Source: Albanian Life, No. 30/No. 3, 1986
Transcription/Markup: The American Party of Labor, 2018
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2018). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The existence of the theatre in Albania in antiquity is known from archaeological evidence. In the Hellenic settlements of Dyrrah (modern Durrës), Apollonia (near Fier) and Orichum (near Vlora), theatre buildings date from the 5th century B.C. and here the theatre was closely linked with Greece, with which these cities maintained close cultural links for a long time.
But the theatre also existed in the Illyrian centres. The theatre at Foinike (modern Finiq) had 7,000 seats, that at Bylis (modern Hekal) 5,500, that at Butrot (modern Butrint) 3,000. The capacity of these theatres is taken as evidence that the performances must have been in the Illyrian language.
Apart from the excavated theatre buildings, other archaeological evidence - such as theatrical masks and pottery depicting scenes from plays - testify that the theatre in the Illyrian centres blossomed particularly in the 4th-3rd centuries B.C., when Illyrian society attained its highest economic and cultural development.
After the Roman occupation the ancient theatres carried on in general their traditional activity, and in the 2nd century A.D. a new theatre seating 3,000 was built in the Plain of Dropull near the present-day village of Sofratika.
With the decline of classical civilisation, folk theatre became the dominant form of theatrical art in Albania for many centuries. These traditional plays depicted, for example, the hunting of animals, with some of the participants wearing animal masks, or the Turkish invasion, with the Turks having blackened faces and the leading role representing Skanderbeg. Some of these "folk plays" were performed in mime, others had words which were passed on orally from generation to generation. Often these "folk plays" were performed on particular festivals during the year, and folk songs and dances were frequently interwoven into the action. In addition, travelling showmen toured the country presenting puppet shows and shadow plays based on folk stories.
The modern theatre was born in the Albanian National Renaissance of the 19th century. This was a cultural movement which reflected and served the political movement for national liberation from Turkish rule.
A series of plays with patriotic themes appeared, mainly in the Albanian communities abroad. In southern Italy the former priest Anton Santori wrote in 1887 Emira, a love story set among the Albanian community of the author's native Calabria. In Turkey Sami Frasheri, the youngest of the three distinguished Frasheri brothers, wrote the six-act play The Vow in Turkish, but it was translated into Albanian in 1902. The Orthodox bishop Fan Noli - poet, historian, playwright, translator, composer and statesman - made brilliant translations of a number of Shakespeare's tragedies, as well as of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and was the author of "Israelites and Philistines," ostensibly Biblical in theme but in fact portraying the problems of the contemporary Albanian national movement. In Egypt the lawyer-poet Andon Zako Cajupi wrote several plays, including the one-act comedies The 14-Year- Old Bridegroom and Post Mortem; and the classical verse tragedy Man of the Earth, based on Albania's 15th century leader of the resistance against the Turkish invaders, Skanderbeg. An emigre in Romania and America, Mihal Grameno, was the author of the anti-clerical comedy The Curse of the Albanian Language and the historical drama The Death of Pirro In predominantly Catholic northern Albania, the Franciscan priest and poet Gjergj Fishta translated plays by Euripides and Moliere and was himself the author of the verse plays The Civilised Albanian and Judas Maccabaeus.
Within Albania at this time amateur drama groups came into being in the principal towns. The first known modern play to be performed in Albania was The Wedding in Lunxhëria, written by the school teacher Koto Hoxhi and performed by children of his school in Giirokastra in 1874.
The proclamation of independence in November 1912 brought little development of the Albanian theatre, since it was quickly followed by foreign occupation during World War I and then by the dictatorship of Zog, which gave virtually no support to the arts.
A number of historical plays were written during the period 1912-1939, including Köle Mirdita's The Death of Skanderbeg and Moisi Golemi. Kristo Floqi wrote Karllo Topija and Mustafa Pasha of Shkodra, as well as a number of lively but minor comedies. The best-known play of this period is Foqion Postoli's The Flower of Remembrance, based on his own novel of the same name, in which a personal story of frustrated love is interwoven with the national struggle against the Turkish occupation; after Liberation this play was made into an opera by the composer Kristo Kono. The amateur dramatic movement continued to develop, but was hindered by the strict Zogist censorship, which banned even plays such as Ibsen's An Enemy of the People as "subversive".
The artistic level of the amateur theatre was not very high. The actors were simple working people with a restricted culture and, for the most part, without training, who tended to adopt an artificial, declamatory style. Electric lighting and make-up came into general use only in the 1930s, when women appeared on the stage for the first time. Nevertheless a few really talented actors emerged - such as Zef Jubani and Mihal Popi, who became leading professional actors after Liberation. However, the greatest Albanian actor of this period, Aleksander Moisiu, although he dreamed of a national theatre in his mother country, was compelled to perform abroad and became world-famous above all for his interpretations of Shakespearean roles. Nevertheless, some talented artists - such as Kole Idromeno and Vangjush Mio - gave their services to the amateur theatre as scenic artists, and a significant step forward was taken in 1934, when Sokrat Mio returned to Albania from drama school in Paris. Although compelled to support himself as a teacher of French, he devoted his energies to the amateur theatre as a skilled director who also ran training courses for actors.
The modern professional theatre came into existence during the War of National Liberation against the Italian and German occupation forces. Amateur actors in the partisan forces were formed into professional groups which presented short plays aimed at rousing resistance to the fascists and expressing the dreams of a better, more democratic society after victory. These plays, often interspersed with appropriate songs, were performed first on improvised stages to the freedom fighters in the mountains, later to the population of the liberated areas. Satirical sketches directed at the fascists and the collaborationists were particular popular. At first these plays were improvised by the actors themselves, later they were written for them by playwrights who supported the liberation struggle. Some of these latter - such as Margarita Tutulani by Aleks Çaöi and Fratricide by Zihni Sako, were artistic works of high quality.
Even before the liberation of the country had been completed, on May 24th, 1944 the leading actors of the partisan theatre were formed in the liberated town of Permet into the first civilian professional theatre in the history of modern Albania. After the liberation of the capital, Tirana, this company moved there to establish, on May 25th, 1945, the State Theatre - now the People's Theatre.
When the People's Republic of Albania (now the People's Socialist Republic) was established in January 1946, the guiding force within society was the Communist Party of Albania (now the Party of Labour of Albania), which had played the leading role in the War of National Liberation. Its programme was the speediest possible transformation of Albania, then by far the most backward state in Europe, into an advanced socialist industrialised society.
The new state adopted a policy of actively encouraging the arts and of making them available to the broadest masses of the people.
Today almost every factory, cooperative farm, school, military detachment and village has its own amateur dramatic society, and frequent drama festivals are organised for these thousands of amateur groups. Many local community centres contain theatres where these groups perform. On my last visit to Albania, I visited the village of Dervician in the Greek minority area, with a population of just under 2,000, where the Palace of Culture had a modern theatre equipped with a revolving stage which seated 470.
There are today in Albania 8 professional, theatres, not counting the Opera and Ballet Theatre, variety theatres, puppet theatres and circuses. The best-known of these are the People's Theatre in Tirana (founded, as has been said, in 1945), the Migjeni Theatre in Shkodra (founded in 1949), the Cajupi Theatre in Korça (founded in 1951), the Aleksander Moisiu Theatre in Durres (founded in 1953) and the Skampa Theatre in Elbasan (founded in 1962).
In 1946 the first art school with a drama department - the Jordan Misja School - was opened. This was followed in 1959 by the Aleksander Moisiu Higher School of Drama, attached to the People's Theatre in Tirana, which in 1966 was merged with similar higher schools for music and the figurative arts to form the Higher Institute of Arts. It trains actors, directors and technicians not only for the theatre, but also for the cinema and for television.
Although each professional company has its own permanent theatre, it spends approximately 50% of each year playing to audiences in the countryside and in helping to raise the artistic standards of amateur drama groups. Those in the theatre who are considered the most outstanding artists may be awarded the decoration of "Honoured Artist" or "People's Artist".
The Party of Labour maintains that good art must be realist in form and, in the case of contemporary art, must accord with the principles of socialist humanism. Plays, whether Albanian or foreign, are selected for production on this basis. The most popular non-Albanian playwrights who figure in the repertoire of the contemporary theatre include Brecht, Chekhov, Gogol, Goldoni, Gorky, Ibsen, Miller, Moliere, Ostrovski, Priestley, Pushkin, Schiller and Skakespeare. Successful recent productions have been of J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
Prime attention has, however, been paid to the development of a national drama, and among the most successful plays in recent years have been Our Land and Halil and Hajrija, both by Köle Jakova; The Carnivals of Korga by Spiro Comora; Koste Bardhi's Mill by Naum Prifti; The Girl from the Mountains by Loni Papa; The Fisherman's Family by Sulejman Pitarka; The Prefect by Besim Levonja; and The Lady from the City by Ruzhdi Pulaha. In addition a number of novels have been successfully adapted for the stage: The General of the Dead Army, dramatised by Pirro Mani from the novel of the same name by Ismail Kadare; The Marsh, dramatised by Esat Okrova from the novel of the same name by Fatmir Gjata; and Unforgettable Years, a dramatisation by Shari Mita of Shefqet Musaraj's novel Before the Dawn.
A whole galaxy of gifted actors - such as Naim Frasheri, Pjeter Gjoka, Zef Jubani, Loro Kovaqi, Marie Logoreci, Violeta Manushi, Mihal Popi and Sander Prosi - and directors - such as Andrea Malo, Pirro Mani, Esat Okrova and Pandi Stillu - has emerged, many of them having graduated from the ranks of amateurs.
The 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, held in October 1965, was devoted to the question of the arts. In the closing speech, Enver Hoxha said:
"Of course we must make our people acquainted with the finest foreign creative works. This is indispensable. But this healthy foreign dish should be only one among many healthy and delicious dishes from the Albanian cuisine.
Our writers and artists must base their work on reality. But one cannot reach reality within the four walls of a study or a studio, or by sitting in a cafe, cigarette in hand, watching people pass by in the street, or by paying a flying visit to a factory. If their work is not to be superficial, our writers and artists must work with the people, alongside them and among them.
Only in this way can the writer and artist really become, in Stalin's words, "the engineer of the human soul."