Every year, The International Theatre Festival in Sibiu opens its curtain both for theatre aficionados and for uninitiated bystanders who want to step into the fascinating world of theater, dance, music and street performances.

A lot has been said and written about celebrities, but there are some people who contribute to the efficient development of the event through their dedication and seriousness. These are the volunteers, a multicultural community of people, of different ages, nationalities, professions, from high school students, university students, teachers, medical and military personnel to corporate executives or retired seniors, all united in their passion for the performing arts.

The Volunteering Program has existed since 1994, since the first official edition of FITS and is one of the hallmarks of this spectacular event. Its structure has been reinforced in 2007, when FITS created a platform for volunteers working in the field of culture and education in Sibiu and not only, by organizing free professional training for nearly 380 participants from Romania, Japan Korea, Iran, Canada and Europe, as FITS volunteers.

Volunteering provides participants with a solid sense of belonging to a community and with the opportunity to be part of the festival team. Angharad Frandes first volunteered when she was a student and she recalls being sad that the festival was always taking place during exams. Then she made a promise to herself that after graduation she would not miss another edition. Now she is assistant teacher at the university, translator and volunteer at FITS . “Why am I volunteering? I have heard this question literary for 1000 times, with no exaggeration. Why waste my time running about in my spare time and wasting my nights? First and foremost: people. I meet there so many different people… theater people, musicians, writers, artists … it is fascinating!”

I have learned to work with people from different cultures.

Volunteering requires discipline, hard work, diligence, punctuality. It means running from one place to another, unanticipated tasks, moments when you can’t afford to break down and you have to improvise, go further, as it often happens on stage. “In these five years of volunteering I have learned to work with people from different cultures and to understand that it makes no odds whether you work on the rhythm of balalaika, violin, harp, koto or accordion, the work is still work and that no matter what, the show must go on”, says Cosmin Mira.

photo: Paul Băilă

Diana Dobre has also entered the world of volunteering since college days when she was splitting her time between exams and the life of a volunteer; now she is the assistant coordinator of volunteers “Perhaps for many volunteers, FITS has become more than just a volunteering event. I know that for many of us it means more than a week and a half of long-expected awaited and unforeseen events, it has become a mindset that inspires us every year. Emotions, embarrassment, excitement, drama and dance, song and poetry, innovation, and control. These would be the ingredients of a FITS that you get to remember all year long, for all your life.”

Volunteers gain not only the friendships they make; they develop empathy, communication, management, and crisis management skills. “Through the Volunteering Program I have stepped into the world of theater, a world hidden from sight, full of surprises. The crowd of people I’ve run into was huge. My first days were like the days of a newborn trying to adapt to the world. The total madness of the festival suffocates you, when you see everyone stressed out, yet trying to remain calm. But if you stop for a few seconds and take a look at the core of the festival, it is extremely beautiful. One cannot believe the effects reflected in the happiness of so many theatre lovers, curious people, amused children and of course, in the end, in everyone’s satisfaction”, says Iulia Popa, high school student.

Reaching its 23rd edition, the Festival is once again at a festive hour: the Volunteering Program Japan turns 10 – with the kind support of EU – Japan Fest Japan Committee.

“EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee is an exceptional partner, with which we managed to develop a program so impressive, started on the occasion of Sibiu European Cultural Capital in 2007. Together, we have managed to influence the destiny of over 130 Japanese volunteers. This experience has led many of them to finding themselves, learn things about their own being. They’ve found out what they wanted to do, they dream about their future, some of them have already chosen their profession, some have focused more on learning foreign languages, some discovered their interest for other cultures and civilizations. All are true Ambassadors of Japan and of FITS ” said Popescu Petruţa.

Mayumi Taniguchi was a FITS volunteer for three years, and now she is the coordinator of the Volunteering Program in Japan. She thinks the people considers of Sibiu are lucky to have such numerous cultural events but believes it’s not just a matter of luck; it’s about the shared enthusiasm that gives the city a new blast. “These efforts give power to the city. We, the international volunteers, receive a daily fee per diem for expenses and this money is spent for and in Sibiu. This leads to an efficient flow circuit of people, of money, of generations and culture. During the Festival, I often noticed how the faces of young Romanian volunteers change. Volunteering makes them look much more mature than before. “Thank you very much and I will return”, writes Mayumi in conclusion, in Romanian.

Being a volunteer in a world where material needs prevail can be considered a luxury or a naive gesture, but it is precisely this unselfish act which unites people, prompts them to be introspective and to discover skills they were not aware of or limits that they will exceed. It is the surest way to get out of your comfort zone and to get to know yourself and your peers.