The military theatre of Plovdiv
Sotir Doctorov, a retired colonel of the Bulgarian army invited us to his office in the Military Theatre of Plovdiv. In this small room, on the last floor he spends his days. There is not much left to do in the theatre. The once lively, welcoming and luxurious house of the arts does no longer exist. Out of the 40 people who used to work there, two remain. With memories, regrets and still a little hope for the future, they keep on coming everyday to this shabby place. For the Kafka project, we have been exploring the city with Vesela Geleva to find the right place for our musical show. In the military theatre not only have we found a kafkaian place perfect for us but we also have discovered a theatre worth fighting for, a theatre, which has immensely suffered from the political transformation of the end of the 20th century. A theatre, which needs help and needs to be highlighted to survive.
The theatre was built from 1903 to 1908 on the edge of the then small city of Plovdiv. The militaries created a club such as the European military clubs in all the great capitals. All the arts where performed and taught. Everyone was welcome for concerts, exhibitions and classes. In 1928 (april 14 and 18) the city of Plovdiv was hit by a terrible earthquake and the theatre was partly destroyed. After the reconstruction, the theatre resumed its former activities. During the Second World War the theatre remained a place for the arts, parties and exhibitions were still running and Sotir Doctorov told us how depressed they all were when the French surrendered in 1940. He highly regards the French and was obviously proud to talk to us and share his experience.
During the Soviet period, the place was often used for conferences and workshops organized by the party, but the artistic activities were still as important as they used to be. There was also a restaurant, a café, a hotel, a library with more than 100 000 books and a cinema. The cinema club held a great part of the theatre and was open to everyone. It was a people’s theatre, where the communist ideology was extolled and taught from the youngest age. After the end of the soviet empire, the State left this place to rot and it is now only used for small concerts often performed by the military bands. Sotir is not angry, he is sad to have witnessed such a loss, he still regards the soviet period for the theatre as its climax despite the ideological yoke. The theatre is a true symbol of the disruption of the departure of the communists in the eastern european countries.
Not only has it been a great chance to meet Sotir Doctorov and Mr Bodourov – the last technician of the theatre – but it reminded us of the reason why this project, the symbolic choice of Kafka’s Castle and the partnership between our four countries has so much sense. We can exchange our experience and understand a little better the difference in our development and history in order to address the distance that still so often divides us.