War and Theater: Oksana Dudko on Lviv Theater Artists During WWI

Oksana Dudko

On Monday, March 21, HURI's Seminar in Ukrainian Studies features Oksana Dudko, Shklar/USF Fellow, and her insights into the effect of WWI on the lives and activities of theater artists. We sat down with Dudko for a preview of her talk and more information about the research she's doing at HURI. The talk is at 4:15 in Room S-050, CGIS South, Harvard University. All are welcome.

HURI: Your seminar on Monday is entitled, “Between Art, Politics, and Survival: Lviv Theater Artists in the Time of the First World War.” What can we expect?

Dudko: My talk will focus on the first year of WWI, during which the Russian Empire occupied Lviv/Lemberg. This was a crucial period in the history of the city, and theater actors, like many others, were very affected by the war and Russian occupation.

I’m looking at the effects of the events on theater artists, especially those of the Great Theater: What did they do? How did they continue to carry out their work? How did they survive? For example, at this time the theater artists had to negotiate with two agents: the local City Council that supported theater, and the Russian officials. How exactly did they go about this, and what were the results?

HURI: As a Shklar/USF Fellow at HURI, you’re carrying out research at the Institute. How does this topic fit into the broader project you’re working on? Irena Solska, Polish Actress of the Great (City) Theatre, 1914 (today - Lviv Opera House)

Dudko: My research examines different theaters and artists in Lviv during WWI, and in other cities like Krakow, Warsaw, Ternopil, and Kyiv, where Lviv theaters performed. The title of my project is, “Staging Culture at War: Theater, Network, and Urban Space in Lviv (1914-1918)”. Therefore, the seminar will take a more focused view of this topic, examining one case and one year that’s part of the bigger research project.

WWI is an interesting period for theatre in Lviv because of the historical events and political situation at the time. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were three communities in Lviv: Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian. They all had their national theaters and had contacts in the Russian empire and German empire.

HURI: What inspired you to start researching this topic?

Dudko: By training, I am a historian, and I worked at the Center for Urban History in Lviv, where I run a digital history project, which is an interactive historical map of Lviv.

However, I also had been working as a theater curator for 12 years. I was a program director of two theater festivals, and through this became interested in what happens behind the scenes. What people see – the final product of the show on stage – is just one part of the story. The rest of the story is more complicated, and is also very interesting.

That includes complex communication inside theater and beyond - with the wider artistic community, public, politicians, and authorities of different levels, etc. My research, in looking at the lives of theater artists during WWI, focuses on the behind-the-scenes activities and how they’re affected by changing historical circumstances.

Vasyl Kossak Theatre Company, Chortkiv, July, 1918HURI: Can you share one insight you’ve discovered that’s particularly interesting?

Dudko: One of the aspects I’m looking at is the discussion around the role of theater and entertainment during a time of war. There were questions about whether they should perform or not, whether people should attend shows or not, while the country was fighting and soldiers were on the front lines.

What’s curious is that after the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine began, the same questions arose. They started having very a similar discussion to the one during WWI. On the one hand, it might seem strange to have entertainment, but theater also plays an important role in morale, culture, and national identity.

Oksana Dudko is a historian, researcher and project leader of Lviv Interactive project in the Center for Urban History in Lviv, Ukraine. In addition to her research, she teaches the course "The First World War: Between Historiography and Centenary" at the Ukrainian Catholic University. In 2011 Dudko received her candidate of historical sciences degree from the Vasyl Stefanyk National University (Ivano-Frankivsk). Her research interests include World War I, the social and cultural history of the twentieth century, the history of theater and theater management, contemporary political and critical theater in East Central Europe. During her residence at HURI her proposed research topic will be "Staging Culture at War: Theater, Networks, and Urban Space in Lviv (1914‒1918).

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