On 15 October 2014, the Moscow Administration’s Property Department quietly terminated the lease contract with Teatr.Doc, a small 50-seat independent theatre company that has occupied the premises for the past 12 years. Russia’s art community was quick to respond to and protest the move, which they saw as politically motivated.
By Masha Egupova
Activists and artists went online to write petitions and letters to politicians in order to prevent the theatre’s eviction in mid-December 2014. Elena Gremina, the theatre’s founder and artistic director wrote on her Facebook wall:
“Moscow (through the Property Department) unilaterally and unexpectedly terminated the lease with our theatre ahead of time without any explanation. So if you like / are interested in our Teatr.doc I advise you visit this historic, dare I say it, space […] in the very near future. Because soon enough there will be a store or something no less necessary in current times! (Anticipating [any potential] questions – our rent and taxes are paid accurately, fire and other regulations complied strictly, but it probably does not mean anything now!)”
The city’s property department claimed that the lease was terminated due to unsanctioned renovations. It turns out that the decision was taken on 5 May 2014, yet the theatre was unaware of such changes.
According to Elena Gremina, the “unsanctioned renovations” refer to the fact that one of the windows was converted into an entrance door in accordance with fire department regulations. Prior to that, people entered the theatre through the back door.
This decision made a lot of people question the move and wonder who stood behind it.
“There [was] no reason [given], and it is not indicated on the termination [statement]. Therefore, I conclude that it has something to do with [the theatre’s] plays. We have already received unofficial warnings,” Mikhail Ugarov, chief director of the theatre, told BBC Russian.
There is a chance that some mere bureaucrat in the government simply decided to take an initiative and punish the theatre for it’s anti-Putin expressions.
“I’ve never heard about Teatr.doc and its problems, but basically there are many theatres in Moscow doing God-knows-what,” Mayor Sobyanin was quoted on Facebook by Alexey Golubev a journalist for Echo Moskvy.
Topics that are ignored
Located in a basement in one of the buildings in downtown Moscow, Teatr.doc stages political and controversial plays. This month the theatre showed a play called ‘New Life’ about women who were previously imprisoned on murder charges. The theatre often brings up topics that are normally ignored in the Russian society, plagued by hatred and lack of acceptance. The theatre remains the only space for political performances in Russia.
Tom Stoppard, the iconic British playwright, released an open letter supporting Teatr.doc. First published on the Russian news portal Colta.Ru, the letter says:
“For generations, Russian theatre culture has been an inspiration in good times and bad, and an object of veneration in the English-speaking world. […] In Russia, Teatr.doc is currently the most important example of a theatre group which, quite apart from the quality of its work which has given it an international reputation, contains the seeds of a vibrant and relevant theatre of the future.”
“Of course losing the space is a tragedy for us. However, Teatr.doc isn’t [about] the walls, it is [about] people. In this regard, we will come up with something. Needless to say, it is still a blow,” Elena Gremina said in an interview to Colta.Ru.
Photo on top of this page: image from Teatr.doc’s Facebook page
This story was commissioned by Freemuse, the leading defender of musicians worldwide and Global Voices for Artsfreedom.org. It was funded by a grant from CKU. The article may be republished by non-commercial media, crediting the author Masha Egupova, Freemuse and Global Voices and linking to the origin.
in Russian language:
» BBC Russia – 15 October 2014:
Avant-garde Teatr.doc is facing eviction
» Teatr.doc flyer for ‘New Life’ (НОВАЯ ЖИЗНЬ):
» Colta.ru – 26 October 2014:
Tom Stoppard’s open letter in support of Teatr.doc