Featured above: Anatoly Vasiliev and Susanna Weygandt
Featured above: Susanna Weygandt with Ivan Vyrypaev
Featured above: Irina Prorokhoreva and Dmitry Volkostrelov
Featured above: Behind the scenes at Liubimovka New Drama Festival
Featured above: Behind the scenes at Liubimovka New Drama Festival
Featured above: Host of Liubimovka New Drama festival, Mikhail Durnenkov takes off his coat
Featured above: Olga Shalygina giving a talk at Teatr doc about the performance art of her partner, Petr Pavlensky while Pavlensky is in prison
Featured above: Teatr.doc, Moscow, where the symbolic and the real meet
Featured above: Yuri Strike Kladiev conceptualizing New Drama at Liubimovka Festival
Featured above: Uzbek by Talgat Batalov and Ekaterina Bondarenko, Teatr.doc
Leading New Drama critics of the past two decades, Elena Kovalskaya and Christina Matvienko
The history of New Drama began in the 1990’s when playwrights united over the consensus to oust paradigms of writing that had still been lingering from the Soviet-era stage. In the period known as Stagnation (zastoi), the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s, the scope of topics that was accessible to direct speech was limited and metaphor remained a key device in the plays of New Drama predecessors – Vampilov, Radzinkii, and Petrushevskaya. The eagerness to speak directly about real-life issues, as opposed to speaking in metaphors, went hand in hand with the celebration of the fall of the Soviet Union and the lifting of censorship in most media.
The style of verbatim documentary drama, New Drama’s leading subgenre, emerged specifically for the purpose of voicing “direct speech” about societal problems through testimony and oral history. I find that the re-telling of documented, recorded speech on the Russian public stage is not to try to make something “come to life” through re-enactment. Nor is the point to create an imaginary utopia where a real-life tragedy can be salvaged through repetition and rehearsal; but rather to expose the real in crisis, to register its points not only of breakdown but of breakthrough, the new possibilities that such a crisis might open up for the audience. I describe New Drama’s ability to transform individuals, communities, and cultures—as long as it remains an affective art form. I draw on theories of audience reception by avant-garde Russian film directors as I argue that common and social memory more often consists in narratives that are charged with emotions than strictly in archives and facts. The docudramas articulate feelings about nation, kinship, home, and belonging through the emotional and sensorial transactions they produce, thus changing performance in public space from something “boxed in” to a participatory art that offers a gateway to the social activism that is shaping the cultural history of 21st-c. Russia. As such, New Drama connects to themes of dissidence, social critique, and political protest that have influenced the social climate of the post-1989 transformation of the region. In order to trace the ascending, aesthetic theories of New Drama, I spent several months in Russia compiling an ethnography of this movement through interviews with playwrights and directors. Thus, the methods that I use intertwine with the methods that the New Dramatists themselves practice. I am making a kind of study of New Drama that is true to its own methods.
How does the actor enact the fact? After all, the real is not directly experienced or witnessed, but rather retold, quoted, as a skaz narration. New Dramatists – docudrama writers and also conceptual writers such as Ivan Vyrypaev – build upon the established foundation of skaz in oral performance to create new formal-aesthetics of expressive, radical speech on the 21-st c. stage. It is precisely the structural dissonance of skaz – the ability to mark the author’s voice as separate from the protagonist – that makes the older genre crucial for Russian docudrama’s form of theater.
To watch a performance of this aesthetic, please see the clip of a video recording of a quintessential New Drama play, July, by Ivan Vyrypaev.
Anthologies and articles about New Drama:
Interviews by Susanna Weygandt with playwrights Ivan Vyrypaev and Sasha Denisova, New Drama in Russian: Performance, Politics, and Protest, ed. Julie Curtis (London: Bloomsbury Academic), 2020.
New Russian Drama: An Anthology. Eds. Weygandt and Hanukai. (Columbia University Press, 2019)
Weygandt, Susanna, “The Object as Prosthesis and Performer in Russian New Drama.” In Russian Performances: Word, Object, Action. Eds. Julie Buckler, Julie Cassiday, and Boris Wolfson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2018.
Vyrypaev, Ivan, “The Politics of Culture – For What Purpose? /Kul’turnaia Politika – Kakova Tsel’?” Translated by Susanna Weygandt. Theater Magazine, 48:2 (Yale University Press), 2018.
Вайгандт, Сюзанна, “Deistvie v tvorchestve Ivana Vyrypaeva: perekhod ot fizicheskogo prostranstva k slovesnomu planu / Dramatic Action’ in the Plays of Ivan Vyrypaev: A Shift from the Physical to the Verbal Plane,” New Drama of the 21st century. ed. Tatiana Zhurcheva. Samara, Russia: Samara State University, 2014: 113- 118. ISBN 978-5-86465-621-1 http://sovdram.ru/wpcontent/uploads/2016/01/новейшая_драма_2014.pdf
Films by New Dramatists:
Kirill Serebrennikov's Release from House Arrest
When Putin came to power in 2000, one of the first pieces of legislation that he passed was done in an attempt to take control of major theatres. In 2014 self-censorship returned to Russia with new legislation that monitors public art for its conformism to new “standards” (see “Cultural Politics – for What Purpose?” by Ivan Vyrypaev, trans. Weygandt). Political censorship of art and literature in Russia has attracted the attention of international news, most recently in the house arrest of the prominent Russian theater and film director, Kirill Serebrennikov, who is the artistic director of Gogol Theater in Moscow. The government accused him of embezzlement for funding a large-scale theater production. However, many commentators believe that the real motive for the director’s arrest is due to the open criticism of Russia’s religious extremism in Serebrennkov’s film The Student / Uchenik (2016). CNN News reported on September 25, 2017, “Serebrennikov has been an outspoken supporter of artistic freedom in Russia.” Petitions with thousands of signatures across Russia were sent to President Vladimir Putin demanding to drop charges. By 2020 the former politician and oligarch Roman Abramovich, aware of Serebrennikov’s case and that the artist was treated unfairly, sent his companies to cover Serebrennikov’s nearly two million-dollar fine. That summer Serebrennikov was finally freed.
AATSEEL (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages) published a statement against the arrest of Kirill Serebrennkikov: “We are writing to protest in the strongest possible terms the arrest and prosecution of the famous and culturally vital film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov. This case presents all the hallmarks of political repression of the creative arts, which are now, as they have so often been in Russian history, crucially important as a bastion of free expression, progressive thought, and open political debate.” AATSEEL website
Transnational Documentary Drama
After publishing my book, the next step that I envision is to build a multimedia project to situate Russian New Drama within the transnational study of documentary theatre and literature and to enable collaboration with Slavic and Performance Studies researchers from all over the world. The implications of the docudrama movement carry beyond Russia’s borders, for instance in Belarus Free Theatre and Ukraine’s Theater of Displaced People. This global history project would situate post-Soviet docudrama in relation to the docudrama of Peter Weiss and Rimini Protokoll in Germany and docudrama in Mexico, for example. The digital platform will host scholarship and present empirical data together with video clips of live performance that visualize the ways that theatre, of all genres, help us to understand social problems. If students are interested in translating a few plays, I would help them. Working as Project Manager of a major Digital Humanities literary project at Princeton University, I have designed digital platforms for use in coursework and international research.