a form of folk art that includes the organization and presentation of theatrical and musical performances by amateurs, who appear collectively in clubs, studios, and people’s amateur theaters or individually, for example, as singers, reciters, musicians, dancers, or acrobats.
In prerevolutionary Russia, amateurs joined circles and societies organized by clubs and other organizations. Workers’ circles and amateur theaters also existed; however, they were strictly controlled by the authorities, who mistrusted all popular undertakings.
After the October Revolution of 1917, the broad masses became involved in amateur arts, including theatrical performances. In the 1920’s, the repertoire of the amateur arts circles was agitational in character and consisted of revues, literary montages, one-act shows, satirical chastushki (short humorous poems), and other genres. Such groups as the Living Newspaper, Blue Blouse, and Red Shirt gained wide popularity. In the mid-1920’s, the theater of young workers (TRAM) movement arose.
The CPSU and the Soviet government created all the conditions for development of the artistic potential of the people. Of special significance were the speeches of V. I. Lenin dealing with the Proletkul’t, the letter of the Central Committee of the RCP(B) “On Proletkul’ty” (1920), and the resolution of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR “On the Improvement of the Theater” (1930). The last proposed to strengthen the mutual ties between professional and amateur theater and ensure continuous support for amateur arts. Amateur groups were organized in clubs, houses and palaces of culture, factories, plants, educational institutions, military units, kolkhozes, sovkhozes, and trains. By the mid-1930’s, amateur arts had attained a high ideological and artistic level. Many professional performers, for example, V. V. Barsova, I. M. Moskvin, and M. M. Tarkhanov, directed amateur groups.
A special center was established to provide guidance and assistance to the amateur arts—the Central House of Amateur Arts, reorganized as the All-Union House of Amateur Arts in 1936, named in honor of N. K. Krupskaia in 1939, and again reorganized as the Central House of Folk Arts in 1958. In the 1940’s, houses of folk arts were organized in all republics, krais, and oblasts. In the 1930’s, amateur national choirs and song and dance ensembles were organized, as well as numerous circles of representational and applied art.
Beginning in the late 1930’s, outstanding Soviet and classical plays entered the repertoire of amateur theatrical groups. In 1937 the following plays were staged in Moscow: Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (Rubber Workers’ Club) and Romeo and Juliet (Aviation and Chemistry Club), Gorky’s Smug Citizens (Gorbunov House of Culture) and Vassa Zheleznova (Kukhmisterov Club), and Confrontation by the brothers Tur (Red Woodworker Club).
In 1940–41, the All-Union Festival of Theatrical Amateur Arts was held with the participation of 30,000 theatrical groups, including 22,000 from rural areas. During the Great Patriotic War, military and patriotic themes predominated in the repertoire of amateur arts. Amateur artists performed a great deal at the front and in hospitals and enterprises of the defense industry. At the all-Union festivals of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, a number of important plays were staged, including Gogol’s The Inspector-General (Leningrad University), Bill’-Belotserkovskii’s The Gale (Gorbunov House of Culture, Moscow), Gorky’s Egor Bulychov and the Others (Vyborg House of Culture, Leningrad), and Geraskina’s Certificate of Secondary Education (House of Culture of the Likhachev Automotive Plant, Moscow).
Since the late 1950’s, the most highly developed amateur groups have been awarded the title “people’s amateur theater.” The most notable are those of the houses of culture of the Likhachev Automotive Plant and of Metrostroi, the Gorbunov (Moscow) and Gorky (Leningrad) houses of culture, the House of Culture of Textile Workers in Tashkent, the Officers’ House in Kharkov, the House of Railroad Workers in Tbilisi, the House of Culture of the Bol’shevik Plant in Kiev, and the Enisei Theater.
Amateur performers also appear in musical theaters. Operas are staged at the Central House of Culture of Railroad Workers in Moscow, the Kirov House of Culture in Leningrad, the Klaipedskii People’s Amateur Opera Theater, and the People’s Amateur Opera Studio of the Chernovitskii Palace of Culture. The Gorky House of Culture in Leningrad presents ballets, and the Moscow People’s Theater of Operetta at the Gagarin House of Culture in Moscow stages operettas.
Various amateur dance ensembles gained popularity (for example, the Folk Dance Ensemble of the Ashkhabad Agricultural Institute and the Gatve Dance Ensemble of Riga), as well as orchestras, circuses (the Cherepovets Circus), variety acts, and choirs (the People’s Choir of the Academy of Sciences of the Latvian SSR, the Gaudeamus Male Choir of Tartu, the Choir of the Starokramatory Machine-building Plant).
Many professional drama and musical theaters and ensembles have evolved from amateur arts groups. Talented amateur performers join major professional companies, and professionals direct amateur groups. Amateur arts play a great role in the aesthetic upbringing of workers. Socialist society is culturally enriched by mutual contacts between large-scale amateur arts groups and professional theaters.
In 1975 a decision was made to hold the first all-Union festival of amateur arts of workers by the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, the Central Committee of the Komsomol, the collegia of the Ministry of Culture of the USSR, the Ministry of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education of the USSR, and the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR on Vocational-Technical Education. This decision is a testament to the attention devoted by the party to the cultural development of the Soviet people. It is proposed to hold such festivals once every five years. The first festival (1975–77) was dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917.
As of 1976, 14 million adults and 10 million schoolchildren participated in amateur arts groups in the USSR, in cooperation with 150,000 staff members and more than 500,000 community leaders. The number of honorary people’s theaters, circuses, philharmonic societies, and other groups numbered more than 4,500.
Amateur arts also gained popularity in other socialist countries, where favorable conditions for the development of amateur arts have been created. In the 1950’s, special methodological centers were established for the supervision of amateur arts, for example, the Central Agency on Affairs of Amateur Arts in Czechoslovakia, the Central House of People’s Art in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and the Institute of People’s Art in Hungary.
Theater and festivals are also organized. In Bulgaria, four republic-wide amateur arts festivals were conducted between 1956 and 1974. The country had more than 15,000 amateur arts groups, with over 500,000 members; they gave more than 68,000 performances before more than 21 million people in 1973. In Hungary, 8–10 percent of the population (12–18 percent of the youth) take part in amateur arts. Czechoslovakia had approximately 23,000 ensembles (with about 4 million members) in 1974. In the GDR, about 1.4 million people participated in amateur arts in 1975. Approximately 20,000 amateur arts groups in Poland present 120,000 performances annually before 35 million people.
The socialist countries share their experience in the amateur arts with one another. A conference of representatives of national centers of amateur arts of the socialist countries was held in Kraków in 1975.
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A. S. IVANOV