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The new guys in charge The Moscow authorities fired the heads of three of the city’s top theaters in a single day. An overview of their replacements 

Source: Meduza
Sergey Karpov / TASS

On June 29, the Moscow Culture Department dismissed the heads of three of the city’s theaters. At the Gogol Center, artistic director Alexey Agranovich and director Alexei Kabeshev will be replaced by Anton Yakovlev and Alexander Bocharnikov (and the theater will revert to its old name, the Gogol Theater). At the Sovremennik Theater, a new artistic council will replace artistic director Viktor Ryzhakov, and Yury Kravets will replace director Tatyana Baranova. Iosif Raikhelgauz is out at the Modern Play School theater, to be replaced by Dmitry Astrakhan. The official reason for the personnel changes is simple contract expirations — but the timing suggests otherwise. Meduza gives a rundown of who’s out and who’s in on the Russian theater scene.

Gogol Center

In official documents, the Gogol Center is still called the Gogol Theater — that’s the name it was known by until 2012, when its management was taken over by film director Kirill Serebrennikov. Under his leadership, the previously mediocre Moscow theater transformed into one of the most successful.

Serebrennikov led the Gogol Center until February 2021; he stepped down soon after being convicted of embezzling funds earmarked for one of his theater projects. The court process lasted four years and appeared to be politically motivated: Serebrennikov had regularly criticized the authorities in the past, and the prosecution was unable to prove his guilt.

Serebrennikov was replaced as the Gogol Center’s creative director by actor, director, and producer Alexey Agranovich, whose artistic career was revived by the theater.

Audience members and theater staff viewed Agranovich as a member of Serebrennikov’s team who would continue his predecessor’s mission. Alexey Kabeshev, who had been the theater’s director since 2017, stayed on after Serebrennikov’s departure.

According to the Gogol Center’s own report, in 2021, despite the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, the theater earned as much money as the state spent on it, and in the first half of 2022, it earned even more. The average audience for a Gogol Theater show this year has been 92 percent full.

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In February 2022, Alexey Agranovich signed a letter from a number of theater figures opposing the war in Ukraine. After the start of the invasion, Gogol Center actors stopped taking bows at the end of their shows; instead, a picture of a dove appeared on the stage.

The theater’s new director is Anton Yakovlev. Under his direction, the theater will revert to its old name: the Gogol Theater. Yakovlev, the son of actor Yury Yakovlev, is a theater and film director. He’s directed plays in a number of theaters throughout Moscow and St. Petersburg, including the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater, but he’s yet to have a real breakout show.

Alexey Kabeshev’s successor as director is Alexander Bocharnikov, the former director of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic. Yakovlev and Bocharnikov have not publicly criticized the war.

Serebrenikkov characterized the personnel change as the center’s effective death. “Yes, the Gogol Center is closed. That’s it,” he wrote on Telegram. 

Sovremennik Theater

Director Viktor Ryzhakov became the Sovremennik Theater’s artistic director in January 2020, after the death of theater cofounder Galina Volchek, who served as its artistic director for almost half a century.

Ryzhakov was one of the most well-known figures in Russian theater in the aughts and 2010s. An expert in modern Russian dramaturgy, Ryzhakov is a Golden Mask award winner and a famous acting teacher. Before he took over the Sovremennik, he led the Meyerhold Center for seven years, working with Yelena Kovalskaya to open the Theater Leaders’ School, which has since produced a number of famous Russian directors, set designers, producers, and critics.

In the fall of 2021, after the premiere of a play called “First Bread” at the Sovremennik Theater, the conservative group Officers of Russia issued a complaint to the Russian Attorney General and to Moscow City Hall. At the time, Mikhail Lermontov, chairman of the Culture Ministry's Public Council, proposed official inspections of all of Russia’s theaters for “compliance with [the country’s] national security strategy,” but found little support.

In February 2022, both Ryzhakov and Agranovich signed a letter expressing opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Tatyana Baranova, who directed the Sovremennik Theater under Ryzhakov’s artistic directorship, is being replaced by Yury Kravets. Kravets previously worked as the director of the Aleksander Kalyagin’s Et Cetera theater, and before that served as the deputy director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theater. He also works as an actor.

Rather than hiring a single artistic director to replace Ryzhakov, the Sovremennik is now slated to have an entire artistic council. Who will serve on the council is unknown.

The Modern Play School

Director Iosif Raikhelgauz has been the head of the Modern Play School since founding it in 1989. A number of famous directors have worked at the theater over the years, and while the School may not be Russia’s most prestigious, it’s had its fair share of high-profile premieres.

Raikhelgauz often appears in the media, and has faced criticism for showing a lack of patriotism. In 2021, three women reported to that Raikhelgauz had sexually harassed them. He denied the allegations. 

Raikhelgauz hasn’t directly spoken out against the war, but he ended his collaboration with actor Marat Basharov after Basharov expressed support for Russia's invasion. (Basharov’s earlier admissions that he had beaten his wives didn’t affect his standing at Raikhelgauz’s theater.) Raikhelgauz’s family is originally from Odessa, and he’s well known for his pro-Ukrainian views.

Raikhelgauz’s replacement, actor and director Dmitry Astrakhan, began his career in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he led the Saint Petersburg Comedy Theater in addition to directing several successful films. Astrakhan’s productions in the last decade have found little success.

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Story by Anton Khitrov

Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale

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