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Critical Independent Theater Company Faces Eviction in Moscow

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Image taken from the teatr.doc Facebook page

The Moscow Administration’s Property Department quietly terminated the lease contract with Teatr.Doc, the small 50-seat independent theater company that has occupied the premises for the past 12 years, on October 15, 2014. The country’s art community was quick to respond to the move, which they saw as politically motivated.  Activists and artists went online to write petitions and letters to politicians in order to prevent the theater’s eviction in mid-December.

Elena Gremina, theater’s founder and artistic director wrote on her Facebook wall:  

Неожиданно Москва ( в лице Департамента Имущества) досрочно расторгла в одностороннем порядке, без объяснения причин, договор аренды с нашим театром. Так что, если вам нравится/интересен наш театр.doc, то советую побывать в этом историческом, не побоюсь этого слова, помещении (которое 12 лет было театром, в котором играли спектакли, проходила Любимовка, Кинотеатр.док и многое другое) – в самое ближайшее время. Потому что вскоре там будет магазин или что-то еще не менее необходимое в нынешние времена!. (предваряя вопросы – аренду и налоги аккуратно платили, пожарные и прочие предписания свято соблюдали,но и это видимо ничего сейчас не значит!) 

Moscow (through the Property Department) unilaterally and unexpectedly terminated the lease with our theater ahead of time without any explanation. So if you like / are interested in our Teatr.doc I advise you visit this historic, dare I say it, space […] in the very near future. Because soon enough there will be a store or something no less necessary in current times! (Anticipating [any potential] questions – our rent and taxes are paid accurately, fire and other regulations complied strictly, but it probably does not mean anything now!)

The city’s property department claimed that the lease was terminated due to unsanctioned renovations. It turns out that the decision was taken on May 5, yet the theater was unaware of such changes. 

According to Elena Gremina the “unsanctioned renovations” refer to a window that was converted into an entrance door in accordance with fire department regulations. Prior to that, people used to enter the theater through the back door.

This decision made a lot of people question the move and wonder who stood behind it.

Нет причины, и она в (заявлении) о расторжении не указывается. Из чего я делаю вывод о том, что дело в спектаклях. Нам уже делали предупреждения, неофициально – не надо политических спектаклей, снимите их

“There [was] no reason [given], and it is not indicated on the termination (statement). Therefore, I conclude that it has something to do with plays. We have already received unofficial warnings,” – Mikhail Ugarov, chief director of the theater told BBC Russian.

There is a chance that some bureaucrat in the government simply decided to take an initiative and punish the theater for it’s anti-Putin expressions.

“I've never heard about Teatr.doc and its problems, but basically there are many theaters in Moscow doing God-knows-what,” – Mayor Sobyanin was quoted on Twitter by Alexey Golubev a journalist for Echo Moskvy.

Located in a basement in one of the buildings in downtown Moscow, Teatr.doc stages political and controversial plays. This month the theater showed a play called New Life about women who were previously imprisoned on murder charges. The theater often brings up topics that are normally ignored in the Russian society, plagued by hatred and lack of acceptance. The theater remains the only space for political performances in Russia.

Tom Stoppard, the iconic British playwright, released an open letter supporting Teatr.doc. First published on the Russian news portal Colta.Ru, the letter says:

Нет причины, и она в (заявлении) о расторжении не указывается. Из чего я делаю вывод о том, что дело в спектаклях. Нам уже делали предупреждения, неофициально – не надо политических спектаклей, снимите их

For generations, Russian theatre culture has been an inspiration in good times and bad, and an object of veneration in the English-speaking world. […] In Russia, Teatr.doc is currently the most important example of a theatre group which, quite apart from the quality of its work which has given it an international reputation, contains the seeds of a vibrant and relevant theatre of the future.

Elena Gremina said in an interview to Colta.Ru:

Потерять помещение для нас — это, конечно, драма. Но, в принципе, «Театр.doc» — это не стены, это люди. И в этом смысле мы, конечно, что-нибудь придумаем. Но что говорить: это все равно удар.

“Of course losing the space is a tragedy for us. However, Teatr.doc isn’t [about] the walls, it is [about] people. In this regard, we will come up with something. Needless to say, it is still a blow,”

This story was commissioned by Freemuse, the leading defender of musicians worldwide, and Global Voices for Artsfreedom.org. The article may be republished by non-commercial media, crediting the author Masha Egupova, Freemuse and Global Voices and linking to the origin.

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