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1 Agitprop and Workers’ Theatre Ian Saville. 2 Definitions: From Lenin (What is to be Done?) and Plekhanov Agitation: 1 idea to many – using emotional.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Agitprop and Workers’ Theatre Ian Saville. 2 Definitions: From Lenin (What is to be Done?) and Plekhanov Agitation: 1 idea to many – using emotional."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Agitprop and Workers’ Theatre Ian Saville

2 2 Definitions: From Lenin (What is to be Done?) and Plekhanov Agitation: 1 idea to many – using emotional material to get people active Propaganda: Propagates an ideology – many ideas to a smaller number. Explaining the world in the light of ideas. Term “Agitprop” coined by Soviet CC in 1920s Art as a weapon Negative term?

3 3 History of Agitprop Developed in: Russia Germany USA Britain Korea, France, Japan etc. etc

4 4 Russia Poster Art - Mayakovsky Meyerhold Blue Blouse Movement Literacy programmes – living newspapers Agit Trains (see video) Mass spectacles (see video) Changes in the 1930s –Socialist Realism Agitational poster by Mayakovsky

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7 7 Germany The political background – 1918 uprisings and near revolution. The theatrical background – Antecedents in 19 th Century Expressionist theatre: Buchner, Wedekind, Kaiser, Toller, early Brecht. Piscator – Red Revel Revue Growth of Workers’ Theatre Troupes in Weimar Republic – “The Red Megaphones”. See Film. Importance of professional theatre workers. Brecht, Piscator, Wolf etc. Brecht’s work with amateur groups in exile – Fear and Misery, How much is your Iron etc.

8 8 Britain Pre WW1 – Actresses’ Franchise League 1926 Founding of Hackney Labour Dramatic Group (later Hackney People’s Players, then Hackney group of the Workers’ Theatre Movement) – group stages adaptation of Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists 1929 – 1933 Growth of Workers’ Theatre Movement. WTM affiliated to the International Union of Revolutionary Theatres – Ewan MacColl forms Manchester Red Megaphones, tours shows to demonstrations in Manchester and Salford.

9 9 Red Megaphones performing to a Mayday demonstration in Preston, 1932

10 10 Britain 2 Weaknesses of British WTM – Artistic – Esp. lack of professionals (only Andre Van Gyseghem and a very few others) Political – Relationship to Labour Party Participated in International Olympiad, Moscow 1933 – by then political and artistic line was changing

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12 12 USA Great Depression from 1929 Agitprop from the immigrant communities – Proletbuehne Michael Gold’s Strike Langston Hughes Eugene O’Neill Group Theatre – Odets, Theatre Union 1935 – Federal Theater Project (part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration) starts presenting Living Newspapers Involvement of Hallie Flanagan as director Politics changes after 1946 Living Newspaper One Third of a Nation by Arthur Arent, presented by FTP

13 13 AgitProp characteristics 1: Politics is the purpose of theatre, not its subject. Theatre is used as a means of organising. Theatre designed to appeal to the masses. But not “bringing art to the masses” as with ILP Theatre Guild or Volksbuhne Context: not in purpose-built theatres, but on the street, in meetings, at demonstrations

14 14 AgitProp Characteristics 2 A propertyless theatre for the propertyless class – theatre must be portable and easy to stage (nevertheless Piscator incorporated technical innovations.) Anti-naturalistic Mass Speaking Slogans End with demands Meerut

15 15 Meerut, by Charlie Mann.

16 16 Agitprop Characteristics 3 Use of popular theatre forms: Cartoon style parodies music comedy But some forms of popular culture could be frowned upon. (Music hall, Jazz) Action among the audience: Red Revel Revue, Blue Blouse Strike! Waiting for Lefty etc. Scottsboro Ltd

17 17 The influence of Agitprop Britain: Unity Theatre Theatre Workshop (Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood) Radical Theatre of the 1960s and 1970s: 7:84 Cast Red Ladder Broadside Socialist Magic? Modern West End: Billy Elliot

18 18 Influences 2 Via Brecht / Piscator etc. – much modern theatre African, S. American Theatre, theatre in middle east. Advertising?

19 19 Conclusions Agitprop – positive or negative? Is it still useful? Theatre is assigned a role outside of art Incidentally: theatre creates a sense of community


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