Children's Theater

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Children’s Theater


(1) Plays performed by children. The history of the children’s theater goes back to the so-called school theater that arose in Russia in the 17th century. In the Soviet period the children’s theater represents one aspect of children’s amateur artistic activities, which are organized in the palaces and houses of Pioneers and school-children, in schools, and in clubs.

(2) Theater for children, or young people’s theater (TIuZ), a professional theater designed for a children’s audience.

There were no professional theaters for children in pre-revolutionary Russia. After the October Revolution the creation of such theaters became a matter of concern for the state. The Soviet children’s theater developed with the active support and direct assistance of the first people’s commissar for education, A. V. Lunacharskii, who headed the directorate of the first State Theater for Children, established in Moscow in 1920.

An important contribution to the development of the children’s theater was made by its first organizers, directors, and stage design artists, including A. A. Briantsev, N. I. Sats, Iu. M. Bondi, G. L. Roshal’, A. I. Solomarskii, S. la. Gorodisskaia, A. A. Takaishvili, and G. I. Shagaev. The first children’s theaters arose during the Civil War in Petrograd, Moscow, Saratov, and Ekaterinodar but they were short-lived. During the 1920’s theaters were established in many cities, including the Theater for Children in Kharkov (1920; now the M. Gorky Young People’s Theater in L’vov), the Moscow Theater for Children (1921; now the Central Children’s Theater), the Leningrad Young People’s Theater (1922), the Kiev Theater for Children (1924; now the Lenin Komsomol Young People’s Theater), the Moscow Young People’s Theater (1924), the Russian and Georgian Young People’s Theaters in Tbilisi (1927 and 1928), as well as the young people’s theaters in Gorky (1928), Baku (1928), Yerevan (1929), and Novosibirsk (1930). By 1930 there were 20. children’s theaters giving performances both in Russian and in the other languages of the peoples of the USSR. The network of children’s theaters grew larger every year; at the same time the number of puppet theaters also increased. The origin of the Soviet puppet theater as a professional theater for children also dates from 1918-19 when the first theaters of this type arose, for example, the Punch-and-Judy and Galanty Theater of N. la. and I. S. Efimov in Moscow and the Marionette Theater of L. V. Shaporina-Iakovleva in Petrograd. In 1971 in the USSR there were about 100 puppet theaters performing for audiences of younger school-age children.

At first the repertoire of the children’s theaters consisted mainly of dramatizations of fairy tales and stories normally included in children’s reading, such as Mowgli by Kipling, The Nightingale by Andersen, Hiawatha by Longfellow, Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper by Twain, and The Little Hunchbacked Horse by Ershov. The children’s theaters sought to establish a distinct character based not only on repertoire but also on the staging of plays, striving for an especially colorful and synthetic quality in their presentations or using the principles of children’s games. This approach is exemplified in the production of Cervantes’ Don Quixote staged by the Leningrad Young People’s Theater and in the production of N. I. Sats and S. G. Rozanov’s The Black Boy and the Monkey presented by the Moscow Theater for Children.

In the mid-1920’s the first plays for children on contemporary themes began to appear: Timoshka’s Mine by L. F. Makar’ev, Black Ravine by A. N. Afinogenov, The Village of Gidzhe by N. la. Shestakov, and Rifle 492116 by A. A. Kron. The Soviet teen-ager became the hero of this type of play. The staging of these roles brought to the foreground a galaxy of young actresses who excelled in playing male roles including V. A. Sperantova, A. A. Okhitina, K. P. Koreneva, N. N. Kazarinova, G. V. Burtseva, S. A. Fomina, and G. N. Kuprashvili. Since the beginning of the 1930’s, Soviet drama has held an important place in the repertoire of the children’s theaters, assisting the educational work of schools and Pioneer organizations. In its subsequent development Soviet drama gradually overcame its overly narrow understanding of the distinct character of children’s theater, which had manifested itself in the illustrative and didactic quality of a number of children’s plays. The number of authors increased significantly. Along with the children’s authors A. la. Brushtein, V. A. Liubimova, E. L. Shvarts, L. A. Kassil’, and S. V. Mikhalkov, a number of other writers created dramatic works for the children’s theater, including K. A. Trenev (Gymnasium Students), V. P. Kataev (The Lonely White Sail), I. V. Shtok (House No. 5), A. N. Tolstoy (The Golden Key), and M. A. Svetlov (Tale and Twenty Years Later). The children’s theater began to focus on the problem of the teen-ager’s moral and social outlook, as in Serezha Strel’tsov by Liubimova, Brother of a Hero by Kassil’, and Buried Treasure by Shvarts, as well as on his capacity for heroic deeds, for example, They Were Militant by Brushtein and The Boy by M. N. Daniel’.

By the mid-1930’s the fundamental ideological-artistic and pedagogical principles of the Soviet children’s theater had been established. This was a theater that had attained a high professional level, performing for children of different ages and building its repertoire in accordance with the interests and psychological makeup of a particular age group. For younger schoolchildren, a genre was developed in which fantasy and folklore are at times combined with elements of contemporary reality, such as The Snow Queen by Shvarts, Tales and Twelve Months by S. la. Marshak, and Visiting Kashchei’s House by V. A. Kaverin. Plays based on adventure stories, historical-revolutionary plays, and comedies formed the basis of the repertoire for teen-agers. Plays exploring more profound themes were performed for senior pupils, including works of Russian and foreign classical drama that are often included in the school curriculum. In every children’s theater there is a pedagogical department, which maintains contact with schools.

During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) the children’s theaters (some of which were evacuated to the rear) did important work in performing not only for children but also for adult audiences. The theme of patriotic service to the homeland acquired a special significance at this time, exemplified by the plays Tale About Truth by M. I. Aliger, Son of the Regiment by V. P. Kataev, and City of the Masters by T. G. Gabbe. Since the late 1940’s more attention has been devoted to the teenager’s inner world, to the formation of his character, and to the development of his ethical and civic consciousness (Red Tie by S. V. Mikhalkov, School Certificate by L. B. Geraskina, and Two Captains by V. A. Kaverin). The dramatic works of V. S. Rozov affirm the high moral ideals of Soviet youth (Her Friends, Good Luck!, and In Search of Joy). The plays of A. G. Khmelik (My Friend, Kol’ka!) and N. G. Dolinina (They and We) describe life in the contemporary Soviet school. The character of V. I. Lenin was recreated on the stage of the children’s theater in the plays In the Name of the Revolution by M. F. Shatrov (1957, Moscow Young People’s Theater), Family by I. F. Popov (1960, Central Children’s Theater), and The Astonishing Year by M. P. Prilezhaeva (1969, Central Children’s Theater).

The activity of a number of directors and actors was of great importance in the development of the children’s theater, including L. F. Makar’ev, I. S. Deeva, N. la. Marshak, A. Z. Okunchikov, V. S. Kolesaev, P. V. Tsetnerovich, M. O. Knebel’, T. A. Shamirkhanian, V. L. Vital’ev, Iu. P. Kiselev, and R. N. Kaplanian.

During the 1960’s several directors achieved prominence, notably Z. la. Korogodskii, P. O. Khomskii, A. la. Shapiro, and I. Ungurianu. Actors in the children’s theater during this period included L. N. Kniazeva, M. G. Kupriianova, I. D. Voronov, V. F. Singaevskaia, R. F. Lebedev, and E. I. Shevchenko. The creative work of O. N. Efremov, R. A. Bykov, and A. V. Efros began in the children’s theater. The artists N. A. Shifrin, V. F. Ryndin, B. G. Knoblok, and V. L. Talalai, as well as the composers D. B. Kabalevskii, N. M. Strel’nikov, and I. N. Kovner, worked for the children’s theaters.

In 1971 there were 46 dramatic children’s theaters and one musical children’s theater (established in 1965 and headed by N. I. Sats). In addition to children’s theaters, theaters for adults also stage plays for children.

Children’s theaters in socialist countries make extensive use of the experience and repertoire of Soviet theaters for children. They are maintained by the state and have permanent facilities at their disposal. Children’s theaters have been created in Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic (Theater of Friendship in Berlin headed by I. Rodenberg and the Theater of the Young Generation in Dresden), Rumania, and Czechoslovakia (J. Wolker Theater in Prague headed by W. Adamek).

In capitalist countries the organization of children’s theaters is left to private initiative or the local community. For the most part children’s theaters are traveling groups of a semi-professional nature. In the USA liberal arts students at universities and colleges often present plays for children as their summer practice. Among prominent figures in children’s theaters abroad are L. Chancerelle (France), P. Slade (Great Britain), and G. Snuk (Netherlands). In 1965 the International Association of Theaters for Children and Young People was created. Since 1968 its president has been K. la. Shakh-Azizov (head of the Central Children’s Theater in Moscow) and its general secretary has been R. M. Moudoues (France).


Sats, N., and S. Rozanov. Teatr dlia detei. Moscow, 1925.
Aronov, S. Teatr iunogo zritelia v SSSR. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Teatr dlia detei: Sbornik. Moscow, 1955.
Sats, N. Deti prikhodiat v teatr. [Moscow, 1961.]
Liubinskii, I. Teatr i deti. Moscow, 1962.
Rubina, Iu. Teatr i podrostok. Moscow, 1970.
Shpet, L. Sovetskii teatr dlia detei: Stranitsy istorii. Moscow, 1971.


Children’s Theater


an amateur theater group for children; a form of child creativity. Children’s theaters are organized in schools and extracurricular and cultural institutions to fulfill the creative needs of children, to cultivate their interest in the arts and develop their skills, and to promote education in aesthetics and the arts.

The repertoire of children’s theaters consists largely of works of children’s literature in keeping with the age and personality traits of the young performers. The theaters employ the principles of the professional stage, including the system of K. S. Stanislavsky. The presentations often combine acting with music, dance, and pantomime.

The beginning of children’s theater dates from school drama, which originated in the ecclesiastical schools of Western Europe in the 13th through 15th centuries. In Russia, Simeon Polotskii and F. Prokopovich in the 17th and early 18th centuries organized theatrical performances combining educational functions with ideological aims. Attempts to define the specific goals of children’s theater were made in the second half of the 18th century. A. T. Bolotov (1738–1833) apparently wrote the first Russian plays intended to be performed by children, and N. I. Novikov was the first in Russia to publish plays for children in his journals and collections. The most important issues in children’s theater, such as the theater’s relation to the professional stage, the role of the teacher, and the need for a repertoire, were discussed by many teachers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, including N. I. Pirogov, V. P. Ostrogorskii, A. F. Bunakov, S. T. Shatskii, andN. N. Bakhtin.

Issues concerning children’s theater in the USSR are dealt with by the Scientific Research Institute of Education in the Arts of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR. Children’s theater has developed most successfully in palaces and houses of Pioneers and schoolchildren.

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