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Helle Meri at the opening of the 10th European Drama Encounter in Viljandi on 9 July 2001

Dear young friends of the theatre from all over Europe,

I am glad to tell all of you ''Welcome to Estonia, to the town of Viljandi'' and to open the European Drama Encounter here at Kaevumäe.

You have come to your tenth encounter from dozens of European regions to discover the acting experience and stagecraft of each other. As a former actress I would like to hope that you will also discover the Republic of Estonia, one of the smallest countries in Europe, as Estonia is art as well. Due to our smallness we have preserved the family spirit and the joy of doing something together in our literature, art and theatre. This has supported our language and way of life in difficult times and is feeding the creative work in Estonia today also in a somewhat different manner than in such big theatre countries as England, France or Germany. This is not a big difference, but it is important for us. Similar to folklore and singing, the theatre art has also been one of the factors that has helped Estonia to understand itself, its rights and obligations, and has developed an independent state of Estonians here on the coasts of the Baltic Sea. The smaller is a state, the bigger is the load born by its culture. Scientists are our generals and authors and stage producers are our army commanders. When thinking about Estonia try to keep in mind that Estonia is a state where everybody knows all the actors. Maybe I would even dare to say that half of the Estonian people - if not all - have stood on the stage at least once. We seldom think about it ourselves. This deep wish to perform in a play oneself has not receded under the pressure of professional theatres, films and television, but even strengthened. Did you know that there are currently about two hundred and seventy school theatres with seven thousand participants operating in Estonia? I was told that you visited the Tallinn Town Hall Square yesterday. The Citizens' Hall in the town hall was the theatre hall of Tallinn in the Middle Ages and antique authors were played there. And the travelling theatre that had come to Estonia from Scotland kept travelling here during the Livonian War from year to year, from fair to fair, as art was stronger than fronts already at that time.

So the ties between countries and peoples were born. The theatre art has also been a bridge that connects feelings so powerfully that even languages become understandable to all of us.

I am looking at you today and it reminds me of the time when I stepped on stage myself for the first time. It is a happy moment: to talk to people. Your eyes talk. Your hand talks. Your voice and your silence talk. And you see the change in the spectator.

Keep forever the feeling that you are holding the key to the world.

I wish you a lot of joy from the discovery of yourself and Estonia and I declare the 10th European Drama Encounter open!


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