However, a task such as the one we are dealing with here can, if it does not warn of the associated risks, lead to dangerous simplifications owing to the extraordinary complexity inherent in trying to observe art, whatever the discipline in question, in the heat of an identity narrative. Is it possible to think, in this case, about theatre regardless of the identity narrations when this thinking itself arises and is developed at the heart of these narrations? We do not doubt the theatre’s projection of the universal, when this is the intention that defines the work of its creators. However, is it not true that in order to aspire to the universal, it is necessary to recognize that one thinks, feels and creates from the particular? In searching for supposedly universal aesthetic, poetic and political sources, the art of theatre derives from ideas located in a concrete materiality, in a history, in a community, in a nation.
In a cautious way, and based on shared intuitions that are crystallized in certain works, authors and theatre companies, we wanted to start creating a didactic but not strictly academic compilation of the Romani theatrical pluriverse that could function as a modest entry-point to other views, voices and future specialized studies on the topic. We respect the research of experts in the field and do not intend to usurp it.
Our intention is to suggest paths towards an interpretation and an original vision of Romani theatre in Europe.
Our intention is not, therefore, to give a lecture but to suggest paths towards an interpretation and an original vision of Romani theatre – or linked to the Roma reality – in Europe. Such an immense, immeasurable ambition cannot be satisfied with a succinct, mechanistic and encyclopaedic account of everything related to Roma in theatre. We propose a hermeneutic of the historical relationship between ‘our people’ and this art; to illuminate the ways in which this relationship has contributed to the development, explicit or not, of imaginaries around Roma; to discover unsuspected spaces, a nexus located between identity and aesthetic creation, between identity, power, society and dramaturgy. This proposal is clearly infused with such considerations because all this is the minimum that we consider essential if our intention is to bring honesty and soul to this exciting field of reflection, which has been barely explored until now.
A proposal for inspiration
Through concise essays of a marked poetic tone, accompanied by biographies and technical data about both historical and current companies, as well as interviews with people of interest, the Romarchive Theatre section proposes to serve only as an introduction to those interested in this subject, as well as providing a sincere motivation for those who may perceive the opportunity to research the interesting universe of theatre. So if we had to explain the general framework of inspiration for the poetic and political nature of the compilation in this section, we would have to refer to the three most important historical international Romani theatre experiences: the Romen Theatre in Moscow, Russia; the Roma Theatre Pralipe in Skopje, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and the Romathan Theatre in Kosice, Slovakia. It is counterproductive to homogenize these three entities and present them as the only variants when drawing a map to represent the theatrical multiplicity of Roma. That is why we need to point out that this is not our goal. Rather, in view of the implacable schematic requirement imposed on us by this complex archival task, even when it is developed in the virtual field, we aim to create a network of approaches that can serve as an opening for others, as well as the literary consolidation of our topic.
Thinking on Romani theatre cannot avoid the peripheral influence of existing power relations between the cultural and artistic promotion of Roma and European institutions. This is illustrated by the story of the endless ups and downs of that initial ‘Indo-Romen’, led by the Jewish activists Semen Bugachevsky and Moishe Goldblat, with the support of Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski and actors from the famous MHAT (Moskovski Hudožestveni Akademski Teatar) [Moscow Academic Art Theatre], as well as the Soviet Union’s first minister of culture Anatoly Lunacharsky, and the creation in 1931 of the Romen Theatre in Moscow under Georgy Lebedev and led, since 2008, by Nikolai Slichenko. The Romen Theatre was created to showcase works by famous creators like Alexander Germano, as an example of the Soviet Union’s ambivalent support for Romani culture. The promoters of Romen had to find the difficult balance between their role at the service of the aesthetic and ideological criteria of socialist modernity and tradition, between the dramatization of classic works exclusively in Romanes and their predominant activity in Russian. These pressures, which are not unfamiliar in the final theatrical product of such companies, can equally be found in the history and work of Roma Theatre Pralipe, founded more than 30 years ago. Until Rahim Burhan, creator and director of Pralipe, gained the enthusiastic support of Roberto Ciulli and Helmut Schäfer from the Theater an der Ruhr in Germany, the work of the historical team encountered innumerable obstacles and great institutional resistance. In addition to economic difficulties, this greatly damaged the project, although its legacy will survive forever in history.
The desire to express oneself in Romanes constitutes, among many other issues, a large part of the importance of these initiatives in an interesting bidirectional ambition. On the one hand, we are faced with the need to transmit to Roma, in their own language, classical works of European theatre and literary history, often inspired by the Romani culture and worldview. On the other hand, we can observe the urgency of ‘Romanizing’ majority culture and transmitting the sense and reality of Romani creative experience to interested non-Roma audiences. Music and dramaturgy have proved to be invaluable instruments for transforming prejudices and stereotypes into questions that become bridges to understanding in the context of an eminently anti-Roma society. Romathan Theatre, created with this objective in Slovakia in 1992, has right from the start presented its works both to conventional European theatre audiences and to Roma communities from precarious peripheral settlements. Roma music of the Balkans and the dramatization of the historical events that devastated the Roma People have been transformed, in the hands of the Romathan, as well as the previously named theatres, into tools to promote community pride and combat racism. This applies not only to the Roma, but to Western societies as a whole, and it all derives from the artistic creation that emerged in the European Romani Theater.
Besides these three theatrical experiences of Roma art in the complex institutional field, we have added a number of very different independent projects, individual and collective, small flashes of Roma light from very different European countries: a total of ten theatre companies and more than twenty referenced plays.
Music and colour, dance and song, political message and drama: it was in the heat of all this that the irreducible Romani Theatre was born, and that is how we wanted to transmit it in the Romarchive. As we have pointed out repeatedly, we know the limits of our task, and from this sincere and precarious position we put at the reader’s disposal this necessarily incomplete historical introduction. Big names like Rahim Burhan or José Heredia Maya; companies such as Cirque Romanès, Giuvliven, Rroma Aether Klub, Theater Romance; and works such as Life on Wheels, by A. Germano, or I Declare at My Own Risk by Alina Serban, among others, feature among the pages of this open door to everything related to theatre and the Roma, hopefully for the delight of those who have the courage to venture into a world that will undoubtedly emerge transfigured forever.
Miguel Ángel Vargas and Dragan Ristić