During the Russian Revolution and Civil War, amateur theater groups sprang up in cities across the country. Workers, peasants, students, soldiers, and sailors provided entertainment ranging from improvisations to gymnastics and from propaganda sketches to the plays of Chekhov. In Revolutionary Acts, Lynn Mally reconstructs the history of the amateur stage in Soviet Russia from 1917 to the height of the Stalinist purges. Her book illustrates in fascinating detail how Soviet culture was transformed during the new regime's first two decades in power.
Of all the arts, theater had a special appeal for mass audiences in Russia, and with the coming of the revolution it took on an important role in the dissemination of the new socialist culture. Mally's analysis of amateur theater as a space where performers, their audiences, and the political authorities came into contact enables her to explore whether this culture emerged spontaneously "from below" or was imposed by the revolutionary elite. She shows that by the late 1920s, Soviet leaders had come to distrust the initiatives of the lower classes, and the amateur theaters fell increasingly under the guidance of artistic professionals. Within a few years, state agencies intervened to homogenize repertoire and performance style, and with the institutionalization of Socialist Realist principles, only those works in a unified Soviet canon were presented.
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Lynn Mally is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. She is author of Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia.Review:
"Mally traces the fascinating history of Soviet amateur theater from its heady origins in 1917 to its gradual ossification in the 1930s. The chapter on the TRAM amateur company is particularly engaging, nicely illustrating many of the the themes and debates in the amateur theater world."―Choice
"Mally effectively situates the amateur theatrical movement within the larger context of cultural revolution. Mally places her study within the ongoing discussion of the genesis of totalitarian culture in general and of Socialist Realism in particular."―Russian Review
"Mally sees true amateurism as original art and dilettantism of mere copying of professionals. The overarching theme of Revolutionary Acts is how Soviet amateur theater flourished luxuriantly (if contentiously) in a dozen varieties and was then 'de-amateurized' or semiprofessionalized under Joseph Stalin."―American Historical Review
"Lynn Mally has found an underutilized focus through which one can view the dynamic evolution of Soviet culture, the interaction of intellectuals with Soviet power, and of elite culture with mass culture. It makes fascinating reading and given its interdisciplinary nature makes a valuable contribution to a variety of fields."―Katerina Clark, Yale University
"Of all the arts in Russia and the USSR, theater possessed a special resonance with mass audiences. This superb book elegantly explores how a central feature of the cultural revolution was affected by the Soviet effort to transform everyday experience."--Diane P. Koenker, University of Illinois
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