Guidebook for “The Imagination Engineers”

As we all know, the theater book market is sublime but entirely absent from Romania.

There is only one dedicated publishing house, Unitext, whose yearly release counts fewer books than your hand’s fingers. There is also Cartea Romaneasca that publishes very few books by contemporary writers from Miorita[1]‘s land, no matter whether they are playwrights or critics.

And when it comes to foreign works, so numerous and so interesting, either older or more recent, it is all silence. They simply do not exist on the book market in Romania, not even in the smallest circulation. And the reason is dead easy to guess. We do live under an economic dictatorship after all…

In this context the release of a new book designed by the critic George Banu, who at the very end of last year published „The man’s back[2]” is no surprise. Unlike the blasé, quibbling and reluctant Romanian academic, for whom theater has become just a job and almost nothing more, George Banu is laborious, haunted by ideas and still highly passionate about the stage world, an active and fertile presence not only in his native country and the one that adopted him but also in other corners of the world.

Also in contrast with the local academic, he writes intensely and with joy, publishes rather regularly, not necessarily willing to state theories, but to suggest, to highlight, in other words to give food for thought. And he does that in a professional way in all of his printed books, conveying a project that never lacks depth or echoes. As a matter of fact, every book bearing his signature – and there are plenty! – is first of all an open question full of shades and not the ultimate answer, as well as an invitation to think about theater – whether we speak about the actor’s art, the universe of a certain playwright or a particular directorial vision.


Traveling behind the stage

What the critic suggests this time is another confirmation of his open and flexible spirit equally lucid and poetic (as it rarely happens) that has pervaded all his previously published studies and led him to new horizons, to use a cliche.

„Rehearsals and the renewed theater” whose subtitle reads „The Century of Stage Direction”, published by Nemira and released at the 2009 edition of the Sibiu International Theater Festival is a Western-type study. Starting from an essential question – What does rehearsing mean in theater? – around which countless other questions gravitate – George Banu designed a book made out of testimonies, reflections, interviews and opinions carrying the reader – an initiate or not – through the intimacy, the tension and the thrill out of which and through which a show comes to life. Therefore, we make a trip to the Art Theater houses, where Stanislavski rehearsed for Hauptmann’s „The Assumption of Hanelle” in 1984, to the houses where Meyerhold put in practice his „biomechanics” and the discontinuity principle and to Brecht’s work with Berliner Ensemble.

We then come closer to our age and after a stopover at the Living Theater in the 60’s, we can see Strehler at work, we sneak in the Théâtre du Soleil, in the endless alchemical search under Ariane Mnouchkine’s maestro’s supervision, we can see Peter Brook preparing the now famous version of Mahabharata and then we move to the Garonne Theater where Kantor rehearses for „Today is my birthday”, the last show he directed. And following the same path we arrive in Cluj, in the heart of the experiment initiated by Andrei Serban or in Tampa Gabor’s refined search and then we travel to Craiova to see Silviu Purcarete at work in his laboratory of creation. Page after page we read a guidebook for “the imagination engineers” as the actor Louis Jouvet defined his job in 1941. Would we be wrong to consider this as a possible definition for all those working in theater?


The watching lesson

George Banu’s volume, a mixture that keeps the testimony’s authenticity undamaged and projects you straight to the show’s long or short way to the stage is an experiment in itself, a guidebook fluently and naturally denying the oversimplified and amateurish definition of rehearsal as a means. On the contrary, rehearsing is an art, the very creative process, the founding mystery of another mystery; that is what we understand by undergoing the book’s initiation process that opens our eyes. It is like plunging inside a body, in its intimate life – only partly explainable -, like slipping inside a body that seen from within is an infinite assembly of pulsing, living elements, always in motion, whose beauty cannot be seen from outside. As you get inside this body you discover a mechanism and something more. Equally so, inside the rehearsing area you discover a mechanism and something more. This rest that comes to life in the rehearsing hall and is then reborn in each performance of the show can or cannot be seen from the audience. As we leave our spectator seat in the hall and reach within the theater, we also get a different perspective. And as already known, the beauty is in the watcher’s eyes. In George Banu’s book, the theater’s aura of mystery does not fade away, as the author does not dissect an inert body. He rather plunges in a live, open, free body that looks different to each eye.

For as long as we have known it, theater performance looked different to each eye in the back stage or in the audience. And the watching lesson taught by this book, not in the least didactic or monotonous is after all an exercise of initiation and lucidness.



“Rehearsals and renewed theater. The century of stage directing”, collective volume created by George Banu, coordinated by Alina Mazilu, translated by Mirella Nedelcu-Patureau, Nemira Publishing house, 2009



Written by Dana Ionescu

Translated by Petronela Iacob (Iordanescu), MTTLC, 1st year



[1] Miorita is a traditional Romanian folk poem, a source of inspiration for local and foreign artists and writers, considered one of the main myths of literature and currently a national cultural brand.

[2] „L’Homme de dos” in original


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