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Directed Culture: The Spectator and Dialogues of Power in Early Soviet Theater


The theater played an essential role in the making of the Soviet system. Its sociological interest not only lies in how it reflected contemporary society and politics: the theater was an integral part of society and politics. As a preeminent institution in the social and cultural life of Moscow, the theater was central to transforming public consciousness from the time of 1905 Revolution. The analysis of a selected set of theatrical premieres from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 to the end of Cultural Revolution in 1932 examines the values, beliefs, and attitudes that defined Soviet culture and the revolutionary ethos. The stage contributed to creating, reproducing, and transforming the institutions of Soviet power by bearing on contemporary experience.

The power of the dramatic theater issued from artistic conventions, the emotional impact of theatrical productions, and the extensive intertextuality between theatrical performances, the press, propaganda, politics, and social life. Reception studies of the theatrical premieres address the complex issue of the spectator's experience of meaning--and his role in the construction of meaning. The evolving historical context and the changing institutional foundations of theater altered the interpretive contexts of performance. The discussion of interpretive communities and audience tastes draws on reviews in the contemporary press and the data from theater surveys conducted during the 1920s.

The theaters continually sought to align their aesthetics with the demands of the regime and the preferences of theatergoing publics. In addition, ideology served as a form of currency in the polemics among theater directors and theater critics who were engaged in the contest for dominance in the theater world. The theater spectator became a central ideological figure invoked by warring interpretive communities in these ongoing dialogues of power. The theater became politicized under Soviet rule; under Stalin it became a deformed expression of mass politics.

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