Volkov, Fyodor

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Volkov, Fyodor (1729-63): Russia, Actor and Playwright.

Fyodor Grigorevich Volkov was the first eminent Russian actor, and considered the founder of Russian professional theater. Having cultivated a taste for theater in Moscow during the 1740s, he returned to his native Yaroslavl and formed a company from among his family and friends. Hearing of its popular success, Tsarina Elizaveta Petrovna summoned the troupe to St. Petersburg in 1752. After a winning performance of Sumarokov, Aleksandr’s Khorev, eleven of the actors (Volkov among them) remained in the capital to study and give public performances.

In 1756, the Tsarina established a state theater for Russian plays. The company, composed of the former Yaroslavl actors, was placed under the management of Sumarokov. While this was a momentous action in Russian cultural history, charging the public purse with the establishment of theater, it was undercut by the notably small amount of funds partitioned to the company. Although Volkov’s productions were treated condescendingly by the nobility and largely attended by the middle class, the establishment of the Russian Patent Theatre marks the genesis of enduring professional Thespian performance in Russia.

While he is most eminent for his work as actor/manager, Fyodor Volkov strongly affected the drama of Aleksandr Sumarokov, who adjusted his neoclassical verse to accommodate Volkov’s passionate temperament and natural expression. Volkov introduced many major 18th century Russian actors, such as Yakov Shumsky and Ivan Dmitrevsky, who first performed in his Yaroslavl troupe.

Further Reading:

Leach, Robert and Victor Borovsky, ed., A History of Russian Theatre, 1999.

Benjamin Fisler