Developing Theatre: Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945

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Theatre Artists from Postcolonial India in the Eastern Bloc, 1950-80

Within the wider field of postcolonial theatre the influence of Eastern bloc countries remains remarkably under-researched. This is surprizing given the extent of Soviet political, economic and cultural involvement in Asia and the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s. Although India for example remained resolutely ‘non- aligned’, there is no doubt that Soviet and Eastern European engagement in cultural and theatrical activities in India was considerable. It included assistance in building acting training programmes as well as providing advice in the newest techniques of Brechtian directing and dramaturgy.

Projects to ‘develop’ theatrical institutions in a Cold-War context were vigorously promoted on several levels. Little is known about such cultural policy initiatives, although ‘theatre’ in both countries was a major field of expertise: The Soviet Union provided competence in actor-training, while the GDR provided Brechtian expertise through members of the Berliner Ensemble or directors such as Fritz Bennewitz who went abroad as ‘Brecht experts’. Each sought to draw into its orbit nations of the postcolonial world, themselves anxious to develop so as to overcome the legacies of colonialism and enhance national autonomy and power.

The aim of this project will be to study how training in acting and directing was conceptualized and delivered in the postcolonial world. On the one hand by actually creating acting schools and academies, on the other by sending budding performers for training in metropolitan ‘centres of excellence’. The case study will be India which cultivated close ties with the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries as well as maintaining its traditional cultural and linguistic connections with Britain and USA. A dual focus is envisaged: on the one hand on the National Drama School founded in the late 1950s, which remains a prestigious cultural institution. On the other hand, on selected theatre artists who were sent to Eastern Europe to train, in particular to Ernst Busch Academy in East Berlin and the Moscow State Institute of Theatrical Arts. Both institutions hosted a large number of talented young artists from all over the postcolonial world.