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Documentary theatre in twenty-first-century Russia

Since the early 2000s, Russia’s most innovative theatre artists have increasingly taken to incorporating material from real-life events into their performance practice. As the Kremlin’s crackdown on freedom of expression continues to tighten, playwrights and directors are using documentary theatre to create space for public discussion of injustice in the civic sphere and its connections to the country’s twentieth-century past. This book traces the history of documentary theatre’s remarkable growth in Russia since its inception in 1999 and situates the form’s impact within the sociopolitical setting of the Putin years (2000–). It argues that through the practice of performing documents, Russia’s theatre artists are creating a new type of cultural and historical archive that challenges the dominance of state-sponsored media and invites individuals to participate in a collective renegotiation of cultural narratives. Drawing on the author’s previous work as a researcher, producer, and performer of documentary theatre in contemporary Russia, Witness Onstage offers original insight into the nature of the exchange between audience and performance as well as new perspectives on the efficacy of theatre as a venue for civic engagement.

Discourses on the real in performance practice and theory, 1990–2010

This book examines how new performance practices from the 1990s to the present day have been driven by questions of the real and the ensuing political implications of the concept's rapidly disintegrating authority. The first part of the book addresses the existing poststructuralist narrative of radicalism that currently dominates contemporary performance theory, and seeks to deconstruct its conclusions. It first traces the artistic and philosophical developments that laid the ground for the sustained twentieth-century interrogations of theatrical representations of the real. It examines the emergence of the discursive act which aligned the narrative of radicalism exclusively with such interrogations. The book also examines how key strands of Derrida's poststructuralist critique have been applied to performance practice to strengthen the ideological binary opposition between 'dramatic' representations of the real and 'postdramatic' deconstructions of representational practice. The second part of the book embarks on an ideological examination of a wide spectrum of performance models that share an engagement with the problematics of representation and the real. It directs this investigation specifically towards an analysis of the representations of 'real' people in performances which adopt verbatim methodologies drawn from the documentary theatre tradition. The book continues to explore performance environments that break down the dichotomy of performer/spectator and seeks to replace mediated representations with experiential realities.

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eschewed traditional concepts of dramatic heroes. It was, in part, these playwrights’ investment in the depiction of lived experience onstage that drew Russia’s first generation of post-Soviet theatre artists to their exploration of documentary theatre forms, beginning in the late 1990s. In their pursuit of realistic dialogue, Russia’s New Dramatists discovered a close affinity for ‘verbatim’ theatre as it was introduced to them through a series of masterclasses led by delegates of London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1999 and 2000. Since that time, many of the country’s most

in Witness onstage
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The origins of Russian documentary theatre

1 Called to the stand The origins of Russian documentary theatre The emergence of New Drama in the 1990s and the development of documentary theatre methods in the early 2000s marked a vital shift in the development of Russian dramatic practice. It was, in part, the rapid changes to all spheres of cultural production following the dissolution of the Soviet Union that created the space for a new mode of theatre making. However, while the appearance of verbatim playwriting and the advent of New Drama at the end of the twentieth-century is often thought of as a

in Witness onstage
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The pursuit of justice in Russian documentary theatre

3 Evidentiary hearing The pursuit of justice in Russian documentary theatre The year 2010 was an important turning point for Russian documentary theatre practice. Until that time, the works of Russia’s documentary theatre artists were primarily focused on giving voice to otherwise marginalized members of society. Many of Teatr.doc’s best known productions from the collective’s early years were focused on specific communities or subcultures which would not otherwise have been represented on the Russian stage. For example, Bezdomnye (The Homeless, 2001–03) by

in Witness onstage
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Performing memory in twenty-first-century Russia

veneration of Stalin have been purposefully reintegrated into public spaces in Russia in the twenty-first century. This chapter explores the role of memory and commemoration in twenty-first-century Russian documentary theatre. It focuses on two documentary plays that were the first to draw their audiences into explicit conversation about how people do or do not remember both the victims and the perpetrators of Soviet totalitarianism. The first production, Legacy of Silence (2010), staged two interviews excerpted and translated from the book of the same title. First

in Witness onstage
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Theatre and protest in Putin’s Russia

6 A special verdict Theatre and protest in Putin’s Russia The years between 2008 and 2012 were an exceptionally productive period for the development of documentary theatre forms in Russia. By 2008, the momentum of the form’s early years had produced a lively and innovative community of young theatre artists dedicated to the exploration and explication of lived experience onstage. The socially engaged nature of their endeavour is apparent in the selection of plays analysed in this book. Russian documentary theatre’s potential as a mode of civic engagement can

in Witness onstage
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History, belief, and the theatre of enactment

4 Material witness History, belief, and the theatre of enactment Russia’s twenty-first-century documentary theatre artists draw upon the legacy of their country’s twentieth century in their search for new methods with which to stage collisions between theatre and everyday life. Chapter 2 illustrated how the artists of the Joseph Beuys Theatre and Moscow’s Sakharov Center use documentary theatre to make meaningful interventions in Russia’s culture of commemoration. Chapter 3 showed how the artists at Teatr.doc draw out important connections between the

in Witness onstage
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New Sincerity and the performance of post-Soviet national identities

5 Burden of proof New Sincerity and the performance of post-Soviet national identities Questions about the nature of trust, sincerity, and belief in contemporary Russian culture run throughout the country’s twenty-first-century documentary theatre repertoire. In their varied interpretations of the form, Russia’s documentary theatre artists create performances that speak directly to the country’s cultural tensions between history, memory, and national identity. Each of the plays discussed in this book explores the contours of how Russia’s conflicted relationship

in Witness onstage
Verbatim practice in a sceptical age

4 Representing the real: verbatim practice in a sceptical age Emerging out of the prevailing climate of scepticism in the final decade of the twentieth century was the revitalisation of documentary forms of theatre in the first decade of the twenty-first. This particular wave of documentary theatre tended to draw, most of all, on the tradition of verbatim or testimonial performance which can be seen to permeate all manner of theatrical practice across this period. Verbatim performance texts are created entirely from extracts of interview transcripts or

in Acts and apparitions