Russian drama in the twentieth century is inextricably linked to the theatrical performance: after the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen (1826–1914) introduced the concept of the director at the Meiningen Company in Germany in the 1870s, the way in which a play was represented on stage became a skill in its own right: the art of directing was born. Therefore, this chapter links developments in dramatic writing to innovations in theatre art, and vice versa.
We will explore the emergence of a director’s theatre in Russia in the 1890s, which brought on to the stage the plays of a new generation of playwrights by relying on psychological realism. This approach met resistance in the 1910s, when the Symbolist theatre proposed instead a return to archaic forms such as rituals. The Revolution created a new impetus for artistic innovation combined with political commitment, and throughout the 1920s Russian theatre and drama thrived: satires exposed the bourgeois resistance to the Revolution, while theatre directors collaborated with artists from the visual arts, architecture, and cinema. The ‘great experiment’ – not only in theatre, but also in literature, film, and visual arts – came to an end with the imposition of Socialist Realism in the 1930s, which forced theatres into quasi-psychological realism and dramatists to write politically engaged and ideologically sound plays. Reacting to this, theatres innovated production techniques and staged contemporary readings of the classics, which offered a means for social and political criticism in a veiled form. Only a few playwrights gained prominence in the post-war era, and their work is linked to certain theatres.