Lithuanian nationhood theatre through post-colonial gaze

  • Rasa Vasinauskaitė
Keywords: Lithuanian theatre, national theatre, post-coloniality, Russian Empire


In the development of Lithuanian theatre, we find a number of facts and phenomena that can only be understood from a post-colonial perspective. Especially during the first independence, Soviet and even early post-Soviet periods, the discourse of theatre history and criticism felt a constant friction between “alien” and “own” aesthetic and ideological doctrines, between cosmopolitan and national [theatre] narratives. In this article, the origins of the national theatre are associated with the movement of national liberation from the Russian Empire at the end of the 19th century and the movement of amateur theatre (the Lithuanian evenings) as a process of ethnic, linguistic and cultural decolonization. Amateur theatre movement united cultural and secular intelligentsia and strengthened its role in shaping the idea of historical, cultural and linguistic identity, later realized in the national theatre model. However, the National/State Theatre, established in 1920/1922 as a representative institution of the statehood and cultural identity of independent Lithuania, seemed to be “stuck” from different cultural influences, schools, aesthetic currents and spoke badly Lithuanian. Sporadically created by amateurs and more or less professional artists who left Russian theatrical schools, the national Lithuanian theatre has formed from the beginning as a complex body combining imperial and popular models. Imperial – because with the experience and impressions of such theatre and with such understanding of its social and artistic value, its future directors returned to Lithuania from Moscow and St. Petersburg, and popular, democratic – because intended for various social and ethnic groups, but speaking Lithuanian, it had to develop both aesthetic and patriotic feelings of its audience. The politicization of the State Theatre as a representative institution (especially after the introduction of the authoritarian Antanas Smetona power in 1926 and the influence of the Nationalist Party in all areas of culture) influenced the “crucial collision” of these two models in both the performances and their public/ critical reception. At the same time, these two models and their friction can be understood as one of the specific features of the young Lithuanian national/nationhood theatre: the stage reflected a long, but unrealized, acculturation and assimilation of the nation, while the often infertile search for national scenic expression reflected not only an attempt to liberate from the colonial/imperial past, but also the complexity and contradiction of this process.