Agitprop Theatre By Filewod, Alan
Now widely used as a catchall term to describe politically combative or oppositional art, “agitprop” originated from the early Soviet conjunction of propaganda (raising awareness of an issue) and agitation (exciting an emotional response to the issue), as theorized by Lenin in What Is To Be Done (1902) and institutionalized in the many departments and commissions of Agitation and Propaganda in the USSR and the Comintern after the Russian Revolution. The portmanteau term conveys the terse telegraphic efficiencies of Bolshevik bureaucratic rhetoric. Considered both as a mode of artistic production and a set of formal characteristics, agitprop had an immense impact on modernist cultural practice, particularly in graphic design, visual art, and theater.
In the theater, agitprop developed in Russia and Germany as a mobile form of exhortative revolutionary theater designed for quick outdoor performance. It was adaptive to location, audience, and cast, and suited the sightlines and acoustics of outdoor performance in found spaces. Short phrases, heavy cadence, and repetition allowed performance to project through noisy and unruly audiences. The form achieved widespread popularity in the brief period between the mid-1920s and the coalescence of the Popular Front in 1934, when artistic and political radicalisms aligned in a vision of an artistic practice mobilized by international proletarian modernity; in this, agitprop was theorized as the theatricalization of modernity.