capital of Culture designation was restricted to EU member nations until then and Romania was not yet an EU member at that time. As you know, Romania finally became an official EU member on January 1, 2007. But the contents of our Capital of Culture application were good and since the quality of our festival had become well known by this time, the EU Committee received our petition favorably and in 2007 Sibiu was named a European Capital of Culture.
During this time were you still active as an actor?
As I was organizing the Sibiu festival during those years I was also continuing my activities as an actor with the Radu Stanca Theater company. In 2000, the top posts for the Radu Stanca administration were opened on an application basis and I was chosen as Director. Since then I have continued working both as an actor and a director. Also, since 2005 I have served as a professor of the Theater Dept. at Sibiu Univ. and I teach at other universities as well.
I attended the Sibiu festival in 2007, the year the city was designated a European Capital of Culture. Can you tell us about the program of that year’s festival?
One of the defining aspects of the 2007 European Capital of Culture designation year festival program makeup was our relationship with Japan. In 2006 we launched our European Capital of Culture Preparation Committee and also began a relationship with the EU-Japan Fest. We then secured a promise to promote this program jointly.
At the 2007 festival nine companies participated from Japan, including Leni Basso, Co. YAMADA UN, Theater Company Chiten, Shinjuku Ryozanpaku theater company, Yoshiko Chuma, Yorozu Kyogen, Mime Thetaer, Joji Hirota, and for the second year in a row the music group ZIPANG. As another very unique program we organized a European Capital of Culture Volunteers group. A total of some 400 volunteers gathered, 65 of whom were from Japan. The volunteers worked with members of our theater’s company to mount a production of Kafka’s Vor dem Gesetzand a dance production. The response to the volunteers’ performances was so good that we kept the volunteer program as a part of our subsequent festivals.
For our 2008 Sibiu International Theater Festival, four years of negotiations finally bore fruit in the form of a performance by Kanzaburo Nakamura’s Heisei Nakamura-za. It took us a lot of time and effort to get him to come to Sibiu, and in the end it was our mutual commitment to the arts and culture that sealed the agreement. When Kazuyoshi Kushida and Kanzaburo made a prior visit to Sibiu we had them see our production of Faust at an abandoned factory facility. It was a performance with a cast of 150. The abandoned factory building used was large, measuring 87 meters long by 40 meters wide. In the rafters there were cranes left intact that we used as stage equipment. After seeing this performance, they said they would come to our festival if they could use that building. I agreed on the spot, but it turned out that a decision was made to tear down the factory. I rushed to find a substitute and managed to find another deserted factory a month and a half later and adapt it for use.
For the first performance of the Heisei Nakamura-za, the 550 seats were sold out and there was a standing audience of another 100. Lined up outside were another 200 people who were unable to enter. For the following performances the number of people hopeful audience who were unable to get inside grew each day. Afterwards, Kanzaburo-san and Kushida-san said they would continue to work with us in the future.