Postmodernistlikke jooni eesti noore režissuuri lavastustes 1969–1975 / Postmodernist Traits in the Performances of Young Estonian Directors 1969-1975


  • Rein Heinsalu Tartu University



teatriuuendus, postmodernism, eksperimentaalteater, alternatiivkultuurid, dekonstruktsioon, 1960. aastad, new theatre, experimental theatre, alternative cultures, deconstruction, 1960s


Teesid: 1960. aastate lõpus toimusid eesti teatris suured muutused. Ilmus nähtus, mida hakati nimetama nooreks režissuuriks. Eeskätt on see seotud Evald Hermaküla, Jaan Toominga, Kalju Komissarovi, Kaarin Raidi jt nimedega. Noor režissuur tõstis mässu ahtaks muutunud realismi raamide vastu, mis ei vastanud noore põlvkonna teatriootustele. Olles mõjutatud ideeliselt radikaalsest eksperimentaalteatrist USAs, aga ka Jerzy Grotowski katsetustest ning teistest avangardsetest liikumistest, muutis see füüsilist teatrikeelt. Tõusis improvisatsiooni osakaal. Teater lakkas olemast dramaturgiliste tekstide esituskoht, vaid hakkas otsima etendustes vahetut kohalolu. Tajuprotsessi hakkas juhtima mängu põhimõte. Suured müüdid dekonstrueeriti, autoritaarsusele vastanduti. Seksuaalsus ilmutas end uuel jõul, toetatud alateadvuse impulssidest. Uue laine radikaalsus kestis 1970. aastate lõpuni, mil see sulandus peavoolu. Murrang teatriesteetikas mõjutas kogu järgnenud teatriperioodi, seda on kutsutud ka eesti teatri kuldajaks.


Young directors emerged in Estonian theatre at the end of the 1960s. More specifically, during the years 1969–1974 many new directors’ names appeared on theatre posters, and the fundamental changes in the language and content of the theatre at the end of the 1960s and the 1970s began to be associated with these names. Most important among these are Evald Hermaküla, Jaan Tooming, Kalju Komissarov, and Karin Raid. Within a short time these young directors changed prevailing assumptions about the purpose, means, and content of the theatre in Estonia. This phenomenon came to be referred to as the breakthrough, or the new wave; later on, in sum, as the renewal of theatre.

A generational change was taking place in the theatre, and in this framework a different language of theatre emerged, which began carrying innovative emotional and aesthetic paradigms. As in the Anglo-American cultural space, this new theatre was not referred to by a single name: in the USA, it was referred to as experimental, neo-avant-garde, off-off-Broadway, also as alternative. In England, experimental andfringe were among the concepts used. The designation of theatre renewal of the 1960s and 1970s as „postmodern“ could only was a retrospective manoeuvre by American and English theorists.

The young directors began to use deconstruction to overturn the grand narratives; binaries and myths were shattered; power and its structures are examined closely; sexuality was used in a shocking manner; the principle of play became foregrounded. All of these directions and intentions connect the new wave with postmodernism.

This article uses the above principles to examine some of the most important works of young directors from the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s: a program of the poetry of Gustav Suits, This one song I want to sing (1969); Cinderella-game (1969); Letting Their Hand Be Kissed (1969); Epp Pillapart’s Punjaba Pot Factory (1974); Oliver and Jennifer (1972).

Changes in social and aesthetic consciousness also had an effect, as they had in other artistic media. „This was a generation that was not bothered by stalinist norms,“ said Karin Kask. Without a doubt, the emergence of this phenomenon were also affected by moods of renewal in Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as by the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The period was characterized by the „virus of protest and freedom“ as well as „euphoria on the eve of suppression“. While trying to reform theatre, new concepts emerged, such as imagistic system, impulse, non-conceptual base, complete freedom in the choice of means, a new style, irrationality at the base of humanity, the psychophysical dramatic equivalent, etc. The stage is set free from the circumstantial conjuncture, turning instead toward an existential black-box; alternatively, standard images are tentatively represented on a meta-level. The activities on stage were also transferred to the audience. All of these tendencies indicate a new approach to the theatre.

Overthrowing, deconstruction, and the Zeitgeist of rebellion, a new spirit of play, homo ludens are reflected in many writings from the end of the 1960s. When describing the atmosphere of that time, Mati Unt uses Derrida’s term onto-theo-teleo-phallo-phonocentrism. This period is also characterized by the phrase „rebellion against old stereotypes“, with the goal of deconstructing them.

According to the theory of Brian McHale, the most important marker of postmodernism is the ontological dominant. And yet such designations as placing objectivity totally in suspension, metatheatrical devices, 

resistance, physicality, rejection, class and power as mystifications, confessionality – these key words also provide a multi-layered characterization of the postmodernist theatre of the 1960s–1970s both in the USA and Estonia.

So far Estonian researchers of postmodernism have not produced a unified account of postmodernism in culture and literature. As the playwright Robert Patrick observes in retrospect, postmodernism set itself in opposition to the schemata of modernism, viewing them as irrelevant: „there was no manifesto, credo, or criteria. It just happened“. It was a rebellion against society as a structure.

The abovementioned criteria correspond to a great extent with the traits postmodernism listed by Ihab Hassan: antiauthoritarianism, distantiation from myths, Ego, the disintegration of the I, new sexuality, counterculture, improvisational and aleatory structures, the mixture of forms, play, parody, apocalyptic expectations, elements of communal life and the hippie movement, in addition to frequent attraction toZen, Buddhism, and the occult; applications of intermediality.

It is this anti-authoritarianism that is one of the main themes in the Suits poetry evening, the performance Letting their hand be kissed, You, who get your ears boxed, as well as the performance, Good bye, baby!; the different levels of breaking down myth in Cinderella-game, Letting their hand be kissed, Midsummer 1941, as well as The Trial. The performance Letting their hand be kissed destroys illusory stereotypes of ethnic oppression. Most of these leading performances apply the principles of play, along with irony and self-irony: the circumstantial chains of events are cracked open and twisted, amplified by physical movement through which body language becomes tremendously more important than the verbal text. The use of the empty stage in scenography is not so much an aesthetic device as it is a fundamental attitude toward society. „We tried to clear the playing field!“ as Hermaküla expressed it. The effort was made to eliminate the noise and circumstantiality from the signified which had lost its meaning, striving to be authentically present.

In print, empty space as a playing field became a manifesto through Peter Brook’s Empty Space (published in Estonian in 1972); Brook’s quest was linked to postmodernism. Certainly some of the choices made were influenced by Jerzy Grotowski’s apologia for a „poor theatre“, which at the time was also linked to postmodernism. Antonin Artaud’s theories, such as the „theatre of cruelty“, were also applied.

The new wave’s link with philosophical deconstruction is accompanied by a fundamental anti-authoritarian stance, which in the Soviet Union of the 1970s could not be expressed verbally: in the theatre, it was transformed into systems of images.

The rebellion against traditional theatre and a frozen society is naturally connected with theatre through the principle of play. The discovery and expression of authenticity and truth is only possible through play. In a theatre founded on the principle of play, there was a quantum leap in the relative importance of improvisational devices in methods of staging. With the breakthrough of representations of the unconscious, influenced in part by the rebellious youth movement, protests, and sexual revolution in the West in the 1960s, the new wave of the Estonian theatre also saw a clear change via views on human sexuality. In many of the top performances, verbal logic is replaced by associative one and the force of the unconscious. The examination of the new wave of directing in the Estonian theatre by considering postmodernist connections allows its contextualization among theatrical trends throughout the world.


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Author Biography

Rein Heinsalu, Tartu University

Rein Heinsalu – graduated from Leningrad State Institute of Theatre, Music, and Cinematography in 1978. Post-graduate student in the Institute of History, Estonian Academy of Sciences 1989–1991, research subject „Young Estonian directors“. Doctoral student of the Institute for Cultural Research and Fine Arts, Tartu University, research subject „Young Estonian directors in the 1960s–1970s and postmodernism“. 






Artiklid / Articles