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RAT RUSSIA. 1992

Directing-MAT
DO Theatre -- Russian Page

Nobody knows how many of them are in Russia. They stopped counting th.em, even in Moscow and St. Petersburg. They die and are being born every day. Yes, on a daily basis. I counted them in St. Peterburg in 1992; I tried. This constant flow of changes forced me to drop the idea of the publication of "Studio-Theatres of St. Petersburg." When I came back in 1993 after a semester in Alaska, I couldn't find many of them. The addresses, the names, the phone numbers -- everything was different....

Directing-Directory

...Audience = meeting, appointment. (dic)

They have no space, they perform on demand or occasion, but they have their audience. Critics lost interest in them. Number of their performances is something from the past (sometimes no more than two or three). Are they clubs, groups, clans? Studio theatre = experiment. They have to be experimental. They only can have their public.

STUDIO THEATERS: St. Petersburg

According to some Russian experts, not long ago there were around three thousand (!?) small studio-theaters in St. Petersburg. In late Spring of 1992 there were 68 small theaters actively operating. Now this number is much smaller. For the 1994 Fall Avant Garde Festival at the Baltic House there will be less than ten! 2.500% a year inflation in 1992 crashed Russia and many of the new theatre groups practically vanished. The survivors have no new shows, actors making money on the side and theaters getting into all possible business ventures from selling potatoes to doing "presentations" for banks.

There are four-five mini-festivals a year of non-traditional theaters in St. Petersburg. They have all the characteristics of an alternative culture, including Performance Art (Pushkinskaya 10 is a well known art colony).

"1. The rejection of traditional drama and the idea of text, and with that a rejection of language. 2. The search for new performance techniques and the search for a spiritual significance in performance. 3. The exploration of new actor-audience relationships, particularly the placing of the audience at the center, where it might be menaced by the performers."1

The word "performance" made it into the Russian language and many experimental directors prefer it instead of traditional "show" (spektakl). Since many small theatre groups do not have their own stage or space, they are used to a flexible environment, including the streets. Some groups spend the summer season in Europe and have to be understood by non-Russian audiences which makes the departure from a text-based show even more radical. Within Stanislavsky's system improvisation was used mostly as a rehearsal method. Now teaching Stanislavsky's methods isn't institutionalized and Improv becomes an art form in itself.

There are several characteristics we are familiar with in Avant Garde theatre the Russian Studio-Theaters explore:

1. "Guerilla" tactics -- bringing the performance to people in non-theatrical places and without mediation or warning.
2. Use of "found" space, ignoring or rejecting traditional theatre architecture and the idea of an established theatre location.
3. "Environmental" theatre, whose performance space and audience space interpenetrated.
4. Redefinition of the nature and function of dramatic text, as a "pretext", a "spring-board", or an irrelevance.
5. Redefinition of acting and the actor's way of life, including: a) Improvisation as performance, b) The theatre company as a community or commune, c) The actor as ascetic (saint) or disciple (of a guru or a prophet).
6. Redefinition of the audience, including: a) Changed ideas of what is common to an audience (so that, in guerilla theatre, what became common was the accident of being in a certain place at a certain time; or, in feminist theatre, what became common was their feminism). b) Changed ideas of audience size; usually, these ideas rejected the commercial dependence on size as a function of income and experimented with the extremes: audiences of one or none, or audiences of a hundred thousand (as at rock concerts). (p.529)

Paradoxically, with the fall of communism both the quantity and the energy of avant-garde theatre seemed to decline. During Perestroyka years Russian Theatre went through missed experimentation of new ideas in art. Very much like in the West new Russian theatre went into the blurring of the boundaries between the arts. "The idea of an art rather than several arts goes back to well before World War II and was embodied in the career of Jean Cocteau. In the fifties, there were an increasing number or artistic events that had to be given new names, because the names derived from traditional criticism did not suffice. Many were called happenings, pieces, or events (in Russia they are called "actions" (akzya) A.A.). They crossed supposedly established lines between, for example, sculpture and theatre...

The Emphasis on Art as Process. Techniques like improvisation as "action" art forms.

This process could be viewed as late lessons of the sixties, but the strong theatrical tradition in Russia (including experiments of revolutionary theatre in 1920s) gives its unique charm to modern Russian avant-garde. In many ways it's not original but a restoration of forgotten experiments. The Meyerhold Center in Moscow opened several years ago didn't produce anything aesthetically noticeable.

...Studio theaters are cropping up here and there, just as in Moscow, but it is too early to draw conclusions about the quality of their work...
(From St.Petersburg newspaper "Teatralnaya Afisha", Spring 1993)

Here's a statement by the organization which meant to serve as a theatre guild, or an alternative professional union for studio-theaters. In the west such organizations would have a non-for-profit status and since Russia still has no developed laws for cultural institutions this association by 1994 went down to one active member only, its president. There are no state or local administration funds available.
The Association "In Good Faith"

St. Petersburg Association of Independent Theater Studios was established in October 1989 by the theater studios themselves. The title of the association can be decoded simply: Theater and Studio Association, Studio and Theater Faith. This is a faith that we need theater and the rebirth of a variety of theater life in St. Petersburg is real and essential; for the "inquiring minds" who want to know "The Association on Faith" was a Russian official term that defined the form of establishing an association for the workers of creative enterprise on the grounds of equality and most importantly absence of exploitation.

The Association includes theaters without it mattering what aesthetic orientations they may have, whether they are traditional or extreme avant-guard; it only matters whether they have a seed of life theater. The theaters, groups, theater studios that are official members of the association are: "The Theater of Absurdity", "ASK", "Little Lost Dog", "Magic Veil", "Time", "YesNo", "Diklon", "Theater of Rain", "Drama Laboratory", "Complex - TAK", "KRIM", "Foliage", "Raspberry", "Mimigrants", "Modern", "Bridge", "NEO", "Reflection", "Crossroad", "Alteration", "Under the Roof", "Five Corners", "Tap Show Club", "Traveler", "Tay", "Theater Research Laboratory headed by V. Maximov", The Association of Dramatic Actors "Clown".

Festivals, fund-raisers, shows, and tours abroad are but the facade of the life of the association, but it doesn't define the meaning of the existence. Several cultural projects are in progress; they are: "Suburban", "Country Theaters", "House of Festivals", "The Center of Alternative Theater named after V. Meyerhold", "Theater Stock-market".

And we do hope that the city has a need for the diverse theaters listed above, and that there won't be lack of sponsors, and that theater is something one can not do without.

Solomon Tressor, President of The Association of Independent studio-theaters "Comradery (based, rooted) in Faith"

194018 POB 117 ph. 550-2866


PERFORMANCE ARTS

Most of Russian theaters are dramatic repertory companies by their origins. Actors are trained according to Stanislavsky's system of psychological realism; directors understand every show as their own personal artistic statement and Performance Arts concept is relatively new for them. Only small studio-type theatre groups risk experimenting with such forms. Fortunately and ironically many new firms and companies like to have "business presentations" at bank or store openings and employ actors to perform "art pieces". The pay is great, ten times more then they could get in theatre. The following listing is composed out of such groups entering Performance Arts area. (Full list with addresses and phones on a different page. Here are only the companies we work in 1992).

Short List:

Open Theatre

Igor Vladimirov, Artistic Director, St.Petersburg Repertory Theatre with main stage productions in traditions of Michael Chekhov and the second stage program is affiliated with the studio-theatres. Became fully commercial.

Formal Theatre

Andrey Moguchy, Artistic Director, a new theatre group of eight actors with experimental innovative shows.

Metamorphosis

Olga Chernyavskaya, Artistic Director, performance group focused on studying and developing old Russian rituals.

Refuge of Comedian

Yury Tomoshevsky, Artistic Director, a theatre with long established literary traditions.

Jupiter Theatre

Vladimir Malyshitsky, artistic director, small theatre company dedicated to developing new scripts.

Interstudio

Mikhail Husid, Artistic Director, theatre exploring borderline between life actors and puppetry.

"Terra Mobile"

Vadim Mikheenko, Artistic Director, performance art group, combining the ballet theatre with elements of pantomime, clowning, break-dance, and street theatre.

Mimigrants

Alexander Plushch, artistic director, pantomime group.

Other theatre groups also were taking part of the Russian-American Theatre program: "Academy of Fools", Theatre "OF," Theatre "Raz-Dva-Tri," Theatre "Da-Net," Theatre "Island", and other groups.

(Written in 1992)

PS. "Golden Mask" 2003

Pre-publication version of an article to be published in the Moscow Times WEDNESDAY April 16, 2003. Any and all quotations of, or references to, this article must cite John Freedman. (c) 2003 John Freedman. The final version will be available with accompanying photo on WEDNESDAY at www.themoscowtimes.com
By John Freedman

ST. PETERSBURG - Even a stage full of stars couldn't hide it: It took a bunch of clowns to salvage the awards ceremony for the 9th annual Golden Mask Festival, honoring productions that premiered during the 2001-2002 season.

On a night when Moscow artists ran away with the majority of awards for the 18-day festival that was held for the first time ever in St. Petersburg, and when such luminaries as the directors Kama Ginkas and Lev Dodin, the ballerina Ilze Liyepa and the actor Alexander Kalyagin were honored for their work, most of the spectators inside the sumptuous Mariinsky Theater on Monday night seemed destined to fall asleep until the stage was invaded by the St. Petersburg-based clown outfit Litsedei. Their job was modest -- to hand out four awards in the category of puppetry -- but they noisily marched through the hall and boldly took the stage like conquerors and saviors wrapped into one.

Ridiculing everyone as they danced and mimed and cut up, they repeatedly attacked Ruslan Kudashov of St. Petersburg's Potudan Theater in an effort to keep him from receiving his best puppet director award for "Nevsky Prospekt" ; they smothered Svetlana Mikhailova of the Arkhangelsk Puppet Theater in kisses before inundating her in red paper hearts as she accepted her award for best puppet actor in "Hamlet, Prince of the Danes"; and they set up roving human barricades when a man stepped forth to receive the best designer award for "A Winter's Tale" by the Kukolny Dom Theater from Penza -- then chased him away angrily when it turned out he was a stand-in for the absent winner Konstantin Melnikov.

Waging a counter attack, the entire cast of "Nevsky Prospekt" took the stage to receive the award for best puppet show, but they were no match for the half-dozen Litsedei clowns who sprayed rain on the actors, tugged at their clothes, covered them in colored wigs and generally behaved abominably to the utter delight of the crowd.

Things were much calmer in the early going as Moscow systematically hauled in seven of the eight major awards in opera and ballet. Liyepa took best female dancer for her work in the Bolshoi's "The Queen of Spades" while her partner Nikolai Tsiskaridze won best male dancer. "Roland Petit's Evening of Choreography" at the Bolshoi was named best ballet, but Petit and other nominees were snubbed when the jury declined to bestow the best choreographer award.

In opera, Moscow's Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater enjoyed a near sweep with its production of "Madame Butterfly." It was honored as best opera and also garnered best female singer for Olga Guryakova, best director for Lyudmila Naletova and best designer for Yelena Stepanova. Vladmir Ponkin was singled out as best conductor for his work on "Lulu" at Moscow's Helikon Opera. No award as made in the male singer category.

"Nord-Ost," the musical that was the object of a terrorist attack last fall, was named best musical. Accepting the award was co-director Georgy Vasilyev who stated that it had been important to remount the production after the tragedy in order to show that "good is stronger than evil not only on stage but in life, too." The show's star Yury Mazikhin was named best male performer in a musical while best female performer went to Teona Dolnikova for her work in "Notre Dame de Paris" at the Moscow Operetta Theater. No award was made for best director of a musical.

Several heavyweights walked away with awards in the field of drama. Kama Ginkas, who had never won an individual award despite four nominations in the past, finally copped the best director award for his exquisite production of "The Lady With the Lapdog" for Moscow's Theater Yunogo Zritelya. It also was named best small-stage production. Best large-stage production went to "The Moscow Choir," directed by Igor Konyayev and Lev Dodin for St. Petersburg's Maly Drama Theater-Theater of Europe, while this show's sublime star Tatyana Shchuko was tabbed best actress.

Alexander Kalyagin, the chairman of the Russian Theater Union who was one of several official presenters throughout the evening, was named best actor for his comic turn as a clown-like ruler in "Ubu Roi" for Moscow's Et Cetera Theater.

But for all the artists who walked away with awards, it was the impudent Litsedei clowns who for a few bright moments brought the slumbering house to life and turned an otherwise mundane theatrical holiday into a genuine celebration.

***Other awards:
Best Modern Dance Production: "Expectation," Theater of Modern Dance,Chelyabinsk.
Musical Jury Awards (2): "Wedding Cortege," Choreographical Miniatures Ballet Theater, St. Petersburg; and Svetlana Matveyeva, singer for the Yekaterinburg Experimental Musical Theater.
Critics' Award: "Wanderers and Hussars," OKOLO Theater, Moscow. Audience Appreciation Prize: "Oblom Off," Playwright and Director Center,Moscow.
Innovation Award: "Sine Loco," AKhE Theater, St. Petersburg. Best designer, drama: Yury Kharikov, "Mother Courage," SamArt Theater, Samara.
Drama Jury Awards (2): "Kashtanka," Theater Yunogo Zritelya, Yekaterinburg; "Oedipus Rex," Theater Na Liteinom, St. Petersburg. Lifetime Achievement Awards (2): Yury Grigorovich and Lyudmila Zhivykh.***

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I did it many times; in the 80s and 90s...

This is how I did learn English myself...

I mixed American an Russian actors. We did translations as workshops. We did the shows in two languages...

I placed the Russian texts to help me to translate "Four Jokes and One Funeral" -- UAF Fall 2005 show.

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