Amateur Theater and the Soviet State, 1917-1938
Publication Year: 2016
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
During the Russian Revolution and Civil War, amateur theater groups sprang up in cities across the country. Workers, peasants, students, soldiers, and sailors provided entertainment ranging from improvisations to gymnastics and from propaganda sketches to the plays of Chekhov. In Revolutionary Acts, Lynn Mally reconstructs the history of the amateur stage in Soviet Russia from 1917 to the height of the Stalinist purges. Her book illustrates in fascinating detail how Soviet culture was transformed during the new regime's first two decades in power.
Of all the arts, theater had a special appeal for mass audiences in Russia, and with the coming of the revolution it took on an important role in the dissemination of the new socialist culture. Mally's analysis of amateur theater as a space where performers, their audiences, and the political authorities came into contact enables her to explore whether this culture emerged spontaneously ""from below"" or was imposed by the revolutionary elite. She shows that by the late 1920s, Soviet leaders had come to distrust the initiatives of the lower classes, and the amateur theaters fell increasingly under the guidance of artistic professionals. Within a few years, state agencies intervened to homogenize repertoire and performance style, and with the institutionalization of Socialist Realist principles, only those works in a unified Soviet canon were presented.
Published by: Cornell University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
THIS BOOK began as a study of the Leningrad Theater of Working-Class Youth, known by its acronym TRAM. But as my work on this theater and its Moscow affiliate continued, I discovered that these popular youth stages were simply the most visible representatives of a much wider phenomenon of amateur theater that blossomed in the early Soviet period. My research then grew to include the amorphous...
"THE YEAR since the last festival of the October Revolution will enter the history of Russian theater," proclaimed Adrian Piotrovskii, a prominent Leningrad scholar, cultural activist, and local bureaucrat, in 1924. "It is the first year that the triumph of the mass movement known as amateur theater [samodeiatel'nyi teatr] has become apparent." Piotrovskii listed what he believed were amateur theater's significant...
1. The Revolution Loves the Theater
"THEATER IS the self-educator of the people," proclaimed a broadside published by the new state's cultural ministry in 1919. "The revolution loves the theater and in revolutionary times theater comes alive and blossoms."1 This statement attempted to explain the remarkable proliferation of theaters during the first years of the new regime....
2. Small Forms on Small Stages
THE CONCLUSION of the Russian Civil War brought new challenges to all those engaged in constructing a Soviet culture. Efforts to rebuild the shattered economic base of the country, begun in 1921, meant that there were substantially fewer state funds available for cultural projects. Optimistic plans to construct new club buildings and new stages for amateur theaters were put off for several years. In...
3. From "Club Plays" to the Classics
A 1926 editorial in the Moscow journal The New Viewer asserted that Soviet theater was undergoing a fundamental transformation. During the first period of revolutionary upheaval, amateur stages had been an important force in destroying old forms and challenging professional stages. That period, however, was over. Now the battle had begun for higher quality and a new kind of professionalism, a battle that...
4. TRAM: The Vanguard of Amateur Art
THE LENINGRAD Theater of Working-Class Youth (Teatr rabochei molodezhi), called by its acronym TRAM, was the best-known amateur stage of the NEP period, eventually achieving a national reputation. Its far-reaching claims for the creative potential of amateurs and the special interests of Soviet youth sparked contentious discussions in the cultural press. Its original repertoire, a large part of which was...
5. Shock Workers on the Cultural Front
DURING THE First Five-Year Plan, a new kind of amateur theater group emerged known as the agitprop brigade. These small, itinerant circles had a hostile relationship to the drama workshops of late NEP, many of which had begun to devote themselves to honing their performance skills. Agitprop brigades loudly and aggressively rejected professional models and guidance. They not only reclaimed the performance...
6. Amateurs in the Spectacle State
IN HIS fascinating discussion of the differences between early Soviet culture and the 1930s, the architectural historian Vladimir Papemyi argues that Stalinism was fixated on visual display.1 The architecture of the period began first with the façade as a means of illustrating power. Interior spaces featured grand foyers and decorative objects designed to impress users. While many theaters in the 1920s tried to...
IN THE 1927 film The House on Trubnaia Square (Dom na Trubnoi), a young peasant woman named Praskovia makes her way to Moscow. Instead of finding good employment, she ends up working as a maid for a couple quite contented with NEP. A trade union organizer discovers her and signs her up to join a union, also encouraging her to come to a theater performance at the local club. This marks the young...
Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2016
OCLC Number: 606450650
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Revolutionary Acts