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14 February 2021
Origins of the Komi Theater

100 years ago the first permanent Komi theater troupe was established in Ust-Sysolsk under Viktor Savin’s leadership. As was the fashion of the post-revolutionary period, the name of the group was an abbreviation – Sykomtevchuk, or Ust-Sysolsk Komi theater association. That event paved the way to the foundation of the national Komi theater.

Sixty gifted and active participants of amateur theatrical performances united in the first semi-professional theater. Victor Savin became the director and leading actor of the troupe.

The Sykomtevchuk Komi Theater Association was officially approved by the Department of Сulture on February 14, 1921. The main objective of the association was “to create a national Komi theater, give the poorly educated Komi people, lagging behind in their development, cultural education by staging performances in their native language”.

The theater opened its first season with a play by Russian writer Alexander Neverov, Peasant Women, translated into the Komi language. The play was translated by Agniya Sukhanova, Anna Cheusova and Victor Savin. On February 26, 1921, the Udzh Newspaper published a review of the premiere, signed by anonymous “Theater Lover”: “On February 12, 13 and 14, 1921, Neverov's drama in 4 acts, Peasant Women, was performed by Sykomtevchuk in the Zyryan language with great success in the people's house “.

Victor Savin, founder of the Komi drama theater

Theatrical performances were quite primitive at a time: the scenery was made up of available furniture. The roles were performed in ordinary everyday clothes. Wigs were not known. For lack of glue, beards and mustaches were attached using smashed boiled potatoes; moss was used to imitate a beard, and soot was used instead of makeup. An extra help was needed from the prompter who gave the actors cues and prompted the lines. An accordion was all the music they had. Despite the lack of props and a bare-looking setting, the audience followed the performances with great enthusiasm. Spectators, most of whom had never seen a play in the theater before, discovered a new form of art presented to them in their local dialect.

Following the first play, the association set up new productions that always had a political and social message. It was a theater propagating socialist values, a collective spirit and people’s self-government. A performance often turned into a public meeting; such was the case of Golden Ball (‘Zarni Yokmyl’) in honor of the Paris Commune and Duty (‘Vodzus’), specially written by V. Savin for the Week of Aid to the Hungry. The latter depicted the life of the starving peasants of the Volga region and called for immediate response.

Savin wrote about the first steps of Sykomtevchuk and the theatrical performances of those years:

“The Sykomtevchuk Komi troupe ... put on performances every week and traveled to many districts, and played completely free of charge ... Each new play was greedily grabbed, rewritten and passed from one village to another. But the repertoire was quite small and could not meet the local demands. At this point the amateur creativity of local cultural workers had emerged: they began translating Russian plays, revising them, and our own home-grown playwrights appeared on the scene, quickly concocting plays and producing them on the village stages. They staged anything that turned up. Without paying much attention to the content – with the only desire to arrange a performance, and then come what may. "

People's House in Syktyvkar, 1920s
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