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HomeNews & StoriesDissertation Dive: Teenagers, Acrobats, and the Spirit of Russian Revolution

Dissertation Dive: Teenagers, Acrobats, and the Spirit of Russian Revolution

Emerson faculty members’ expertise and interests are as varied as the students they teach. This is one article in a series about faculty and staff dissertations.

Maria Corrigan
Assistant Professor Maria Corrigan

Name: Maria Corrigan

Emerson role: Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Comedy

Dissertation title: Soviet Eccentrism: ‘A Can-Can on the Tightrope of Logic’

Degree and university: Ph.D. from University of California, Santa Barbara

Why did you want to write about this topic for your dissertation?

I wrote my dissertation about the Factory of the Eccentric Actor, a collective started by extremely young artists who carried the spirit of the Russian Revolution into their art. There is so much that is fascinating about this group of people, but I was shocked to discover how little was written on them.

The group was founded in St. Petersburg (except it wasn’t called that at the time — St. Petersburg was renamed three times in the 20th century) by Ukrainian boys who were 15 and 18 when they met. Around two years later, they wrote “Ektsentrizm,” their manifesto. Over the course of just a few years, these youngsters gathered together a group of like-minded artists, set up a workshop where they trained actors (many of them older than they were) in eccentric movement and performance, and started making films in 1924. Most of the people associated with FEKS had long, healthy careers in the Soviet film industry, but my work focused mostly on what this group was up to in the 1920s.

It didn’t really hit me until a few years after writing the dissertation, but looking back now, I think I was fascinated by FEKS partly because I was also a teenager in St. Petersburg. I went there during and after high school to study music and Russian language. While I didn’t start a collective of acrobats while I was there, the friends I did make were all musicians and cinephiles, and had a major impact on the rest of my life.

Deeper dive: Read a blog post on The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum’s website by Corrigan examining how Charlie Chaplin’s persona, including performances, press coverage, paraphernalia, and more, made him a global phenomenon.

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