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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 Volkovs 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 owners serfs.

Stanislavsky as Othello in 1896

At the 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 countrys 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.


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