Originally The Romanian Railways Workers’ Theatre, Odeon was opened in September 1946
Originally The Romanian Railways Workers’ Theatre, Odeon was open to the public in Bucharest’s Giulesti neighborhood in September 1946. It later on changed its name to Giulesti Theatre and in 1974 it was relocated to the well-known building on Victoria Road – the Comedia-Majestic Compound. In 1990, it was renamed Odeon Theater, at the initiative of stage director Vlad Mugur, its director at the time. According to historian Maria Magdalena Ionita, the name of the theatre was chosen, among other reasons, because initially, the architect who designed the building, Grigore Cerchez drew inspiration from the architecture of the Odeon Theatre in Paris. Furthermore, the repertory of the theatre was inspired form that of the Odeon Theatre in Paris.
Bucharest’s Odeon Theatre has recently celebrated its 70th anniversary. On that occasion, two busts were unveiled: that of Elena Deleanu, who was the director of the theatre for 38 years, and that of actor Stefan Banica, who was a member of the Giulesti Theatre troupe and gained a local star status. Elena Deleanu was the one who went at all lengths to obtain a second hall for Giulesti Theatre, right at the heart of Bucharest, which is today’s Majestic Hall.
In order to mark Odeon Theatre’s seven decades of existence, an anniversary volume was launched, entitled “Odeon 70: A Historical Adventure and a Tribute.” Its author is drama critic Miruna Runcan, the literary secretary of the theatre between 1991 and 1994. According to the author, the title was intended as a challenge for the reader:
Miruna Runcan: ”I used the title as bait, because the book is not just an annotated database. It is a volume that celebrates the venerable age of Odeon Theatre, formerly Giulesti Theatre. On the other hand, the research process was a true adventure for me. There are scarce sources of information available. Some of them, especially reviews, can be found in the Odeon Theatre Archives. The most unusual period was between 1950 and 1960, right after the theatre was founded in 1946. I hardly found anything on the years 1946-1950, so I had to dig deep into the existing documentary material. But the title, I believe, was also an attempt to transfer, one way or another, the tone I strived to find, which is emotionally involved, given that I was born just across the street from the Giulesti Theatre. I took a keen interest in how theatre was born there, I was also interested in the whole story of the blend between the communist ideology which lay at the basis of the theatre’s overnight establishment, and the actual needs of the place it was born in, a place which has a tradition everyone has completely forgotten and that had to be retrieved.”
The text has a chronological structure, but the author took into account on one hand the political context of the moment, with the various distinct stages of the 45-year long communist period, so as to enable readers to set the activity of the theatre against that backdrop. On the other hand, the book underscores the successive aesthetic trends, the way the idea of stage direction developed in Romania. According to Miruna Runcan, the most representative moments in the history of Odeon Theatre, as they appear in the book, were the following:
Miruna Runcan: ”One landmark was the 1956 moment. It is a turning point as regards aesthetic thinking and the outlook on stage directing. Actually, back then Giulesti Theatre was at the vanguard of redesigning the concept of theatre, with two young and very vocal directors, who were also very well-read on the topic, working there. They were Lucian Giurchescu and Horea Popescu. Later on, in the 1970s or thereabouts, there was a very good time for Romanian theatre in general. Dinu Cernescu was the director of Giulesti Theatre during those years. In the 1980s, there may have been a couple of high-quality shows, but all in all it was bad for Romanian theatre, just as it was for the entire Romanian people. The 1980s were terrible years. And of course, there was the period marked by a great personality, director Alexandru Dabija. Dating from this period is a series of absolutely extraordinary shows for the history of Romanian theatre, such as “And they put handcuffs on flowers,” the first show by Alexander Hausvater in Romania, Mihai Maniutiu’s version of “Richard III”, “The Gypsy Girls”, also stage-directed by Hausvater, some shows by Dragos Galgotiu …After that point, the choice is more difficult for me, because Odeon had a very steady progress. It is one of Romania’s few theatres with a steady development after 1996. There was hardly any season without the theatre at least maintaining, if not improving its previous achievements.”
According to Miruna Runcan, the Odeon was the first theatre that after 1990 created a very diverse offer, going way beyond the repertory offer proper. It approached very recent plays, it came up with cycles of reading performances, staged exhibitions and initiated programs dedicated to children. For 20 years now, actress Dorina Lazar has been at helm of Odeon Theatre. Dorina Lazar has been a member of the troupe since 1969. Between 1996 and 2002 she was artistic director, and since 2003 Dorina Lazar has been the manager of the institution. Here she is now, speaking about the relationship the Giulesti/Odeon Theatre has had with the public all these years:
Dorina Lazar: ”In Giulesti as well as here, the public is made up of people who love theatre. In Giulesti, it wasn’t just the locals who came to the shows, there were also people coming all the way down from the city centre. That is precisely why a bus stop was created, which is still in place today at the Grant Bridge, so that people may get off the bus and come to the theatre. It is a faithful public. People who are now old have been coming to our theatre ever since they were young, they bring their grandchildren along. Fortunately, our shows are tailored for all age categories, and we see them coming, together with their grandchildren, for the music education performances, for instance. There are a lot of young people. Odeon has always been open to the young. We have not increased ticket prices either, so that everyone may come to our shows.“