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The First and the Only in the USSR Cossack Theatre

09.12.2011

70 years ago, in 1936, the first Theatre of the Cossack Country Youth was founded in Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya on the initiative of M.A. Sholokhov.

One of the oldest actors of the first theatre company Konstantin Gavrilovich Zotiyev recollected, that “the writer wanted the Don Cossack men and women to get closer to real art”.

For the theatre the People’s House was reconstructed (which place is occupied now by the Excursion-Exhibition Centre of the State M.A. Sholokhov Museum-Reserve) and an extension for the scenery and costume repertory, a hall, verandah, rotating stage were built.

The theatre was opened on December, 13, 1936. The first night performance was “Virgin Soil Upturned” after the novel by M.A. Sholokhov. The script of it was made by the writer himself and the Rostov director Boris Barabanov. The performance was bright and sonorous to make a good beginning for the further development of the theatre.

The work over new performances ran parallel to theatrics training the local “actors”. In 1937-38 the theatre staged “Thunderstrorm” (A. Ostrovskiy), “Fame” (V. Gusev), “Lyubov Yarovaya” (K. Trenyov), “Somebody Else’s Child” (V. Shkvarkin), “How the Steel was Tempered” (N. Ostrovskiy), “Confrontation” (Tur and L. Sheinin), “Land” (N. Virta), “Poverty is not Vice” (A. Ostrovskiy), “Frontier-Guards” (B. Belotserkovskiy). At that time the Vyoshenskiy Theatre was on successful tour in Rostov and the towns of the Azov-Black Sea Region.

At the anniversary celebration of the Cossack Youth Theatre Sholokhov said: “During the year the Vyoshenskiy Cossack Youth Theatre existed, its company has achieved a significant success. A year of training issued in success: the performances have gained quality, the actors have become more experienced and mature in their mastery. You must train still harder to acquire theatrical art perfection, to try many approaches up to the real heights of art. Realization of all these is my wish for the young actors of the Cossack Youth Theatre, which we are so proud of”.

During the two years the theatre gave 10 first-night performances, 200 dramas having gathered over 75 thousand viewers.

Sholokhov followed the success of the actors with interest, he took part in the life of the company, attended the rehearsals, gave his piece of advice, helped to acquire the property and costumery. Alexander Erokhin, a literature teacher, who collected information about the theatre development recollected: “The Theatre possessed the richest costumery which could be envied by any urban drama theatre. There were various clothes and footwear – from Cossack village shoes and homespun coats to fashionable in old times evening dresses and top hats. All those things were acquired through the help of M.A. Sholokhov in Moscow and Leningrad”.

On January, 14, 1939, the Vyoshenskiy Cossack Youth Country Theatre was entitled after Komsomol.

The company was a success when touring in the south of Russia, joining the country theatre contests of the Rostov Region. The actors took six-month courses in the Rostov theatre school and M. Gorkiy Theatre, participated in the training performances “Among the Dregs” by A.M. Gorkiy and “Profitable Business” by A.N. Ostrovskiy. The lectures were delivered by such masters as Y.A. Zavadskiy,  V.P. Maretskaya, N.D. Mordvinov.

In 1941 most of the actors of the Cossack Theatre volunteered for the front. The building of the People’s House was completely destroyed during the bombardment of 1942. After the war the actors, who had returned from the front, organized a drama theatre which was soon awarded a name of “the People’s Theatre”.

Now the People’s House of Vyoshenskaya still serves the people preserving and spreading the heritage of M.A. Sholokhov by holding exhibitions, meetings, scientific conferences, concerts of the folk group “Zarnitsa”. There is a theatrical studio, where the actors are the workers of the State M.A. Sholokhov Museum-Reserve.

Lidiya Nikulina