"Us" and "them" in Estonian theatre

Let us consider what a brief space of time it is during which Estonian culture has enjoyed freedom from censorship: a decade in the newly restored Republic of Estonia in addition to the first period of Independence in the first half of the 20th century. Thus, historically, Estonian culture has always lived side by side with a Stranger, a mental Other, to whom it is opposed. Does this have any positive aspects that have promoted the development of our culture? In theatre, the answer is probably yes. The essence of theatre is revealed in the clash of opposing ideas and the spark that this produces. A conflict. A confrontation. Thus, acting under constraints imposed by foreign rule, theatre was pre-ordained to carry out its ultimate goal — opposition to the Big Stranger.

In the Soviet period, attendance figures rose to unprecedented heights (there was a waiting list of a year or more for productions dealing openly with social issues), which means that theatre was fulfilling the functions of other institutions, the broadcast media in particular. Theatre was the most important forum which allowed discussion on social topics.

The modern aggressive artistic discourse currently offering increasingly simple and primitive imagery almost makes me yearn for the conditions under which art existed in the Soviet era. It raised audiences who were able to read fairly sophisticated and elaborate images, who were capable of decoding "hidden messages" to an extent that is not accessible to modern audiences. Estonian contemporary culture (including theatre) lacks the aforementioned ultimate goal, but this need not lead automatically to a crisis of cultural identity. We might well question whether postmodernist fragmented society would assume the possibility or necessity of a consolidating "major task or idea".

One of the peculiarities of the culture of Estonia as a small nation is that every work of art, apart from having an artistic purpose, has one more function to perform — to confirm Estonian independence, statehood and ethnic identity.

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