Global Theatre Histories

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Conference: Theatre, Globalization and the Cold War

18-19 May, 2012, Munich. Conference Report by Antje Dietze available

18.05.2012 – 19.05.2012


The spread of communism constitutes one of the most signification global phenomena of the 20th century. Marked at turns by military expansion, political annexation and, during the course of the Cold War (roughly 1945-1991), also by large scale ideological warfare, both clandestine and overt, this conflict had a cultural-political dimension conducted by various countries utilising all available media. In the great Cold War struggle, Eastern bloc countries appeared to have the more potent cultural weapons. Socialist policy advocated generous state support of the arts, maintained subsidized institutions and boasted powerful ambassadors. In the realm of theatre the Soviet Union could marshal the most influential acting theorist of the 20th century, Stanislavsky, as well as one of the admired theatrical institutions, The Moscow Art Theatre complete with model productions of Chekhov (arguably one of two or three most important dramatists of the century and fortuitously reconcilable with Socialist Realism). East Germany fielded Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble, Poland had Jerzy Grotowski, who, although hardly an outright Marxist, remained a card-carrying member of the Polish Communist party and whose work was hardly conceivable without the state subsidies that enabled him to work in his laboratory free of commercial pressures. The battle for “hearts and minds” was conducted equally, if not perhaps even more, intensely in the so-called ‘non-aligned countries’ where East and West could be played off against each other and official politics were not necessarily congruent with cultural activities on the ground. Here the list included numerous countries in Asia, the Middle East, Latin merica and Sub-Saharan Africa. Wars of liberation and liberation theatre often went hand in hand.

The conference will focus on the role played by theatre and all forms of theatrical performance (circus, dance, opera etc.) during the Cold War. Its purpose is to map, characterize and theorize the theatrical traffic engendered by the spread of communism especially after the Second World War until the end of the Cold War. The overall focus will be on interconnections between countries and regions rather than on specific manifestations of communist/socialist ideological formations within individual nation-states.