Don’t offend the men in frocks & silly hats
Russian theatre directors are being ordered to exercise greater ‘taste, common sense and responsibility’ and avoid offending the sensitivities of faith-heads.
Ominous threats, according to the Washington Post, are increasingly being directed at artists considered to be:
In violation of an unspoken moral code of the Russian regime, which seems to be taking cues from the Orthodox church.
In the past few weeks, Russian Orthodox Church leaders in Novosibirsk organised protests over the portrayal of religious symbols in an opera that led to the theatre director being fired by the Russian Culture Ministry. Boris Mezdrich was accused of staging a “blasphemous” reworking of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Novosibirsk – Metropolitan Tikhon, pictured above, centre – had not even seen the production when he began to complain about it in January. He filed a court case against the director and theatre officials for violating a 2013 law that makes insulting religious feelings a criminal offence. He lost but told his followers to protest the theatre last month. And they did. In their droves.
Said Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church said that the actors had:
Appeared naked, simulated sex, and even touched Christ. This is something we cannot tolerate, because it is against our conscience.
He said the opera directors should have discussed the staging with the church first to avoid the row that ensued. He added:
Of course it would be a very stupid thing to expect artists never to do anything shocking. You have freedom of self-expression, you are free artists. But we are also a religious community. We have our religious freedom and we deserve to be respected.
Meanwhile, a Russian arts council began examining ways to prevent and punish “distortions” of classic plays, and Kremlin officials proposed introducing a preliminary review process for theatrical productions — effectively, a Soviet-style censoring board.
Urging greater “taste, common sense and responsibility”, Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said performance directors and artists should:
Show respect for the audience, the public, to the city.
That includes censoring one’s output from within.
But the artistic community in Russia sees it as a blatant attempt at social control.
Said Marina Davidova, a well-known arts critic in Russia.
What is happening is a total conservative revolution. We have a ministry of culture that works against culture, against art and against the entire cultural community.
Since the opera row, theatre directors and their supporters have called for Medinsky to be fired, for Mezdrich to be reinstated, and for the church in Novosibirsk to back off from actions:
Which can lead to religious extremism.
But as the war of words and street protests continues, other attempts to muzzle the country’s most experimental theatrical minds are progressing.
Several of the country’s best-known directors are being scrutinised for their modernised productions of classic Russian plays, such as Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov and Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls.
Members of the Russian Heritage Institute’s review board – which is exploring ways to limit the interpretations of Russian classics – recently told state news service Tass that many of the productions were “distortions” and even “trash”.
Putin’s spokesman has articulated the Kremlin’s opposition to any forms of censorship, but he also maintained that the government should not have to fund projects that aren’t “appropriate”.
The dependency of theatres on Russian state funding makes them a prime target for restriction.