Week One: Journal Entry
Through out week one, the group collected information regarding our topic, Russian Theatre pre 1750. This was much more difficult than we initially thought it would be. Most texts that we were encountering in our early stages of research were either about Russia post 1750 or in Russian. As you can imagine, this was very frustrating to encounter. However, after meeting briefly with Will and Brian we were able to narrow in our search and get better results. There was one particularly good source I ran across:
Malnick, Bertha. "The Origin and Early History of the Theatre in Russia." The Slavonic and East European Review Vol. 19. 53/54 (1939-1940): 203-227. Print.
This is what I learned from this source:
-the Skomorokhi, who played an active role in the ceremonies of the middle ages and in to the 17th century. In the courts of the Kiev prices they were singer and story tellers. They were active in the Christmastide celebrations, improvising comidic dialogues. These monologues were expanded in the 17th and 18th centuries to include elements of scholastic and court drama. "The Robber Band of a certain Terrible Ataman" and "Tsar Maximilian" were folk dramas that resulted from this expansion.
-The Church began developing miracle or mystery plays in light of the Catholic propaganda in the 17th century. These were performed within the churches themselves. Pageants were also performed. The Tsars and patriarchs played the main parts and their attendants played the minor ones. "the most splendid of these pageants was the procession of Asses on Palm Sunday" (206).
-Drama in performed in academies became one of the chief weapons of religious controversy (206).
-"Alexis, the Man of God." This is an adaption of polish original. There were many play similar to this that follow the typical Jesuit moralities.
-At first the plays were performed by aristocratic students. In Ukraine, students were much poorer and as a result they adapted the scholastic plays to fit their tastes, adding comic interludes and choosing simpler scenes. Marionettes, vertep, were used for these plays.
-The school plays began to break down from their Jesuit beginnings.
-Saint Dmitry of Rostov is credited many plays near the ed of the 17th century (208). "Comedy of the Birth of Christ" and "The repentant Sinner" being examples.
-Simon Polotsky wrote "Nebukadnezar" and "The Prodigal Son." These are further evolved from the Jesuit plays
-The Moscow Slavic Greco-Latin Academy was ordered to create plays about the military victories of Peter I.
-Most plays use allegories to reflect political events of the time
This source broadened my understanding of Russian Theatre pre 1750 and it also gave me a solid base on which to continue my research. The source contained specific names dates and events that I was able to extract and use to refine my research. Through the process of finding this source and using it to searching for information, I realized just how connected culture and politics are with art. By existing in the same conditions at a point in space and time, these elements were all interacting with each other. Thus they must have some connection to one another. Evidence for these connections can be found through out many sources and the conclusion can be drawn from this evidence. You don't need to wait for someone to make these connections for you. It makes perfect sense but for some reason I didn't realize that I could draw conclusions based on the evidence I found in texts. Since there is a relatively scarce amount of source material for Russia pre 1750 this is an especially important skill to have. This skill can also be extended to any other research process that may or may not be related to theatre production.
Week Two: Journal Entry
Through out week two we attempted to collect research on the religious performance in Russia during the 17th century. The decision to research this topic was largely based on its mention in the few sources that we could find. However, finding anymore depth to the topic proved to be more difficult than expected. In an effort to discover why this hole in the record exists, I decided to look in to the political climate in the 17th century. The main event I discovered was the uprising of 1648. The social unrest that lead to this uprising also characterized the reset of the century. Here are the sources I found this week and what I learned from them:
Kivelson, Valerie A. "The Devil Stole His Mind: The Tsar and the 1648 Moscow Uprising." The American Historical Review 98.3 (1993): 733-56. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2167548.
In June of 1648, the townsfolk of Moscow attempted to peacefully give their grievances to Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich Romanov. These grievances were in response to the austerity policy of Boris Morozov (Tsar Aleksei's brother-in-law), the withholding of monetary grants for military servitors by Petr Trakhaniotov and many indirect taxes put into place by Nazarii Chistyi. These men were all apart of Tsar Aleksei's governmet. When Tsar Aleksei refused the petition of the townspeople, a violent bloodbath broke out in Moscow. There were thousands of casualties and at least half the city was left completely burned. After the twelve day rebellion, Tsar Aleksei reacted to subdue the rebels, giving the appearance of victory. An assembly of gentry, merchants and towns people were convened and created the Ulozhenie of 1649. This legislation found common ground between the gentry and the townspeople. However, the government returned to its per-rebellion state.
This rebellion occurred at point in Russian history where the traditional ways of life were breaking down but the new structures had not yet been formed. The rule of the tsars had been based on the religious right. Included in the tsar's rule was to guide their subjects in "piety, humility and justice." As a result of this view of the Tsar, the townsfolk made the distinction between the good tsar and his evil advisers. 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.
Cherniavsky, Michael. "The Old Believers and the New Religion." Slavic Review 25.1 (1966): 1-39. JSTOR. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2492649.
This article discusses the Roskol, schism, between the Orthodox view and the Old Believers. Orthodox professors claimed that the Old believers used their beliefs to reject authority and the legitimacy of the Church hierarchy. The Old believers represent the desire to preserve "popular culture and institutions against the encroachment of the centralizing and bureaucratizing state." The religious issues in this schism provided a platform on which the importation Western culture and the enserfment of the peasants in a century marked by social upheaval. Since the Tsar held absolute power of church and state, the Old Believers held him responsible for their maltreatment.
The reign of Tsar Alexis was the perfect theocratic ideal. He was elected by God and crowned by God. Tsar Alexis is referred to as the most gentle Tsar and lived his life according to the religious ideal. However, the Ulozhenie of 1649 was a symbolic indication of the movement to a secular state. Central to this change was the religious reform of Nikon and the controversy between him and Tsar Alexis. Nikon supported the separation of religion and secular authority. He claimed that the priesthood was above the secular authority and denied the Tsar any power within the Church. This was a major transition that happened in the 17th century. Religion was in a transitional stage during this century and the Roskol movement would extend well into the next.
I found that there is a considerable amount of unrest and uncertainty within Russia during the 17th century. This may account for the lack of information on performance during this time period. Possibly, there wasn't the leisure time or money for the practice of wide spread performance. This would explain why there is so little written about this topic. Also, there may not have been singular theater movement. There must have been theatre happening at the time since Russia was highly religious at the time and there is documentation of religious performance in churches and academies. This must have been a prominent form of performance. As the events of the uprising unfolded and the social and political structures of Russia were being broken down, the same may have been occurring within the realm of religious performance.
This research process has been an example of building up the context around a gap or hole in the record. This is exactly like what was discussed in lecture earlier in the semester. This gap could be the best depiction of what was happening in Russian theatre during the 17th century. The research process has shown me how to build up a context around an absence of information. This could be valuable skill to bring to other research projects. However, this skill in combination with the skill I discussed in my "week one: journal entry," together lend themselves to a very engaged research experience. These skill can build a context surrounding a gap and the make connections between that context and the area of interest. Not only do these skills make for an engaged research process they can also lead to a stronger argument.
Week Three: Journal Entry
We have compiled all of our information, now we are working on assembling our presentation. Despite all the trouble that we have had working around the lack of documentation for theatre in Russia pre 1750, finding the best way to present our information seems even more difficult. I started out hating the topic Russian theatre pre 1750 until I figured out that it is just a giant mystery that I had to figure out myself. No single source would be able to tell me why this lack of information existed. I had to follow leads and make my own conclusions. I want to present this mystery to the class but how do you get a large class of exhausted theatre majors interested in solving a mystery? This is a mystery that took our group a little over two weeks to figure out, how do we present how we solved this mystery in 20 minutes?
I think we came up with a good plan for presenting. We are going to go through the arc of our experience with Russian theatre pre 1750, starting from the beginning with nothing. That is what we were finding. Today if you google search "Russian theatre pre 1750" the first nine hits are of our blog. Its important to give that class a feel for the type of research process we had, which was a truly frustrating but enlightening process. The group did chose to present using a powerpoint as a visual aide. As useful as powerpoint is presenting, it has many pitfalls. We must make sure that we don't bog down each slide with paragraphs of information. The class won't read it and it automatically tunes people out of what is being said. I would like to include as many pictures as we can to keep the class visually engaged. This may be difficult given the nature of our topic. The most important thing to avoid is just reading the slides. We know this information inside and out, we should present it that way.
I am excited to share the research we've done with the class but I am also very nervous about it because I want our great experience to come across. Through our research process we gathered lots of information to create the context around this gap we found. In order to fill in this gap we had to draw our own conclusions based on the information we had. If we had been able to collect more information we may have come to slightly different conclusions or gained a more indepth understanding of the situation. It would be great to inspire others to dig deeper into this topic to see how their research would change or inform the conclusion that we created. If I were to continue my research I would like to look into Russian Folk tales and see how they relate to the religious performance in Russian pre 1600 or if there are any folktales from the mid 1600, do they align with the events of the social upheaval.
Week Four: Journal Entry
I thought our presentation went well. We were able to cover all that we intended without rushing or being cut off by the time restraint. However, this was the most frustrating part of the group project for me. I think the presentation would have felt smoother if we didn't have to assign everyone a talking point. All of the topic are so interrelated that in presenting we had to work really work to not present other people's information and make sure that we presented our own information in a way that set up the topic for the next person. This could have gone smoother in our presentation. I think having fewer presenters would have made this easier.
For the other presentations I really liked the use of images and video during the presentations. I am a very visual person so when there isn't much visual stimulus I have a hard time focusing on the presentations. I especially liked in the Indigenous Mexican group's presentation the use of the video to give a sense of the type of performance being done. This presentation did a very good job of describing the Indigenous Mexican performance aesthetic and history. I really enjoyed the Ancient Roman Spectacle presentation. It was fun and provided an exciting experience. However, I don't feel like the form of the presentation allowed for much transmission of information. This may have been because I had more base knowledge about Ancient Roman Spectacle entering the presentation than I did entering the other presentations. I think the perfect presentation would harness the energy that was evident in the Ancient Roman Spectacle presentation and combine it with the powerpoint presentation. This would keep the classes attention while keeping the presentation informative.
If I were to continue research on the presentations I would want to look into the Indigenous mexican performance and continue my work with early russian performance. For the Indigenous mexican performance I would like to take a look into what was going on before colonization, if there is any information on the topic, and learn more about the ritual performance that was being done. For the early Russian performance, I would like to take a closer look at the performance of the Skomorokhi. What the role was of this kind of performance was in the daily lives of the russian townsfolk versus the gentry and the Tsars.