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Revolutionary Acts

Revolutionary Acts: Amateur Theater and the Soviet State, 1917-1938 OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 264
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    Revolutionary Acts
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-0698-1
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction (pp. 1-16)

    “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 accomplishments, including its influence over the most progressive professional stages. “Maybe this coming year will lead us to a long awaited, unified theatrical style, rooted in the ‘amateur’ performances of Soviet youth.”¹ For Piotrovskii, amateurs were the main source...

  2. “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. Some were sponsored by the central government, like the broad network of Red Army theaters; some had local institutional sponsors, such as regional soviets and city governments; and many were impromptu, spontaneous creations by factory councils, newly formed clubs, and informal groups of friends. Given these new groups’ ephemeral...

  3. 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 addition, in order to infuse life into the economy, the Soviet government allowed limited capitalist enterprise to start up again in the form of the New Economic Policy (NEP). This program was not only an economic...

  4. A 1926 editorial in the Moscow journalThe New Viewerasserted 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 all theaters could engage in together.¹ These statements in a journal aimed at a working-class audience and covering amateur stages would have been inconceivable only a few years earlier. They showed that the radical anti-professionalism of the...

  5. 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 published, was performed on club stages throughout the country. When its members abandoned their day jobs for full-time theatrical work in 1928, TRAM challenged conventional understandings of what it meant to be a professional. Because of the theater’s notoriety and...

  6. 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 styles of the agitational theater of small forms born during the Civil War and perfected in the early 1920s, they applied them to utilitarian purposes that earlier activists had never envisioned. In the process, participants argued that they...

  7. IN HIS fascinating discussion of the differences between early Soviet culture and the 1930s, the architectural historian Vladimir Pernyi argues that Stalinism was fixated on visual display.¹ The architecture of the period began first with the facade 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 liberate the viewer and offer different perspectives on events, stages in the 1930s were designed to fix the spectators’ point of view. Nor was this concern for display limited to architecture. The mass festivals common to the...

  8. Conclusion (pp. 213-222)

    IN THE 1927 filmThe 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 woman’s entry into urban public life. Even though the performance space is shabby and viewers sit on hard benches, club members flock to see the play, Romain...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
Funding is provided by National Endowment for the Humanities