International critics get together in Belgrade at the IATC congress

Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun at the BITEF festival. Photo: Daniel Seiffert
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At the end of the month, critics from the world over will gather in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, for the 28th biennial congress of the International Association of Theatre Critics. The IATC has members in more than 70 countries, most of which will be represented at the congress.

Britain’s national membership is through the drama section of the Critics’ Circle, for whom Mark Brown of Glasgow’s Sunday Herald will be looking to retain his place on the association’s executive committee when this year’s elections take place. Brown is at present jointly responsible for the seminars for young critics, which are an important part of the association’s activity – the next will be in Wroclaw, Poland, in October. Brown also plays an important role in IATC’s web journal, Critical Stages.

IATC members are a varied lot. Where many national sections, such as those in the UK and US, are working journalists, others can be a mixture of newspaper critics and academics. This can make for lively debate from different standpoints at IATC events, not least in the congresses, which all have as a centrepiece a symposium on a topic of, hopefully, general concern.

The title of the 2016 symposium, Newness and Global Theatre: Between Commodity and Cultural Necessity, arouses the suspicion that the academics may have the upper hand this year, a suspicion reinforced by the description of the symposium’s aims: “Has newness reached a cul-de-sac? Has its rebellious nature turned into a blueprinted course of conduct, its critique into empty rhetorics and its transgression into a ceremony of commodified repetition? In a globalised and commercialised art culture in which power structures and domination strategies set the rules of the game, this conference will address the dichotomy between innovative art and plain commercialism.”

Delegates who fight shy of such gobbledegook will still find much of interest both in the conference itself and in other congress activities. There will be the presentation, for instance, of IATC’s Thalia Prize, awarded to someone who has had a salutary effect on world criticism. This year’s winner is Nigerian playwright and critic Femi Osofisan, following in the footsteps of Eric Bentley, the first winner, and most recently Eugenio Barba, creator of Odin Teatret.

And encompassing the congress will be the 50th edition of the prestigious BITEF festival, for which Osofisan will be a member of a jury led by honorary IATC president Yun-Cheol Kim, who has left his critic’s job to take on the direction of Korea’s National Theatre.

BITEF, which in its early years was practically the sole opportunity for cultural exchange between East and West European theatres, remains a major festival under its new director, Ivan Medenica, an IATC member critic who has been able to unite the two events. This year’s festival emphasises ‘newness’, but will also feature productions linked to the problem of migration, including contributions from Vienna’s Burgtheater, Berlin’s Schaubuhne and national theatres from both Serbia and Croatia.

The Stage’s Natasha Tripney, one of IATC’s newest members, will be there to report on both the congress and the festival.

festival.bitef.sr; aict-iatc.org; criticalstages.org