On 3 May 1926, the first international gathering of theatre critics took place in Paris, bringing together critics from 26 different countries. Organized by the Association of Professional French Theatre Critics and chaired by Julien Luchaire, director of the Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, the aim of this meeting was to study how criticism is organized in different countries and how to establish permanent links between the various critics’ associations..
Regular and ongoing communication was thus established among individual critics around the world, although this network was not formalised until thirty years later, on the occasion of the third Festival of Paris. This later became the Theatre of Nations, organized annually at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre by Armand Maistre (also known as A. M. Julien), and was without doubt the most important theatre event in the world.
On 7 June 1956, one hundred and twenty critics, representing thirty-four countries, attended the various performances, meetings, and colloquia organized by the Festival. The critics, like the participants from other theatrical disciplines – directors, designers, etc. – expressed the desire to form an association. The French government took an immediate interest in these proceedings. Guy Mollet, president of the French Council of Ministers, received the congress participants at the Hotel Matignon, the seat of government, while Guy Bordenave, Secretary of State for Arts and Letters, chaired the working sessions. A provisional secretariat was established for the association and given the task of drafting the organization’s statutes. Robert Kemp of the Académie française directed the secretariat along with five vice-presidents, each representing one of the association’s constitutive languages (French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian), and six secretaries general.
The association’s statutes were adopted the following year at a meeting held in Paris at the offices of the French Association. Three additional vice-presidents were appointed, representing the United States, Latin America, and Eastern Europe respectively, and André Boll became the sole secretary general. Membership dues of 15 Swiss francs were established for national sections and 10 Swiss francs for the members of the so-called „independent” section, consisting of critics not belonging to any national association.
The next meeting, organized by Francesco Callari and held in the Italian city of Bologna in 1958, was the first to take place outside Paris. Fourteen countries were represented, of which four were non-European – the USA, India, Cuba, and Brazil. At the third meeting, held in Paris in June 1960, professional debate became more serious. A colloquium was organized on the theme „The critic’s position in the face of the evolution of performance, in the sense of so-called ‘total theatre’.” Twenty-four countries were represented, with Japan, Chile, Romania, and Sweden participating for the first time. A twenty-member board of directors was elected and a new secretariat was established under the direction of two “co-presidents” (who each served as president in succession), with Marcelle Capron of France taking up office immediately and Belgian critic Robert Chesselet following in 1962. André Boll continued as secretary general. In 1964 César Santelli, another Frenchman, succeeded Chesselet as president.
The next few years were devoted to consolidating the administration of the association. Although no general meetings were held for six years, the board of directors met frequently and productively. A newsletter was published twice a year to provide the members with regular information.
The new IATC really came into its own at the fourth congress. This took place in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, in 1966, as part of “Sterijino Pozorje,” an international symposium on “Contemporary Drama and Theatre Criticism” at which a hundred or so delegates were present. The mandate of the IATC was reviewed and made more precise: its purpose would be to organize international colloquia, participate in meetings and festivals, disseminate ideas about the state of the theatre, publish an international theatre annual and a newsletter dedicated to facilitating communication between its members, and, finally, to train young critics. Poland’s Roman Szydlowski was elected the new president along with two vice-presidents, one English and one Italian, and two French secretaries general. It was decided that countries would no longer be represented by individual critics but, rather, by national associations constituted by the critics of each country. An executive committee of ten member countries was created, establishing what would thereafter be the association’s decision-making body.
In May 1967 London hosted the IATC congress. Representatives from thirty countries took part, including several new participants, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, the Ivory Coast, Niger, Tanzania, and the Soviet Union. Jean Darcante, secretary general of the International Theatre Institute, and Enrico Fulchignoni, UNESCO Director of Arts and Letters, attended the sessions and an international membership card was created and distributed to all members in good standing. From 29 to 31 May 1970, in Novi Sad, a symposium was held on the theme, “Theatre criticism and Contemporary Drama.”
Biennial congresses, seminars
Since then, regular congresses have usually been held every two years in different regions. The congresses consist of the association’s general meeting as well as a symposium on a theme chosen by the host country. The next congress was held in Hammamet, Tunisia, in 1971, with a symposium on “Third World Theatre” presided over by Cheli Klibi, the Tunisian minister of culture. In 1973, in Tampere, Finland, Roman Szydlowski was re-elected president and Armand Delcampe became secretary general. The theme for this congress was “Theatre Outside the Big Cities.” In 1973 the IATC also welcomed a Mongolian delegation at the second Novi Sad symposium, from 25 to 27 April, on “Theatre as a Collective Act; Theatre and Self Management.”
Due to its participation in the Warsaw international symposium on “Theatre and Television,” in 1971, and in the Novi Sad symposium in 1970, the IATC drawed the attention of UNESCO and became affiliated as a non-governmental organization benefitting under Statute B. Its head office was subsequently established in Paris.
From 26 to 28 April 1974, a symposium was held in Florence, in conjunction with the “Rassegna internazionale dei Teatri stabili”, on the theme, “Asian Theatres: Gestual Communication, From Ritual to Rational; Political and Social Use of Tradition.” Another symposium was held on 22 and 23 April 1973 on “ Theatre and audience.”
Warsaw hosted the June 1975 congress. It was at this conference that the important decision was made to organize training seminars for young critics, the first of which would take place in Novi Sad in 1978. Thirty countries participated in the Warsaw congress, for which the theme was “The Place of Theatre Criticism in Today’s World.” The publication of an IATC annual in English and French was entrusted to the Polish section, who produced the annual from 1977 to 1980. At the 1977 congress, hosted by Greece and held in Athens, from 5 to 10 July, Yugoslavia’s Petar Selem was elected the new president. He stayed in office for three terms, in accordance with the articles of association. André Camp of France became secretary general. The 1979 congress was held in Vienna, Austria, on the theme “Popular Theatre Today.” The same year, a symposium took place in Novi Sad, under the theme, “Acting and Theatrical Creation.”
In 1981 the congress was held outside Europe for the second time, with 75 delegates meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel. This Middle East meeting, on the theme “Theatre and New Audiences,” attracted first-time delegations from South Korea, Denmark, and Venezuela. Congress participants were received by the mayor of Tel Aviv, Mr. Lahat, and by Israel’s head of state, Itzhak Navon, at the presidential palace.
The critics’ training seminars continued, with growing success. The IATC also cooperated closely with other international organizations and was represented at events of FIRT, SIBMAS, ITI, ASSITEJ and OISTAT. On 25 February 1981, at the World congress of OISTAT, the IATC held a symposium on the theme, “Scenography and Theatre Criticism.” The Mexican section took over publication of the international annual in 1981 and published a French/English/Spanish trilingual edition until 1983.
A symposium took place in Novi Sad from 29 to 30 May 1982, on the theme “The Performance and the Language of Criticism.”
In 1983 the IATC congress was held across the Atlantic, in Mexico, and Ulf Birbaumer of Austria became the new president. Eight Latin American countries took part and a trilingual symposium was held on “Hostility in Theatre.”
From 11 to 16 March 1985, a symposium was held in Moscow on the theme “The Social Role of Theatre Criticism.” Then, from 27 to 28 May, there was a new symposium in Novi Sad on the theme “Criticism Within the Theatre and Out of the Theatre.” The IATC returned to Europe, to Rome, for its 1985 congress, breaking with custom by meeting in November rather than in the spring. Ulf Birbaumer stepped down from the presidency and Great Britain’s John Elsom was elected to succeed him. French critic Georges Banu replaced André Camp as secretary general and Camp was named honorary secretary general. The theme for the congress was “The Language of Theatre in the Age of Mass Media.” Belgium’s Carlos Tindemans took up the newly created position of director of Training Seminars.
The association also attracted much attention from 18 to 19 October 1986, by holding a public conference at London’s Young Vic Theatre on the question “Is Shakespeare Still Our Contemporary?” Jan Kott was the special guest and other influential speakers included Peter Brook, Alexander Anikst, and David Hare.
From 15 to 21 November 1987, what was then East Germany welcomed the association to Berlin on the occasion of the city’s 750th anniversary. Paul Korenhof of Holland was named treasurer by the executive committee. He succeeded Roland Mehl, who had occupied the post since 1967 and who was made an honorary member of the IATC. Still in 1987, a symposium was held from 24 to 27 March in Budapest, Hungary, on the theme, “Theatre and Journalism,” and another one from 1 to 6 April in Tbilisi, Georgia, on the theme, “Training Theatre Critics.”
An interesting conference was held on 23-24 April 1988 at the Young Vic, on “The End of the Absurd?,” and featured speakers Eugene Ionesco and Martin Esslin. The following month in Novi Sad, on 28-29 May 1988, a symposium was organized on the theme, “Criticism and the Future of Theatre.” Still in 1988, from 27 September to 2 October, a symposium was held in Moscow on the theme “Stanislavsky and World Theatre.”
The 15th congress was scheduled to take place in 1989 in Buenos Aires but the Argentine section was unable to mount it at the intended time. The congress was deferred to the following year and was held in Lisbon in September 1990. It welcomed Australia to the association, thus establishing the IATC as a truly global organization with representation from all the continents. The symposium held within the framework of the congress dealt with “Theatre: a dialogue with reality.” A symposium was held from 27 to 29 July 1990 in Bologna, on the theme, “The Talking Body – the Language of Dance and Theatrical Practice.” A new symposium was held in Novi Sad on 1 and 2 June 1991, on the theme, “The Tower of Babel or the Global Village; Theatre as Transcultural Communication.” Finally, another one was held in Rome that year, on the theme, “Ricerca di teatro.”
In 1992 the IATC returned to Warsaw with a symposium on the controversial issue, “The Relation of Theatre to Politics.” It was also decided to launch a quarterly journal, ProSpectus, and the first issue appeared just a few months later. The editorial work was taken on by Iphigenia Taxopoulou and Nick White. It continued for three years. Both the young critics’ seminars and the executive committee meetings showed the Eastern European sections to be extremely active. Carlos Tindemans succeeded John Elsom as president and Maria Helena Serôdio became secretary general.
The 1994 congress in Montevideo was the first to be held in South America. New statutes, better suited to the current organization of the association, were approved, making it possible for more than one section to exist within the same country. Georges Banu became the new president, and Michel Vaïs (from the Canada/Quebec section) became treasurer. A young critics’ seminar was held in Chicago that year, supervised by the UK’s Ian Herbert, the new director of training. This was the first young critics’ seminar held outside Europe and would be followed by seminars in a number of other adventurous destinations.
In October 1995, a symposium was organized in Moscow on the theme, The Role of National Theatres in the Modern Theatrical Process. Young critics’ seminars took place in Grenoble and Londrina (Brazil). In 1996 Finland hosted its second IATC congress, this time in Helsinki, on the topic, Theatre and Journalism. Freddy Decreus of Belgium replaced Michel Vaïs as treasurer. The Finnish section published the Congress proceedings. The young critics’ seminars for that year were held in Sibiu, (Romania) and Almada (Portugal).
In September 1997, the Slovak Section organised in Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria) and Brno (Czech Republic) an international Symposium entitled Divadlo Bez Hranic, or Theatre Without Frontiers. The proceedings were published in Slovak, French and English in the journal Slovenske divadlo, and may be consulted in the following web site: <http://nic.savba.sk/sav/inst/kadf/knihy/5.html>. The 1997 young critics’ seminars were hosted in Istanbul and Pilsen (Czech Republic).
At the 1998 congress in Gdansk, our Polish colleagues received delegates from 25 of the 46 IATC member countries. The theme was Theatre in Small Communities and the Problem of Cultural Identity. Michel Vaïs succeeded Maria Helena Serôdio as secretary general and France’s Irène Sadowska-Guillon succeeded Freddy Decreus as treasurer. The IATC’s first web site was inaugurated and there was one young critics’ seminar that year, in Quebec City. In 1999 the venues were Waterford (Connecticut, USA) and Strasbourg, and in 2000 Zagreb (Croatia), Amsterdam and Nitra (Slovakia).
The XXth Congress had been planned to take place in Romania in 2000, but had to be postponed until 2001, when it eventually took place in Montreal. The theme chosen was Breaking the Language Barrier. Around eighty critics took part, from thirty-five countries, some of them represented for the first time (including Haiti, Jamaica and Mainland China). The General Assembly elected Ian Herbert (United Kingdom) as President. Michel Vaïs was re-elected General Secretary, Irène Sadowska-Guillon remained treasurer, and Georges Banu became an Honorary President. The new Executive Committee nominated Maria Helena Serôdio as the new Director of Training Seminars. Kalina Stefanova of Bulgaria took on a new role as Director of Colloquia, aiming to create more opportunities for established critics to exchange views. The proceedings of this Congress were later published by the Canada (Quebec) section. The young critics’ seminar for 2001 took place in St Petersburg.
June 2002 saw the first symposium for established critics organised by Kalina Stefanova, in Singapore, on the topic Theatre in the 21st Century: Creating, Consuming, Criticising Theatre. Stockholm and Almada (for a second time) were the host cities for the 2002 young critics’seminars, and there was also a reunion for seminar alumni in Varna, Bulgaria. In November 2003 the Association’s XXIst Congress was held in Bucharest, with the theme Theatre as a Force for Change: Social, Political, Personal, Aesthetic. Its proceedings were published in Romanian as well as French and English by the Romanian Section. The Association’s officers were all re-elected, and Margareta Sörenson of Sweden became the new Director of Young Critics’ Seminars. Earlier in the same year, in May, the Association continued its long association with the Sterijino Pozorje festival in Novi Sad, Serbia, as co-organisers of their triennial critics’ symposium, which had as its topic New European Drama: Art or Commercial Product. As usual, the proceedings were later published. In 2004 there were young critics’ seminars in Szeged (Hungary), Göteborg (Sweden) and Porto (Portugal), while in 2005 they took place in Montreal and Limoges.
Two congresses in 2006
In 2006 the Association held two Congresses, the first in Turin in March, as part of the celebrations of the Europe Theatre Prize. (The Association is a long-standing partner in the selection and organisation of the Prize, which is given under the auspices of the European Community, together with the Europe Prize New Theatre Realities). The topic for the colloquium which accompanied the Congress was The End of Criticism? and its papers were published in several theatre journals and on the Association’s growing website. There was also a symposium organised by the Japanese section in Tokyo in April of that year, under the title Criticism and Performance. Shortly afterwards, in May, the Association again collaborated with Sterijino Pozorje in its triennial critics’ symposium, under the chairmanship of IATC President Ian Herbert. This meeting’s topic was National Theatres and Nationalist Theatre; once more, its proceedings were published by Sterijino Pozorje in Novi Sad. In October 2006, a symposium entitled Do You Follow Me? or Theatre Generations and Their Ways to Communicate took place in St Petersburg.
The second Congress was an Extraordinary Congress to celebrate the Association’s 50th anniversary. Held in Seoul in October 2006, it had as its theme New Theatricality and Criticism. The papers from the Congress were published by the Korean section. A notable occasion in Seoul was the presentation by Korea’s Minister of Culture of the first Thalia Prize. The prize, generously sponsored by Romania’s Craiova Shakespeare Foundation, consists of a cane topped by silver images of the Greek muse of comedy after whom it is named. It is presented to someone who, in the view of the Association, has caused a change in critics’ thinking through their writings. The first Thalia laureate was the veteran English critic, Eric Bentley, who flew from New York at the age of 90 to receive it, and proved himself still remarkably young at heart in a strenuous series of meetings and talks. Another feature of the Congress was a ‘reunion’ for alumni of the Association’s seminars for young critics, who presented some valuable views on the direction IATC should take in its next 50 years. Shortly after the Seoul Congress, IATC members took part in a symposium in Hong Kong entitled Art Criticism in Hong Kong: Asian and Western Perspectives. The young critics’ seminars for 2006 took place in Charleville-Mezières (France) and Vilnius (Lithuania).
An IATC colloquium took place in May 2007 in Thessaloniki, Greece, in conjunction with that year’s Europe Theatre Prize, with the topic Prizes: Who Needs Them? As before, the papers were published in various journals of member sections and on the website. A further colloquium was organised in Almada, Portugal in July 2007 with its topic Dramaturgical and Scenographic Fictions: Convergences / Confrontations, later published in the Portuguese critics’ journal Sinais da Cena. In November 2007 the first meeting of the IATC Asian Forum took place in Beijing, on the theme of Western Classics on Asiatic Stages. The programme of young critics’ (now called “new critics”) seminars continued with visits in 2007 to Novi Sad and Cordoba (Argentina), and seminars in 2008 in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) and Jonquière (Canada).
The XXIVth Congress of IATC was held in April, 2008 in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Immediately beforehand, many of the hundred or more delegates had attended the presentation of the Europe Prize, again held in Thessaloniki, where the Greek Section organised a symposium under the title Theatre and Diversity, featuring a keynote speech by Richard Schechner (USA). The theme of the Sofia Congress was Theatre and Humanism in Today’s World of Violence and the contributions were published in English by the St Kliment Ohridski University Press; the book also included Professor Schechner’s Thessaloniki speech as a postscript. In Sofia the second Thalia Prize was awarded to the French critic, playwright and director Jean-Pierre Sarrazac. A first draft of an IATC Code of Ethics was presented to delegates for their consideration. At the Sofia General Assembly, Ian Herbert stepped down after completing his mandate as President, to be succeeded by Yun-Cheol Kim of Korea. Michel Vaïs continued as secretary general and Irène Sadowska-Guillon as treasurer. The post of Director of Training Seminars was taken over by Paulo Eduardo Carvalho of Portugal. Ian Herbert accepted an honorary presidency, having overseen a period in which the activities and membership of the Association were considerably expanded, with India and mainland China, among other countries, becoming full member sections.
In July 2008 a symposium was held in Grahamstown, South Africa on the theme The Psychology of Violence and Forgiveness in Today’s World Theatre. This was followed in November 2008 by a symposium in Toronto, Canada, on the teaching of criticism, from which it is hoped that a number of IATC-generated books may emerge.
This history of our association shows that in spite of profound political and social changes in the world, the task of our organization has not changed: to gather critics, both journalists and academics, for an exchange of knowledge, experiences and opinions. While the history of IATC can be seen as a reflection of the history of criticism itself, the rapid development of new media is likely to bring about momentous change in the conditions under which criticism is practised in the years to come. In these circumstances, the need for a professional association which will maintain critical standards and values is greater than ever.
History since the 2008 Sofia congress
Since the 2008 Sofia congress, Yun-Cheol Kim served for three terms as president, being re-elected at the next two congresses, firstly in Yerevan, Armenia in 2010, and then in Warsaw, Poland in 2012. At the 27th Congress of IATC in Beijing in October 2014, he was succeeded by Margareta Sörenson. During his presidency, with Michel Vaïs as secretary general, IATC activities grew steadily, thanks to the collective efforts of excom members. Each year two or more seminars for young critics and more symposia for established critics were held; for both of these kinds of seminars, more and more invitations are coming from theatre festivals, both international and national, mostly in Europe. Each and every member of the excom, plus delegates from national sections, have represented IATC so well at international and national theatre events – such as symposia (Caen, France, Tbilisi, Georgia, etc.), seminars, conferences (Melbourne, Australia, Beijing, China, etc.) and juries (Tehran, Sarajevo, Bucharest, etc.) – that the presence of IATC in the world theatre community has become much more visible.
At the Yerevan congress in 2010, the IATC code of practice was adopted almost unanimously: this was a very long and difficult journey, due to the differences between the theatrical and critical cultures of our national sections. It took us two years to reach agreement after the previous president, Ian Herbert, initiated the idea. This code has been circulated around the world, and it has become a heated topic of discussion among theatre communities. IATC has also awarded three Thalia prizes in the frame of congress. The prize, which recognises the recipient’s special influence on critical thinking, has been awarded to Richard Schechner, American practitioner and academic (Yerevan, 2010), Kapila Vatsyayan, Indian writer on theatre and dance (Warsaw, 2012) and Italian writer and practitioner Eugenio Barba (Beijing, 2014).
In 2009, IATC created and launched its webjournal, called Critical Stages. Initiated by Yun-Cheol Kim, it was a very difficult project in the beginning. So difficult, indeed, that even our international team of editors couldn’t quite reassure themselves that they would be able to bring the baby into the world with such a minimal budget. Under the great leadership of its first editor-in-chief, Maria Helena Serôdio, the first issue of Critical Stages was launched at the end of 2009. She edited the first three issues and established the firm ground on which the current editorial approach was based. Yun-Cheol Kim took over the role of editor-in-chief from the fourth edition of the journal, resigning his position soon after he left his post as IATC president, following the publication of Critical Stages number 10. At 2014 Beijing congress, special thanks were given to the journal’s editors, especially section editors such as Patrice Pavis, Matti Linnavuori, Don Rubin, Ivan Medenica, Savas Patsalidis, Andrea Tompa, Manabu Noda and Randy Gener, who have worked so energetically, and with such brilliant ideas and sincere commitment: and to the three language editors, Lissa Tyler Renaud, Michel Vaïs, and Mark Brown, and to all of the authors who have contributed their wonderful articles to the ten issues. These authors, from all around the world, have raised this journal to one of the best and most international theatre publications online. On average, Critical Stages has forty articles by twenty-five authors from twenty countries per issue. Its website is visited so frequently – by both general and professional readers – that its editors can feel their cause is greatly justified.
The 27th IATC congress was held in Beijing from October 15 to October 20, 2014, organized by IATC China and sponsored by President Xu Xiang of the Central Academy of Dramatic Arts. This was the second congress held in Asia. The first one was the extraordinary Congress of IATC in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, in Seoul in 2006. IATC offered its profound gratitude to the Chinese colleagues, who organized this grand event in this time of many difficulties, economic, political, social, cultural and religious. The general assembly elected Margareta Sörenson its new president, re-elected Michel Vaïs secretary general, and ten new excom members: China, Finland, France, Great Britain, India, Japan, Nigeria, Poland, Serbia, and U.S.A. Yun-Cheol Kim has become honorary president and Irène Sadowska-Guillon, honorary treasurer after she had resigned from her position for health reasons and a new treasurer was appointed, Stéphane Gilbart. The new leadership is expected to keep this great tradition of hardworking of IATC alive.
The 28th IATC Congress was held in Belgrade from September 26 to October 1, organized in parternship with BITEF, which celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was not the only anniversary, however: IATC has reached 60 years of existence and the coveted Thalia Prize, presented by the Association, also had its 10th anniversary. So, the 100 delegates from all over the world had a lot to celebrate together in the spirit of free dialogue that is at the heart of IATC. The general assembly reelected Margareta Sörenson its president, re-elected Michel Vaïs secretary general, and ten new excom members: Canada, China, France, Georgia, India, Japan, Nigeria, Poland, Serbia, and U.S.A.
“In a chaotic world, open discussion and free expression of opinions are of fundamental importance to the performing arts. The dedication of the critics to intellectual discourse and to sensitive analysis of the arts will always be an essential part of the endless love story between the performing arts and their audiences.” (Margareta Sörenson, President of the IATC)