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ADOLF ŠAPIRO'S YOUTH THEATER. 1960s AND 1980s

Adolf Šapiro (1939) worked in Latvia for thirty years, turning Jaunatnes (Youth) Theater into an untraditional, high-quality institution and creating striking conceptual productions. Born and educated in Kharkov, Šapiro became the artistic director of the Riga Youth Theater, directing and acting in both Latvian and Russian troupes of the theater. As of his very first stage productions, Šapiro was consistent in the pursuit of his goal of a complex, wide ranging theater for young people, geared toward the thinking spectator.

Šapiro’s method could be characterized as the dynamic or selective realism. In his productions, he followed the principles of psychological realism but also made use of unusual dramaturgy of scenes, circus aesthetics, vaudeville elements, stage metaphors and compositions that lent a wider philosophical and poetical context.  The productions of world classics – plays by Gorky, Chekhov, Ibsen, Brecht, Ostrovsky, and others became professional workshop for the actors. His fresh approach to the works of the Latvian authors (Rainis, Gunārs Priede, Māra Zālīte et al.) uncovered the unexpected and the provocative, adding the experience of original artistic thinking, risk taking, and provocation to the Latvian stage craft.

An unusual interpretation – a tragedy that devolves into a tragic vaudeville  -- was staged of Gorky’s play "Poslednije" (1967). The production received a prize at the "Spring of Baltic Theater" festival and any production directed by Šapiro ever since was an important event. In the 1980s Šapiro’s work at the Youth Theater was also recognized abroad. As expressly ensemble-oriented productions, group portraits with a social philosophical slant, were the productions of Arbuzov’s "City at Dawn" (1970), Brecht’s "Fear and Misery of the Third Reich" (1985), Vassiliev’s "Tomorrow Was the War" (1986) and Priede’s "Snowy Mountains" (1986), which, unusual for their era, were open about the social myths and the related individual and collective tragedies. Šapiro was fearless in playing with the genres: Priede’s lyrical half-tone dramas ("Aivaru gaidot", "Saniknotā slieka") he transformed into eccentric comedies; Rainis’s solstice fairy-tale "Zelta zirgs" into a drama of ideas, Ibsen’s romantic drama "Per Gynt" into an existential tragedy.

In his productions, which were often far-ranging philosophical and poetical essays on the existence of the protagonist in the quotidian and the Universal space-time, Šapiro collaborated successfully with the set designers Mark Kitaev (Chekhov’s "Ivanov"), Andris Freibergs (Rainis’s "Zelta zirgs"), and Ilmārs Blumbergs (Ibsen’s "Per Gynt"). Especially productive was Šapiro’s collaboration with the actress Lūcija Baumane who helped him with educating the younger generation actors. Šapiro also helped such actors as Vera Singajevska, Velsta Skurstene, Rūdolfs Plēpis.

Guna Zeltiņa

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