World Theatre Day

This year marked the 50th anniversary of World Theatre Day, an international celebration of theatre held annually on the 27th of March. Led by the International Theatre Institute, which has branches in over 100 locations across the globe, it celebrates theatre in all its forms as a means of creating a culture of peace and harmony.


In 1961, the International Theatre Institute announced plans to host an annual celebration of theatre in its many forms. Each year, an outstanding figure in theatre is selected to present his or her reflections on theatre and its potential to contribute to a culture of peace. Incorporating plays, mime, dance, scriptwork, and devised pieces, the first World Theatre Day was held in 1962, and renowned French poet, playwright, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau gave the inaugural message.

Over the years, cities across the globe have hosted their own celebrations for World Theatre Day, contributing to an ongoing dialogue on international social and political issues. A litany of theatre luminaries have been called upon to give the annual message, including Arthur Miller, Laurence Olivier, Peter Brook, Eugene Ionesco, Pablo Neruda, Wole Soyinka, Edward Albee, and Robert Lepage.

2012 Event

Paris played the host city to the main 2012 event, and American actor and director John Malkovich delivered the keynote address. Performers included actor Julian Sands (UK) in an excerpt from A Celebration of Harold Pinter directed by Malkovich, UNESCO artist for peace Guila Clara Kessous (France),  physical theatre troupe Teatr ZAR (Poland), and actress Stephanie Lupo (Francey/Italy) in a piece directed by Cristian Soto (Chile).

The event was organised with the support of the permanent delegation of the United States to UNESCO, the permanent delegation of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to UNESCO, Teatr ZAR, Grotowski Institute, the city of Wroclaw, the Harvard Kennedy School, the Fujairah Culture & Media Authority, Hôtel Lutetia Paris Rive-Gauche.

More than 50 additional celebrations were organised across the world, including in the United States, Russia, India, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Greece, and Argentina.


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John Malkovich delivered this year’s World Theatre Day message. He began his impressive theatrical career as a founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. His film appearances include Dangerous Liaisons, Places in the Heart, In the Line of Fire, and Being John Malkovich. He recently directed Julian Sands in A Celebration of Harold Pinter at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and Les Liaisons Dangereuses in Paris.


2011 Event

British actress Judi Dench was selected to present the 2011 World Theatre Day message. A veteran of the stage and screen, she is known for her film appearances in Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, Chocolat, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, and the Bond films, in which she plays M. Her considerable career in theatre began at the RSC, where she played the leading female roles in Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. She has received innumerable awards, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, ten BAFTAS, and seven Olivier Awards, more than any other actor.

Her eloquent message was as follows:

World Theatre Day is an opportunity to celebrate Theatre in all its myriad forms.

Theatre is a source of entertainment and inspiration and has the ability to unify the many diverse cultures and peoples that exist throughout the world. But theatre in more than that and also provides opportunities to educate and inform.

Theatre is performed throughout the world and not always in a traditional theatre setting. Performances can occur in a small village in Africa, next to a mountain in Armenia, on a tiny island in the Pacific. All it needs is a space and an audience.”

Theatre has the ability to make us smile, to make us cry, but should also make us think and reflect.

Theatre comes about through team work. Actors are the people who are seen, but there is an amazing set of people who are not seen. They are equally as important as the actors and their differing and specialist skills make it possible for a production to take place. They too must share in any triumphs and successes that may hopefully occur.

March 27 is always the official World Theatre Day. In many ways every day should be considered a theatre day, as we have a responsibility to continue the tradition to entertain, to educate and to enlighten our audiences, without whom we couldn’t exist.


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Actor Jeffrey Wright gave the US World Theatre Day message in 2011. He won a Tony Award for his performance as Belize in Angels in America, a role he reprised in the TV miniseries alongside Meryl Streep and Al Pacino. His additional film credits include The Ides of March, Syriana, and the James Bond films.


2010 Event

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The US World Theatre Day message was given by playwright Lynn Nottage in 2010. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her play, Ruined, which tells the story of Congolese women surviving a civil war. In addition, she has written Intimate Apparel, Stone, Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.


Get Involved

Would you like to see London play a more prominent role in World Theatre Day 2013? What events would you like to take part in?

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