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We tell you what you need to know about the once amateur theater and its amateur artists who were able to compete with the recognized stars.

On October 27, 1927, the Central Theater of Working Youth (TRAM) was opened in Moscow. The purpose of his performances was not so much to entertain the audience as to show them an example of respectable Soviet citizens who praise work and collective.

Komsomol tool

The first production of the theater was “Green Lights”. The premiere took place a little more than a year after the formation of the collective, on November 20, 1928. The artists were temporarily given a building on Spartakovskaya Street, where the Bauman cinema was once located. Tram will receive its permanent home on Malaya Dmitrovskaya only in a few years.

The collective consisted of young people who played in regional theaters, a theater workshop at the Moscow Komsomol Committee (initiator of the creation of TRAM), as well as in amateur theaters at city enterprises. For the artists, this was a reason for pride: during the day to work a full shift at the plant, to contribute to the prosperity of the country, and in the evening to talk to the public about proletarian values ​​from the stage.

We can say that the actors themselves staged Green Lights – one of the students of the director Vsevolod Meyerhold, the creator of the principle of biomechanics, began work on the performance, but he never finished it. Vsevolod Emilievich himself showed great interest in TRAM, went to performances, communicated with the artists, suggesting certain decisions, and his daughter Irina Hold taught them biomechanics. Meyerhold understood that the views of the Tramists on the theater were similar to his own, he supported the willingness of the artists to challenge the established traditions. According to Meyerhold, TRAM was like a breath of fresh air.

However, the first performance was not successful, the audience was not impressed by Green Lights, and theater critics spoke negatively. The play left the repertoire as soon as it appeared, but then the team rehabilitated itself – the following performances were much more successful.

The model and example for the Moscow collective was the Leningrad TRAM, which arose two years earlier on the basis of a working theater studio at the House of Communist Education of Youth named after M.V. Glerona. He became the first in the USSR, gained all-Union popularity after a tour in Moscow, and after him similar theatrical groups began to appear throughout the country. Its creators and participants said that each of their performances is primarily a Komsomol propaganda tool. The heroes of the performances are ordinary workers who selflessly work for the good of the country.

It was from Leningrad – after the failure of the Green Lights – that journalist Pavel Sokolov came to the post of the boss, who had extensive experience in organizational work. He did not want to be called the director, so he was listed on the posters as the organizer of the play. Pavel Sokolov recruited the composer Isaac Dunaevsky, the former musical director of the Hermitage Theater, and the artist Yevgeny Kibrik, who came to Moscow on purpose. They decided to stage the play “Call the Factory!”, Considering that this is a win-win option. It has already been shown by the Leningrad TRAM, and there he was very popular.

Simple and clear

The plays that were going to be staged were discussed by the whole team – moreover, the actors themselves often wrote them. They wanted to be as honest with the audience as possible, so they liked to take the themes and situations that they played on stage from real life – their own or their friends. And the audience accepted it with enthusiasm: such performances were simple and understandable for them, they recognized themselves in the heroes, they won over that they had the same values: work, team, family.

The approach to character creation was fundamentally different. Positive heroes were portrayed as absolute standards, examples of perfection in almost everything, examples to follow. Negative characters were made deliberately ridiculous, even grotesque, but they were also given the opportunity to take the right path. For example, in the play High Five (1929), one of the heroes preferred money, fashionable outfits and entertainment to everything in the world, but in the end he nevertheless joined his comrades at the factory, realizing how wrong he was. The performance was received with a bang.

Among the most popular performances are Oil, Days are Melting, Pensive Klesh, and Anxiety based on the play by the actor and playwright Fyodor Knorre, staged by him in 1931. By the way, there is an opinion that in this case it was not he who directed, but Mikhail Bulgakov. The author of The Master and Margarita worked for some time as a drama consultant at TRAM.

An atmosphere of unity

The decorations – simple and uncomplicated – were mostly made on our own. They liked to depict factory panoramas, use propaganda posters. The principle was the same: the main thing in the production is the content, not the appearance.

The audience liked that the Tramov actors create a performance by and large without looking back at professional theater-goers – the way they feel themselves. A very rare production could do without doing physical exercises, dancing or singing together. If the song was popular, the guests began to sing along with the actors. They went to the theater precisely for the atmosphere, the feeling of unity.

In TRAM there were no famous artists, stars, recognized favorites of the public. Moreover, in critical articles about a particular performance, they never analyzed the performance of one person, the audience did not even always know the names and surnames of the performers. The actors – completely ordinary people, like those who were sitting in the hall – played the collective, not trying to glorify themselves personally. This brought TRAM even closer to the audience.

However, there were also those who saw TRAM as a good start for their future careers. Among them is Nikolai Kryuchkov, the future People’s Artist of the USSR. The young man, who dreamed of connecting his life with the acting profession, during his participation in TRAM played cameo roles in three films: “Horizon”, “Outskirts”, “A special case”.

The influence of the Moscow Art Theater

The life of the theater was divided into before and after in 1932, when a group of Moscow Art Theater directors came here: Ilya Sudakov, Nikolay Gorchakov, Nikolai Khmelev. Sudakov was appointed artistic director. One of his first productions in TRAM was the comedy “Girls of Our Country” by the Ukrainian playwright Ivan Mykytenko.

The story about a team of concrete workers, many and conscientious workers, quickly became popular, it was difficult to get to the play – it was called one of the best of the season. And only a few critics wrote that in the acting game there is now a deeper psychologism inherent in Stanislavsky’s system, which the Tramists always tried to avoid, that this is now not quite the free and uninhibited theater with which the audience fell in love several years ago. But the audience, fascinated by the production, did not pay attention to it.

At the same time, TRAM moved to a building on Malaya Dmitrovka, built in 1907–1908, previously it belonged to a merchant’s club. In 1934, the theater went on tour to Leningrad, where it showed the sensational “Girls of Our Country”, as well as “Wonderful Alloy” by Vladimir Kirshon and “To Be Continued” by Alexandra Brushtein. The audience accepted all these performances with a bang, the success seemed to suggest that the team was moving in the right direction. But that was wrong.

The usual propaganda plays soon began to get bored, outdated, the audience wanted something new. The repertoire was diluted with classics (for example, plays by Pushkin, Ostrovsky and Gorky), but the artists did not know how to transform so much, create new characters, play not themselves in a team, but someone else. More and more angry reviews began to appear, in which TRAM was scolded for the fact that he had lost his identity and could not offer anything in return. The theater was becoming less attractive, and even the play How the Steel Was Tempered (1937) by Sudakov, which was called one of the best in the history of the capital’s TRAM, could not save the situation.

How TRAM became Lenkom

In 1937, the country began to reorganize the theater business. Some theaters were closed (for example, the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions Theater, the Moscow Art Theater-2, the Meyerhold Theater), many collectives united.

The Moscow Central Theater of Working Youth was united with a team led by Ruben Simonov, a student of Evgeny Vakhtangov. Theater-studio Simonov was also quite famous: it staged performances by Ostrovsky, Chekhov, Maugham, Pushkin, among the directors was Andrei Lobanov.

A year later, the new team was given a professional status and given a different name – the Moscow Lenin Komsomol Theater, abbreviated as “Lenkom”. It was headed by director, teacher and actor Ivan Bersenev, who had previously worked at the Moscow Art Theater-2. He brought Rostislav Plyatt, Sofya Giatsintova, Serafima Birman and others with him.

“Living Corpse”, “Nora”, “Front”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” – it was under Bersenev that all these performances appeared, making Lenkom based on TRAM one of the most popular theaters in Moscow.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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