The story of the brave theater that could

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For the love of theater

Ciulley LiviuThe CI Nottara theater was founded in 1947, right after the Second World War and it was first named “The Army Theater”. It was built by Liviu Ciulley, one of the wealthiest architects of those times, as a token of appreciation for his children, whose love for the theater could not go unnoticed. His son, Liviu Ciulei, would go on to become one of the most loved and acclaimed directors of his generation, being voted the best director at Cannes in 1965 and leading the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in the 1980s, when it won a Tony Award.

Looking back to the times long gone, Liviu Ciulei, the director, remembers how it all happened. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a construction engineer. But he cared little for the exact sciences involved in erecting buildings. He wanted to be a director and he loved the theater. So one day, without his parents knowing, he signed up for classes at the Theater Conservatoire. He prepared a monologue from Henry the IVth, by Pirrandello. The day came when he was supposed to face his future teachers and prove he was worthy of joining the Conservatoire. The exam was held in a classroom with no public. Just the examination commission.

When he was ready to start, the door opens and in comes his father, Liviu Ciulley. He asks to be allowed to watch the exam. He is granted the privilege and the exam starts. His son is terrified at first and barely remembers his lines. But he starts the monologue anyway. A bit shy at first, word by word he starts delivering one of his best performances, he remembers. The teachers loved him.

That same evening the family was sitting quietly, eating dinner. His father notices: “It seams the theater thing is quite serious.” He then pauses in complete silence. The future director is terrified of the outcome but a few minutes later he sighs relieved when his father takes his decision. “I will build you a theater”.

The Nottara Theater. Click for the virtual tour The Nottara Theater. Click for the virtual tour

Surviving the communist regime

After its founding, the Army Theater, as it was named until the 1960s, lived through challenging times. Private theaters were stripped of their finances and their founders stripped of their possessions by the Communist Party.

Lucia Sturdza Bulandra

Lucia Sturdza Bulandra

After 1948 most of the private property, including the private theaters, was nationalized and what would become the CI Nottara Theater was absorbed into the City Theater, under the management of Lucia Sturdza Bulandra.

Lucia Sturdza Bulandra was an actress, a teacher, a manager and a noble descendant of Prince Ion Sturdza, Ruller of Moldavia. In an unusual choice for those times (given her noble and therefore “unhealthy” communist origin) she was invited to create and manage the City Theater.

Her presence at the theater helped actors continue on their path and gradually restored the faith in this art. Though foreign plays were at first heavily censored and adapted to fit the communist agenda, culture was seen as that little drop of freedom still accessible. The people found a way to escape the isolation forced by communist party through the plays of foreign authors and notably, William Shakespeare. His influence on the cultural evolution through this times is undeniable.

The Nottara Theater was no exception. Under the leadership of directors, actors and even ex ambassadors (such as Maxim Crișan, previously an ambassador to Moscow), the theater grew its repertoire. It proved to be one of the few places where the communist regime was somehow lacking the needed influence to block all thoughts of freedom and culture.

The fall of communism and the theater’s rebirth

When communism fell in 1989, Romania found itself in a world it did not really understand. The incoming stream of western culture was too much to comprehend in such a short time. Given the changes in the social, political and economic spectrum, the people were left rather frustrated with the new world they were trying to grasp and could not.

The frustrations were felt within the theater as well. So the actors did what they could do best. They played their feelings openly so the world could see. Nottara was never empty. Its public became enamored with the actors performance as they reflected their own emotions through plays from the local and universal repertoire.

We’ve met the staff in the spring of 2015 when they were focusing on renovating the lobby and the stage area. They were quite happy that they have found a way to handle all their specific needs in terms of event management and we helped with what we could.

We stayed close to them and tried to understand the specific needs of these passionate people. Within a short time they were selling tickets online and we were amazed at how fast the public seemed to adopt and enjoy this new way of gaining access.

And then disaster struck.

The tragic night and the will to keep going

On October the 30th, 2015, the Colectiv Nightclub in Bucharest caught fire. 64 people died and 147 were injured. It was the worst incident since a plane crash in the 90’s. The tragedy shook Romania to its core.

It was a horrific combination of a mismanaged club, pyrotechnic effects that should not have been used and a lot more people than the club was supposed to host.

As a result, the Romanian General Inspectorate for Emergency Situations conducted more than 1,000 inspections at national level, in bars, venues, clubs, cinema and theaters. Many were closed. Among these, the CI Nottara Theater, which previously received the necessary permits to conduct its activity. Now it was deemed as a seismic risk.

The actors were furious. They protested the decision which they deemed unfair. By closing the venue, the government left no alternative for the actors to continue their work. They were literally out on the street. And that’s where they played their parts.

Out in the street. Invited to other theaters. Performing in cultural institutes. They didn’t stop.

In an unprecedented move, the staff decided they would continue to perform and innovate. They received help from the Hungarian Institute Balassi, few local theaters, a shopping mall and even the Presidency that hosted some of the shows.

But the real help came from its public. Those that followed the brave theater to wherever they choose to perform that specific night. The theater’s notoriety grew from 45 to 68% in just a few months.

Nottara did not fail. It blossomed through adversity. We helped with what we could. They used our app to sell their tickets online, wherever the show was hosted.

They even crossed borders in the neighboring country Moldova. The Romanians there greeted the theater with their arms open and the shows were all sold out.

After their trials and tribulations, the actors and staff at the CI Nottara theater had proven they are unbreakable. Destiny offered some good news after more than 140 days away from home. On the 14th of April, 2016, the staff and their friends gathered in a small club in the Old City Center and celebrated the first sign of success in their struggle.

The return home

The theater announced that a seismic re-expertise was being conducted and results were  optimistic. The building which was deemed unfit in the light of the Colectiv Club tragedy, was now inspected and results showed no serious seismic risk.

Could CI Nottara be returning home? Yes, there are signs that the staff will restart performing within the same building Liviu Ciulley built for his son’s love of theater.

But the theater never really left its home. It was there where it has always been. In the public’s heart, in the actors’ minds and souls, in the center of a city that loves its performances and its history.