Kaarel Irdi repertuaaripoliitilised vaated Vanemuise teatri juhina. Kaarel Ird’s Repertoire Policy as Manager of the Vanemuine Theatre


  • Jaak Viller




This article focuses on the meaning of ’repertoire policy’, which in a broader sense usually means the conformity of someone’s creative activities with their main target groups and the interests and expectations of these target groups. Usually, factors inside the theatre also influence repertoire policy (such as contemporary and classical texts, the relationship between local and foreign material, as well as the consideration of the artistic interests and abilities of the directors and actors involved). When analysing the Vanemuine Theatre and its long-standing manager Kaarel Ird (at Vanemuine during the years 1940–1986), a certain aspect stemming from the ideological doctrine of the totalitarian state should be taken into account: the mandatory quota of Soviet drama works (of the Russian and other Soviet nations written after the revolution of 1917), which had to be no less than two-thirds of the plays staged. One of Ird’s more distinguishable accomplishments in the formation of repertoire policy is the rehabilitation of classical Estonian drama and its legacy, which had been ostracised from the stage during the years following the war (1944–1955). Ird justified this with numerous performances and articles as well as in the choice of repertoire at the Vanemuine Theatre, which was very well received by the growing audience. Ird’s own best directed works were based on the legacy of classic Estonian drama (Lydia Koidula, Oskar Luts and others). The other tendency in Ird’s repertoire policy is the attention paid to the Estonian contemporary drama. His role in enthusing writers to create contributions for the drama genre was remarkable, as well as the care taken in order to make their plays reach the stage at Vanemuine Theatre. Something that should be pointed out in Ird’s favour is his explanation – which at the time was not at all self-evident – of the repertoire to the supervisory organs: that contemporary Estonian dramas ought to be treated as Soviet plays, and that these works should count towards the quota of Soviet plays. The disproportion between the large amount of attention given to original works and the varying literary level and quality of the contemporary Estonian plays gave rise to sharp public polemics in the first half of the 1960s, which also affected the actors at the theatre. Ird took these viewpoints into consideration, and directed more attention to the quality of the plays. The same kind of a turning point also took place in relation to the contemporary Russian and Soviet drama. When it came to the latter, Ird had to consider the overcoming of differences of opinion within the theatre. A memorandum addressed to Ird by a representative of the younger generation – the young author Mati Unt, who worked at the theatre as a dramatist– in 1970 points to the shortfalls in the theatre’s repertoire policy, which did not ensure sufficient contact with the younger audience and did not find favour with the young Estonian directors who were seeking for theatre renewal. In the 1970s, Ird made corrections in this area by giving the young staff at the theatre free hands in the choice of texts to be staged, and protected their access to the stage before the control organs supervising stage productions (the ESSR Ministry of Culture and the censorship officials). Attempts at bringing the world classics of theatre to the stage were not as successful, and their proportion at the theatre was not large. However, the 1970s saw the attention of a significant number of young directors gravitate towards introducing the authors of drama classics (Ibsen, Strindberg, Brecht) to the audience. The theatre focused less on the inclusion of contemporary Western dramas in the repertoire, the reason for this being the limited and strictly enforced quotas. When it came to the musical genres performed at the theatre (operas, operettas/musicals, ballets) there was a noticeable preference for contemporary Estonian composers. In the case of classic opera, the staging of less played works was considered important. The theatre won the approval of its audience with a choice of repertoire that took the audience’s expectations into account, and increased its number of visitors almost threefold in 20 years (1957–1977). The repertoire policy received much recognition in the second half of the 1970s from theatre critics and many experts from other parts of the Soviet Union. This was helped along by the multi-genre theatre’s regular guest performances in Moscow and Leningrad featuring different areas of activity, which were also taken into consideration for repertoire choices. An important result of the repertoire policy of Vanemuine theatre was – also in comparison with other Estonian theatres – a successful participation in union-wide contests dedicated to Soviet public holidays or the dramaturgies of different peoples.


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