Many art creators could be lined up for their indelible imprint for the Lithuanian culture history, but few lives have been more enshrouded in awe-inspiring rumors and legends than that of Juozas Miltinis, a Lithuanian theatre director and founder of the Panevėžys Drama Theatre.
Juozas Miltinis
© "Panevezio balsas"

As the city is wrapping up the country’s capital of culture 2014 events, with Miltinis often being at their epicenter, the Lithuanian great’s legacy is displayed for everybody at the Juozas Miltinis Heritage Study Center (JMHSC). The Lithuania Tribune talked to its head, Angelė Mikelinskaitė.

How many events within the cultural capital’s framework have been devoted to Miltinis’ legacy?

In fact, we’ve had a few of them. In past March, the project “Under the Paris Sky” was carried out; the dish recipe exhibition “In a Royal Way with Miltinis” was also organized in March. And the festival Bonjour Maestro, which got Miltinis students and contemporaries mingling, took place last June.

How аnd when was the Juozas Miltinis Heritage Study Center founded?

The center was established in accordance with the will of Juozas Miltinis. He bequeathed all his personal belongings and the collections back in 1993. In three years, on September 3, 1996, to be exact, the center was opened for the public in the flat of Miltinis. It has sealed the authentic environment of the theatre director’s legacy, extending from the personal library, to the collection of artworks, to personal belongings, records and other valuable items.

To brush off the dust of time, what do you reckon to be the theatre legend’s importance to his hometown, Panevėžys, аnd the whole country?

Well, just the single fact that the current cultural tradition and events of the city life are identified with the legendary personality tells a lot. Having arrived to the city and established there a theater, Miltinis has undoubtedly influenced and enriched the city’s cultural and intellectual life.

Meanwhile, on a national level, in the context of the Lithuanian theatre history, the creation of “a different theater” – intellectual and philosophical one, with the actors submerged in the creation process – has been his signature contribution to theatre and Lithuanian culture.

What is the exact Miltinis heritage you exhibit at the JMHSC?

As I mentioned, the Juozas Miltinis Heritage Study Center holds his personal library, manuscripts, collection of artworks, CDs with the rehearsal records, pictures, personal belongings and also some other material, like pictures, slides, collected by Kazimieras Vitkus, the Panevėžys Drama Theater actor and chronicler. They perpetuate the theater’s production, films, tours and scenes of the theater actors’ personal and professional lives. There are also (exhibited) the playwrights’ texts with the remarks in the subtitles, albums with the article clippings about the theatre from 1940 to 1995, diaries of some of the actors’ roles and personal belongings. It is really a trove of unique memorabilia and a significant part of the precious cultural heritage.

Do you keep renewing what you already have?

Yes, indeed, the heritage is being constantly expanded, but, again, only with the items of the Miltinis period at the Panevėžys Drama Theatre. Looking at the legacy we managed to collect from all over, it is really surprising to see that such a prominent man, like Juozas Miltinis, lived modestly, but has garnered invaluable cultural treasures.

Do you have estimate how much of the Miltinis heritage has landed in private collections or are in hands of his relatives? Does the state mull taking over and handing them to the Juozas Miltinis Heritage Study Center?

To go back in the history, Miltinis made up his mind to bequeath all the belongings and collections in their entirety to the Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė Public Library, where they are accessible to the public. Thanks to the efforts of the will executioner, Vaclovas Blėdis, and the library administration, the legacy has been taken care of in accordance to the will. By the way, the theatre director’s trove of manuscripts has been put into the national registry of the UNESCO program “Memory of the World”.

As long as the state secures the legacy’s proper maintenance and accessibility to the public, cherishes respect to it (legacy) and encourages an authentic relation with the cultural spot, there’s always a possibility that the parts of heritage, which are in the private hands still, will end up being at the center some day.

How much of the legacy is available online?

As we strive for having it accessible to as many as possible and the Web, definitely, serves the goal; therefore, a digital Juozas Miltinis heritage database has been set. One can look up it on the website www.miltinis.lt.

It contains all the manuscript-kind of the heritage, as well as the cultural items from the Kazimieras Vitkus Fund. The theater legend’s personal library has been e-catalogued and is available on the Petkevičaitė-Bitė Library’s website. Tersely, the bulk of the Juozas Miltinis cultural heirloom is on the Web now.

Who is the traditional Miltinis Center visitor? Do you fix those coming in? Aren’t the nmbers waning with the digitalization of the legacy?

It’s pretty hard to describe the center’s average visitor, frankly. It would be tantamount to making some group exceptional from the flow. Many various people of the most different tiers of the society come to the center, as a matter of fact. The purpose of visit sometimes is narrowed to some specific interest, like students come in to have some material collected for their academic studies, scholars scrutinize the heritage for their dissertations and scholar publications, meanwhile, school children swing by to get the first-hand look at the authentic environment of the Panevėžys notable.

As for the numbers, we had 2,119 visitors in 2012, 2,191 of them came in last year, and we’ve counted 1,630 center guests as of the beginning of September this year.

There has been already a tradition that every year, in early September, Panevėžys Juozas Miltinis Gymnasium pupils, their teachers and parents visit the JMHSC.

By the way, there’s a theatre studio in the school and, perhaps few know, that the theatrical upbringing classes are mandatory for all. Besides, every four year, a competition of young playwrights is organized. Cherishing the remembrance, our center is cooperating also with other city schools.

Considering Miltinis’ obsession with the French culture and particularly the French capital Paris, would it be reasonable to think that French visitors make the bulk of the foreign language-speakers?

As the center is on the routes of cultural tourism in Lithuania, many foreign excursions swing by the center, let’s leave alone us, Lithuanians. It perhaps would be hard to name all the nationalities that we’ve seen here- we’ve had numbers of Latvians, Estonians, Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, Britons, Italians and visitors from as far away as Turkey.

Sure, with the French especial relations have been established. Perhaps I won’t be mistaken noting that the majority of the French diplomats, who ever resided in Lithuania, visited us.

Our visitor wishes book has the inscriptions done by Corinne Micaelle, the French Cultural Attaché in Lithuania in 1998, Patrick Donabédian, the Culture Affairs advisor at the French Embassy in 1999 and, the most recent, by Luc Aubry, the French language attaché, in 2012.

What is the explanation for the maestro’s obsessive interest in everything what was French?

The period of life he had spent in France and, to be exact, in Paris, where he learned the secrets of acting and where his relation with the French environment and tradition was forming, which, later on, was transposed into his household and life, had indeed been an important part of his life.

For Miltinis, Paris always had been a city of dreams and creative thoughts that he incarnated onto the stage upon returning to Lithuania. And already in Panevėžis, he’d go back to Paris many times.

Did you get a chance to know Miltinis in person? What does the material you take care of purport about his personality?

I haven’t gotten to know Miltinis personally. Consequently, I can make all the conclusions about his character and the depth of the legacy judging from his cultural legacy that we’re researching. I’d say that Juozas Miltinis has been an extremely tenacious, goal-oriented and demanding- both to himself and the surrounding, actors, especially-personality.

The creator obviously has been not only an excellent improviser and teacher, but also a learner, who’d always excel himself, who’d constantly refresh the knowledge and who’d ceaselessly be interested in various fields of science, inducing himself to the new horizons of cognition and thought.

There are abounding incredible stories of Miltinis being an exclusively picky foodie and dresser? Does your gathered stuff support those claims?

Some of the theatre director’s closest relatives and friends have indeed told those kinds of stories about his predilections.

At the center, we preserve some of the testimonials and even recipes of some dishes and drinks that he loved preparing. And in his personal library, there are quite a few culinary publications.

It seems that Miltinis has been meticulous about the aesthetics and table settings, sure, where the circumstances would allow being demanding. Dressing and picking clothes is part of an artist’s image, and Miltinis hasn’t been an exception in that regard.

He would nearly always wear a suit or a jacket, a checkered tie and, a signature trait of him, would always be spry. The archive purports that passers-by would pay attention on the street to his black raincoat, beret, dark-shadow glasses and the ornaments-engraved walking stick.
His inseparable entourage was a dog he adored.

Edited by Paul Moriarty

Juozas Miltinis: a picky foodie, dresser and extraordinary talent
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