Hungry, Hungry H... Capitalists: A Soviet Comparison of Theatre
by Sari Chreiteh
This week, during my daily hour of scheduled communist pondering, my thoughts somehow just skipped over my constant guilt of slowly realising that Trotskyism is just too idealistic and went straight to the well-trodden path of commercial theatre. I will spare you my inner rant about theatre made primarily for financial reasons, and I will try to unemotionally dissect one of the things I dislike about it.
I think what irks me the most about West End and Broadway type shows, other than the intent of their creation and the absurd amounts of money spent on set and lights all the while disregarding good scripts and acting, is that they run for about 300 days a year. I had a friend that starred in one of the biggest West End plays last year and he expressed to me the struggle of trying to keep it fresh and not just regard this as a job. That got me thinking past the financial implications of the West End, but rather attempt to understand what it felt like for the people working in it. It seems to be the furthest thing away from my reasons for being in theatre. It kills creativity, recycles past success, and attempts identical recreation night after night. The sad thing is, these shows span year after year, with new casts trying to recreate what was once considered great. It reflects the same inhuman, mass-produced, industrial shit hole we have all but become. I just don’t think anything should run for fifty plus years. I can barely even stomach something running more than ten years and taking up valuable theatre space. I believe that such a soulless approach to theatre is ruining it for the people who make it, some of which struggle every day to keep theatre more than “just a job.”
I am going to be completely stereotypical right now: there is a slightly different way of making commercial theatre, and it's in Russia. Big surprise, I know, but when I visited Moscow in February last year, I was very pleasantly surprised by the way their biggest and most lavish theaters operated. First, students and young people got an unlimited amount of tickets for less than two pounds while the rest of the seats were super expensive. Secondly, the Russians have somehow combined repertory theatre with commercial theatre to create something exciting for both the audiences and the performers. A set of 8-10 plays rotates around the month, and twice a year that set is changed. Its a system that allows the actors to be challenged; to never let them fall into a rut. Just thinking about it makes me excited.
I, however, acknowledge the fact that such a system could have only been achieved with the financial security of government support which most theaters relied upon even after the fall of the Soviet Union. The implications of government-funded art do not simply fly over my head. I do not believe that being ruled by an institution is better than being ruled by the dollar. I simply believe that there is something to be learned there. That there is a better way of doing things when it comes to programming, at least. I am positive that there is a good way of finding a balance between these two ways of making theatre.