Oļģerts Kroders (1921), son of theater critic and historian Roberts Kroders and actress Herta Krodere, was deported to Siberia with his family on June 14, 1941. His parents died of hunger there. Kroders produced his first plays in 1944 in Het, a village beyond the Arctic Circle, in response to a call by a Komsomol secretary. The locals participated in the plays – Anton Chekhov and skits about the heroic fighting by Soviet partisans -- side by side with the deportees, and the public loved them. 

After returning to Latvia in 1956, Kroders could not find work in Riga theaters because of having been repressed. He wrote theater reviews, as a trainee watched Eduards Smiļģis rehearse at Dailes Theater, and directed amateurs at the Typography Workers’ Club. His professional debut as a director was the successful production of Jānis Kalniņš’s opera "Ugunī" at the Liepāja Theater (1959). Over the next five years, Kroders acquired practical skills as a theater director, he read a lot, and studied the theory. Despite lacking systematic education in any of the branches of theater art, Kroders was and is one of the most erudite theater directors in Latvia. In 1964 Kroders went to Moscow to attend the Higher Theater Director course. During Khruschev’s thaw it was possible to put aside the socialist realism dogma. Kroders learned about Antonin Artaud and his theater of cruelty but it was the Russian theater that had the greatest impact on his art. He acquainted himself with Georgy Tovstonogov’s conceptualism and perfectionism at the Leningrad Bolshoi Drama Theater and with Yuri Lyubimov’s open play theater at Taganka; yet his chosen guru was Anatoly Efros with his psychological method. He was also attracted by Oleg Yefremov’s productions at Sovremennik Theater with their provocative neonaturalism. Along with performances by the Berliner Ensemble and Commédie française, Kroders was particularly impressed by Peter Brook’s "King Lear". Among the influences he has mentioned also the famous Polish reformer Jerzy Grotowski.

That same year, Kroders began his work at the Valmiera Theater. In the next ten years, he became one of the most important directors in the 1960s Latvian theater renewal. Inxpired by Sovremennik, Grotowski’s Laboratory Theater, and Ariana Mnouchkine’s Theatre du Soleil, Kroders created a theater of likeminded artists, educating a large group of younger and middle generation actors and believing in the theory, popular at that time, that art can have an impact on the society.  Kroders paid attention to the actors’ creativity, inviting their active participation both in the rehearsals and in the overall strategy of the theater. Benefitting from group travels to Moscow, Leningrad, and Vilnius to learn from the best, Valmiera’s troupe became one of the best in Latvia.

With their psychologically sophisticated character studies and form of physical existence that was consciously approximated to everyday life, Kroders’s productions with their contemporary sensibility helped to undermine the pompous pseudorealism still reigning in Latvian theaters. Both the intellectuals among the audience and the actors were excited by the director’s independent stance and his ironic attitude to the traditional aesthetic canon and the hypocritical and puritanical moral code of the Soviet man. An intellectual dissident, Kroders was most convincing in developing a new approach to the classics, particularly to Shakespeare and Chekhov. In Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" (1966) and "Hamlet" (1972) and in Chekhov’s "Three Sisters" (1974, together with Māra Ķimele), he deheroized the characters, tending to turn them into "our contemporaries" (J. Kots), thus letting the audience to identify with them. In bringing the classics up to date, a process which took place in Latvia parallel to that in the West, Kroders was one of the first and most successful directors. The conflict between the generations in "Hamlet", which the audience was right to take as a metaphor for the conflict between the Soviet regime and the young generation, found its variations in the productions Viktor Rozov’s, Rūdolfs Blaumanis, and Valentin Yezhov’s plays.  

When in 1974, Kroders returned to the Liepāja Theater, his method was perpetuated by Māra Ķimele. As he came back to Valmiera thirty years later, at the beginning of the 21st century, he found lively echoes of the theater of the like minded that he had established in the late 1960s.

Silvija Radzobe

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