How Theater was used in the Soviet Union


The Soviet Union included the modern day Russian Federation and other states around that include Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Kazakhstan among others. During the time, Soviet Union was the most powerful world’s power. Its might can be traced back in 1917 during the Russian Revolution. It remained powerful until 1992 when it collapsed.

Over the past, the Soviet Union has been in conflict with the United States. This led to cold war between these leading powers. In the Soviet Union, theater played a major role in the state since it was used as a major tool in promoting individual interests.

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The formation of the Soviet Union can be traced back in 1917 when the people got tired of the monarchy system which, was led by Czar Nicholas II. [1] In those times, most people in the Russia supported the socialism system, a form of production where the means of production are owned communally by the society. In 1922, the revolutionary regime got victory where it succeeded in forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics[2]. The main goals of the union were formation of a powerfully economic base.

As already noted, theater played a significant role in the Soviet Union. The industry attracted the attention of many people for entertainment as well as informing purposes. Theater in the Soviet Union was to some extent controlled by the government. This was in an attempt to protect their interests.

For instance, the leaders did not condone plays which reflected negative acts in the leadership. For instance, leaders seriously opposed performances which displayed corruption in the government. Theatre was a major tool which was used during the early revolution. This is due to influence it has on people.

Theater in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union has a very interesting cultural heritage in theatre. One of these theaters is the Leningrad’s Theatre and Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater.[3] These attracted many people across the globe who visited the Soviet Union to be entertained. These performances were performed in huge festive halls which accommodated a large number of audiences.[4]

The Soviet Union recognized the contributions by the performers who performed on the Soviet Theater arenas. In connection to this, the performers were given certain benefits which encouraged them to put more efforts in their performances. For instance, the performers enjoyed world wide travel, state honors and luxurious apartment as rewards for their contributions in terms of arts.

Consequently, these performers were encouraged due to the recognition of their efforts by the state. They shared more time rehearsing which maintain high level performances in the Soviet Union theatre. However their performances were to be directed by the needs of the leaders. Otherwise they were not entertained.

In the Soviet Union Theater, the artists who followed the regime’s theatre guidelines were accorded special recognition for their artistic performances. However, those artists who deviated away from the regimes or who demonstrated views which were never reflected by the regime’s artistic standards faced a lot of shame.[5] However, their performances still entertained their audience. They fulfilled partial part of the requirements but failed to meet the cultural needs.

Between 1930 and 1941, there was cinema of Stalinism. This was during Salin’s regime who was a dictator of the time in the Soviet Union. During this period, Stalinist communism party decided to make transformations in cultural and economic perspectives. In this period, the economy was transformed from the market based system to the central planning system.[6]

This was followed by a declaration which insisted on the Cultural Revolution. Under this revolution, the party was over the control of the cultural changes. During this period, another bureaucratic entity known as Soyuzkino was created in 1930,[7] Through these revolutions, all the studios’ in the Soviet Union were to be coordinated by the planning agency under Salin’s leadership.

Therefore, this revolution meant that the studios were no longer going to be independent. They will now be under Salin’s leadership who was a dictator. He therefore controlled what was to be produced and what did not deserve production. Consequently, he used this opportunity to advance his powers. He only allowed production of materials which promoted his regime. He did not entertain any criticism of the prevailing arrangements.

Under this system, the process of developing script became complicated, torturous and unnecessarily too long. This was due to the complexities which were associated with the bureaucratic system. Before the scripts could be accepted, they had to pass through a number of committee members to be reviewed.[8]

The composers were sometimes forced to make changes on their drafts. They had to cut some parts or revise on others accordingly. Consequently, film projects were critically affected which led to poor quality production. Script writers were not free to express their minds freely. Sometimes they were forced to erase some critical points in the scripts which may be carrying influential impact on the entire production.

For instance, the artists were forced to erase some parts which represented the theme of their work. This curtails their creativity. For instance, productivity levels declined sharply from 1930’s. For instance, the production of the industry fell to only forty five per year in 1934 from one hundred features in the early 1930’s.[9] This directly reveals the negative impact of the centralized regime in the cinema industry.

During the same time, USSR illegalized any contacts between the region and the West through the exchange of films. Importation of films from West was banned with the fear that they will contaminate the natives with the capitalist ideologies. This implies that theater played a significant role in driving the people’s emotions. It can easily influence the audience to change their stands. Therefore, theatre was a significant tool which was used by the leaders in maintaining order in the society.

For instance, by restricting the types of film reaching the people, the leadership prevents any resistance to the prevailing arrangements. The prevailing system in the Soviet Union was communism while capitalism was prevalent in the West. Therefore, the Western films reflected capitalism while the Soviet Union films reflected socialism. Therefore, any interaction may lead to a rise in revolutions to reject the communism regime.

In the Soviet Union, theater was also used in terms of Social Realism. Social Realism played a pivotal role in promoting socialism. Social realism played a major role in promoting the goals communism and socialism. In other words, this type of realistic art was used by the leadership in attaining their goals. It was used in promoting the importance of having society organized as a communist rather than capitalism. As already noted, these films were used like tools by the leaders in order to avoid resistance of the prevailing system.

During Salin’s regime, formulaic and doctrinaire films ended up being formed due to the restrictive measures imposed in the theatre industry. Some of the cinema which succeeded in attracting the attention of the masses was Chapayev. It received great support from the majority of the people. This film reflected socialism and involved Red Army commander where Chapayev fought for revolutionary cause.

In the Soviet Union, one of the famous artists was Vladimir. Although he did not live long, he attracted a big crowd of people who were interest need in his performances. This artist died of heart attack as a result of excessive alcoholism.[10] These artists have attracted the attention of his fans long after his death. His memory has not yet dissolved as most of his fans have been crowding over his burial place in his memory.

Vladimir played major parts as Hamlet in tutelage of Tagaka. He attracted many followers through his performances which criticized the failures of the leadership in the time. In fact, his music and poetry was once banned in the Soviet Union for exposing the poverty, corruption, and elitism in the prevailing regime. Later in 1980’s, Liubimov, who was Vladimir’s guide in his performance continued to make contributions in theater even some time after his exile. While abroad, he continued to produce theatric materials like masterpieces.

In 1980’s, theatre received a major boost after receiving a high degree of liberalization. Performers free to conduct independent work in literature as well as cinemas. There were little interventions by the leadership.

The artists could then select the plays of their interests without restrictions on the regimes and other requirements. Different artists could also organize themselves in groups which improved on their performance. Another development which took place during this period was the replacement of the old directors with younger directors.

This also encouraged changes in performances as the leadership was now diversified. That is, both and young people had a say liberalization was followed by a series of plays which reflected the current political regime. For instance, Shatrov produced neo-Leninist work called Dictatorship of Conscience which criticized unfaithful communists in the time. In other words, this liberalization significantly boosted the performance in the theater during this period as it allowed free creativity in presentations.

The Bolshevik Revolution had a significant impact on theatre and was seen as a major potential tool for reproduction of socialist ideas.[11] During this time, many theater directors supported the revolution which significantly promoted its success. For instance, Meierkhol’d who presented pre-revolutionary productions which were totally dedicated to the revolution.[12] In other words, theater was also used in promoting revolutions. Theatre was very powerful tool in the time as it cultivated support from the masses.[13]

Meanwhile, Meierkhol’d demanded for the changes in the existing traditions in theater industry. For instance, he demanded for independence of theatre industry that was free from being used by the state as a tool of the state or party propaganda. Theater had for long been used by parties a tool for spreading propaganda. Art was completely politicized and every script reflected political affiliation.

Theatre in the Soviet Union reflected the cultural backgrounds. The images presented reflected the cultural patterns in the region.[14] Although the artists were driven by the needs of the politicians, they integrated cultural aspects in their work.

Problems facing theatre in the Soviet Union

Theatre in the Soviet Union experienced a number of problems. One of the major problems was related to the states. In most cases, artists used their performances and literature to criticize unjust practices in the government. This involved dirty politics which entertained corruption, poverty, war and other vices. On the other hand, the leadership did not welcome such critics, this created led to loggerheads between the leadership and the artists.

One of the main problems which faced theatre in the Soviet Union was restrictions posed by them by the government. Liubimov was forced to go in exile for his productions which criticized the negative government practices like wars, corruption and the poverty this had engulfed some fraction of the population.

Later, he was forced to move to abroad due to threats by the government. These practices significantly affected the performance of the artists in the Soviet Union. Some artists were intimidated by the government who were forced to produce and act accordingly.

However, their performance rarely reflected the society; it rather presented the needs of the leaders. As already noted, artistic performances must reflect the society in which it is directed. However, political interference led to loss of meaning due to the interventions by the leaders. The performance rarely reflected the real life in the society. It was a mare reflection of an ideal society directed by the leaders in order to protect their own interests.

These restrictions negatively affected the creativity of the artists. Their ability to come up with creative playwrights was significantly affected. Their talents were somehow restricted to some extent.

This led to stagnation of the theater performances in the Soviet Union. However, some of the artists like Liubimov who managed to go to abroad continued with their work uninterrupted. For those who remained, they were forced to conform to the policies from the prevailing regime. However, these restrictions were softened in 1985 after liberalization which created freer theatre environment.

The artists faced a lot of brutality in because of demonstrating ideas differing from the leadership. For instance, Meierkhol’d and his wife who was also an actress was killed in 1940.[15] All this resulted from the views they expressed through their work. Many other directors in the theatre industry in the Soviet Union were also killed over similar allegations.

In 1930’s, dramatic writing was dominated by the Socialist realism. Most of the work which was produced during the time promoted the realization of the communism goals. That is, the goals of the collective society needs rather than individual goals.


In conclusion, this discussion has clearly shown that theater was very important in the Soviet Union. It was used to reflect the prevailing regime. The artists were expected to conform to the prevailing regime. Those artists who conformed were highly rewarded and give state honor.

Those who didn’t were ashamed due to lack of adherence. Leaders used their leadership powers to control theatre in the Soviet Union. For instance, plays which criticized the prevailing leadership were restricted. In fact, some artists who failed to adhere to these directions were forced to go to exile while others were killed. In other words, the leaders in the Soviet Union used theatre to meet their interests.


Anonymous. Russia and Soviet Union: The Cinema of Stalinism: 1930–1941

Cornwell, N. The Routledge companion to Russian literature, New York: Routledge, 2001.

Croft, C. Ballet Nations: The New York City Ballet’s 1962 US State Department–Sponsored Tour of the Soviet Union. Theatre Journal. Volume 61, Number 3, October 2009, pp. 421-442

Tsivian, Y. and Taylor, R. Early Cinema in Russia and Its Cultural Reception. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Veidlinger, J. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish Culture On The Soviet Stage. U.S.A.: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Wisegeek. What is the Soviet Union? 2003.

Zickel, R. Soviet Union; Theater. 1989.

Wisegeek. What is the Soviet Union? 2003. par 1
Wisegeek. Par 3.
Raymond E. Zickel. Soviet Union; Theater. 1989. par 5.
Clare Croft. Ballet Nations: The New York City Ballet’s 1962 US State Department–Sponsored Tour of the Soviet Union. Theatre Journal. Volume 61, Number 3, October 2009, pp. 421-442. p.30
Raymond E. Zickel. Soviet Union; Theater. 1989. . par 4.
Anonymous. Russia and Soviet Union: The Cinema Of Stalinism: 1930–1941 par 1
Anonymous. Russia and Soviet Union: The Cinema Of Stalinism: 1930–1941 par 2
Anonymous. Russia and Soviet Union: The Cinema Of Stalinism: 1930–1941 par 3.
Anonymous. Russia and Soviet Union: The Cinema Of Stalinism: 1930–1941 par 6.
Raymond E. Zickel. Soviet Union; Theater. 1989. par 5.
Neil Cornwell. The Routledge companion to Russian literature, New York: Routledge, 2001. p. 209.
Neil Cornwell. The Routledge companion to Russian literature, New York: Routledge, 2001. p. 209.
Jeffrey Veidlinger. The Moscow State Yiddish Theater: Jewish culture on the Soviet stage. U.S.A.: Indiana University Press, 2000. p.207.
Yuri Tsivian and Richard Taylor. Early cinema in Russia and its cultural reception. New York: Routledge, 1994. p.3.
Neil Cornwell. The Routledge companion to Russian literature, New York: Routledge, 2001. p. 211.


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