The Theatre True to ItselfAutor: Tatyana Kupchenko
Source: «Cultpokhod», May 2010
The Moscow New Drama Theatre is an unusual theatre. It resides at the outskirts of Moscow, but at that it has rather exquisite and complicated repertoire, where they have the modern plays, the classical time-tested ones, and unknown old plays as “The Jokers” by Ostrovsky or “The Cranks” by Voltaire. For 35 years it had been directed by famous and sturdy directors: Viktor Monyukov, Vitaly Lanskoy, Boris Lvov-Anokhin. Since 2001 it is Vyacheslav Dolgachev. Each time the theatre chose the nonstandard direction of development, presenting the unobvious dramaturgy to the spectators.
The theatre was founded in 1976 based on the graduating class of the School-Studio of MKhAT, directed by Viktor Monyukov. The students played their graduating plays. After two years the leadership was taken by Vitaly Lanskoy who started to work with the modern dramaturgy and made the production of “The Old House” by Alexyey Kazantsev. When ten years later Boris Lvov-Anoknin became the director of the theater, its course changed a little. But it retained its originality and its appeal to the sophisticated audience. In repertoire it still held the exquisite classical pieces: Scribe, Rostand, Choderlos de Laclos. You could see Oxana Mysina, Spartak Mishulin, Vera Vasylyeva on its stage.
Vyacheslav Dolgachev came to the theatre after having worked in MKhAT and having staged there more than one performance; he preserved the theatre’s orientation towards the serious literature. At the same time he not only staged Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Ostrovsky, but also introduced the present-day literature into the theatre. The first Dolgachev’s play here was “The Professionals of the Victory” by Alexander Gelman, the classic of the Soviet literature, with Lev Durov and Boris Shcherbakov in the leading roles. Then “The Robbers” by Schiller and “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” by Tennessee Williams followed. It was important for Dolgachev to make the living theatre oriented towards the real serious task and the theatre of actors, ready to work a lot and hard. For this he had to conquer the audience anew. Today they are mostly the young people who sometimes would come to the theatre even from Zelenograd. The hall for 200 is full five times a week, the theatre has its ‘hits’. “Nastasya Filippovna” is a play to be attended several times to appreciate the integrity of the experiment and to flavour the intense psychological acting on the stage. This is also the stage where “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose keeps its place for eight years. At the same time the plays of the last season are no less interesting: “Taibele and Her Deamon” about the Jewish girl who loved a daemon, “Top Dogs, or The New Adult Games” by Urs Widmer or the play in Noh Theatre traditions “Dojoji Temple” by Yukio Mishima. The Theatre is still alive, provoking the audience for the dialogue with its captivating truth of actors’ existence.
- How did you come to the Moscow New Drama Theatre?
- My last theatre was MKhAT. I left it as soon as Oleg Efremov died, on the forth day after his funeral. A new art director had not been assigned yet, but I knew too well that the era of MKhAT ended and with it the artistic course of the theatre, its priorities and directions were over too. I was almost sure the new man at the place of Efremov would lead the theatre in another direction. I didn’t want to take this turn and decided to leave myself. I need to tell I was happy to work all those ten years in the Art Theatre under on of the greatest people of our theatre. Everyday communications with him was a great personal and professional school for me. I signed the notice to terminate, went out to the street and became unemployed and unclaimed. This is a normal situation. This is the life: now someone needs you and then you are not needed anymore. I even didn’t try to find something in the na?ve hope that somebody will call me. But no one called me and no one proposed me to join their theatre. But then suddenly a letter came from America. I was proposed to teach in Columbia University in New York. I worked there for two years and became a professor. And then I received a proposal to lead the Moscow New Drama Theatre from the Moscow Department of Culture. I knew this theatre from its very foundation as a spectator. I knew its company, I knew what was there for decades. And I was in a deep thought. This is a great happiness when you are proposed something. I think any director has a dream to have their own business. Otherwise it is just a coquetry when they say they have not, any normal director understands there is more freedom in having the situation under control, despite all the difficulties and complexities. I’ve been persuaded a lot — what a great prospect is to lead the theatre at the street of Prohodchikov. I must admit, I bought into it when they promised to make a new building near metro station. It was a final argument, because the main problem of the theatre is its geographical location. This is its destiny, its fate, its peculiarity.
-Anyway, it always had great directors.
-Yes and no. The life here was always difficult. Boris Alexandrovich Lvov-Anokhin considered it an exile after his work in Maly Theatre, and he didn’t hide his opinion. You know, it’s like the exile of Decembrists from St. Petersburg in Yalutorovsk. This is a good town, I’ve been there. I liked it. But it was only for two days.
To move there is another matter.
- Unlike Decembrists you could leave…
- You can leave anytime, the door is open. But when you work hard and invest a lot… Everything here belongs to you already, even the colour of the walls. Now you hung a new curtain, repaired the stage, made a new floor there. Actually, first of all is a collective. The theatre is people. When you make your own company – and it is my own company now, with all its advantages and disadvantages – then how can you give up and leave them? I’ve had talks of leaving all these ten years, but I didn’t. For two reasons. What I had been proposed required more serious reforms than what I have here. Besides I have my own people here. When Anatoly Efros left “Lenkom” and went to Bronnaya, he brought some main actors with him. I thought if it was possible I would bring some of my actors too. These are my notes, my paints, the people I work with.
- The core of you company are the people in their thirties. Did you oriented towards this age deliberatly?
- I must admit there are more actors in their thirties than actors in their forties. Then people fall out of the race. I was a theatre boy, I knew companies of Moscow theatres, I visited them and watched as people disappeared from the galleries in the halls. Georgy Tovstonogov used to say that you can tell if people are real actors when they are thirty. Some naivety and freshness of youth are still there, but there must be also the professionalism, mastery and skills. On another hand the mind and the physical state became less pliable with time. The longevity in actor’s profession is very rare. The same old actors we know and love have gone through the strictest selection. This is very difficult to find good old actors. In any company there are one or two of them, no more. It’s like a ballet: in thirty seven you can do something, but in fifty only Maya Plisetskaya can do it.
- All you life you were engaged in the new modern drama, you participated in the Festival of the new drama “Lyubimovka”.
- I did it before Lyubimovka, in Shchelykovo. I was named the best director of the modern play readings. But then I gave up straight away. I’ve had it enough. All those readings were one big fraud. I thought it was interesting, it was curious, it was a new genre emerging. In those years it was a true attempt to reflect the drama of the reality. Although I don’t think there were many victories to survive centuries, or at least to remain in the repertoires for fifteen or twenty years.
Now we had it all bad altogether. I simply cannot read a modern play. There is a feeling of graphomania practically in everything. The text must emanate something. But their texts don’t emanate anything. I tried to read all those authors. They are good guys, but I am not interested in them. May be I got old?
- Nevertheless one of your latest plays is “Top Dogs” by modern Swiss playwright Urs Widmer.
- This is the play not to survive for long either, as I think. It was written ten years ago and this is not «The Seagull». I understand there are too few of plays like «The Seagull», but it would be great to find them. After all, Nemirovich and Stanislavsky did find “The Seagull” in their time. From my point of view it is even difficult to call “Top Dogs” a play. These are the fragmented pictures of psychotherapy based on the observations. There are practically no characterizations, or rather they are hidden. Everything is hidden there, and it’s possible to draw the persons out of the text, out of the situations. I think it is amazing that the play was written long before the financial crisis happened. I think the author is a serious person who observes everything around him and knows that the European stability and comfort may finish soon, because of the undermining processes. Actually it seemed interesting to me because it coincided with my impression from the first visit to America. The more I saw the more I amazed how everything was beautiful, tasty and comfortably, but the more I was sure all this was unreal and would collapse soon. Take for example the Twin Towers – it is so a challenge to the God, something too daring; when you stay below and they incline a little, it is so scaring. Only twenty years passed, just a moment in history, but they collapsed. The same impression is from the “Top Dogs” play. Twelve years ago the author felt it was near, it was knocking the door. This feeling he rendered through the people: what will happen with the absolutely prosperous people if they are bereft of their comfort?
-Your “Nastasya Filippovna” made after Dostoyevsky is an improvisational play to be performed ten evenings in a session. Why did you want to make such a form?
- You should know that the improvisation is a well prepared thing. We have been preparing the performance for one year and a half. How can you play “The Idiot” novel without rehearsing it? Of course we rehearsed it. The question is what is the technique of performing, what do the actors do. They didn’t repeat anything. The beginning and the end are the same: we begin with the fourth part, when Rogozhin enters Myshking into the apartment where Nastasya Filippovna is laying already, and end with the knock at the door. But what is between… They don’t know themselves what they are going to do each time. And this is the greatest drive. This is a very good school for the actors. Now they even are going to revise the roles they had before. They know they must try to make everything anew, as for the first time. The predetermined pattern should not be predetermined inside. The company saw them and highly appreciated the work of their colleagues; they said all should come through this. Of course, this is impossible, but we should try. By the way, the work for “Top Dogs” also was close to “Nastasya Filippovna”. We made observations for a long time. We made videos, searched the real people who would fit into the text. The audience like to watch something that is acting only now and only for them.
- What makes your theatre different?
- Despite all modern fads and new-fashioned tendencies, despite all the aggressive directions and postmodern settings, our main priority is a person, we analyze the human existence. I want to believe we have the real psychological theatre. There are not so many of them around.
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