You Pretend to Censor Us and We Pretend to Comply: Staging Ionesco’s Rhinoceros at the Theater-Studio of Southwest Moscow

This paper addresses the typically overlooked relationship between local cultural organizations, such as the Theater-Studio of Southwest Moscow (Na Jugo-zapade), and their interactions with local governmental and party organizations. Other studies focus on prominent theaters, such as the Taganka, and their efforts to expand the bounds of expression prior to 1985. But the difficulties of the most problematic theaters do not provide a model for all theaters. Smaller, less visible theaters, such as Na Jugo-zapade, developed mutually beneficial relations with their neighborhood government and party organizations. I will address this issue by focusing on Na Jugo-Zapade’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. Using archival documents, documents from Na Jugo-Zapade, and an interview with Valerij Beljakovič, the director, the paper will provide background on the theater and the production as well as the evolution of the relationship between the theater and its monitoring organizations up to 1983. When the theater was reprimanded by the Union Ministry of Culture for performing this banned text in 1983, neighborhood officials attempted to shield the theater from repercussions. In fact, the local leaders knew of the performances and at least tacitly allowed them prior to the Ministry of Culture’s edict. Their actions refute the assumption that lower level political organizations obediently followed the lead of central organs; instead they knowingly participated in the expansion of freedom of expression prior to glasnost.