During the period of Stalinism theatre, and other arts were largely homogenized to express Soviet Realism, (see my post on the renowned artist Deyneka) However, at the beginning of destalinization the ice of homogeneity began to melt. By the mid 1950s there was an obvious struggle against conformity in the arts. The theater, free from the hegemony of stalinism flourished almost instantly “The Moscow Theater of Drama and Comedy on Taganka Street has staged a production named after John Reed’s “Ten Days That Shook the World.” Audiences and critics in Moscow and Leningrad have greeted it enthusiastically.” (Anitska 1) Audiences now flooded theaters. Notably Yuri Lyubimov, the new chief director of the Moscow Theatre for Drama and Comedy, paved the way for this rebirth of Soviet drama.
Anitska, a Theater Critic wrote:
“Yu. Lyubimov has passed the test. His new production exceeded all expectations. Such imaginative direction had not been seen in any Moscow theater for a long time. Every few minutes brought the audience a pleasant surprise, and when it seemed that all surprises had surely been exhausted, Yu. Lyubimov, it turned out, had more in reserve.” (Anitska 1)
Lyubimov became a pathfinder for the Thaw’s flourishing new art. However as Anitska notes in his critique, the thaw was no where near total.
“There was one nut, however, that we could not crack for quite a long time. I am referring to Brecht’s plays.
For a long time no one even attempted them, and when the attempt was finally made, the result was not entirely convincing.” (Anitska 8)
Brecht, a marxist playwright born under the Weimar Republic, stood no chance of entering the theater under Stalinism, and surprisingly during the Thaw his theatrical works were not welcome. Interestingly, Brecht’s plays were just as constrained in the Soviet Union as they were in the United States.
“Neither Hollywood, where Brecht lived, nor Broadway, to which he came frequently, made any real use of his genius;” (Simon 1) This New York Times article from 1981, while noting that Brecht’s theatrical genius was unused, also works to make him appear as a marxist villain who relied on the help of others to live in the United States for 6 years.
I feel this is important to note as we discuss destalinization and censorship. During these decades we focus on the censorship occurring in the Soviet Union, yet tend to omit the censorship of that occurred in the United States, especially the operations of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) formed in 1938, specifically to monitor and prevent communist activity in the United States. (To learn more about the HUAC: click here)
The thaw of the Soviet Union allowed for arts and culture to flourish, however this thaw was not holistic. Directors like Lyubimov would be praised for ushering in a new wave of theater, however this new wave was not a total detachment from the previous era. During the period of the thaw artists were forced to tow the line between new ideals while maintaining an anchor in traditional soviet culture and attitude.
A. Anikst. A Most Extraordinary Spectacle. Current Digest of the Russian Press, The , No.37, Vol.17, October 06, 1965. https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13766503
John Simon. A Marxist Among Capitalists. The New York Times Archives. 1981. https://www.nytimes.com/1981/01/11/books/a-marxist-among-the-capitalists.html
8 thoughts on “The Theatre Thaw(?)”
Great post do you have any suggestions of plays from during this time period?
I think your point you made at the end in regards to censorship in the United States was very important. Although radio and television was available, both the United States and the Soviet Union could control what was aired. This gave government the power to in some ways form/shape the ideas or thoughts of an individual against those of another country.
I like the connections you draw between Brecht’s reception in the Soviet Union and the US, and between censorship in both countries. Do check out “Mother Courage and her Children” sometime — it’s a challenging, but great piece of drama. An anti-war play for the ages. (Also, minor note: “Socialist” (not “Soviet”) realism.)
Very interesting. So what kinds of productions were approved and which were denied? Were they denied if the producer/the show had a political ideology behind it?
Great post! I’m glad that you mentioned Bertolt Brecht, he’s a very unique and fun playwright. Also, you’re right, it’s important to note how heavily suspected Marxists were persecuted in the U.S. Do you know why Brecht’s works were unwelcome in the USSR during the Thaw?
Brecht is a really interesting person to research! I’m not exactly sure I can encapsulate all of it, but I believe a primary reason Brecht was not welcome is because while he was a Marxist, he remained rather critical of the regime in power, and his plays reflected that perspective.
Nice post! I find it really interesting that Brecht’s work was not welcome in the United States or the Soviet Union. I also really liked your point about how we often gloss over US censorship when criticizing other countries. Overall, I really liked how you emphasized that while the thaw did allow some artistic freedom, the state still censored voices that were critical of the regime.
I really like your connection between censorship in the United States and the Soviet Union. I am not familiar with Soviet theater and arts, so this is very interesting for me to learn about. During your research, did you find anything relating to Soviet opinions on the House of Un-American Activities Committee?