For the "theatre" of Russia before 1750, the contextual information is directly related to the theatrical information. From our research, we have discovered that the kind of playwriting and performing that was going on in western European countries at the time had only just started making its way into Russia. Although we were able to find references to Russian plays and performance, we have been unable to excavate any of these texts. So, we've asked ourselves what this absence says about the "Theatre of Russia Pre-1750." Allowing our definition of "theatre" to broaden, we have discovered that the "political and social theatre" of everyday life in Russia at this time was very dramatic; it is only through an exploration of this material that we can begin to discover what the "theatre" would have resembled--what its purpose would have been within this time and place.
Religious and Folk theatre was happening in Russia pre-1750, we have found enough evidence of that. However, that is about as deep as our research could go. There is very little information that explicitly discusses early theatre/performance in Russia. Central to understanding the lack of information on this topic is to explore the social unrest that engulfed Russia during the 17th century. Until the mid 17th century the Tsar was supposedly chosen by God to protect and guide his subjects in "piety, humility and justice" (Kivelson). As a result, the Tsar played an active role in the religious plays and pageants presented at Christmastide and for other religious events. The tsar was essential to the religious experience.
Around the beginning of the 17th century more cultural exchange was occurring with Western culture and with neighboring cultures. This was not to the pleasure of many Russian citizens. The Church began developing miracle or mystery plays combat the Catholic propaganda. The theatrical combat spread to religious academies where it became one of the chief weapons in religious controversy. During the 17th century, the religious climate was characterized by the Roskol, or schism, between the Old Believers and the New Religion. The religious issues in this schism provided a platform on which the importation Western culture and the enserfment of the peasants could be protested.
In 1648 there was an uprising. This was in response to Tsar Aleksei's refusal of the townsfolks petition of the increased taxes as the result of an austerity policy as well as many other indirect taxes and the withholding of monetary grants for military servitors. This lead to a violent bloodbath across Moscow. Prior to this uprising, the townsfolk had made the distinction between the good tsar and his evil advisors. Once Tsar Aleksei refused the Townsfolk's petition, this distinction dissolved. Sermons, frescoes and historical tales reflected this new view of the of the Tsar. Theatre/performance must have followed suit. Shortly following the uprising, new legislation was produced. The Ulozhenie of 1649 was a symbolic indication of the movement to a secular state and the tsar's lessened role in the church.
By the mid 17th century, Russia was engulfed in social upheaval. In order to understand the state of theatre in Russia in the 17th century, there must be understanding of this social upheaval. The group will give the class an overview of what happened during the 1648 uprising as well as the event that lead up to it. Along with the uprising there must be discussion of the religious practice, from when the tsar held a vital role into the Roskol of the 17th century. These political and social elements are vital to exploring what was happening in Russian theatre but also to explain why and how so many gaps are left in the documentation of Russian theatre. Given that the group is only allotted a twenty minute time slot for the presentation, we will have to focus our presentation on the beginning to mid-17th century. This means looking at only the reign of Tsar Aleksei and the social and political climate under his regime. The impact of his predecessors and successors will have to be left out.