One of the creative social programs of the activities of the RF Theatre Union is given especial attention. The program in question is the Program for the State and Public Support of theatres for children and teenagers, worked out in 2008. It was tabled at the government of the Russian Federation, which met it with understanding; it was placed under the personal patronage of then Russian president Vladimir Putin. In spite of the economic and financial crisis due to which many social programs were curtailed, this one has never been stopped. It is still currently in action.
The program aims at rendering professional, creative and financial support to theatres for children and teenagers as well as attempting to re-install an improved system of children’s theatres that in its time was proudly viewed as one of the best elements of the Russian theatrical culture.
Russia has always ascribed great value to children’s theatre. Suffice it to mention that in no other but this country first professional children’s theatres were established. They had their own theatre buildings complete with winter gardens, playgrounds, children’s libraries, theatre museums and children’s cafes. The special “children’s” dramaturgy was developed, and theatrical educational institutions trained producers and specialists that aside from their “main” theatrical profession developed their skills as pedagogues. Gradually, a system and its experience were later used by many countries.
The classical examples of theatres performing for children’s audiences were the Youth Theatre under Zinovi Korogodsky in Leningrad (now St.Petersburg), the Moscow-based Central Theatre for Children, the Children’s Musical Theatre established by Natalia Satz, and Sergei Obraztsov’s Central Puppet Theatre. Based on their expertise many theatres appeared in Russia. Every major city had repertoire theatres for children and teenagers, which aimed at both entertaining and educating future citizens of their home-country, the would-be spectators of big “adult” theatres.
The large-scale transformation Russia went through in the late 1980s-1990s (the break-up of the Soviet Union, the crush of the Communist ideology and introduction of austere market economy principles) could not but reflect on the system of children’s repertoire theatres. It had to be re-structured and reformed to survive. The re-structuring was hard to do as the then system could not virtually be commercialized not only because it had always been supported by the government, but also because it always was a medium for both pure entertainment, education and a sort of a “school”.
With time it became harder and harder for the government to shoulder the burden of supporting children’s theatres, so by the end of the 1990s the expediency of existence of children’s repertoire theatres was infrequently questioned, given that productions for children were also on the bills of quite a few regular “adult” theatres.
But as luck would have it, this view was not shared by many, and not a single children’s theatre has not been closed in Russia. More than just that, the theatrical community and general public raised their voice in favor of restoration of the system of children’s theatres, similar to the one that existed in the 20th century. The idea was taking shape under the pressure of the rapid development of mass culture and a commercialized entertainment industry that had a great impact on children and teenagers. It acquired an all-consuming character in Russia. Scenes of violence, cruelty and examples of a cynically selfish attitude to others began to pour out from Russian TV screens, the Russian internet and computer games.
No doubt, it would be naïve to assume that such large-scale problems could be handled only relying on children’s theatres as a tool to solve them. Nevertheless, they can do much., first and foremost given that they offer live communication with children and teenagers their age at a theatre hall, with actors that can speak the language they are used to, telling them about genuine human values, and the theatre art with its wide range of artistic means, that would teach young spectators to perceive, comprehend and express their empathy.
The program of support by the state and society of theatres for the youth presented by the Theatre Union to the Russia’s government is one of the first steps in the direction of a restoration of the significance of the theatre that addresses children and teenagers.
The program is a complex of measures, including installation of a grants system to be used in the course of preparation of productions (55 grants were distributed in the last two years), arranging contests of plays for the young audiences, the establishment of the national prize “Arlechino” (The Harlequin) for the best production for children, involvement of young stage directors engrossed in studying the specificity of a production for children, workshops to study peculiarities of a children’s audience, and financial support of children’s theatre festivals in Russian cities.
In the two years the program has been on, three competitions were held attended by children’s playwrights (one for drama theatres, and two – for puppet theatres). All told the panel members read 171 plays, out of which number 19 became prize-winners in different nominations. Staging of many of these plays is already underway in a number of Russian theatres.
The provisions of the Theatre Union’s program are implemented in Moscow for one, in assistance with the Russian Academic Youth Theatre, (or RAMT as its Russian acronym goes) that became one of the program’s experimental theatres. In 2009 four young directors, graduates of the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (the course of well-known Moscow director Sergei Zhenovach) staged 4 premieres for children of different age groups, which became a precedent for a metropolitan theatre.
Significant work has been done in the area of summarizing the experiences of theatres with children’s audiences. Conferences and workshops were held in Moscow, St.Petersburg, Samara and Omsk, attended by scholars studying children’s psychology and pedagogies. There are plans to publish a collection of proceedings of those seminars in 2010, which will also contain practical recommendations for specialists.
One more project on the program is “Koleso” (The Wheel), a movable laboratory festival that will be taking groups of stage directors, playwrights, critics, journalists, tutors and theatre managers to an individual children’s theatre, where they would watch its performances and arrange discussions on themes that have to do with specificity of children’s theatre. The first such event was held in November 2009, in Vologda, Russia’s north, and the second laboratory festival is to be held in the town of Kirov in the Urals.
Detailed information about the Program of Support of Theatres for Children and Teenagers can be found at the website of the Theatre Union www.stdrf.ru, reference www.stdrf.ru/programs/creative-programs/children (in Russian). Information about children’s theatre festivals in Russia (in Russian and English) is in the RTLB Section Russian Festivals.
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