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Agitprop Theatre in Russia and its development in Germany and England during the 1920's & 1930's. Created as an introduction for MYP 5 drama students to Agitprop Theatre.

Chris Champion

on 27 October 2016

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Workers Theatre Movement founded in 1926 focused on street theatre & short sketches. It published a magazine 'Red Stage'.

Sketches included 'Meerut' about the condition of workers in India.

Other agitprop theatre groups such as 'The Red Megaphones' and 'Theatre of Action' performed outside factory gates or at demonstrations. In 1945 two of their members, Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl set up the hugely influential Theatre Workshop.
Agitprop - originated in the Soviet Union in 1920's. It describes plays, pamphlets, posters, films & other art forms with a political message.

Combination of two words;

Agitation = to actively support a political ideology through speeches, actions, demonstrations etc
Propaganda = influence people's attitudes by expressing one side of an argument.
Agitprop theatre had a huge influence on playwrights such as Bertolt Brecht and on Augusto Baol's 'Theatre of the Oppressed'

Agitprop Theatre groups still performing today range from 'Blind Summit' (England) to Lahore Agitprop Theatre Company (Pakistan)
In Russia, agitation meant urging people to do what the Soviet leaders expected them to do.

Propaganda was explaining the policy of the communist party. This could cover any kind of beneficial knowledge such as new methods in agriculture.

After the 1917 revolution an agitprop
train toured the country with artists
and actors performing plays.

Agitprop theatre communicated directly to the masses in a country with 70 % illiteracy and a burgeoise theatre inaccessible to working classes.

Characteristics of Soviet Russian Agitprop Theatre:
Appealed to the emotions by simplifying issues & using caricature characters of good & bad.
Mobile brigades took theatre to the people & performed in the factories and villages.
'Blue Blouses' brigade took their name from workers overalls and so identified themselves with their audience
Brigades rejected traditional theatre conventions. They used minimal props & costumes.
Living Newspapers & use of visual elements such as clowns, acrobats, comic skits, songs etc

source: 'Agitprop in Soviet Russia'
Kevin Brown

Left Column & Troupe 31 were most famous groups of 1920's & 30's

A 1931 law banned agitprop theatre performances in some localities & some performers were arrested by the Gestapo.
Other performers fled to the Soviet Union and USA.

Agitprop Theatre greatly influenced the work of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht.
Agitprop was a form of political theatre developed in the 1920's in Soviet Russia. Its aim was to educate and indoctrinate the masses.

Typical features include:
Traveling troupes playing on the streets or at factories
Rejection of make up, costumes, stage set & lighting and focus on message
Performers often wore same coloured shirts and created different characters by changing hats etc
Use of symbolic objects to represent people or events ie flag = army or 6 sticks = prison or top hat = capitalist.
Addressing the audience directly through mass recitation
Use of episodic rather than narrative structure.
Dziga Vertov 1924 Progoganda animation
Blind Summit - 1984
Lahore Agitprop Theatre Company
'Strike' - 1925 montage film
by Sergei Eisenstein
Agitprop theatre emerged the USA in 1929 with Prolet-Buehne and the Workers' Laboratory Theater. 'Art is a Weapon' (1931) was one of their agitprop sketches.

The workers theatre movement also produced musicals (Pins and Needles) and the most famous agitprop play of the period: 'Waiting for Lefty'.

The Federal Theater Project was a government funded project started in 1935 to put unemployed actors back to work. They experimented with agitprop techniques such as the living newspaper and produced socially critical plays including 'Power' and "Singing for your Supper'

In 1939 the Federal Theater Project was closed down by the House of Un-American Activities Committee, which labeled it 'a propaganda machine'
'Leaning on a Shovel' sketch
from 'Sing for your Supper
Scene from 'Power'
Full transcript