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Conclusion 232 The concept of theater for the people was a response to elite anxieties about the cultural gulf between educated Russia and the common people.The idea of a people’s theater, that is, of a didactic theater that would bring the culture of the intelligentsia to the masses, was predicated on the belief that theater was capable of transforming audiences. This belief rested on three assumptions shared by virtually all proponents of people’s theaters. First, theater, by virtue of its powerful visual impressions, was assumed to be accessible and comprehensible to all. Second, its combination of entertainment and edification supposedly made theater an ideal means of communicating ideas. Third, the common people were assumed to be malleable, impressionable, even childlike, and thus easily influenced by what they saw and heard on the stage. By creating special theaters for the urban lower classes, educated Russians were engaging in a form of cultural populism. They sought to enlighten the “simple folk” by offering them the intellectual heritage of the intelligentsia. Convinced as they were of the universal validity of their culture , the founders of the people’s theaters were, for the most part, determined to convert the masses into consumers of that culture. Ostensibly, one needed only to expose the common folk to the timeless works of Pushkin, Gogol, Ostrovsky, and other venerated representatives of Russian and European letters and they would be won over to an appreciation of “serious” theater. The people would then reject the trashy melodramas and sensational adventure plays with which the unscrupulous fairground showmen were bent on corrupting them and would become enthusiastic, if unsophisticated , admirers of “art.” Once the common people had embraced the culture of the intelligentsia, all Russians would be united in a national culture of consensus. Yet, despite their shared faith in the transforming power of theater, the proponents of people’s theater held quite diverse views as its ultimate purpose . Some felt that the people’s theater should primarily serve to democratize art, others equated it with school and saw it as a means of educating the common people, while still others viewed the people’s theater foremost as a “rational recreation” that would supplant the tavern as the focus of working-class leisure. At the same time, supporters of the people’s theater often disagreed as to whom it was to serve. Although everyone concurred that the people’s theater was meant to civilize the common people, or narod, there was no such accord on what civilizing the narod entailed, or how the narod should be defined. Was the civilizing process meant to produce a people who appreciated art? Who behaved more respectably? Or who simply consumed less alcohol in their leisure hours? Were “the people” peasants? Or were factory workers, artisans, clerks, and domestic servants also part of the narod? The very concept of a “people’s theater” was rooted in a dualistic conception of Russian society and culture as divided, albeit temporarily, into the “intelligentsia ” and the “narod,” a notion that had its origins in the preEmancipation servile order and was proving increasingly inapplicable to the diverse populations of turn-of-the-century Moscow and St. Petersburg.1 The sharp line that had once delineated the intelligentsia and the narod was becoming blurred, as urban migrants from the countryside began to acquire more education and shed their peasant costumes in favor of citified attire, but the terminology used to describe the people remained the same, thus exacerbating the confusion over who was to benefit from the cultural tutelage that the people’s theaters were to provide. These divergent views of the goals of the people’s theater and its intended audience led to endless debates over what repertoire was most appropriate for the people. What stands out in the discussions of the “correct ” repertoire is the Russian intelligentsia’s extreme reluctance to allow market forces to determine the content of what the people saw onstage, to allow entertainment to take priority over edification and enlightenment. This hostility toward the marketization of cultural products was especially apparent in the negative attitudes of educated observers toward the fairground shows. Rather than catering to the tastes of their audiences, the people ’s theaters were supposed to elevate those tastes, and the intelligentsia was on the whole quite censorious when it came to determining the sort of cultural fare that was appropriate for popular consumption. In this respect my findings confirm those of Jeffrey Brooks, who has argued that “both...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780520925878
Related ISBN
9780520225947
MARC Record
OCLC
52862196
Pages
364
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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