Juozas Vaickus: The Spiritus Movens of Lithuanian Theatre and Cinema

May 15, 2023

On May 12, the National Library of Lithuania invited to a presentation of the book Juozas Vaičkus: Spiritus Movens of Lithuanian Theatre and Cinema by Aušra Martišiūtė-Linartienė (Vilnius: Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, 2022).

Juozas Vaičkus (1885-1935), one of the founders of professional Lithuanian theatre, was eager to share his ambitious goals publicly. Unfortunately, society was not yet ready for Vaičkus’ ideas at that time. Nevertheless, he made what seemed unimaginable and impossible a reality in Lithuania and the United States of America: he established a permanent troupe of actors, the first acting school, and later a professional theatre, and staged performances in Lithuania and the US. And finally, although after his death, there was a change in the belief that Lithuanians could not only import cinema from abroad but also create it themselves.

According to the book’s author, Vaičkus’s artistic career was consistent. From the first play in Mažeikiai (Lithuania) in 1905, his main goal was to promote Lithuanian culture. After his unexpected death on April 7, 1935, a week before his fiftieth birthday, Vaičkus’ life began to be compared to a dramatic tragedy, and he was seen as the tragedy’s protagonist. Until his tragic death, Vaičkus was a hero of many genres: from heroic drama and comedy to tragedy. The public reception of his work covered a wide range of styles: from admiration and exaltation to irony and sarcastic bullying, from critical articles in the press to satirical newspapers, to word-of-mouth jokes.

Martišiūtė-Linartienė wrote the book during the COVID-19 pandemic when traveling was restricted. She regrets that her work in the US archives had to be postponed until the future. Despite unfavorable conditions, for the first time, the readers can get acquainted with the recordings of songs, monologues, and dialogues recorded by Vaičkus and released by Victor Talking Machine Company in the USA.

The book’s author noted that in writing this book, she wanted to focus as much as possible on memoirs, letters and articles in the press and reveal an extraordinary personality in terms of concrete works and unrealized ideas. I wanted “to tell the story of a cultural hero, who could not be stopped even by the greatest obstacles.”