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The Russian actor, Boris Pekter, first visited the United States in 1965 as a part of the month-long visit of the Moscow Art Theatre to New York City. He noted in his memoir that his encounters with Americans disrupted the stereotypical version of Americans, that he himself had perpetuated on the Moscow stage. Pekter’s “Discovery of America,” as he called it, came four decades after the last Moscow Art Theatre’s so-called “Conquest of America,” in 1923. After difficult negotiations with the Soviet Ministry of Culture, the theatre leadership, and the US Department of State, impresario Sol Hurok managed to bring the company to the United States (as his theatrical rival had done so many years earlier) for an entire month of performances. The long-delayed Moscow Art Theatre arrived with a repertoire that included two Chekhov plays, the Stanislavsky-directed Dead Souls, and the contemporary Soviet play, Kremlin Chimes, performances which romanticized both the nation’s and the theatre’s past(s). This lecture depicts the ways in which these Cold War performances were haunted by past Russian performances in the United States and how this ghosting made it possible to forge and reaffirm relationships that would (re)establish long-term transnational artistic, diplomatic, and political networks.
Valleri Hohman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theater at the University of Illinois, where she teaches courses in theatre history, historiography, and dramaturgy. Her research interests include theatrical adaptation and 20th Century Russian-American cultural exchange and diplomacy. Her book, Russian Culture and Theatrical Performance in America, 1891-1933 (2011), is part of the Palgrave Macmillan Series, Studies in Theatre and Performance History. Her articles and reviews have appeared in the New England Theatre Journal, The Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Theatre History Studies, Theatre Journal, the Dictionary of Literary Biography and Contemporary Theatre Review.