The Moscow theatre that changed the world

Teatr.doc, Moscow’s new writing theatre, is being forced out of its premises in a move which is clearly political, although apparently a contract issue. Sasha Dugdale reports

Moscow’s Teatr.doc was founded 12 years ago by a group of writers who couldn’t find a Russian theatre willing to stage their documentary-style new writing , with its emphasis on the lives, experiences and the speech of ordinary Russians. It was founded in part as a result of work the Royal Court did in Russia with playwrights and directors at the turn of the new millennium, but the enthusiasm, talent and lifeblood came from a  group of young Russian writers, led by Elena Gremina, a now legendary playwright and activist. Gremina and the playwrights found a small and rather battered basement space in the historical centre of Moscow and collected money for the necessary equipment and black-out. The programme was arranged month-by-month so that the space could be a place to showcase the best new work, either as readings, work-in-progress or full stagings. Teatr.doc has always been run by writers and in a very democratic spirit and the range and variety of the work shown in this ‘bunker’ of a theatre are unsurpassed. Writers who began here have been become some of the most lauded and discussed playwrights of their generation internationally. As the atmosphere in Russia has changed Teatr.doc has been notable for its sharply critical voice. Always engagiert the plays in recent times have tackled the plight of soldiers, prisoners, the new racism and violence against immigrants, nationalism and new pressures on society. In a recent staging three migrant workers sang of their experiences in Moscow using traditional instruments and singing. Anna Yablonskaya, the young victim of the Domodedovo bomb had her brilliant work staged at the venue and the well-known writer Pavel Pryazhko from Belorus had his plays performed there first: they have been described as a ‘devastating critique of post-Soviet society’.  Teatr.doc brought into being a very strong new generation of Russian writers for theatre who were prepared to examine the state of society with precision and artistry. It has had audiences to match: the basement is usually filled to overflowing with young people, and sometimes people sit outside in the yard and peer through the windows to watch the theatre.

But Teatr.doc has come under increasing pressure from the authorities over the recent years. Alone of all the Russian theatres they have chosen to defy the recent law banning obscenities and swearing in public discourse, and the activity of this tiny theatre has even been mentioned in the Russian State Duma. Lena Gremina in a recent interview mentioned that hecklers were sent in to disrupt shows.

Now Teatr.doc is being threatened with eviction. The Moscow Government announced last week that it had in fact terminated its rental agreement with the theatre in May 2014 – although it had continued to accept payment from Teatr.doc. The apparent reason for this termination was that non–permitted building work had taken place in the space. In fact the only work that had taken place  was opening up a fire escape at the request of the fire department of the same municipal government.

It is clear that the persecution of this theatre is linked to the current political atmosphere in Russia, the crackdown on freedom of expression and Teatr.doc’s defiant and uncompromising stance. We need to act to save this theatre which has become a beacon of writing in Russia and the world.


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Sign the open letter in defense of Teatr.doc

If you would like to add your voice to the following open letter, please email with your name, profession, and country of residence.

An Open Letter in Defense of Teatr.doc

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the situation that has arisen around Teatr.doc. We fear what we and Moscow theater both stand to lose if Teatr.doc is forced to leave its famous basement space on Tryokhprudny Pereulok. Teatr.doc is a bellwether of contemporary Russian drama and theater. Don’t be fooled by Teatr.doc’s small size. It does great things that affect the entire world. Anyone traveling to Moscow in the last decade in search of new ideas, new forms, new writers, new directors, new acting styles, new spectators, and even new marketing approaches or ways of working with the public, has invariably ended up in the tiny, but mighty black basement room where theatrical magic is done on a routine basis. Russian artists emerging from Teatr.doc have spread their own personal fame, as well as that of the theater, all over the world, be it with highly successful tours of Teatr.doc’s productions in Europe, be it in plays developed at Teatr.doc but staged in world premieres in Europe, England or the UnitedStates, or be it in projects that have been conceived and developed jointly in Moscow and abroad. We know Teatr.doc not only as the home of the famous “new drama,” which has deeply influenced theaters and writers all over the world, but as the warm and loving home where “new drama” was born and bred. Teatr.doc is a tiny space, just a few rooms in a Moscow apartment building. But its influence on, and importance for, world theater is already the stuff of legend. We urge all parties concerned to do whatever possible and whatever necessary to preserve this important cultural institution. Teatr.doc is one of the great riches of Russian culture today. It must be preserved.

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28 Comments on “The Moscow theatre that changed the world”

    1. Thanks Steve. If you’d like to be added as a signatory to the open letter, do let us know your profession and country of residence.

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