Merle Karusoo

Plays Merle Karusoo


About Merle Karusoo


Merle Karusoo (1. VII 1944) is a stage director and writer, known chiefly as a collector of Estonian biographies and by the written and staged works based on them.

She was born in Harju county, was educated in Tallinn, and studied stage direction from 1961 to 1963 at Viljandi Secondary School of Culture, from 1968 to 1972 Estonian philology at Tartu State University, while working at the same time in a sociological laboratory of the university, and from 1972 to 1976 in the Drama Faculty of the Tallinn State Conservatoire. She got her master’s degree from the Tallinn Pedagogical University in 1999. She has worked as a director at the Estonian Drama Theatre and the Youth Theatre. She also worked as a lecturer at the Drama Faculty of the Tallinn State Conservatoire (later renamed as Drama School of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre), the Tallinn Pedagogical University and the Viljandi Culture College, and also as Professor of Liberal Arts at the University of Tartu (in 2014).

With her debut play, Kõik oleneb meist (‘It All Depends on Us”, 1966), Karusoo’s name became linked primarily to sociological theatre, and various documentary projects. In the late eighties Karusoo was one of the initiators of the campaign to collect Estonian biographies, which turned into hugely popular nationwide project. In her own theatrical work Karusoo has used the concept of memory and biographical theatre; her productions are mostly based on interviews or other documentary materials (letters, diaries &c.). For example, the basis of Ma olen 13-aastane (‘I Aam 13 Years Old’, 1981) are texts by schoolchildren. In her depiction of the world of the young, she is also reflecting society and its problems. The experience of one generation is also projected in Meie elulood (‘Our Life Stories’, 1982), Kui ruumid on täis (‘When the Rooms Are Full’, 1982), Täna me ei mängi (‘We’re Not Playing Today’, 2006). Amorous and sexual experiences from different times and generations are represented in Kured läinud, kurjad ilmad (‘The Cranes Are Gone, the Weather’s Bad’, 1997), and Küüdipoisid (‘Deporting Boys’, 1999) which tells of the deportations from the deporters’ viewpoint. Karusoo has also staged the stories of several cultural figures from Estonian history, such as Katrin Saukane’s plays about Marie Under (Under, 2006) and Betti Alver and Heiti Talvik (Võlg – ‘Debt’ -, 2007), and the jointly written work Laul, mis jääb (‘The Song That Remains’, 2014) about the composer Raimond Valgre, and Andrus Kivirähk’s Panso (2007) about the legendary stage director Voldemar Panso.

Karusoo has published books about Panso and was also one of the editors of Panso’s diaries (I-II, 2007). Karusoo’s scripts of the staged biographies are collected in Kui ruumid on täis: Eesti rahva elulood teatritekstides 1982-2005 (‘When the Rooms Are Full: The Estonian People’s Life-stories in Play-scripts 1982-2005’, 2008). A selection of her essays, speeches and thoughts from the years 1985 to 2019 is presented in Tunnistamisi (‘Testimonies’, 2019).

Merle Karusoo has been granted various prizes and awards: the Ants Lauter Prize (1980), the Juhan Smuul prize for the play Ma olen 13-aastane, the Jakob Hurt prize (1989), the title of Merited Artist of the ESSR (1990), the Estonian Theatre Union’s annual prize for a new theatre founder (1991), the annual prize of the Estonian Cultural Foundation (1993), the Estonian National Cultural Award (1998, 2007 and a lifetime achievement award in 2018), the Priit Põldroos prize (1998), the Literature Endowment Annual Award for Misjonärid (‘The Missionaries’, 2005), the Order of the White Star, Class IV (2001), and the Virumaa Literary Prize for Kui ruumid on täis (in 2008).

A. K. (Translated by C. M.)

Books in Estonian

Mida on õpetanud Voldemar Panso: valitud kohti autori teatrikooli-aegsest erialapäevikust. Tallinn: ENSV Haridusministeerium, 1980, 131 lk.
Olen kolmeteistkümne aastane: ühe etenduse lugu. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, 92 lk.
Kui ruumid on täis: Eesti rahva elulood teatritekstides 1982-2005. Tallinn: Varrak, 2008, 602 lk.
Tunnistamisi: mõtteid ja esseid. Tallinn: SE&JS, 2019, 157 lk.
Panso 100. Nii palju kui andsid koerale… Mina, mu õpetaja ja teised tegelased. I. Tallinn: Varrak, 2020, 384 lk.
Panso 100. Nii palju kui andsid koerale… Mina, mu õpetaja ja teised tegelased.  II. Tallinn: Varrak, 2020, 384 lk.