Before 1917, despite of a number of varied Jewish educational, scientific, and cultural societies, there were no theatrical companies. The Jewish Theatrical Society was registered only in 1916 but it did not have time to develop its activity before 1917. The idea of a professional Jewish theatre in Petrograd was partly realized only after the October Revolution. The Jewish Department of Komnats SKSO, established in 1918, targeted some its activity toward cultural and educational aims. One of the articles of its statute read: "To open small proletarian theatres". In 1918, in Petrograd, the first theatrical school in Russia was opened. Producer Alexey Granovsky (Azarkh) ran it.
A.M. Granovsky gathered a small company of semi-amateur actors to teach them the elements of theatre and to create a new, professional Jewish theatre. Naturally, there had been traditions of Jewish professional theatre in pre-Revolutionary Russia; however, the new theatre tried to overcome the stereotypes of provincial Jewish stages and to apply the newest attainments of European theatre.
By January 23, 1919, the school staged its first performance with two plays - "The Blind" by M. Meterlink and "The Sin" by Sholom Ash. The next evening, the school performed two more plays - "Amnon and Tomar" by Sh. Ash and "The Builder" by S. Mikhoels. The next performance by the school was "Uriel Akosta" by K. Gutskov.
The scenery and the music for those performances were by such outstanding artists as A. Benua, M. Dobuzhinsky, I. Akhron, S. Rozovsky. In 1921, the Petrograd Jewish Theatre School was moved to Moscow. The authorities undertook that action to create two contrasting professional Jewish theaters - one in Petrograd with performances in Yiddish ("the language of the laboring Jewish masses") and the Moscow theatre "Gabima" with performances in Hebrew. Plays at "Gabima" were on biblical themes. Considering theatre a powerful means for influencing the masses, the ideologists of the new regime regarded the struggle against Hebrew-language theatre as a part of the struggle against Zionism.
In Moscow, the school got the name of the State Jewish Chamber Theatre, and after 1925, the State Jewish Theatre (GOSET). The head of the theater was S. Mikhoels. The theatre produced works of international renown (Shakespeare, Meterlink) and Jewish dramatic classics (Sholom-Aleikhem, Sholom Ash, Goldfaden), as well as plays by Soviet authors (P. Markish, D. Bergelson, I. Nusinov). M. Shagal, N. Altman, R. Falk, and P. Tyshler took part in the staging. At times, GOSET came to Leningrad on tour. Usually, performances took place in the Manufacturing Cooperation House of Culture (today the Lensovet Palace of Culture) or in the former People's House (today the Music Hall). The last tour took place at the Large Dramatic Theatre in 1948. When Granovsky's school moved to Moscow, the Jewish Dramatic Theatre and Leningrad Jewish Theatre run by M.G. Stroev operated in Petrograd for some time.
In Petrograd, an attempt to establish a Jewish professional musical theatre was undertaken. In 1923, "The Sky Flames" opera was ready for production. The author of the music and the libretto was M.A. Milner. The literary base for the libretto was Jewish tales and legends. A member of the board of the Society of Jewish Folk Music, M.S. Riversman, helped M.A. Milner to fashion the libretto. V.A. Shchuko made sketches for the decorations and costumes. Nevertheless, the opinion of the political editor (censor) was negative. He recommended, taking into account all the expenses already made, that the opera be shown only 3 or 4 times. After the fourth performance, the show closed.
A poster of Jewish Chamber Theatre in Petrograd. 1919