Serf theater (kripatskyi teatr). A theater that appeared in eastern Ukraine in the 18th century, with the imposition of serfdom in the former Hetman state. In the manner of their Russian counterparts, Ukrainian landlords adopted the serf theater, themselves acting as directors. The serf theater repertoire consisted mainly of Russian, French, and Italian plays imported by the landlords from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and the West, ranging from dramas and operas to ballet (see, for example, Rozumovsky's Theater). The actors and musicians were illiterate peasants, and the costumes and scenery were the work of local serf craftsmen. Ukrainian plays were occasionally staged—dramas by Ivan Kotliarevsky and Hryhorii Kvitka-Osnovianenko and vaudevilles by Vasyl Hohol-Yanovsky and D. Dmytrenko—particularly in the Kharkiv region. The best-known serf theater troupes were maintained in the Chernihiv region, by D. Shyrai in Spyrydonova Buda, A. Budliansky in Pantusove, and Hryhorii Tarnovsky in Kachanivka; in the Poltava region, by Dmytro Troshchynsky in Kybyntsi; in the Zhytomyr region, by A. Ilinsky in Romanove (some actors of his troupe even received their musical education in Italy); and in the Kharkiv region, by A. Khorvat in Holovatyne. Serf theaters disappeared in the mid-19th century, but not before they had facilitated the emergence of professional theater in Ukraine and produced scores of well-trained actors.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]