Entertainment on the Eastern Front
Lighting for Soviet Troop Shows Furnished by Nazi Rockets—That's How Close They Are to the Front
By Bill Downs
Moscow, June 1, 1943.
Entertainment has really gone to war in the Soviet Union. There is no government-organized or sponsored entertainment for troops such as Britain's ENSA or America's USO-Camp Shows. Russia's theaters at the front are made up mostly of volunteer groups of six or ten actors, singers, and general entertainers who form brigades from the country's most famous theaters such as the Maly and Bolshoi.
Since the beginning of the war over 900 of these brigades have given more than 270,000 performances and concerts for the men in the firing lines, hospitals, and rear units. This includes some 45,000 front performances, 124,000 in hospitals, 124,000 in hospitals, and 100,000 in camps and military institutions. Of Russia top-flight actors and entertainers who have gone to the front, over 60 actors, musicians, and other performances have been decorated by the government for work in the war zones.
Alexander Pokrovsky, president of the Art Workers Union, for one, has indicated that small vaudeville turns are preferable front entertainment. When a troupe arrives, the men usually pitch in and improvise a theater in any convenient field on a truck platform, or often in a large dugout. On some occasions, shows are given one or two hundred yards from enemy trenches.
Lighting Furnished by the Nazis
Recently one group performed for a tank unit assigned to crack a river fortification. The artists reached the front late in the evening. They were held up picking their way through narrow trails in minefields. When they arrived, the soldiers insisted on seeing the entire program. The troupe performed in the open air; the illumination was furnished free by German rockets. The concert really got a big windup with artillery barrage. Before the troupers had packed, the first tanks had crossed the river.
Pokrovsky said that several regular frontline theaters have been founded for the Army and Navy. These companies make regular tours, with costumes, through zones immediately behind the front. Repetoires included both modern and classic plays. Incidentally, one of the most popular groups of the Red Army is the Soviet Beethoven Quartet.
Here is a typical experience at a front theater as told by B.M. Friedkov, Stalin prizewinner as well as an Honored Artist of the government. Friedkov is a leading member of the Leningrad theater, of the opera and ballet. He was a member of the brigade which recently returned from his home city. Friedkov says, "We gave a total of 41 performances on land and sea, visiting bases and units of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Programs included selections from operas, folk songs, and dances as well as hits from classical ballets.
"The reception everywhere was touchingly warm. Our first performance for the land forces was given in exactly the spot where the Leningrad blockage was breached. Often our programs were accompanied by fierce cannonades with shells and mines bursting nearby. Once we were performing near the front when, in the middle of the concert, enemy shells began raising geysers of earth in our vicinity. However, the audiences insisted that we continue. A few men left for our guns to return the enemy fire. We really gave them a show."