Noor eesti teater ja Noor-Eesti. Young Estonian Theatre and Young Estonia


  • Katri Aaslav-Tepandi



This article begins by examining points of intersection between two professional theatres, ”Estonia” and ”Vanemuine” (both established in 1906), their young directors – Karl Menning, Paul Pinna, Theodor Altermann, and Karl Jungholz, and the literary movement Young Estonia. Subsequently, we will consider Young Estonia’s theatrical ideals and the influence of these ideas on later Estonian theatrical life. Since not much information has survived regarding direct personal contacts between ”movers and shakers” in the theatre world and Young Estonians, the main focus here shall be on indirect creative connections and influences. One such context is education: like the Young Estonians, theatre activists of the younger generation aspired to place themselves on the larger map of European culture. Thus, their artistic beliefs and goals shall be examined in relation to those of Young Estonians’ quest for modern culture. Pinna, Altermann, Menning, Jungholz, and others went on study tours to Germany and France, where they were energized and inspired by innovative German and Russian theatres, by naturalistic staging, and by psychological realism, both in acting and in performance style. Among their models were A. Antoine’s Théâtre- Libre in Paris, K. Stanislavski’s Art Theatre in Moscow, O. Brahm’s Lessing-Theater, and M. Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater in Berlin. These models were likewise known to the Young Estonians, but if theatre activists oriented themselves more fundamentally to German naturalist and realist dramatic art, Young Estonians were more taken with ”theatrical theatre” with its symbolist and impressionist influences. The Young Estonians attended performances at both theatres, ”Vanemuine” and ”Estonia”, and wrote numerous theatre reviews. Yet in the Young Estonia albums (yearbooks) and in the magazine Young Estonia, theatre topics have a relatively modest representation. Young Estonians did not have direct connections with either theatre: none of them worked at ”Estonia” or ”Vanemuine”, nor did they hold positions in the respective Societies or boards of directors; neither did they have direct influence as creators of a new dramaturgy.Indirectly, however, Young Estonia’s relations with the theatre were very strong: they might even be regarded as the creators of a new idea of the theatre. The Young Estonians’ manifesto for the theatre was Teatri-raamat (Theatre-Book), published on the occasion of the opening of ”Estonia’s” new building in 1913. The authors represented in the volume were Bernhard Linde, Johannes Barbarus, Johannes Semper, Jaan Kärner, Anton Hansen Tammsaare, and Gustav Suits. In Teatri-raamat, Young Estonians critically analyze the development of Estonian theatre, and its place in Estonian culture in light of modern European currents in the arts (psychological realism, symbolism, impressionism, and expressionism). In this article, the ideals of the authors of Teatri-raamat are closely examined and compared with the counterarguments published in newspapers 1916 by Karl Menning, who had by then left the position of director of the Vanemuise theatre. Finally, we will consider the connections between the Young Estonia movement and the dramaturgy of its time, more specifically that of three writers for the theatre: August Kitzberg, Oskar Luts, and Eduard Vilde. Kitzberg interacted intensively with the Young Estonians without sharing their ideals concerning modern art. His plays Tuulte pöörises (In the Whirlwind), ”Enne kukke ja koitu” (Before Cock’s Crow at Dawn), Libahunt (Werewolf), and Kauka Jumal (The God of Kauka) were highly esteemed by the Young Estonians. A more indirect influence of the Young Estonians can be seen in the case of young Oskar Luts, who like his contemporaries, was influenced by newer, more modern currents, especially symbolism, along with models such as Hamsun, Strindberg, and Maeterlinck. Luts wrote his plays Laul õnnest (Song of Happiness) and Mahajäetud maja (Abandoned House) in this new symbolist style. Eduard Vilde’s play Tabamata ime (Elusive Miracle) paradoxically seems very ”Young Estonian”, considering that Vilde, as an older-generation prose writer, was very far removed from Young Estonia as a movement. With the staging of Vilde’s Tabamata ime, the question of language reform finds its way into Estonian theatre, and Altermann begins his polemic in support of language reform in the daily newspaper Päevaleht. Looking back at the young men of the theatre who were active 100 years ago, and then across at the Young Estonians, one can conclude that together they created a moment of fresh beginning, an atmosphere of birth – fraught with intensity and conflict, and aimed energetically into the future.


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