Going to a Ball?

Looking for a reason to celebrate? March 27 is “World Theatre Day.”

The idea for a simultaneous international celebration came from the Finnish representatives to the International Theatre Institute (ITI) in 1961. ITI had been established by UNESCO in 1948 to promote “international exchange of knowledge and practice in the domain of the performing arts, to stimulate creation and increase cooperation between theatre people, to make public opinion aware of the necessity of taking artistic creation into consideration in the domain of development, to deepen mutual understanding in order to participate in strengthening peace and friendship among peoples, to join in the defense of the ideals and aims of UNESCO.”

Why March 27th? In 1962, the date was the opening of the “Theatre of Nations” festival season in Paris, France.

What happens? ITI centers in each country coordinate festival events, open new theatre buildings, invite special performances, provide symposia, create parades, or - my favorite - host balls. (It’s my favorite only in imagination; I’ve read about balls - Prus, Richardson, and Tolstoy come to mind - but I’ve never been to one. Do they really still exist? Are there still lots of military uniforms? What music do they play?)

ITI’s main contribution for the day is the selection of a well known theatre artist to write a “World Theatre Day International Message.” Beginning with Jean Cocteau (1962), message writers have included Fathia El Assal (1994), Peter Brook (1969/1988), Vaclav Havel (1994), Pablo Neruda (1971), Wole Soyinka (1986) Mikhail Tsarev (1984), and Hélène Weigel (1967). (For a complete list, as well as some messages from previous years, see the ITI website.)

This year’s writer is Víctor Hugo Rascón-Banda of Mexico. (As he tells it, with a name like that he knew he would become a writer.) He has written over fifty plays (including Voces en el Umbral {Voices on the Threshold}, Los Ilegales {The Illegal}, Contrabando {Contraband}, La Mujer que Cayó del Cielo {The Woman who Fell from the Sky}, Sazón de Mujer {Woman Seasoning}, and Apaches), as well as screenplays, in addition to teaching and serving as the President of the Writers of Mexico, Consultant Council of the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Treasurer of the Academia de Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas, President of the Authors Societies, and Vice-president of the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies.

His message, A Ray of Hope, reminds us of the power of theatre and the possibilities of expression: “Gods and men used to speak to one another on the stage, but now men speak to other men. Therefore, the theatre must be grander and better than life itself. Theatre is an act of faith in the value of a wise word in an insane world. It is a demonstration of faith in human beings who are responsible for their destiny.” (The complete message can be read in Spanish, English, and French.)

I am an ITI-baby. Throughout my career and travels, ITI has been a great resource - everything from helping to facilitate meetings, to getting tickets, to being a friendly face in a cold place.

So, happy World Theatre Day! What will you wear to the ball?

- Bill Reichblum

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