Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS)Producing the next generation of performing arts talent

Producing the next generation of performing arts talent


GITIS’ performance art producer students are trained to inspire and manage concert, theatre and TV shows

Elshan Mamedov likes to quote a phrase from the Soviet Union-era circus to explain his philosophy on teaching the arts producers of the future: “To put one’s nose in the sawdust.”

“It means that one can only experience circus skills in the arena – and it’s true for the rest of the arts as well,” he says. “The earlier students experience theatre, the better.”

Professor Mamedov, a course leader in the producing department at the Russian Institute of Theatre Arts (GITIS), is a graduate of the institute’s theatre department and also holds a PhD in art criticism. When arts producing courses were introduced at GITIS 40 years ago, they were included in the theatre history and criticism faculty, but production became its own department in 1994. Today, it trains students to be expert producers capable of inspiring and managing a wide range of shows.

GITIS’ performance art producer degree requires the study of subjects such as the history of Russian and international theatre, how to manage production finances and the latest technologies in theatre management. The five-year programme also features practical training at major Moscow theatres, concert halls and television companies.

At a time when the theatre is facing threats from on-demand platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, Professor Mamedov says that it is essential to understand – and teach – the latest trends. “I visit international theatre cities and watch everything new, modern and sensational, then I describe my impressions in detail to the students,” he says. “They have to realise the existence of the great global theatre, not only Russian theatre.” That international mindset helps GITIS to organise regular events and exchanges with students and theatres from countries such as the UK, China and former Soviet republics.

Professor Mamedov believes that the way traditional theatre performances are being reimagined is an opportunity and a positive sign for the future of the arts. “There is a lot of talk about the decline in interest of puppet theatre, for example,” he says. “But what does the success of the sensational musical version of The Lion King mean? It’s a new way of seeing puppet theatre. It’s puppet theatre, but in modern wrapping.”

In his own career, Professor Mamedov has never been afraid to innovate. His production company, Independent Theatre Project, which has been operating for three decades, was one of the first private producing companies in Russia. Its current productions include the works of the celebrated playwrights Neil Simon and Edward Albee. He is also credited with creating a new genre of musical theatre with his popular stage show Moscow Boys.

“All my long-running, successful productions were made against general trends,” he says. It is that passion, combined with creativity and financial competence, he tells his students, that is essential for a successful producing career.

“My main advice to young people is to answer honestly [Russian literary critic] Vissarion Belinsky’s question: ‘Do you love theatre as I do; that is, with all the power of your heart?’” Professor Mamedov says. “One can exercise management in various spheres, but one cannot exercise theatre management without love.”

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