The Nature of the Soviet Audience: Theatrical Ideology and Audience Research in the 1920s

  • Lars Kleberg


With a degree of simplification the period from the turn of the century to the 1920s in Russian theatre can — in terms of semiotics — be described as a quick successive shift from the dominance of semantics (the relation sign/reality) through the dominance of syntactics (the relation sign/sign) to the dominance of pragmatics (the relation sign/recipient). In the naturalist productions of the Moscow Art Theatre of Stanislavsky as well as the early Symbolist performances of Meyerhold, semantics (referential or ideological) were foregrounded. In the theatricalism of Meyerhold of the 1910s and of Nikolay Yevreinov the problem of syntactics, of the combination of elements (for example, the grotesque) became dominant. Finally, in the constructivist experiments of the early 1920s — not independently of the socio-political context — pragmatics, that is, the relation between sign and recipient, between performer and spectator, came to the fore. Of course, these three aspects — semantics, syntactics and pragmatics — can be singled out in any theatrical system, or indeed any sign system whatsoever. But the shift in dominance that took place in the extremely intense evolution of Russian theatre during the first decades of the century only seems to make the three different aspects more distinguishable.


Audience Response Audience Research Questionnaire Method Audience Reaction Theatrical Ideology 
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  1. 3.
    For a general historical survey see D. Bradby and J. McCormick, People’s Theatre (London, 1979). On the ‘Utopian’ aspect of people’s theatre in Russia see Lars Kleberg, ‘“People’s Theater” and the Revolution’, in N. Å. Nilsson (ed.), Art, Society, Revolution: Russia, 1917–1921 (Stockholm, 1979) pp. 179-97; and Robert Russell, ‘People’s Theatre and the October Revolution’, Irish Slavonic Studies, vol. VII (1986) pp. 65–84.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    V. E. Meyerkhol’d, Stat’i. Pis’ma. Rechi. Besedy, vol. II (Moscow, 1968) p. 13.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    The only researchers who, to my knowledge, have dealt with this topic approach it exclusively from the point of view of the development of Soviet theatrical sociology, leaving unconsidered the question of the relationship between theatrical practice and research methods. See V. Dmitriyevskiy, ‘O konkretno-sotsiologicheskom izuchenii teatral’nogo zritelya’, in Teatr i dramaturgiya, vol. II (Leningrad, 1967) pp. 146–69Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    S. M. Eyzenshteyn, Izbrannyye proizvedeniya v shesti tomakh, vol. II (Moscow, 1964) p. 270.Google Scholar
  5. 33.
    The revived interest in the discussions of the 1920s is, of course, a result of this ‘revival’ of sociology; hence the fact that the authors mentioned in Note 6 have turned to the past in search of viable methods for today. See V. Dmitriyevskiy, ‘Nekotoryye itogi obsledovaniya teatral’nykh zriteley’, in Teatr i dramaturgiya, vol. III (Leningrad, 1971) pp. 333–52.Google Scholar
  6. 36.
    Valuable information about audience research in children’s theatres is provided in V. Dmitriyevskiy, ‘O konkretno-sotsiologicheskom izuchenii teatral’nogo zritelya’, in Teatr i dramaturgiya, vol. II (Leningrad, 1967) pp. 148–53.Google Scholar
  7. 49.
    Sergey Tret’yakov, once Eisenstein’s collaborator in the First Workers’ Theatre, did come close to some of the notions of Brechf s ‘rational’ theatre in the late 1920s, but the influence of his ideas then — as well as those of Brecht, whom Tret’yakov translated — was only marginal in the Soviet theatre. See Marjorie L. Hoover, ‘Brechf s Soviet Connection Tretiakov’, in Brecht Heute/Brecht Today, Brecht Jahrbuch, vol. III (Frankfurt am Main, 1973) pp. 39–56Google Scholar
  8. 50.
    See Lars Kleberg, ‘Sootnosheniye stseny i zritel’nogo zala. K tipologii russkogo teatra nachala XX veka’, Scando-Slavica, vol. xx (1974) pp. 27–38.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

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  • Lars Kleberg

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