Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii; format=flowed Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit --------------010108040200000303070205 Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8; name="" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Disposition: inline; filename="" Content-Base: " IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=14&NrIss ue=52&NrSection=2&NrArticle=10676&S T1=body&ST_T1=cer&ST_AS1=1&ST_max=1" Content-Location: " IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=14&NrIss ue=52&NrSection=2&NrArticle=10676&S T1=body&ST_T1=cer&ST_AS1=1&ST_max=1" = Historical Drama

Historical Drama

by Stefana Ciortea-Neamtiu
17 September 2003

Riding the waves of change, a last bastion of German culture in Southe= astern Europe tries to keep a 250-year tradition alive.

TIMISOARA, Romania--=E2=80=9CThis theater's primary goal is to serve the = German public here, but it should also promote German culture to the rest= of the population. =E2=80=A6 The audience is the most important thing, w= hatever its makeup,=E2=80=9D says Ida Jarcsek-Gaza, the newly appointed m= anaging director of the German State Theater in Timisoara.

The survival of the theater through the last half-century "is a great ach= ievement," says Ion Caramitru, actor and president of the Theater Union o= f Romania. Today, 50 years after its founding as the first professional G= erman-language drama company in Romania and all of Southeastern Europe, t= he Deutsches Staatstheater Temeswar faces a challenging future.

According to the theater's former manager Alexandra Gandi-Ossau, its miss= ion is to =E2=80=9Ckeep in rhythm with the society in which it belongs an= d to find ways to reach the public=E2=80=9D--a public largely drawn from = the shrinking German minority in the Banat region.

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Lucian Varsandan, the theater's dramatic advisor,= is one of those who says the institution still has plenty of room to dev= elop as it strives to serve Romania's Germans and other Banat residents a= nd visitors interested in German culture.

"I also believe it is a bridge between here and Germany," he says. The co= mpany has toured Germany nearly every year since 1990, performing classic= s and works by little-known Banat German dramatists.

The theater contributes to the dialogue of cultures in Timisoara, Varsand= an says. "A gap would appear in the Romanian theater scenery if this thea= ter ceased to exist. It is also important to remember that there is a 250= -year tradition of German-language drama in Timisoara."


In the middle of the 18th century, touring companies from Berlin, Vienna,= and Budapest presented German plays in this city on the southern frontie= r of the Habsburg empire. In 1757, a theater opened in the building of th= e Serbian Magistrate and continued putting on dramatic productions for th= e next quarter-century. A German-language theatrical magazine, Thalia<= /I>, began publication in 1828.

Half a century later the German Theater's present home opened its doors a= s the Franz Joseph Theater in a hall designed by the celebrated Viennese = architectural duo of Fellner and Helmer. At first, the stage hosted Germa= n drama and operetta, later Hungarian performances were added to the repe= rtoire. Today, the building houses the Romanian-language Timisoara Nation= al Theater, the Hungarian Csiky Gergely State Theater, and the German Sta= te Theater, as well as the Romanian Opera Timisoara.

The company has presented more than 380 prem= ieres since its founding. With 12 in-house actors and 13 guest actors und= er contract, one permanent director and five guest directors, it continue= s to present classics of the German and world stage, Romanian plays, and = contemporary drama.

In 1953, the question of where to locate Romania's German drama ensemble = arose. "The choice was among Timisoara, Sibiu, and Brasov," says Horst Fa= ssel, director of the Institut fuer donauschwaebische Geschichte und Land= eskunde (Historical and Cultural Institute of the Danube Swabians) in Tue= bingen, Germany. He takes a special interest in the history of the German= theater outside the borders of Germany. Like Timisoara, Sibiu and Brasov= were centers of German life in the kingdom of Hungary and independent Ro= mania.

That long tradition of German culture in the Banat and Transylvania may h= ave seemed on the verge of extinction in the early 1990s, as Romania's Ge= rmans streamed west.

Ildiko Jarcsek-Zamfirescu, former actress and manager of the German Theat= er until 2001, recalls how quickly everything changed after the end of th= e communist regime: =E2=80=9CIn 1989 we hoped for better things, but in t= he spring of 1990 the big disaster came when 24 people from the theater w= ent to Germany. We were about 60 people in all, from the porter to the ma= nager. And I said, 'Now we have money, we have freedom, but we don't have= a theater anymore!' But we pulled ourselves back up."

Putting together a repertoire today means balancing the theater's traditi= on against the changing makeup of its public, says dramatic advisor Varsa= ndan. As the native-born German community declines, new audiences--German= -speaking business people, teachers, tourists, and a fast-growing number = of young Romanians and other young people interested in Germanic culture = and language--are on the rise. The young people, Varsandan says, =E2=80=9C= have different expectations from the theater, are more open to new experi= ments and they probably enjoy contemporary drama.=E2=80=9D

Following the critically successful 2000-2001 season of 20th-century clas= sics from Brecht to O'Neill under Jarcsek-Zamfirescu's management, Alexan= dra Gandi-Ossau took over and introduced regular revue-style music shows = to take advantage of the theater's house band. Following her resignation = earlier this summer, the managerial post went to Jarcsek-Zamfirescu's sis= ter, Ida Jarcsek-Gaza, a former regular, later guest performer with the c= ompany.

The management is also looking to reach out to the German speakers in out= lying areas of the Banat.

Tatiana Sessler-Palie, whose mother, Hella Sessler, acted with the compan= y in the early years, joined the ensemble in 1988. She remembers how they= used to tour the countryside, "sometimes to two or even three locations = a day. The halls were overflowing. It was a great honor to these people t= hat we came and played. They brought wine and cakes with them. Today we d= on't have anyone to play to or anywhere to perform in the countryside. Th= e 'cultural houses' where we used to play were already in bad condition t= hen, and many are closed today. So it is better for the remaining small a= udiences from different places to be brought to Timisoara by bus.=E2=80=9D=

Karl Singer, president of Democratic Forum of the Banat Germans, an organ= ization that represents the region's Germans, insists that the German The= ater serves not just the German minority, "although the German minority i= s the most interested in this theater. It is a German theater for all who= speak German and have had contact with German culture.=E2=80=9D


The Deutsches Staatstheater Temeswar opened its doors on 27 June 1953 wit= h Heinrich Laube's Die Karlsschueler. In the early years, recalls = actor and playwright Hans Kehrer, 90, who helped found the ensemble, "The= public liked the theater and were very generous. Even when we had doubts= about a play being good, they often surprised us with a big ovation."
Theater scholar Fassel says that this first professional German-language = theater in Southeastern Europe was followed by professional companies in = Sibiu, in 1961, and Szekszard, Hungary, two decades later. Other German t= heaters in the socialist bloc operated in Prague in the 1950s, "for such = a short time that our fellow theater scholars from Prague didn't know abo= ut it," and in Kazakhstan from the 1980s to the present.

The fortunes of Timisoara's German Theater have ebbed and flowed with tho= se of the city itself and its people, German, Hungarian, or Romanian. Jar= csek-Zamfirescu says the 1960s brought a period of depression to the ense= mble as the first wave of German emigrants went west, attracted by the ec= onomic boom in West Germany and the easing of travel restrictions.

Franz Csiky, the company's dramatic advisor from 1973 to 1978, says it wa= s sometimes a struggle to maintain artistic integrity. Censorship challen= ged the ensemble "to overcome the barriers built by the bureaucracy and t= he Party, and this also meant training one's creativity. Censorship was m= ore subtle than just saying this or that is forbidden. ... We always had = to play a certain number of poorer quality dramas by playwrights favored = by the regime."

Audiences were well aware that the repertoire was not selected on artisti= c grounds alone, Csiky says, and showed their understanding by supporting= "the important plays, the classic playwrights, and some local authors wh= ose dramas were about local issues."

Another rough time came in 1981, Jarcsek-Zamfirescu says, when "the Commu= nist Party ordered all [theater employees] who had applied for emigration= to be fired the next day. And on the 3rd of October--I remember this ver= y well--the managing director of the theater didn't allow 14 of our colle= agues to enter the theater any more. A couple of years later he himself w= ent to Germany."


The biggest emigration wave of all began early in 1990, when tens of thou= sands of German-speaking Romanians crossed the open border and headed for= Germany. By 1992, the German population of Timis County had fallen sharp= ly to 26,000; today that figure has dropped by half.

The German Theater had to change, and fast. A glance = at the names of the ensemble members shows that it did. Today, Romanian a= nd Hungarian actors perform alongside those of German descent. All are gr= aduates or students of the German drama classes offered in the music facu= lty at Timisoara's West University. The class is run by the company's new= manager, Jarcsek-Gaza. She explains how Jarcsek-Zamfirescu and then-dram= atic advisor Hans Lengenfelder began advocating for the class in 1990 and= , after two years, finally persuaded the university that the German ensem= bles in Timisoara and at Sibiu's Radu Stanca Theater needed fresh blood t= hat only university-level training could offer.

Four of every five graduates of the class now work at one of the two thea= ters, Jarcsek-Gaza says.

For Ciprian Lungu, a Romanian graduate of the class who has acted with th= e German Theater for a year and a half, performing in a foreign language = means he must put in "two or three times more work on the script." His ef= forts paid off in the opportunity to act with a professional company from= his student days and the chance to travel to student drama festivals in = Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

The German Theater is partially financed by the Timis County Council--as = Karl Singer of the Democratic Forum of the Banat Germans remarks, =E2=80=9C= a theater in a minority language couldn't exist without subsidies=E2=80=9D= --and relies on foreign institutions and sponsors. Sponsoring firms are f= ew, but such foreign organizations as the Institute for Foreign Affairs a= nd the Foundation of the Danube Swabians, both in Stuttgart, Germany, hel= p finance many of the theater=E2=80=99s projects.

Timisoara is still a trilingual city. Under the roof of Fellner and Helme= r's hall, the German and Hungarian State Theaters share one stage and the= Romanian-language National Theater and the Timisoara Opera use another. =

The dramatic advisor to the National Theater, Codruta Popov, points out t= he links among the companies: =E2=80=9CWe often exchange actors, director= s, stage designers." The German and Hungarian ensembles are on the same p= rofessional level as the Romanian, Popov says.

"The German theater is extremely important to us, being sometimes a partn= er, other times a competitor--as in sports. =E2=80=A6 Where there is only= one theater, there is isolation."

Stefana Ciortea-Neamtiu is an editor wit= h Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung/Banater Zeitung in Timisoara.

Photographs reproduced courtesy of the German State Theater in Timisoara.=

Books: The= Banat Memory Archive
A collection of oral histories by Jews of the Banat is published in Roman= ia.
by Stefana Ciortea-Neamtiu

Diversity: Vojvodina Ger= mans Seek Moral and Cultural Redress
A story of remembrance in the most ethnically diverse region of Yugoslavi= a. A partner post from Media Diversity Institute/BETA.
by Darko Sper

Coming soon: A profile of the Transylvanian German author Eginald Schlatt= ner.

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