Russian Cultural Studies: An Introduction

By Catriona Kelly; David Shepherd | Go to book overview

4
Performing Culture: Theatre

BIRGIT BEUMERS

Russian theatre practice of the twentieth centuryhas been dominated both by a controversy over the function of theatre in society, reflected in changes of theatre administration and management, and also by conflicting theories about the relationship between theatre and the spectator, expressed in the competing concepts of demonstration (predstavienie) and emotional experience (perezhivanie). Furthermore, not only did theories about the function of theatre determine a Soviet director's approach to the spectator; the absence of a consistent theory of the role of culture in socialism meant that, in the Soviet Union, theatres depended on the understanding of culture provided by a given leader, or by functionaries in charge of ideology.

For Lenin, theatre was a means of ideological agitation, experimental in form and politically engaged; during the Stalin era and, to a lesser extent, throughout the years of stagnation under Brezhnev, officially acceptable theatre was held to be that which created on stage the perfect illusion of a perfect society; during Khrushchev's thaw and Gorbachev's glasnost'the theatre again functioned as a tool for propaganda, this time to expose errors on a human and moral scale, to criticize human behaviour in order to improve the behaviour of man in a socialist society. Therefore, at certain times in Soviet history, the method of demonstration, appealing intellectually to the audience and inviting it to think critically about social developments, was rejected in favour of the less challenging method based on emotional identification with characters inhabiting a perfect world.

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