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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 showsthat 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.

Excerpt

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 network of impromptu stages that inspired, imitated, and eventually outlasted TRAM. Expanding this project beyond TRAM, which has its own archives and extensive secondary literature, made this book much harder to write. I hope that the end product has more to say about the place of theater and the amateur arts in the cultural transformation begun with the October Revolution.

At the early stages of this project I was taken under the wing of two remarkable experts on Russian theater, Vladislav Ivanov and Maria Ivanova. They introduced me to a new field and gave me invaluable bibliographic assistance. What began as a professional relationship ended as a friendship. Their book-lined apartment was a haven for me on my trips to Moscow. The Internet has made the work of writing a little less solitary. I was bolstered by good-natured criticism and cyber pep talks from Louise McReynolds, who tried to hem in my natural tendencies toward social history. Susan Larsen has been a wonderful reader, both on the 'Net and off. Evgeny Dobrenko aided me with his broad knowledge of mainstream Soviet culture. Susanna Lockwood Smith shared her insights into the world of amateur music. Alice Fahs and I shared many conversations on theater, popular culture, and writing, all of which . . .

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