Vyacheslav Dolgachev: «I Feel Myself a Young Pioneer!»Autor: Zhanna Filatova
Source: «Teatralnaya Afisha», November 2010
The inveterate theatre-goers remember his productions in MKhAT: «The Possible Encounter» by Bartz, «Taibele And Her Daemon» by Singer and Friedman, «After the Rehearsal» by Bergman. Now the visitors of the New Drama can watch such plays as «12 Stories of Love» by Chekhov, «The Jokers» by Ostrovsky, «A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur» by Williams, «Dojoji Temple» by Yukio Mishima.
In the season of 2010–2011 Dolgachev plans to stage «The Trial» by Sukhovo-Kobylin, one of his favourite plays.
Contemplating the problems of the modern theatre and heading for the future, Dolgachev remembers the time, he happened to live and work in…
Chapter 1. «So it happened that I took the responsibility for the production of fairy tale «The Magic Swan-Geese» that I made with other children. I was six and it was the first time I was a director».
— I felt myself a director at a very young age. Afterwards I read Peter Brook’s phrase that director is that who can attract people to perform what your want and to make them to do what you need in public. This is exactly what I did in the kindergarten. We had an excellent Soviet kindergarten, and before the school they had a special «farewell party». So it happened that I took the responsibility for the production of fairy tale «The Magic Swan-Geese» that I made with other children. I was six and it was the first time I was a director. But I didn’t know about it at the time. When I visited a professional theatre — it was the Central Children’s Theatre — and when I saw «Rainbow Flower» directed by Anatoly Vasilyevich Efros, I was greatly amazed, I was actually zombifyed by what I saw there for several days. When our excellent teacher Marya Vasilyevna devoted a whole hour for discussing our impressions and asked me what I liked the most, I said it was the man who made it all. «So you want to be a theatre director?» she asked me. It was for the first time I heard of this profession, but I said «Yes» at once. And then for ten years I had been making performances with my classmates in the school. Some of them liked it, others hated it, but they obeyed nevertheless. When the school was over and when we used to meet each other they would say it was so great I had turned them to the theatre.
Brook was right, a director is a man who can gather people around him. You cannot learn this, I am absolutely sure. But you need to study the rules of the theatre. It’s better to know the skill rather than do it by intuition. Because there are too many other intuitive things in this profession. The intuition must be based on something solid. The solid base are the rules of the theatre. They are solid as the rules of architecture, the rules of music, the rules of the art. Before you violate these rules you have to learn them.
Chapter 2. «When I was eleven, I had said to my parents I was going to spend the week-end at the dacha of my friend, but with my spare money I was given to buy food I bought a ticket and went to Leningrad to see the Tovstonogov’s Idiot».
— When I was a boy I never missed a single theatrical premier, I saw a huge amount of plays and I even visited Leningrad. When I was eleven, I had said to my parents I was going to spend the week-end at the dacha of my friend, but with my spare money I was given to buy food I bought a ticket and went to Leningrad to see the Tovstonogov’s «Idiot». I had heard a lot about it. When I went out of the train in the morning I dashed to the first ticket booth I saw and asked a ticket for the evening performance in the BDT (Bolshoi Drama Theatre). There was a man, he looked me up and down and said: «Boy, where are you from? The tickets for this evening are sold several months ago!» I was so upset and discouraged. Why did I go to Leningrad if I cannot see this performance? Nevertheless, I decided to break through somehow. I visited the Hermitage Museum, visited the Russian Museum, ate an ice-cream, bought a bun, and in the evening I went to the BDT. There was a mounted militia at Fontanka already, it encircled the theatre, there was a throng of people who wanted to get into. I was a little boy and I managed to get closer to the theatre. There I saw a sad sight, there was only one door opened, three ticket men on the one side and three on another side of the door… They kept a very close eye on everybody in order no one get into. I thought it was the end of my dream. But I couldn’t leave without watching the performance. I mingled in the crowd and people took me inside. For the first time in my life I vanished, I’d known what it meant to be invisible physically. I inhaled, closed my eyes tight and exhaled already in the lobby. The women who checked the tickets didn’t say a word, they even didn’t notice me. But that was not the end of the story. In Tovstonogov’s time in the BDT they had a very well-trained staff like in an old St. Petersburg theatre. They ushered people to their places and asked almost everyone. I was hiding behind the columns and I was waiting them to come to me and ask my ticket. But sooner or later I had to enter the hall. But then I saw there was an open door at the dress-circle. I ran into the lodge just before the beginning and prayed: «Please, ladies, don’t get me out! May I stay here, I have no ticket!» The women condescended, they let me in and closed the door. I had been staying there more than for three hours. I was hypnotized. When Smotkunovsky came out, it couldn’t be called a mere miracle. I felt I was transported into another galaxy. It was an absolute feeling of a hypnosis, and it was higher than art. At that time I was already an experienced spectator, and after the performance I knew it might be not the best one of Tovstonogov’s. But what Smotkunovsky did, it eclipsed all and sundry. Many years later I had a luck to meet Innokenty Mikhailovich Smotkunovsky in the Moscow Art Theatre, and when he started to rehearse at my production, I told him this story. I have a pathologically good memory for theatre impressions. I recited him that «Idiot» second by second. He was greatly amazed — how old was I, if I remember that so well? He couldn’t believe I had been eleven and that I remembered it so vividly. But this is downright truth. I’ve had a lot of gifts from heaven in my life. One of them is that I had seen Smotkunovsky as Myshkin in «The Idiot». I won’t forget it till my dying day. Another one is that many years later I had the luck to work with Innokenty Mikhailovich.
Chapter 3. «An engineer is a honourable and interesting work, especially if you construct and build aircrafts. But I was not fitted to do it».
I was studying in an ordinary secondary Moscow school. There were good teachers there, we had a good class, I had good friends. But despite all this it was a kind of torment to me, because the majority of my classmates were going to became engineers. They all had a unanimous decision to go to the nearby MAI (Moscow Aviation Institute). An engineer is a honourable and interesting work, especially if you construct and build aircrafts. But I was not fitted to do it. At last, when I was in the seventh grade, I realized I needed to find something related to theatre. And I found the School 710 under the Academy of Sciences where they had a school theatre. A school theatre! It was incredible! It was the dream of my life! When I had known this I ran there, but the admission was over unfortunately. I was nearly crying. A woman was walking past me and she asked why I was so sad. I told her I wanted to enter the school but was late. There were three departments in the school, the humanitarian department, the chemistry and biology, and mathematics. Of course I wanted to be at the humanitarian department to study theatre. But she proposed to enter the chemistry, there were places left. I was greatly surprised, because I had no interest whatsoever to chemistry, but then I realized I could attend the theatre nevertheless. And so I enrolled to the Chemistry And Biology Department. I was perhaps the worst student there, I learned nothing of it. It was a horror and a nightmare. Anyway I fully surrendered myself to the theatre…
Chapter 4. «Having finished the second year of the University I realized I couldn’t live without theatre anymore… I had to leave the university».
After school I went to enter GITIS (State Institute for Theatre Arts), the class of Maria Iosifovna Knebel, and I made it up to the third round. I was sure I had entered already. But then there was an interview and Knebel asked when I was born. I was so thin a young man, with spectacles and big ears, I was thinking over the answer, to lie something. While I was counting years she got it that I was going to cheat and said: «Don’t spin a yarn, young lad, I’ll look your personal file». She looked there and she was very surprised: «So you’ve just finished a school? You know, we liked you, but we don’t take school leavers. You have to know the life, to go to study somewhere else». «Where?» I asked almost crying. «Well, at the Philological Faculty, for example. So I entered the Philological Faculty of the Moscow University. And I am still grateful to her for this. As well to all those teachers there, because I attended a brilliant special course of lectures «Pushkin and Realism» and «The Dramaturgy of Pushkin» by Sergey Mikhailovich Bondi. It gave me more than the other university lectures, that is Latin, Phonetics and so on… Those lectures of Bondi were unique. I still rely upon this base, because he opened my eyes on what is the real high poetry and what is dramaturgy. Having finished the second year of the University I realized I couldn’t live without theatre anymore. I still attended theatres and took part in student amateur performances, but it was not enough. I had to leave the university. When I came to GITIS I knew I couldn’t attend the class of Knebel, they had the third year already. The production of Tovstonogov that I had seen made me think I had to study under his supervision. I went to Leningrad and studied there. Then there was GITIS, I graduated from it in 1975.
Chapter 5. «I was called into Smolny, there they berated me a lot, incriminated me the sympathy to alcoholics».
— In Leningrad’s Youth Theatre on Fontanka I made a production «Girls, Your Boy Has Come» after the works of Petrushevskaya. I still consider it one of my best productions. And the most favourite one. May be due to the tragic fate of the play. It ran only three times and then the Party Committee of Leningrad region closed it, in spite of the tickets having been sold for three months ahead. I was called into Smolny, there they berated me a lot, incriminated me the sympathy to alcoholics. But in this work after Petrushevskaya’s «The Stairwell», «Cinzano» and «Smirnova’s Birthday» I decided not to kick those people, but to comprehend the origin of this social phenomenon. It was a play about the tragedies of the characters, about their desperate lives. I think in this work I managed to combine all that I acquired in this profession, as well my personal life, my attitudes. All this combined and manifested to the full extent in exactly this production «Girls, Your Boy Has Come». After then I used this experience in another works, more or less…
Chapter 6. «Even when you see the imperfections, you still have tender feelings towards it. After all, this is your child, you cannot stop loving it even if it has some shortcomings…»
— I am not strict with myself. This is true. Some people say they don’t like anything they do. (I wonder what reaction of the audience they expect if they don’t like their work themselves?) But I like everything I do, I like it a lot. I am strict while working, but I love what I’m doing, because you can’t do anything without love. I need to fall in love with everyone I work with and with anything I work upon. I didn’t make entirely bad plays. Some of them were more perfect, some of them were less perfect. Even when you see the imperfections, you still have tender feelings towards it. After all, this is your child, you cannot stop loving it even if it has some shortcomings. When you are in love you cannot be estranged. I wonder at people who blame their work, because they don’t like it. If you don’t like it — go away! Of course you aim is the perfection and the harmony, but you cannot reach them absolutely. You are just getting closer and closer, you hear them call. It makes you work further. When the production is over and you see it half a year later, for example, you see some shortcomings. But it is not so simple. Now, when I am an artistic director, and when I directed plays in MKhAT, I always watched my productions, I commented and corrected actors. Sometimes actors say why was he so strict and particular at the rehearsal, but now he is so calm and doesn’t object the changes. But the production is like a living person, it does change. You cannot have the similar demands to sixteen years old person as to the sixty years old. When the production lives, it is getting away from you. This is partly yours and partly not yours. What can I do with it? Nothing. I love my daughter, but I don’t like something in her. So what? I keep loving her as she is… The love is only getting more complicated.
Chapter 7. I was forty, but I kind of came to my destination! It was strange and sad. But the MKhAT period itself was the most happy time in my life».
— For the first time I came to the MKhAT when I was a schoolboy, I saw Nemirovich Danchenko’s «Three Sisters». I was bemused, although it was not by any means the first cast there (the production was made in 1940 and I saw it in 1965 or so). I was in the dress circle and I nearly fall, such was my delight. When I came out I thought it would be the extreme happiness for me if I would come there not as a spectator. And it happened so. It was one of the most tragic day in my life. I was taken there not alone. Oleg Nikolayevich Efremov saw my graduation production in the Schepkin Higher Theatre School, «The Tales of Melpomene» by Chekhov, and invited me and the majority of students to MKhAT. It was amazing by itself, the unprecedented case when almost all Schepkin School went to the Art Theatre. The students were absolutely shocked. Fifteen of them! They were all so exited, but I was grim, everybody was wondering why. You know, I dreamt of it all my life, and when the dream came true, there was a frightful question — what then? There is nothing higher, isn’t it? I was forty but I kind of came to my destination! It was strange and sad. After that culmination an inevitable downturn would await me. I still needed to stay there, at the summit. But the MKhAT period itself was the most happy time in my life. Because the everyday communication with Oleg Efremov was another unbelievable gift of heaven to me. It is one of the key acquaintance in my life. Not only for me, everyone around him was filled with a fantastic spirituality. I must confess you, I still remember him every single day. Any sudden occasion may remind me of his gestures, his smile, his choice word. He was a Theatre Man indeed. I was lucky to be invited to his office often, we would sit there and chatted. He was undoubtedly «crazy», any theme inevitably would come to theatre. We had a lot of common in this «madness». I don’t need anything except theatre too, and my family suffers from it. Whatever discussion we had at home, it all ends with the problems of the theatre. Besides, Oleg Nikolayevich was a very generous man. I knew him as a general director who never interfered and never broke anything, but he could give you a slightest hint, so it was impossible not to follow his piece of advice, because he was absolutely right. In his theatre he gathered the best actors, the best of the best. The Evremov’s period in the MKhAT cannot be compared with present day realities. The greatest happiness for me was when I brought «The Possible Encounter» by Bartz, and asked him and Smotkunovsky to take roles there, trembling with fear. Efremov read the play and say «Yes, do it. I like it» at once. And then he added: «Don’t be afraid of me. I am a very obedient actor». This is a fantastic school too, to work with such actors. Not to mention the fact that we were friends with Innokenty Mikhailovich in his last years.
Chapter 8. «I was invited to the MKhAT by Efremov, I worked there under his guidance, and after his death I thought my work there is over too…»
— My departure from the MKhAT was not difficult due to several reasons. First is that I had only worked there for ten years. The psychologists say that each ten years another period starts in life. And I started to feel it. I remember when I finished the GITIS and was assigned to work in the Moscow Literary and Drama Theatre VTO, I was very happy to have stayed in Moscow. I ran to Viktor Sergeevich Rozov, my friend since my childhood, and I was so happy to tell him that. He said: «Slava, have you looked at the ceiling when you entered the theatre?» I said: «Why?» And he answered: «Slava, it is not your last theatre, but the first one… When you enter other theatres, look at their ceiling, because you cannot jump higher than the ceiling anyway…» Since then the first thing I did I looked at the ceiling of a theatre. Well, of course the ceiling of the Efremov’s Moscow Art Theatre was very high and looked inaccessible, but nevertheless, after ten years I felt the space there was limited. The second reason was the death of Oleg Nikolayevich. I was invited to the MKhAT by Efremov, I worked there under his guidance, and after his death I thought my work there is over too. There will be another art director, there will be another Art Theatre, but not for me. I needed to start a new life. I signed the notice to terminate. I was dissuaded, they called me crazy to go nowhere, they told no one leaves MKhAT by himself ever. But I left. I came out in the street, it was a sunny day in the beginning of July, I sighed and thought: «Well, that’s good. I’ll take a summer rest; I’ll go to my dacha to water cucumbers, and then the life will present me something». So it happened. In the end of the summer I received an invitation from the Columbia University. I went there for a year and taught acting and directing there. Then they proposed me to stay for another year. I agreed; Moscow seemed to have lost any interest in me. No one noticed I was away. Then, in the end of the second year all of a sudden a request was made by the Moscow Department of Culture to take up a post of the artistic director of the New Drama Theatre. I said my contract was going to terminate in two moths, and if after that the question would still be valid, I was ready to commence.
Chapter 9. «Theatre is a thing you must hold every day, because something happens there every day…»
— To start is always a frightful task. I have been teaching forty years, but anytime I meet new students I worry more than they. You seem to know everything already, you know how to behave, how to talk, you’ve got a pair of sure tricks. But you feel worried — how will they see you, will be there a contact, will be they really interested and will you be able to make a fruitful cooperation. The directing a theatre is a task thousands times more important! Before the New Drama I had never been an artistic director of a whole theatre. In MKhAT I saw how Efremov did it, but I saw an insignificant part of the process. Theatre is a thing you must hold every day, because something happens there every day.
I am not by any means thrilled by the «European trash» as Americans name so called «avant-garde» productions. All this trash is being imported to us as a «very advanced art», and we eat this and we are seduced to believe it the «European» culture. But we’d better save all the good we have in the Russian theatrical culture. I want to remain a conservative. Traditions are the achievements of the humankinds. If they haven’t been the eternal values we wouldn’t know about them. Today we have such a large-scale destruction of everything, including the unique Russian model of the repertory theatre, one of the most important Russian cultural achievements. If we forget what it is to really exist on the stage, if the true psychological theatre dies after us, then nobody will remember what it was and how it was. Because the modern generation believes the TV series are the true art. But these productions have nothing in common with the art. Today all take the cameras in their hands and believe they are great camera men. But this is only a smart technology making shots. There is the same situation in the theatre. To play a real person, to dissect his or her internal world in your own unique manner, this is the most important task. This is what we need to save and to develop. The living person is always a discovery. The meaning and the content of the theatre is a continuous perception of a human soul that is made not through the formal ways but through the psychology, through the behavioural structures. I am not interested in another theatre, I am getting bored despite all possible effects.
Chapter 10. «Don’t part with your beloved. This catch phrase describes one of my favourite productions «Taibele And Her Daemon». ‘Don’t part with your beloved’ was my diploma piece and the theme underlines all my work…»
— I love this play. The MKhAT production no longer exists for objective reasons: first Lena Mayorova died, then there was the tragic death of Sergey Shkalikov. It was a pity the new generation didn’t know the play, so I decided to restore it in the New Drama Theatre. Then my actors have grown and acquired mastery, they needed this. My present Taibele, Violetta Davydovskaya, is excellent, and Mikhail Kalinichev as Alchonon too. I think the play became more intense, although this is almost the repetition of the previous one, we didn’t change anything — the music, the decorations are the same, we just introduced new actors and gave it a new breath. Then, I’d like to «prolongate» the play. Anatoly Mironovich Smelyansky once said that the task of a critic is to «prolongate a play» because it finishes sooner or later, but it remains printed on a paper. But you may prolongate the play in a different way. Streller made his «Arlequin» four times. I saw all the four versions. When they brought to New York the first one, after the death of the director, I was impressed, it didn’t differ from another versions, except decorations. He made the same scenes with the same actors, only polished them a little and demanded the perfect play from the actors. Because it was his favourite. He prolongated it all his life. I thought why shouldn’t I. This is my favourite and I want prolongate it all my life. Perhaps I’ll make «Taibele» with new actors several years later, with a new generation, new blood as it to say. This story is worth to be prolongated…
Chapter 11. «I feel myself a Young Pioneer. My American students gave me forty, that made me very vivid».
The life gave me a lot and I am grateful to it a lot. First of all these are the acquaintances, the people who determined my way and directed my life. They turned into professional relations that granted me new chances and the possibility to realize myself. So I cannot complain I didn’t do something or something was not like I wanted it to be. Then, as I often say to students or young actors, if you didn’t do something it means you didn’t want it much. I think the destiny is a realization of your inner dreams. You get what you really want. So I cannot say I am unhappy or I am received less than I am due. I know I received now all I dreamed of and all I pursued. I hope I’ll have a lot in the future too.
Actually I feel myself a Young Pioneer. My American students gave me forty, that made me very vivid. They said I had a lot of energy, so I couldn’t be older. I was very glad. I’ll think I am forty from now on.
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