Today we had the chance to have an interview with the director of the National Theater of Cluj Mr. Mihai Măniuţiu and Theatric Drama Professor at the University of Babeş Bolyai Madame Anca Măniuţiu. We talked with them about theater before and after the revolution and about art in Cluj.
Our first question was about how the National Theater was functioning. It is a completely independent theatre and a public space. Which means that they receive funds from the government but they are not repressed our controlled by it. They can decide on which plays to play and what to do with the allotted money without the pressure of the government.
As we went to “La Ordin, Führer” just a day ago, we also asked him whether the decision to put the game to that day (the day of the elections in Austria) was intentional. He said that it was not intentional and that there was no political motivation in selecting that date or play. He said that La Ordin Führer was not the production of them but a production of another company which is near Cluj. He told us that he could not direct any plays because of his role in the theater as the general director and that he could not legally pay himself. He told us that as the general director he was responsible for the money issues and the creation of the agenda.
About the Selection of Plays
He told as that there was no didactic purpose behind the plays and added that it would have been a tool of manipulation in that case. He told us that the goal of the theater was not to convey a message to the audiences but was to give artistic pleasure and put on a good play. Yet he said that plays like Mein Kampf, which treads on fascism and dictatorship, were also selected but solely because they were really good.
Theatre During the Communist Era
After Communism was established in Romania, all the theaters were nationalized and the companies were taken under the government control. Theater was also controlled along with all the other institutions by the regime. Mr. Mihai Măniuţiu said that although there were good actors, writers and dramaturgs in the communist time, there was nothing good about the Communism Era Romanian Theatre. They told that they were only performing classical plays of writers like Shakespeare and Moliere and that modern plays were not allowed. Therefore, they describe the plays during the communist era as propaganda tools or at least pro-communist pieces. Mr. Măniuţiu describes those times as a nightmare, Mrs. Măniuţiu tells us that he never intended to be a part of this propaganda process but he was forced and was suspended from active duty in the theater for around 2 years.
She told us that the idea during that time was to find a way to avoid certain things like religious propaganda or political issues. A lot of important people from the National Theater found the solution in leaving the country and pursuing their countries in other places.
One interesting anecdote he told us was that when he was directing The Bourgeois Gentleman in 1988 before the revolution, where the story of Mr. Jourdain is told, it is a critical story, yet it was authorized by the communist government as a classic. In the original script Mr. Jourdain is a guy who tries to climb from being a bourgeois to become an aristocrat using schemes. Mr. Mihai Măniuţiu edited the script of the play and gave Mr. Jourdain a hobby, repairing shoes, which also happens to be the hobby of Mr. Ceausescu from his youth too. So he actually concealed his criticisms deep under the script and although it was noticed by the audience and he did not go into trouble. He gave this as an example of going around censorship during the communist era.
Mrs. Măniuţiu that during that time they had to think twice before talking about certain issues in public because the political policies was certainly around somewhere. They both agree that the revolution suddenly changed everything and that the day after the revolution they woke up to a country where they could talk about things that they could not talk about a day ago. It of course took some time to adapt to the new order and they say that Romania is still in the transition process. They say that the revolution had a radical impact on their lives and they count themselves lucky to be able to restart all their lives after the revolution for some of their friends were either too old or too tired to begin a new life.
Theater in Todays’ Cluj
Mr. Măniuţiu says that today there is no state pressure over theatre but he adds that it is mainly because the theatre industry is actually to tiny for the government to be worried about, total seats in the halls of National Theater can accommodate no more than thousand people a day. He says that it is hard for the theater to have an impact on the national agenda.
When we ask him whether if he wants to change something from today, he says that he is happy that Romania is part of the EU and that he is worried about the Brexit and upcoming elections. Mrs. Măniuţiu says that there is a need for honest politicians to make Romania stronger and therefore he wants a change for that.
National Theater is cooperating with the Hungarian theater and the other tiny theaters in the region and sometimes gives them its halls for performances for free Mr. Director says that there is never a lack of audience in the plays and that all the plays are always sold out. He says that %70 of the people coming to the plays are university students and the teenagers because Cluj is an education city. He says that although he is happy about the enthusiasm towards theatre in Cluj there is a lack of contemporary writers to represent Romanian theatre both in country and abroad. He is saying that although there are some acclaimed directors and actors, it is hard to export scripts to other countries and that it needs to be worked on.