Bulgarian theater history dates back to the middle of the 19th century. This can be explained from the centuries-long Turkish political rule and from the Greek Orthodox Church’s control of cultural life. The first initiatives to create a Bulgarian theater are also strongly linked to the national liberation. Independence was achieved in 1878, but the first theatrical performances were in 1856 when a Serbian comedy was shown to a coffee house audience, and the same year a German melodrama was shown as a private performance in Lom, staged by Krastu Pisjurka.
The first Bulgarian theater group was founded in Brăila, Romania, in 1865. The author Ivan Vazov brought his historical and patriotic plays to characterize theater development after 1878. Two theater companies were started in Sofia in 1888 and 1892, which led to the creation of a national theater. which moved into its own building in 1907. This provided employment opportunities for a large number of actors and stencilers with education and experience from other countries in Europe, which also gave the new Bulgarian theater a contemporary orientation. It is expressed in the repertoire that was played, with Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg and Hauptmann. The National Theater’s building was destroyed by fire in 1923, and the rebellion against the Bulgarian Czar in 1925 led to the persecution of intellectuals that cost the lives of many of those responsible for the introduction of modernism into the theater.
In 1929, a new national theater, named after Ivan Vazov, opened, and was equipped with the best stage technique of the time. When Bulgaria was declared a people’s republic in 1948, the country also got its own Institute of Theater Arts (VITIS), and a close collaboration between directors and playwrights created a new national repertoire based on ensemble plays. Director M. Andonov also used free improvisation as a method in working with the actors and in the 1970s and 1980s Bulgarian directors and playwrights became known abroad.
Bulgaria has just under 60 repertory theaters against 13 before the Second World War. This has created the basis for a certain international orientation, and by younger directors may be mentioned Ivan Stanev. He has worked most in Germany and has participated in international festivals.