A modern approach to teaching theater history

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With a curriculum that ranges from Shakespeare to international traditions and avant-garde, GITIS strengthens the critical faculties of its students

For the Russian Institute of Theater Arts (GITIS), the value of theater history and criticism has been clear since the inception of the department: to create an image of world theater with Russian traditions at its heart, says Alexey Bartoshevich , responsible for the history of foreign theater arts.

Established in 1932, the department trains its students to understand the nuances of historical and contemporary theater – something that is essential to meet the demands of modern theater and how these differences manifest on today’s stage.

Professor Bartoshevich studied at GITIS as an undergraduate (1961) and postgraduate (1964) student. He therefore observed the evolution of the department and the institute over time. One of the main differences, he says, is that the link between the academic program and contemporary theater has grown stronger. “During my studies and postgraduate years teaching historical themes was much more important than today,” he says.

GITIS ‘current Theater History and Criticism course offers students access to many other facets of modern theater. “We have set up new courses and seminars, specifically dedicated to the theater of our time – in both Western and Eastern traditions,” he says. For example, the department introduced a special course on European avant-garde theater, as this experimental movement affects the way many people do and react to theater today.

However, Professor Bartoshevich notes that it is dangerous not to teach students about the eras of classical theater, as it will hamper their ability to study the scope of theater and interpret modern practice.

This emphasis on tradition is something that sets GITIS apart from other art schools. Its rector, Grigory Zaslavsky, says: “Tradition is not everything, of course, but its importance for GITIS is clear. It can be calculated in the list of graduates who continue their work as [its] teachers. It’s the tradition. “

Professor Bartoshevich echoes these sentiments. He sees the future of the Department of Theater History and Criticism as one in which teaching balances contemporary methodologies with history lessons that further enrich and inform students.

His special love is the work of William Shakespeare. Professor Bartoshevich is Chairman of the Shakespeare Commission of the Scientific Council for the History of World Culture at the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was also a member of the executive committee of the International Shakespeare Association and wrote numerous books on the Bard’s plays and their themes. Without Shakespeare and the wealth of scholarship interpreting his work, it would be “impossible to understand anything in the history of theater and modern theatrical life,” he says.

Students of the department “as a rule… choose to study subjects in modern Russian theater”. However, Professor Bartoshevich encourages them to explore the history of theater in other countries, as it complements both their understanding of their own heritage and the international and collaborative approach of GITIS.

Find out more about GITIS.

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