Russia has rich theatrical
traditions and a big theater-going population. It has almost 500
professional theaters, which are attended by approximately 30
million spectators each year.
The first Russian theater appeared at the court of
Tsar Alexei in the 17th century and presented stories from the
Bible. The first public theater was opened in Moscow during the
reign of his son, Peter the Great. Soon thereafter another
started in St. Petersburg. The most popular plays at that time were
those of Moliere.
In 1756 Russian theater acquired an official status
when the actor Fyodor Volkov’s Yaroslavl-based amateur company moved
to St. Petersburg at the invitation of Empress Elizabeth. This state
theater served primarily the court circles, but soon after a general
admissions theater was opened in the capital, intended to appeal to
a wider audience.
In the 1770s
and 1780s, new theaters were established in Moscow and also in
provincial towns such as Penza, Tula, Kaluga, Tambov and others. A
large number of private theaters, owned by aristocracy, appeared, in
which actors were the owner’s serfs.
beginning of the 19th century, theatrical drama was dominated by
popular comedies, especially satirical ones. Very significant for
the Russian theater at the time were the dramas of Griboedov and
Pushkin and comedies of Gogol. In 1824 the Maly Theater was opened
in Moscow and soon became one of the most important elements of the
country’s theatrical scene. In 1832 the Aleksandrovskii Theater was
opened in St. Petersburg, but it had a rather official character.
Numerous provincial theaters flourished during the 19th century, and
many troupes of actors moved from one place to another. In the
second half of the century productions of plays by Ostrovskii and
Chekhov appeared on the Russian stage.
The last two
decades before the 1917 revolutions saw the groundbreaking activity
of outstanding Russian actors and stage directors. The best-known
among them is Konstantin Stanislavsky who, together with Vladimir
Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founded the Moscow Art Theater in 1898 and
developed a style of acting and actor training generally known as
the Stanislavsky Method. The great theater experimentalist Vsevolod
Meyerhold also began his career in the arts during that time.