Written by Greer Garni, Graduate Student in Theatre
Hello from Moscow where the FIFA world cup is in full swing and the city is decked out to welcome sports fans from all over the world. No surface has been left untouched by the games; TVs have even been installed in metro cars to broadcast the games so that fans don’t miss a minute. The usually quiet and spacious Moscow streets are crowded with visitors in bright colored jerseys singing, laughing, and cheering in many languages.
There is no escape from soccer (or football to the rest of the world). Moscow has adjusted to fit the role of host to the world for the next month. How does this relate to my research of Moscow’s theatres you may ask? Adaptability is everything.
This summer, I am based at the Moscow Art Theatre researching the use of Chekhov’s texts on the twenty-first century stage. I am particularly interested in the link between classic Russian texts and contemporary audiences. With so many free and immediate forms of entertainment and with so much new content being produced each day, how do we keep audiences coming to the theatre? And furthermore how do we keep audiences interested in classic texts?
It seems to me that a major key to this question is that classic texts must not be “museumified.” Theatre is a living artform. Each performance is a brand new piece of art created live in front of an audience. Why ignore the experiences we all share?
Last night I saw a new production of Alexander Ostrovsky’s 1878 play Without a Dowry at ШДИ. I absolutely did not expect to encounter any reference to soccer in my two hours at the theatre, but there it was: footage from a 2008 match projected on a screen during the production. This was only one of many pop-culture references on the stage. My personal favorite was the hand-painted exit signs above the doors on set and one sign replaced with “Sartre,” a reference to the existentialist author who famously wrote No Exit.
This production of Without a Dowry, directed by Dmitry Krymov, made no attempt to ignore the current state of the audience. Making references to pop culture, literature, and our over-dependence on screens, Ostrovsky’s famous text became part of the world around us—even in a Moscow full of sports.
This use of multimedia and contemporary references is a trend that I have been seeing on Moscow’s stages nearly every night. The use of screens and contemporary references are not in conflict with the older dramatic literature, but instead act as a supportive bridge to enhance the audience experience. There is nothing sleepy or forced in these productions and they are well received by sold-out houses.
For me this complex layering of dramatic literature, contemporary culture, and current events on stage indicates that theatre is, in fact, a place for crossover between the humanities and the social sciences. Theatre is temporal, after all, only existing here and now. The artist creates the art each night and the events and experiences of each day will color that creation of art. I am thrilled for the invitation to blur this line between historiography and ethnography.
Thanks to RSW, I am able to spend six weeks in Moscow working closely with theatre practitioners at the Moscow Art Theatre, visiting archives and museums, and most importantly sitting in the theatre each night attempting to understand the phenomenon of the art being created before my eyes.