Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945

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Theatre Experts for the Third World: ITI and the globalization of theatre

The International Theatre Institute (ITI) was founded in 1948 under the UNESCO umbrella to “promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts.” It was thereby part of a larger trend for epistemic communities in the post-war period, when a strong need was felt for international understanding that would help to achieve and maintain world peace. By providing platforms of communication, the UNESCO and affiliated organisations played a significant role in the creation of international expert networks of artists and scientists.
While most of the founding member states of ITI were European, more and more countries from Asia, Africa and the Americas joined in the first decade of its existence. The ITI began to put great effort into supporting “third world” theatre, by holding international theatre festivals and a series of colloquia, by promoting individual artists and by establishing its own Committee for Third World Theatre. All these efforts were supposedly non-political, but in many ways mirrored the methods used in the cultural Cold War. With member states on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the national centres of ITI being dependent on state funding, attempts to use the ITI as a tool of culture-political influence were inevitable.
The project examines how the ITI managed to coordinate the exchange of theatrical expertise amidst these Cold War tensions. It focusses on the two Germanies, that both became member states in the 1950s and are exemplary of this conflict. The FRD and GDR centres closely monitored each other’s ITI activities and regularly tried to oppose them in accordance with their countries’ official foreign policies and bloc allegiance. They also competed for influence among the non-aligned members through institutions like the Committee for Third World Theatre to promote their respective version of German culture exclusively. Despite the idealistic intentions that lead to ITI’s foundation, these international relations were clearly subordinated to national political interests.