Russia's Political Theatre
Teatr.doc is – or was – a small theatre in a basement a short walk from Tverskaya Street in the centre of Moscow. Not funded by the government, it has always done as it pleased. Its productions have included One Hour Eighteen, about Sergei Magnitsky, the accountant and auditor whose death in detention continues to haunt Russia (disclosure: my husband was in the cast), and BerlusPutin, an adaptation of a satire by Dario Fo. You could see a play about the fall of Constantinople one day, and go back the next evening to see a short comedy about how much young men hate the draft.
Since last year, anything showing the Ukrainian revolution in a positive or even neutral light has triggered official hysterics. Teatr.doc, true to its nature, ignored the rules: in March 2014, as Russia was annexing Crimea, it held a reading of a documentary play based on the Euromaidan.
In October, the theatre found out that it was being evicted for ‘unsanctioned alterations’ to the space (the alterations had been demanded by fire inspectors, but the authorities weren’t bothered about that). According to documents obtained by the artistic director, Yelena Gremina, the decision to evict Teatr.doc had been made in May. There were petitions and letters asking the authorities to change their minds and let the theatre stay, but without success. The theatre is moving to a new location. Renovations there are ongoing: playwrights, directors, actors and supporters are pitching in.
On 30 December, Teatr.doc was about to screen a documentary about the Euromaidan at its old location when the police burst in. They said there'd been a bomb threat. Friends who were there told me there were plainclothes officers in the audience before the uniforms arrived. There was confusion at first, and a half-hearted attempt to evacuate the building, before the officers changed tactics and began searching the place for ‘extremist materials’. Three people at the theatre were detained, questioned about the film, and let go.
Officials from the Culture Ministry also showed up and served the theatre with a warning that they were showing the film without a distribution certificate: these pieces of paper, a new requirement, are hard to get and the need for them is arbitrarily enforced.
The theatre was ransacked and the front door sealed shut, though no reason was given. The next day, Gremina went to see Ministry of Culture officials, who threatened her with more raids. She wrote on her Facebook page that she walked out and slammed the door.