In the early hours of the 20th century, the abandonment by the artists of traditional spaces (museums, performance halls, Academia) which had become much too rigid and too formal was seen as an act of rebellion or even showmanship, a form of breaking away with tradition; now, for the 21st-century artist, the exhibition of their creations in alternative venues is a natural gesture, a free expression of creativity, a way of giving art new meanings, of accessing new potential. In recent decades, the number of exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, installations or cultural workshops organized in former industrial halls all over the world has grown constantly, in an attempt to recuperate the past and connect it to the new realities. Tate Modern (London, UK), La Sucrière (Lyon, France), Carriageworks (Sydney, Australia), The Art Factory (Porvoo, Finland), Torpedo Factory Art Center (Alexandria, USA) are just a few examples of how the functionality of a venue may change.

Fabrica de Cultură (Culture Factory) – an alternative centre for culture, education and research is precisely such a melting pot where the memory of an industrial past merges with the newest modern art trends, with curiosity, innovation, creativity and enthusiasm. The project of the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre in Sibiu, launched with the support of engineer Ioan Tușinean, manager of S.C. Construcții SA, has proven extremely successful, especially considering the city’s scarcity of performing locations. This venue has already hosted big performances like “Faust”, “Lulu” or “Metamorphosis” and during the Sibiu International Theatre Festival it shall see the inauguration of a new hall with the premiere of the newest production by the Sibiu theatre based on a Japanese text and directed by Silviu Purcărete. “This is a very interesting venue in Sibiu and I hope it will pass the test of time because it is very well designed. The design is conceived by Dragoș Buhagiar and is extremely mobile, i.e. one may play performances in completely unexpected formulas. The stage may slide, it has turntables, you may place the audience wherever you want – it’s a piece of jewellery, a brilliant location, like no other in Romania” says Silviu Purcărete.

The actual construction of the hall began last spring when they installed most of the equipment with the two turntables, the stands, the dressing rooms and this spring they focused on the finishing touches; but things did not end here, because Constantin Chiriac, the director of the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre in Sibiu and the president of the Sibiu International Theatre Festival is planning new works for the coming future: “The venue we created is just like the stage of the National Theatre of Japan, but with huge improvements. It is modular, with rails underneath. We’ll be able to transform it into an Italian hall or into an Elizabethan theatre. It will become a space for research, a place of national and European pride, a venue for performances set up in different styles. We’ll also have a very good sound system with the help of one of the world’s greatest experts, Vasile Șirli, music director of Disneyland Paris. We plan to rebuild this venue with Norwegian funds so that next year, when we’ll be welcoming the presidents and prime-ministers of the other 27 EU Member States, to be able to show them “Faust” and finish the location for Micro-folie which should be inaugurated by president Macron together with the president of Romania.”

The complex project of this new performance hall from Fabrica de Cultură UniCredit is not, as one might suspect, the work of an architect, but of scenographer Dragoș Buhagiar who has the advantage of a rich national and international theatrical experience, but also that of an unmistakable talent which have allowed him to make the best of the potential provided by this abandoned location, changing its functionality from industrial to aesthetic: “It was my dream as a young scenographer. Ever since I set foot into the theatre I realized that the times we live, which see the dawn of all sorts of performances set up as a crossover between video, dance and theatre, need a different stage; and so when someone gives you the opportunity to build a performing venue you also think of the theatre producer, i.e. Mr. Constantin Chiriac, you think that if our performance is not staged, we must be able to perform something different there. Here, we know the needs. I’ve been coming to this Festival for years now and I’ve always had an interest in the technical issues that may arise. For instance, there was no turntable before. Performances which would have used turntables in other countries could not be brought to Sibiu. So, I designed a stage burying two mobile turntables, which may be moved to the stage of the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre. More accurately, there’s a 17×17-metre base stage and a black, simple stage with two turntables (a 9-metre one and a 2.5-metre ring) with a total of 15 meters. They run at variable speeds and operate both ways and are controlled with a DMX controller. The entire stage stands on 240 rollers. When you have a performance and for instance you wish to place the audience on two sides or on four sides, you draw the stage to the middle of the hall, dismantle the props, bring in the stands, I mean there are several formulas to build a stage here.”

The new hall is the result of a successful merger between need and creativity: on the one hand, the need to make up for the lack of cultural infrastructure, especially in terms of performing venues for the “Radu Stanca” National Theatre; on the other hand, the imagination, enthusiasm and generosity of a team which fought to provide the local public with a place due to become part of the city’s cultural heritage.

“The Scarlet Princess”

“The Scarlet Princess” . Photo: Mihaela Marin

The first performance to be staged here is “The Scarlet Princess” directed by Silviu Purcărete and based on a kabuki text, although the aesthetics is not kabuki-like, as the director himself confesses: “Kabuki theatre is a traditional form of Japanese theatre which is extremely elaborated and encoded. Those who practice it and those who study it need years and years to understand its language and formulas. I don’t know how to do this and no one in Romania does. The performance will be played in a venue somehow similar to the traditional venues of kabuki theatres and is based on a classical Japanese text from the kabuki repertoire, a text which I’m developing based on the means and knowledge of European theatre professionals, in a European theatre language, for a European audience.”

The scenography of the performance is signed by Dragoș Buhagiar, and the music by Vasile Șirli who has prepared an orchestra made up of actors who will play live pieces on sight (inspired by the kabuki theatre), but it lacks the emphatic expression of the traditional Japanese theatre. “Musically speaking, there is no reference to Japanese music. If there’s some colour to suggest this, it’s just to stay close, to restrain from making the music too European and totally out of tune with the subject. The great inspiration of the kabuki theatre is the existence of actors in some sort of performance orchestra, doing what the European theatre would call didascalia, i.e. the explanation of certain scenes. They will sing vocally with the actors on stage. The comments they’ll make will be musical and with sound effects, with percussion instruments, brass instruments and strings. It is a free inspiration performance. To me it seems really natural for Mr. Purcărete to stage this his own way and not according to some code that we do not possess, as our audience is not familiar with this code”, confesses Vasile Șirli.

The aesthetic and technical needs of Silviu Purcărete’s performance are successfully met by the new venue from Fabrica de Cultură UniCredit. In the end, the decommissioned industrial sites have the advantage of creating a special creative atmosphere, of encouraging freedom of expression, of intermediating unusual artistic associations and breaking the frontiers of art and technology, creation and industry.

cover photo: Dragoș Dumitru