The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Constantin Chiriac
Constantin Chiriac
Director of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival

Sibiu International Theatre Festival
Sibiu International Theatre Festival

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Presenter Interview
Striving for regional development, Romania's Sibiu International Theatre Festival gathers participants from 70 countries  
Sibiu, capital of Sibiu Province in the Transylvania region of central Romania, is a city of 170,000 that retains much of its Medieval period architecture. Since 1993 it has hosted the Sibiu International Theatre Festival, which now attracts performing arts from some 70 countries around the world. With performances and events held in numerous venues around the city it has grown larger and larger. This achievement has led to the city’s designation as a cultural capital of Europe in 2007 and contributed greatly to the development of the region. The festival was launched as part of efforts to re-establish the theater that was burned during Romania’s 1989 revolution. In this interview we speak with Constantin Chiriac, the festival’s director and a guiding figure in the rebuilding of Sibiu as a cultural city.
(Interview: Akihiko Senda; Romanian-Japanese Interpretation: Shigehito Shiga)

The Sibiu International Theatre Festival was launched in 1993 and is now said to be the third largest performing arts festival in Europe after Edinburgh and Avignon. I attended it myself in 2007 and was impressed by both its scale and what a unique festival it is. Since you were instrumental in the establishment of this festival, can we begin by asking you how it came to be established?
It is a bit of a long story, but I would like to begin by talking about the stage prior to the festival’s launch.
 I was primarily and actor, but under the old communist system (Ceausescu regime) we were unable to travel abroad and were not granted passports. Also, our country’s television and radio only had very limited broadcast hours and most of that was taken up with publicity and propaganda of the Ceausescu regime, such as reports of official state visits and the like.
 At the time Ceausescu hated most people in the arts and culture. What he was trying to promote was a large nationwide culture festival called “The Singing Voice of Romania” and its contents were only things that cultivated his own personality cult. He got this idea after visiting North Korea, with which he had very good relations. This was the main reason that the activities of theater companies were subjected to strict censorship.
 As for theater professionals like myself, we were kept in dire financial straights, being given just enough to live on but no support for financing productions. We could only conduct our theater activities within the scope of what we could earn from our own ticket sales. Because of that situation, an actor had to work about 400 stages a year just to get by as a professional actor. That is the equivalent of performing one stage or more every day of the year. It was indeed a difficult era.
 On the other hand, the theater was a space where a certain kind of freedom could exist. What I mean by that is if we did Shakespeare’s Richard III the audience would know that in fact we were referring to Ceausescu. In that way, you could say that through the words of the plays we were able to create a second world with its own language of freedom. And in that sense we had a big responsibility to speak out against the dictatorship, for which theater people were highly respected by the citizenry and the general public.
 At the same time, it is an irony of the era that the fact we were not able to travel abroad freely gave us plenty of time to study. We read books with fervor and many people studied foreign languages. And it can be said that because of this we were able to help raise the cultural level of our audiences to a great degree. So, although the dictatorship had many negative and detrimental aspects, there were also some positive aspects that developed in spite of it.
 As I just said, an actor like myself and other theater professionals had to perform in many stages throughout the year, which meant that we had to strengthen ourselves in body and soul in order to survive in our calling. In other words, it was an era that strengthened the fundamentals of theater in us and strengthened our fundamental skills as actors.
 Then in 1989 came the revolution and the theater of Sibiu was burned in the conflict. It was the fourth burning in the history of the theater. The fact that the theater was founded in 1788 and is one of the oldest in the central region and in all of Eastern Europe shows how active theater was in Sibiu from old times. There were balcony seats in the theater decorated with carvings of rose bushes and there was also a theater magazine published in German.
 Just after the collapse of the Ceausescu regime, we made an appeal to theater people in Germany for assistance in rebuilding the theater in Sibiu. The response we got was tremendous and I was immediately invited to Berlin. At the theater I was invited to I saw on the wall an enlargement of the letter I had sent that was posted for the theater audiences to see. That is how we began building a network connecting the Sibiu theater to Germany. It was reported on German TV and I was invited to a meeting with the Chancellor at the time, Helmut Kohl. In a sense that was our first step out into the world beyond Romania, and it was also my first step into the world.
 In the communist era I concentrated mainly on one-man shows. Personally I had learned to speak English and French, so after the fall of the Ceausescu regime I had opportunities to take my plays on tour, particularly in the Romance language countries. In 1993, I was invited to Antwerp, Belgium, when it was designated as a European Capital of Culture. In the same year war broke out in the former Yugoslavia and we received a call from the Director of the Sarajevo Festival during those celebrations. It informed us that Serbia had begun bombardment of Sarajevo and appealed for help. The people in the arts assembled in Antwerp at that time responded immediately by establishing an initiative committee and had Sarajevo declared a European Capital of Culture, even though it was just for a month. If you visit the EU-Japan Festival office you will see the poster made at that time announcing the designation of Sarajevo as a European Capital of Culture under our initiative. It was at that time that I decided to start our own festival. At the same time I got the idea of making Sibiu a Cultural Capital of Europe also.
 It was then in 1993 that we organized our first festival. In that first holding we designated it a “student theater” festival. At the time I had no idea of just how difficult a job it is organizing a festival and began it completely in the dark. All I had then was the passion to do something and nothing else (laughs). The only assets I had at the time was that passion and the friends around me.
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