President Ramsaur, Executive-Director and Vice-President Wei-Wen Chang, Past-President Pekkanen, Past Secretary-General Lievaart, Members of the OISTAT Executive Committee and Governing Board, National Representatives, Members and Honored Guests—
I was pleased to be asked by your President and Executive Director to provide a few words of greeting to those assembled at this OISTAT Congress and to the participants of World Stage Design 2009. I am honored and very lucky to have been one of the founding members of OISTAT, OISTAT’s second President and a recipient of the OISTAT Gold Key. This is an auspicious occasion and a huge undertaking for your host country of Korea. I am sorry I cannot be with you in person.
OISTAT is now just over forty years old. It was organized at the behest of the International Theatre Institute who felt that our specific fields of scenography, theatre architecture, and theatre technology would be best encompassed in a separate, UNESCO-related, international organization. There were only seven of us at that initial meeting, rather evenly divided in numbers between representatives of the “socialist” countries and the “west”. I suppose we all came somewhat out of curiosity as well as out of respect for the ITI’s interest. In the “west” we knew of the thriving theatrical activity behind the “iron curtain”; surely there was something to learn and something to share. In the east there were the official state planning ministries for theatre building, and other ministries for theatre practice. The delegates of the socialist countries were largely drawn from these ministries. They were curious how theatre activity could survive in the west without state subsidy. The west also had these self-supported not-for-profit membership organizations of theatre technicians and designers such as the DThG in the German Federal Republic, the ABTT in England, and the USITT in the United States.
We started out “east” and “west”, hoping to make friends but understanding that we came from countries whose political systems were completely at odds. Then we made a crucial discovery! The problems of theatre design and production were common to all of us! We found that we could discuss those problems together! Soon as the programs began in the various commissions there were meetings in the various countries, then individual invitations for visits as the program of international exchanges began. We made many friendships over glasses of Pilsner. Egri Bikavér, Slivovitz and vodka, along with some California cabernet. That opened up an entire new world of personal understanding between us in the most human terms, which, of course, is the raison d’etat for these international organizations to exist at all.
I don’t want you to think that even as an international organization we could completely avoid international politics. Those in the east were bound within the limitations of official policies set by their ministries. However, we soon recognized how much common ground we were able to find. There was an episode in Prague following Prague Spring in which our Secretary-General was removed from a luncheon meeting and arrested. Every member of our entire group condemned this action to the Czech Ministry of Culture, every member from every country represented at that meeting. On another occasion, the Israeli delegate was assigned solo to an obscure hotel an hour away from the meeting place, several of us from both east and west insisted we be moved to that hotel. Politics could not be completely avoided, there were numerous “peace resolutions” from one side and “free imprisoned artists” from another.
I would like to think, that the meetings and conferences held in both “east” and “west” and the friendships formed in OISTAT, became a tributary stream, the beginning of a mighty river formed by ourselves and countless other international groups from many disciplines, that eventually broke down the barriers and boundaries and demanded a world in which the “cold war” ended and the “iron curtain” became an icon of the past. That time was only one generation ago, just twenty years. Global understanding between the peoples of the world is what we do best, even within our own disciplines.
OISTAT continues to thrive through the interest of Ministries of Culture, first in Czechoslovakia, then the Netherlands, and now in Taiwan through the Council for Cultural Affairs. OISTAT has been very fortunate to have this support. It clearly cannot exist on the basis of membership dues alone, the dilemma that was being faced only a few years ago before Taiwan made its huge commitment of support. I know that you will continue to show your appreciation for this support.
Breaking boundaries may still be the most important challenge for the OISTAT of the future. From personal experience as OISTAT President I know how difficult it is to identify a leadership group in a country and help them to establish a national center. As a goal there could be an OISTAT Center in every country in which the ITI has a membership center? Or, even as a more intermediate goal to have a Center in every country that currently exhibits at the Prague Quadrenniale? I know that OISTAT has established categories of membership for individual and organizations to encourage more participation. However, there are entire continents not currently represented in any substance in OISTAT.
OISTAT must do its best to reach out and find these individuals and theatre centers and seek the involvement of their designers, technicians, theatre educators and architects. I think particularly of the strong theatres traditions that exist in many countries of Latin America, yet the current OISTAT website reveals that only Mexico and Brazil are OISTAT members. What in the world has happened to the theatre-rich countries of Oceania---including Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore? And not only those countries which have long theatrical tradition and a substantial theatre establishment, but also OISTAT must seek the involvement of practioners in the developing nations, for example, the Arab countries of the middle east and throughout the continent of Africa, for example.
Dear Colleagues, I thank you for this opportunity to offer my best wishes for a great conference and what is sure to be an important exhibition of world stage design. And a salute to forty years of OISTAT. Let us join in a favorite toast I learned in Prague all of those years ago---- “STO LOT” ---“to the next hundred years!”---
With Best Wishes,
Dr. Joel E. Rubin
Past-President of OISTAT