This is the most comprehensive study available of the popular theater that developed during the last decades of tsarist Russia. Swift examines the origins and significance of the new "people's theaters" that were created for the lower classes in St. Petersburg and Moscow between 1861 and 1917. His extensively researched study, full of anecdotes from the theater world of the day, shows how these people's theaters became a major arena in which the cultural contests of late imperial Russia were played out and how they contributed to the emergence of an urban consumer culture during this period of rapid social and political change.
Swift illuminates many aspects of the story of these popular theaters—the cultural politics and aesthetic ambitions of theater directors and actors, state censorship politics and their role in shaping the theatrical repertoire, and the theater as a vehicle for social and political reform. He looks at roots of the theaters, discusses specific theaters and performances, and explores in particular how popular audiences responded to the plays.
“[An] innovative and intriguing study.”—Elise Kimmerling Wirtschafter American Historical Review
“His work adds new stimulus to the analysis of civil society in the non-Western context of Russia.”—Louise McReynolds The Historian
“A valuable contribution to the growing literature that considers Russia’s revolutionary twentieth century across a continuum, rather than the previous scholarship that often used dates to drop more iron curtains than Churchill’s most famous one. Moreover, his work adds new stimulus to the analysis of civil society in the non-Western context of Russia.”—Louise McReynolds, Univ. of Hawaii The Historian
"Swift captures the habits, inclinations, tastes, and uses of leisure time among Tsarist Russia's urban lower classes—in all their colorful complexity. He vividly presents the kaleidoscopic world of popular theater, where culture meets entertainment, where Shakespeare and Ostrovsky meet racy vaudeville, farce, and melodrama, and where social and cultural identities blur. His study is a carefully analyzed, superbly documented, and immensely readable exposition of how "popular culture" really worked in prerevolutionary Russia, and how the tastes of its consumers constantly stymied and conflicted with the visions of state, educated society, and radicals alike."—Richard Stites, Georgetown University
"The fullest and most interesting account of how the Russian public seized upon the theater as an art form, as entertainment, and as an instrument of popular education. Swift makes Ostrovsky, Stanislavsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy come alive, bringing great clarity to the larger context in which Russia's great dramatists thought about theater, its audience, and its functions."—Jeffrey Brooks, author of When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917
"In this stimulating book, Anthony Swift shows how popular theater became a forum where all the weighty questions of Russia's future were discussed: Who were the Russian people, how should they be governed, and what should they believe?"—Lynn Mally, author of Revolutionary Acts: Amateur Theater and the Soviet State