EphemeREAL: documented oral histories as art

Friday, January 27, 2023

12:30 pm — 2:00 pm


Open to the Public

Susanna Weygandt, Sewanee: University of the South, presents a workshop for research in progress to the CUNY REEES Kruzhok

Talgat Batalov stands on stage in a track suit, reaching toward the audience seated to the left of frame
Talgat Batalov presents his monodrama, Uzbek.
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Susanna Weygandt, Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian, Sewanee: University of the South, joins the CUNY Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Workshop to share new research in progress.

Register via Zoom to receive the paper in advance and share feedback at the workshop.

Abstract: In 2002, a subgenre of New Drama (Novaia Drama) known as docudrama, the topic of my article, emerged specifically to voice “direct utterance” from marginal contemporary social groups in Russia about social problems. Since then, this method has spread to Belarus, to the Belarus Free Theatre, and in 2015 to the Theatre of Displaced People in Ukraine. Scholarship by Mark Lipovetsky and Birgit Beumers (2009), Molly Flynn (2020), and Julie Curtis (2020) has brought attention to controversial topics raised by docudramas: the war in Ukraine, imprisonment without trial in Russia, human rights violations, globalization, and Russia’s difficult relationship to its former Soviet self. These scholars mainly focus on docudrama as a utopian project – rehearsal and repetition can offer a second life to a story that suffered from injustice in real-life. I am indebted to these scholars for introducing docudrama to the Slavic field, and I build on their work by explaining that, in my opinion, the political significance lies both in docudrama's choice of topics as well as in its cutting-edge artistic strategies. The methods of staging the plays are just as intrinsic to the movement as the content of the plays. I explain that it is the artistic angle that is most exciting due to the paradoxical relationship between art and documented oral histories. My article focuses on productions of three plays from the repertoire of Teatr.doc (Moscow): September.doc (2003), Motovilikhinskie Workers (2009), and Uzbek (2012). Each of these productions engages audiences in a confrontation with "the Other" and thereby stages a participatory practice. Teatr.doc performances utilize formal techniques to stimulate the audience’s creative ability to form their own opinions about the themes presented to them, and these efforts determine the main conceptual impulse of participatory art that is behind the social project.

Susanna Weygandt documents and analyzes performance theories indigenous to Russia and East Europe that have not yet been documented. In her soon-to-be published book, From Metaphor to Direct Speech: Drama and Performance Theory in Contemporary Russia, she identifies the main writers and performance theories of the vibrant movement, Novaia Drama (New Drama), and situates this pioneering literature in the contemporary Russian literary canon and within the Performance Studies field. This research shaped her into a scholar of visual language, the body, affect, embodiment, and gender. She received her training in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Princeton (PhD 2015; Graduate Certificate in History of Science 2015) and Masters in Russian from Middlebury College. At Sewanee: The University of the South she teaches in the Russian Department and in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program.