The Sculptor’s Days on the Farm

Skroderdienas Silmacos is a bucolic musical comedy by the prolific Latvian author, Rudolfs Blaumanis (1862-1908). The widowed Antonia, mistress of Silmaci Farm, is about to get married again, but one of the many people coming to attend the wedding is her old flame, Dudars the sculptor. It emerges that her fiancé Alexis is unsure of his feelings for her and secretly loves her servant Elina; his main interest in the mistress seems to be the chance to acquire ownership of the farm, though that makes him sound a little more unsympathetic and mercenary than he is in the play. In any event, the story ultimately resolves itself with the prospective spouses correctly matched up, though not before there have been some exciting scenes involving an attack by escaped bees, an exploding stove catastrophe and a sound spanking.

The play was first performed in Riga in January 1902, and was slaughtered by the critics; but after Blaumanis’ death, it came into its own as a nostalgic embodiment of Latvian national identity, something the country really needed during its various periods of occupation and subordination to foreign powers. One strand of the action meant it probably didn’t get revived during Nazi rule in Latvia in 1941-44, but has helped its fortunes thereafter: the sympathetic treatment of a group of Jewish traders, who provide the sub-plot and have their own wedding as part of the happy ending.

But none of the characters mentioned so far have anything to do with the spanking scene. An episode early in the third act concerns three other members of the Silmaci community: Pindaks, his wife Pindacisa and their daughter Ievina. Ievina is caught flirting with Alexis’ younger brother Karlens, and her father threatens to spank her and chases her. She is saved by the intervention of her mother, but the outcome is that husband and wife quarrel and Pindacisa ends up getting the spanking herself: the stage direction specifies that he takes off his belt, takes his wife by the hand, turns her up and spanks her bottom.

There is a lot of leeway for different stagings of this moment, but more often than not, at least in modern productions, it’s done with Pindacisa’s skirt raised.

Quite often, the ‘business end’ of the spanking faces the audience:

And that means there’s more than one reason why it’s wise for the actress to wear heavy-duty bloomers: if they’re too thin, the audience will also get an eyeful of her modern panties underneath!

Skroderdienas Silmacos became the single most popular play in Latvia’s entire theatrical history, and watching open-air performances is now a midsummer tradition.

Just how widespread it is, and the range of possible approaches to the spanking, can be seen from the amount of footage that’s available online: from productions of 1987, 1999, 2008, plus a 2008 youth production, 2009, 2016 and another from 2016. The play has even been done in a marionette production (complete with spanking!), and in 2018 it was turned into a ballet, Antonia #Silmaci (but no evidence of spanking that I’ve seen so far).

There is also a popular and long-running production by the Latvian National Theater, which opened in 2002 and continued for well over a decade. And as you’d expect from the National Theater, it did the play properly – including the spanking.

There’s some scraps of footage to be seen in two trailers.

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