Between Intervention and Performance. The revolutionary theater practice of Asja Lācis in the context of the Soviet avant-garde

Wintersemester 2023/24

With this seminar, the scholar Mimmi Woisnitza (theatre and cultural studies) and the artist and director Konstanze Schmitt continue their artistic-scientific collaboration on the avant-garde theater maker Asja Lācis.

The aim of their research project “Open Relations” is to make Lācis visible in the German-speaking world as an important mediator of the avant-gardes in Latvia, Soviet Russia and Germany in the 1920s and 30s. The aim is to carve out her artistic practice in its own right, since, here in Germany, she is primarily known as a collaborator of Bertolt Brecht and the lover of Walter Benjamin. They focus on the revolutionary amateur theater practice she developed, which involved collaborative and non-hierarchical forms of participatory play development and stage design. That is, it is not the individual actor that is of concern, but Lācis’ relational way of working with social structures in which and from which she developed her theatrical procedures.

Together with the students, we would like to both visualize Lācis’ activist art practice in its specific historical context and make it tangible in her performative practice. What relevance do these approaches have today?

Starting from her early theatre manifesto “The New Forms in Theater Art” (1921), we will approach Asja Lācis’ practice in the seminar through reading and performative research, especially the proletarian children’s theater, the revolutionary underground workers’ theater in Riga, and the cross-country traveling kolchose theater. To do this, we will explore the traditions of workers’ theater, agitprop and proletkul’t, Meyerhold’s biomechanics, and Sergej Tretyakov’s biography of the thing.

We will explore this field by way of collective readings and performative research. In two block events (each Friday/Saturday), this will encompass theoretical discussions as well as a practical approach to Lācis’ methods.