Dr. Weygandt gives students intimate look at post-Soviet Russia through theater

Pictured: Dr. Susanna Weygandt. Photo courtesy of Greg Harris.

By Caroline Nixon
Staff Writer

Dr. Susanna Weygandt is the newest addition to the Russian Department. She began teaching at the University last semester, providing a specialized focus on gender and the body in contemporary Russia. She currently teaches Elementary Russian II, Countercultures and Gender Revolutions in Film and Literature after Stalin, and The 20th Century. She has recently published interviews with Russian playwrights Ivan Vyrypaev and Sasha Denisova and New Russian Drama: an Anthology with Maksim Hanukai. She is currently working on her new book, From Metaphor to Direct Speech: Russian New Drama after 1991. 

Weygandt grew up on a small farm an hour outside of Philadelphia. It was on this farm that she fostered a deep appreciation for nature. “I was a nature girl,” she joked. 

Family was instrumental in her exposure to Russian culture, notably when visiting her aunt and uncle in Moscow in high school. “It felt like a whole different world,” Weygandt remarked. “Russian was the most beautiful language I had ever heard.”

After her visit, she tried to take as many Russian classes as possible at Bryn Mawr College. During her junior year, she returned to Moscow, studying Russian theatre at the conservatory. 

Weygandt commented, “There, I realized that things were lost in translation when I compared American translations to their original versions.” She then realized her desire to study the subject long-term. 

After graduating from Bryn Mawr, she studied contemporary Russian theatre at Princeton. “You learn a lot about [Russian] gender and identity through performance,” she said. “Through that prism of censorship, artists had many constraints that manifested in interesting ways.”

Now a professor specializing in contemporary Russian culture, Weygandt has a teaching style that she describes as “best suited for liberal arts.” 

“I use a communicative approach,” she said “Pushing students to use their Russian to solve a task or navigate a situation.” Weygandt added that she believes this applied method also helps with students’ Russian language skills. 

 “There is an elevated level of activeness that is required for students to truly learn a language,” Weygandt said. “That is how they truly learn.”

Weygandt also caters the reading material and media materials to meet student’s interests. “At Sewanee, professors are close enough to students to know their goals, their interests, their majors,” said Weygandt, “I use these interests to draw them into the language. This also helps develop proficiency, specifically in their specialization whether that be politics [or] IGS.”

Weygandt stresses that the “quintessence of education is understanding and finding connection.” Sewanee’s unique nature is found in “its fostering of interdisciplinary thinking.”

Weygandt also uses her expertise in Russian theater to teach students about the transitional period that Russia experienced after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

“Theatre was a form of art that was for the people,” Weygandt recalled. 

She continued, explaining that “tracing the techniques of the plays” she assigns in her classes can give insight into “the inner feelings of Russians” in the Post-Soviet era. “I ask my students ‘What’s the new technique for the twentieth century? What are these plays teaching us about life in the Post Soviet Period?’ These plays gave insight into what people in the [Post-Soviet era] were going through.”