Even the concept of a director carries special weight in the Latvian consciousness: people have appreciated the opinions of a theatre director more than those of the head of state. This theatre tradition, where so much emphasis is placed on the person of the director, has its roots in the so-called Russian school, and it is still valid. On the other hand, the love of stage singing and amusing misunderstandings, Liebesschmerz and hoaxes, didactics, singalongs and happy endings are a borrowing from the Germans.
Latvian theatre has left its mark on the European cultural history through the poet Aspazija: her plays, Zaudētās tiesības (The Lost Rights) and Vaidelote are some of the first manifestos of women’s rights and free will – and the very fact that a play written by a woman could be successful was somewhat unique for this era. Today, Latvia is proud of the New Riga Theatre which has won awards at numerous prestigious theatre festivals in Europe, as well as of its artistic director Alvis Hermanis. His productions have always turned into a cultural event with echoes not just in his homeland, where the shows sell out immediately, but also across Europe. For the production of Shukshin’s Stories with the Theatre of the Nations in Moscow, Hermanis was awarded the highest distinction in Russian theatre arts, the Golden Mask. He is also involved in a number of international theatre projects: for example, in Vienna, he is producing the play Sons, which already proved successful in Zurich. The secret of success for Alvis Hermanis and the New Riga Theatre is a dramatic method inspired by universal humanity, observations and sensuousness, where the body language carefully mastered by actors is more legible than the text.
The Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Drama Theatre will opened its 128th season in 2010 in a newly restored historical building, which is now being recognised as the most advanced theatre building in Northern Europe. The Riga Russian Drama Theatre is the oldest professional Russian-language theatre company outside Russia. The high-quality productions of this Riga theatre have earned ovations from the well-versed Moscow audiences and audiences in other Russian cities, acknowledging the “special Baltic charm” surrounding it.
There is a relatively large number of professional theatre companies in Latvia; moreover, you will find theatres with a well thought-out repertoire and a talented group of actors not just in the capital itself, but in also three other larger cities: Daugavpils (which also has a Russian-language troupe), Liepāja and Valmiera. Interestingly, it is often new productions and actors of the dramatic theatres from outside Riga that aspire to the highest national distinction in the Latvian theatre arts, the Spēlmaņu nakts (Night of the Players) award.
It is also worth remembering that autumn does not just signify the opening of the new season at Latvian theatres: it is also time for Homo Novus, the International New Theatre Festival, which presents new theatrical concepts and possible developmental trends to audiences and theatre professionals alike.