Theatre Education in Estonia
A Short Summary

by Lea Tormis

The theatre education in Estonia, which at its beginning took place in the form of short-time courses, obtained a stronger basis during the foundation of theatre-oriented societies which followed the example of the studios at the Moscow Art Theatre. The first graduates of the Theatre School of Drama Art Studio in Tallinn formed an independent Drama Studio Theatre. In 1983, the Higher Theatre School of the Tallinn Conservatoire opened its doors, but could not function for long due to the war and the German and Soviet occupations that followed. Voldemar Panso, the first headmaster (1957-1977) of the present day Theatre School and one of the graduates of the Theatre School at the conservatoire, later obtained his director’s education at the Insitute of Theatre Arts of Moscow under Maria Knebel and Aleksander Popov – both students of Stanislavski. (Ingo Normet, currently the headmaster of the Theatre School, obtained his director’s degree under Anatoli Efros – the student of Maria Knebel.)

After the war (1946), the National Theatre Insitute of Estonia was founded in Tallinn – it provided a higher education based on the experiences of former professors and lecturers and also on the curricula of the Soviet theatre schools. The institute had to close its doors in 1950/51 during the so-called anti-nationalist repressions and thus only 3 classes of graduates were able to graduate. A 10-year long gap proceeded in the theatre education in Estonia. The gap was somewhat filled by the graduates of the Estonian Studio at the Institute of Theatre Arts of Moscow (1948-1953), but became finally filled by the first group of graduates (1961) from the refounded Higher Theatre School of the National Conservatoire of Tallinn (1957).

After the death of Voldemar Panso, many of his students have held teaching and headmaster positions at the school. The methods used in the teaching process spring from the traditions of the Estonian theatre and from the ones of Stanislavski and during the recent past, from the knowledge acquired from the other European theatre schools. The Theatre School has mainly been oriented towards the education of actors, but many renown directors of the present-time have also graduated from the same school. After every 4 years, admissions to the directing studies are being held and thus the directing students can study together with the students majoring in acting. In 2004, dramaturgy students were admitted to the school for the first time. The graduates work in all of the Estonian theatres as well as in television, radio, cinema, etc. The drama lecturers in other Estonian universities have also sprung from the Drama School of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.