Tears meet laughs and a single breast along 'Bulgaria's Broadway'
Issue 59-60, August-September 2011
by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by Anthony Georgieff
In the early evening the streets of central
Sofia are alive with crowds. People wait
for their dates, groups of friends meet
and part, and the buzz of conversations
from restaurants and bars fills the air.
When it is warm enough you can see beerdrinking
teenagers in the parks and on the
benches of the pedestrian zone of Vitosha
In one special section of central Sofia the
crowds on the pavements are of a different
kind. People of all ages and walks of life wait in
lines or converse on the narrow pavements, and
even if you have no idea what they're talking
about, you can tell just by looking at them that
it's a gripping subject.
These are the theatre lovers discussing the
spectacle that they're about to watch for the
first – or the tenth – time.
There are some 20 theatres in Sofia, private
ones as well as those that are state-funded.
Most are concentrated on Rakovski street –
often referred to, jokingly, as the "Bulgarian
Broadway" – and on a short cross street. Nine
theatres are located on a 500-metre stretch
from the Rakovski-Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard
intersection to Slaveykov Square. These are
some of the most famous and respected
performance houses in Sofia and throughout
The first documented theatrical performance in
modern Bulgaria took place at the chitalishte,
or cultural centre, in Shumen. It was staged by
a troupe of amateur enthusiasts on 15 August
1856. They performed Mihal Mishkoed, a
Bulgarianised version of a Greek play.
In the decades leading up to the liberation from
Ottoman rule in 1878, theatre performances
were a much-loved form of entertainment.
There were no professional troupes or
dramatists. Actors and directors were local
intellectuals and stages were set up in the
chitalishta. The first original Bulgarian play was
a comedy, The Bishop of Lovech, by Teodosiy
Ikonomov. It was written in 1857 and published
five years later.
The first Bulgarian theatre company was
founded by Dobri Voynikov and other
Bulgarian emigrants in Brăila, Romania, in
1865. Considered to be the earliest Bulgarian
dramatist and theatrical director in the real
sense of the word, he is the author of two of the
most popular plays in the history of Bulgarian
theatre: Misinterpreted Civilisation and the
historical play Ivanko, Regicide.
After 1878 the theatre became increasingly
professional. In the 1880s, good amateur
troupes appeared, and in 1892 the Salza i
Smyah professional theatre company, whose
name means "A Tear and Laughter," was
founded. In 1904 its actors became the nucleus
of the newly established, state-supported
National Theatre. In the following decades a
strong theatre culture developed across the
country. Audiences found their favourite
actors in stars such as Adriana Budevska
and Krastyo Sarafov – in those days most
of the actors were trained in Russia. Many of
Bulgaria's then prominent writers and poets
used to work in theatre or were dramatists,
among them Ivan Vazov, Peyo Yavorov and
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers