Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




The Phenomenon of New Russian Drama: What’s New About It?

This event was held virtually as a Zoom webinar and streamed via YouTube Live

The Harriman Institute’s Contemporary Culture Series presents a conversation with Maksim Hanukai (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Susanna Weygandt (Sewanne: The University of the South), editors of the volume New Russian Drama: An Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2019) with translator Ania Aizman (University of Michigan) as well as Julie Curtis (University of Oxford), editor of New Drama in Russian: Performance, Politics and Protest in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and Molly Flynn (Birkbeck University of London) author of Witness onstage: Documentary theatre in twenty-first-century Russia. Moderated by Professor Mark Lipovetsky (Columbia University).

New Russian Drama took shape at the turn of the new millennium—a time of turbulent social change in Russia and the former Soviet republics. Emerging from small playwriting festivals, provincial theaters, and converted basements, it evolved into a major artistic movement that startled audiences with hypernaturalistic portrayals of sex and violence, daring use of non-normative language, and thrilling experiments with genre and form. The movement’s commitment to investigating contemporary reality helped revitalize Russian theater. It also provoked confrontations with traditionalists in society and places of power, making theater once again Russia’s most politicized art form. Both politically and aesthetically uncompromising, the plays collected in New Russian Drama: An Anthology, recently published by Columbia University Press, chart new paths for performance while challenging us to reflect on the status and mission of the theater in the twenty-first century.


Ania Aizman is a postdoctoral fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows at the University of Michigan and assistant professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. She is writing a book titled Anarchist Currents in Russian Culture: From Tolstoy to Pussy Riot. Based on archival research and oral histories with artists, writers, and activists, it finds missing links between the nineteenth-century anarchist movements, Soviet underground cultures, and contemporary collectives. It also proposes an anarchist literary theory. Aizman’s other research project focuses on contemporary theater in Russia. For this project, she conducted interviews and performance and rehearsal observations between 2014-2018. Her translations of plays by contemporary playwrights Mikhail Durnenkov, Mikhail Ugarov, and Elena Gremina were published by the Performing Arts Journal and Columbia University Press. An article exploring the anarchist aesthetics of Pussy Riot and the OBERIU was published in The Russian Review in January 2019. Aizman has also written about trophy films, Russian “New Drama,” and the politics of Soviet children’s poems.

Julie Curtis is a Professor of Russian Literature and Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. Many of her publications have been on the subject of Mikhail Bulgakov and Evgeny Zamiatin, but teaching an undergraduate course on Russian drama from Griboedov to the present day sparked an interest in contemporary drama written in Russian in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Two international workshops on this subject held in Oxford in 2014 and 2017 have led to the publication in June 2020 of a volume of essays by scholars and interviews with practitioners: J.A.E. Curtis (ed.), New Drama in Russian: Performance Politics and Protest in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020).

Molly Flynn is a Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Birkbeck, University of London and the author of Witness onstage: Documentary theatre in twenty-first-century Russia (Manchester University Press, 2020). Her research focuses on social theatre practice in Russia and Ukraine and has been published in New Theatre Quarterly, RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, Problems of Post-Communism, Calvert Journal, and Open Democracy. In addition to her work as a teacher and a researcher she is also a theatre-maker and a co-founder of the experimental theatre collective the New York Neo-Futurists.

Maksim Hanukai is assistant professor of Russian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-editor and translator of New Russian Drama: An Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2019). His recent research focuses on Russian theater and performance against the backdrop of contemporary Russian (bio)politics. He also specializes in Romanticism and is in the process of completing a monograph on the tragic works of Alexander Pushkin. His work as a scholar and translator has been published in The Slavic Review, The Pushkin Review, TDR: The Drama Review, n+1, and Stanford University’s Arcade project.

Susanna Weygandt is visiting assistant professor of Russian at Sewanee: The University of the South and co-editor and translator of New Russian Drama: An Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2019). Based on months of archive research, ethnographic observation, and dozens of field-produced interviews, her book manuscript, From Metaphor to Direct Speech: Russian Drama and Performance Theory after 1991, documents a network of playwrights, their aesthetic theories, and the formal experiments of their dramas. Her articles on contemporary performance logically expand her research on Russian New Drama and appear in the peer-reviewed journals TDR: The Drama Review (2016), Stanislavsky Studies (2019), Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema (2018), and in the anthologies Russian Performances: Word, Object, Action (2018) and Greek Mythological Tragedy in Russian and Eastern Europe: Performance, Translation, and Ideology (forthcoming). This research shaped her into a scholar and teacher of visual language, the body, affect, embodiment, and gender in Russian modern and contemporary literature and culture.

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