According to the regulations by the Berlin Peace Treaty of 1878, very soon after the Liberation from the Turkish rule, that had lasted on for five centuries, Bulgarian lands south of the Stara Planina Mountain remained detached from the just-liberated Bulgaria. The south Romelian region, called East Roumelia, was declared an autonomous administrative unit (managed by a Governor) but under the guardianship of the Turkish Sultan. During that period of our history, Plovdiv turned into the capital of that region.
The seven, so-called “Roumelian”, years of Plovdiv are marked by the artistic growth of Bulgarian literature, arts and culture. Many great cultural figures lived and worked in Plovdiv – the writers Ivan Vazov, Zachary Stoyanov, Konstantin Velichkov and P.R.Slaveykov, the artists Anton Mitov and Ivan Murkvichka, the publishers Hristo G. Danov and Dragan Manchov, the eminent enlighteners Nayden Gerov and Yoakim Gruev. Those seven years until the Unification, on September 6th, 1885, Plovdiv turned into a centre of the continuous fight for the complete and utter independence of East Roumelia and its unification with the Principality of Bulgaria. Plovdiv had never lost the Revival-period-charm sense of the word “freedom”, which inspired a great number of political and cultural figures to defend it by all means. The theatre also appeared to be such a means.
In March 1881, the specially designed for theatrical performances building within the Plovdiv Hotel Luxemburg (once standing at the corner of today’s streets “Tsaribrod” and “Lady Strangford”) was finished. That was the first built-on-purpose building to host the travelling theatrical groups’ performances in Plovdiv. According to Mr.Georgi Mitev, a biographer of the theatre in Plovdiv: “The appearance of the building was modest, without any façade decorations, and it looked no different from any regular house. But its inside was stylishly decorated and was in itself a representation of a kind of Medieval Theatre”. The theatre disposed of 17 boxes with 64 seats altogether, and the stalls gathered 250-300 seats.According to Prof.D.B.Mitov, a theatrical expert and eminent literary critic: “The theatrical life in Bulgaria had glamorously started in the ‘province’ theatres. Plovdiv was the creator of the Bulgarian theatre, but by unique self-denying sent it to the capital.” What he had in mind was that after their guest-performance in Sofia, the Plovdiv actors created in Sofia a new theatre called “Osnova” (meaning “base, foundation”), on June 22nd, 1888.
The first Bulgarian theatrical troupe survived until 1885. It was called the “Roumelian” troupe, but in the newspapers it was referred to as the “Bulgarian” one. After the Unification (1885)and the following Serbian-Bulgarian War, the troupe fell apart. Seeking for a way of living, some of the founders accepted the invitation by the Bulgarian government to remain working in Sofia. In 1903, another troupe was founded in Plovdiv – the Plovdiv City Municipal Troupe.
The period until 1935 was marked by real organizational and artistic results in the theatric field, thanks to the work of some eminent figures – Pyotr Mihaylovich Yartsev, Boris Espe, Tacho Tachev, Stefan Kirov. The development of the theatre in Bulgaria was later carried on by Georgi Stamatov, Hrisan Tsankov and P.K.Stoychev. The theatre faces a really hard period in its development in the years 1939-44. The first year after the establishment of the Communist government on September 9th, 1944, the theatre faced the rigid requirement to transform into a socialist-realistic form of art. It was only after the notorious April Communist Party Plenum in 1956 that some freedom entered the spiritual life of the country. It was skillfully embraced by all the artists. In that period worked the young-then theatrical directors Krastyo Doynov, Hristo Hristov, Krikor Azarian, Lyuben Grois, Ivan Dobchev, Panteley Pantellev.
In the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 60s, many eminent Bulgarian actors played their last performances as actors on the stage of the Plovdiv theatre – Elena Yordanova, Mihail Tanev, Boyan Petrov, Rayna Petrova, Georgi Fratev, Stefan and Vessa Kortensky, Stefan Hristov, Petya Kolcheva, Georgi Manev. Plovdiv is also very much connected with the artistic biography and the on-stage development of many significant Bulgarian actors – Lyubomir Dimitrov, Georgi Roussev, Naoum Shopov, Emilya Radeva, Petar Bournousouzov, Stefan Dimitrov, Lyubomir Kisselichki, Yanko Chernev, Tvyatko Nikolov, Petar Slabakov, Leda Tasseva, Medi Dimitrova, Maria Stefanova, Anton Gorchev, Roussi Chanev, Elena Raynova, Milen Penev, Stefan Mavrodiev, Marin Yanev, Todor Kolev, Kiril Kavadarkov, and many others. The charming actor Dimitar Panov acted decades in a row on the stage of the Plovdiv theatre. Unforgettable will remain all the characters performed here by the great actress Tsvetana Maneva – Nora, Albena, Juliet, Miss Julia, Medea…
The actors performing today on the stage of the Plovdiv Theatre have significant contribution to its development and are forming its main core – Georgi Vassilev, Georgi Penev, Stoyan Mindov, Ilia Sekoulov, Ivan Tomov, Velichka Georgieva, not forgetting the diseased Nikola Todev, Yonna Karaivanova, Stoyan Buchvarov.
Young or old, the Plovdiv Theatre has long established itself and will continue to prove its ability to be up and alive, its ability for self-denying and recognition, its ability to evoke smiles and tears.