New Theatre — the theatre of the Big Game

The first wave of theatrical innovation comprised six productions that might be taken as a kind of cycle: "I Would Like to Sing a Song…", 1969 — based on poetry readings by a team of young actors of the work of Estonian poet Gustav Suits; Paul-Eerik Rummo's Cinderella Game, 1969 and Leonid Andreyev's He Who Gets Slapped, 1972, both directed by Evald Hermaküla; August Kitzberg's She Lets Her Hand Be Kissed, 1969, directed by Jaan Tooming; Rein Saluri's Visitors, 1974, directed by Kaarin Raid and Peet Vallak's The Punjabi Pottery of Epp Pillarpart, 1974, directed by Mati Unt. This first wave of theatrical innovation spread as a prolific rhizome which quickly sent out new shoots; its new ideas and leading figures soon followed by others. In the early 1980s the change was so profound that it is no exaggeration to say that the curtain in every Estonian theatre opened on productions in which innovative elements were present.

The evening of Suits's poetry (1969) read by six young male actors in the Writers' House was like a huge splash in a stagnant pool: an experience received by audiences as "a revelation", " a shock", "cathartic", "stunning" — words rarely used by the usually reserved and sceptical Estonians. Now people were willing to come and watch one and the same performance several times over, because it was always a surprise - what they saw on stage was in no way a too-familiar piece of dull life, which in its greyness might seem a mere shadow of the "new theatre".

It turned out there were other, much better (aggressive, metaphorical, stylised, ritual, stage semantic, etc.) ways to give expression to habitual events, situations, responses, etc. and even texts that had been repeated a thousand times and studied at school.

One of the leading directors of theatre innovation, Evald Hermaküla (1941-2000), described his feelings as follows: "The spirit in the theatre was dead. I couldn't stand the endless nagging: 'Play what the text says!' This theatre was a social lie cultivated either unconsciously, subconsciously or deliberately. That is why the younger generation protested against highly verbal theatre being treated as if it were canonical scripture. This was a lie against society as well. /---/ There was a general atmosphere of destruction and protest that in the form of counterculture gave impetus to the avant-garde in Europe." This sentiment was seconded by Priit Pedajas (1954), one of the major directors today: "The theatre of those days was as dull and bourgeois as it is now and always has been. Stanislavsky had been given official status and was opposed as such. There was an enormous drive to change everything. The protest against this and the whole lifestyle was violent, vigorous and highly ambitious. /---/ This was not cringing to the West. Western theatre was not the model, a need for the new theatre was in the air."

When the "Iron Curtain" slowly opened a crack, there began to dawn an understanding that in the "outside world" many styles of drama existed alongside the psychological realism that by the early 1960s had become dominant in Estonian theatre. The writer Joel Sang wrote, "In the mid-1960s the younger generation of theatremakers stirred up discontent; by that time Panso's theatre, which had once brought a fresh breeze into the stale atmosphere of Estonia's cultural scene, had become canonical, and there was a strong feeling that a new expressive means was needed. Audiences should be forced into participation and become involved in the Big Game."

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