Theater Festival

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Theater Festival


a program of special theatrical events. The prototypes of theater festivals were the theater competitions of the Olympic Games in ancient Greece and the contests held between medieval troubadours and minnesingers. Festivals became popular in Europe in the late 18th century, notably in Switzerland. At first they were ceremonial processions, while later they became large-scale theatrical presentations held in connection with special events.

Two major festivals are the Bayreuth Festival, devoted to the operas of R. Wagner, which has been held annually since 1882 in the city of Bayreuth, Bavaria, and the Shakespeare Festival, held regularly since 1886 in the great dramatist’s birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon. Other well-known festivals include the Prague Spring Music Festival (held since 1946), the Edinburgh International Festival of Music, Drama, and Art (since 1947), the Avignon Festival of Dramatic Art (Avignon, France; begun 1947 by J. Vilar), the Dubrovnik Summer Festival (Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia; since 1950), and the Florence Musical Festival (since 1951).

Since 1960 festivals of children’s theater have been organized in the German Democratic Republic (since 1966), Bulgaria (1968, 1972), and Yugoslavia (1971). Festivals of puppet theaters have been held in Rumania (1958, 1960, 1965), Poland (1962), Czechoslovakia (1964), Hungary (1971), and France (1972). International festivals have been organized for music-hall performers (Paris, 1957), circus arts (Warsaw, 1957), clowns (Milan, 1965), circus humor (Sofia, 1965), and pantomime (Berlin, 1970; Prague, 1971).

The USSR has held numerous theater competitions, mainly featuring plays, as early as the period of the Civil War (1918–20). Major festivals included the competition of the Central Committee of Proletkul’t (1918), the melodrama competition of the Division of Theaters and Spectacles of the People’s Commissariat for Education (1919; judges included A. V. Lunacharskii, M. Gorky, and F. I. Chaliapin), and the competition for the best children’s play held by the Moscow TEO (Theater Division) of the People’s Commissariat for Education (1921). The All-Union Competition for the Best Plays on Contemporary Themes (1933–34) was followed by competitions of outstanding one-act plays (1939–40, 1943, 1947–48, 1957, 1964–65) and for the best children’s play (1964–65), as well as other competitions.

In 1930, Moscow was the site of the Ail-Union Olympiad of Theaters and Art of the Peoples of the USSR; 16 theaters competed, presenting 30 plays. In 1936 the first ten-day art and literature festival was held, consisting of performances of music and drama by professional and amateur groups.

Festivals devoted solely to the theatrical arts have been organized since the mid-1930’s. The most prominent have included the International Theater Festival in Moscow (1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937), the Festival of Children’s Theaters and Puppet Theaters (1935, 1937–38, 1940), the All-Russian Festival of Sovkhoz and Kolkhoz Theaters (1935), and the Ail-Union Festival of Sovkhoz and Kolkhoz Theaters (1939). There also have been festivals of Russian classics (1945–46), of plays on contemporary themes (1951), of plays by M. Gorky (1968; held in recognition of the centennial of Gorky’s birth), of performances by young actors and directors (1938, 1940, 1943–44, 1951, 1958–59), and of the puppet theater (1940, 1945, 1952, 1962).

A number of all-Union festivals have been held in recognition of important dates in the history of the Soviet state. These have included the 40th anniversary of Soviet power (1957), the semicentennial of the October Revolution (1967), the semicentennial of the Lenin Komsomol (1968), the centennial of the birth of V. I. Lenin (1970), and the semicentennial of the founding of the USSR (1972). As a sign of friendship between the peoples of the USSR and other socialist countries, Soviet theaters have held festivals in which foreign theater companies presented classic and contemporary plays of Poland (1965, 1969), Bulgaria (1969), Hungary (1971), Czechoslovakia and Rumania (1973), and the German Democratic Republic (1975).

Since the mid-1960’s several new festivals have been organized, including the Moscow Stars, Russian Winter, Leningrad White Nights, Dneprovsk Dawns, and Kiev Spring. These festivals feature performances by artists of drama and musical theaters, estrada (the variety stage), and the circus. The USSR regularly holds competitive festivals of the circus and estrada. Circus festivals were held in 1944, 1945, 1946, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1964, 1968, and 1970, and estrada festivals were held in 1939, 1941, 1946, 1958, 1968, and 1974. The first All-Union Festival of Young Opera and Ballet Artists was held in Minsk in 1976.


Vilar, J. O teatral’noi traditsii. (Translated from French.) Moscow, 1956.
Teatr, 1958, no. 1, pp. 46–108.
V tvorcheskom sorevnovanii. (Collection; edited by A. N. Anastas’ev.) Moscow, 1958.
Zavadskii, Iu. A. “Razgovor o sud’bakh teatra.” Kul’tura i zhizn’, 1963, no. 12.
Ird, K. Postaraemsia poimat’ chudo. (Translated from Estonian.) Leningrad, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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