Russian Drama of the Revolutionary Period by Robert Russell (auth.)

By Robert Russell (auth.)

The interval among the Revolution of 1917 and Stalin's coming to strength within the early Nineteen Thirties was once the most interesting for all branches of the humanities in Russia. This research attempts to teach how the range of the Soviet arts of the Nineteen Twenties persisted the most important traits of the pre-Revolutionary years.

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The form of the harlequinade in itself is part of the conventionalist platform, as are the many instances when theatrical devices are openly revealed to the audience. Blok's The Puppet Booth and Gorky's Enemies, both written in 1906, mark opposite poles in the development of drama in prerevolutionary Russia, just as the productions of Gorky plays by the Moscow Art Theatre and of Blok by Meyerhold mark those opposite poles in the development of theatre. In the years following the October Revolution of 1917 drama would, in general, follow the line set by Gorky much more closely than that of Blok, but in terms of theatre the 1920s would see a continuation of the sharp divide between the naturalists and the conventionalists until late in the decade.

The left was not yet defeated, however, and in 1920 it was greatly strengthened when Lunacharsky announced the appointment of Meyerhold as head of TEO, which once again took over the administration of the newly nationalised theatres from the short-lived Tsentroteatr. Meyerhold had joined the Bolshevik Party in 1918 and when he was made director of TEO he immediately announced his intention of revolutionising the theatre. 1 of the RSFSR', of which he was the director. His productions of Verhaeren's Dawns and Mayakovsky's Mystery-Bouffe were intended to serve as examples of the new role for theatre in an age of revolution, and they stimulated heated discussion.

Even an editorial in Pravda on 6 November 1918 declared that 'under the crossfire of their accursed enemies the workers are moving forward towards their cherished Promised Land'. For the 1918 production Mayakovsky and Meyerhold had difficulty in attracting actors, since none of the professional companies wanted to be associated with what they viewed as a blatantly propagandistic and blasphemous play, particularly since ultimate Bolshevik victory was by no means assured at that time. In the end they advertised for actors, as Mayakovsky had done with his earlier play, but even so there were not enough volunteers, and Mayakovsky (who was a considerable actor) had to play two minor roles in addition to the 'simple man' who walks on the water.

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