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« Tuna 4 / 2017

From the Work Desk of a Theatre Guru. Lea Tormis’s Correspondence with Merle Karusoo Concerning Publishing Voldemar Panso’s Diaries

This source publication from the cultural history archives takes a look at a personal collection in EKLA (Estonian Cultural History Archives) that is still being added to – this is the personal archive of the theatre scholar and professor of the history of the theatre Lea Tormis (1932), the transfer of which began in 2012 and is still in progress.

Numerous letters are to be found here from persons who have been important in Estonian theatre and also internationally: Ella Ilbak, Reet Neimar, Jaak Rähesoo, Natalja Krõmova, Ida Urbel, Ülo Vilimaa, Viktorina Kriger, Terttu Savola, etc. In the case of this collection, correspondence with relatives is also more than merely material associated with personal history– thus for instance, the letters by Tormis’s brother, the writer and politician Paul-Eerik Rummo, are often on the subject of theatre.

Lea Tormis’s husband was the internationally known composer Veljo Tormis, whose materials (primarily joint works and shared correspondences) are also found in this archive.

In the archive there are many manuscripts of research papers on the subject of theatre, and materials that reflect the voluminous preliminary work that had been conducted for these papers, primarily materials associated with books written and compiled by Tormis herself (Teatrimälu [Memory of Theatre], Eesti teater 1920–1940 [Estonian Theatre 1920–1940], Eesti balletist [On Estonian Ballet], and other such works), but also reviews, commentaries and additions to books compiled by others, where she has served as advisor, reviewer or consultant. There are also materials reflecting her work as a lecturer, and in recording the history of theatre, etc.

The other party in the correspondence that is published here is the Estonian director Merle Karusoo (1946), who is known primarily for her documentary stage productions on the subject of people’s life stories, since she is the founder of the so-called theatre of memory, or sociological theatre, in Estonia. Karusoo was also one of Voldemar Panso’s students and has researched his creative work.

The theme of the correspondence is the publication of Panso’s diaries, where Karusoo was the compiler and wrote the commentaries, and Tormis was the consultant. It turns out that Tormis’s role had been quite important. The diaries were published in 2007 and the correspondence dates from the same year. From this it can be seen how complicated the work is that needs to be done in order to publish a source publication with commentary. This work usually remains hidden for the most part.

Voldemar Panso (1920–1977) was one of the most important directors and theatre managers in the history of Estonian theatre. Estonia’s most important institution for teaching theatre, the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (EMTA) School of Theatre Arts, which operates to this day, was founded by him (1957), and he remained its leader and teacher of actors until his death. The publication of his diaries was in fact dedicated to the 50th anniversary of this educational institution. His archive is also deposited at EKLA but access to it has been restricted according to the wishes of his relatives, which unfortunately has also hindered research work

The correspondence is to a great extent electronic, which makes it possible to also cursorily touch on the theme of digital archiving: how to ensure that e-mail is preserved in the future and makes its way to the archives, and other such issues.