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(Persian, balakhana,“upper room” or “balcony”).
(1) A temporary building for theater, circus, or estrada (variety stage) performances; the balagan was known in Russia from the middle of the 18th century. Originally, trade fair sites were adapted for the performances. Later, special wooden buildings were built, the roof being made of tarpaulin or sacking. In front of the balagan, a balcony (raus) was erected, from which the actors called the public in to the performance. Harlequinades and farces were presented as well as pseudopatriotic plays and classical works in extremely shortened form; magicians, acrobats, athletes, gymnasts, folk choruses, Petrushka puppets, and marionettes performed there. In St. Petersburg in 1880 a balagan of a new type known as “entertainment and edification” was organized on the Marsovo Pole. Its artistic director was A. Ia. Alekseev-Iakovlev, who was connected with the folk theater. Many subsequently well-known artists, such as A. L. and V. L. Durov, I. S. Radunskii (Bim), E. A. Lepkovskii, and others, began their careers in the balagan. The balagan existed until the 1930’s, at which time it was showing variety entertainment.
(2) In the figurative sense, human activity which resembles a balagan show; foolish, coarse conduct.