Ukrainian audiences know only a few amateur and underground theaters but they are mostly popular with young people. The Ukrainian Week presents their shows for the upcoming season
An amateur translates as “the lover of” from Latin. With time the word gained some negative connotations. It now often alludes to poor performers. It would be a mistake, however, to assess the technique brought to perfection by professionals alone. The benefit of amateurs is their passion for acting as they share their excitement with the audience.
According to Andriy Prykhodko, a director who worked both with amateur actors of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy Theater and professional actors from Ivan Franko Theater in Kyiv, amateurs tend to “feed” the audience with their personal troubles in addition to technical imperfections. “On the one hand, amateurs are often irresponsible while an actor’s veracity takes effort. Amateur acting often becomes a niche for unfulfilled people who cram their acting with their numerous personal inhibitions,” Mr. Prykhodko claims. “On the other hand though, amateurs can become innocent dilettantes turning the world upside down in their search for divine truth.”
Alina Tunik, an actress who used to work at a state theater and now works at the Black Square, a Kyiv-based improvisation theater, says amateurs have a chance to bring their personal issues on stage and think of art later while professionals carry their personal dramas inside while turning to alcohol for salvation. Amateur theaters turn into psychodrama curing centers. And they give more freedom. “I can do my own things at the Black Square with great likelihood that they will get through to the stage,” Alina says. “At the Russian Drama Theater (Lesya Ukrainka Theater in Kyiv – Ed.) individual work remains backstage even if encouraged. As a rule, professional theaters have a backbone of ten people who appear on stage regularly while the other 90 suffer, drink and wait for their hour of triumph in crowd scenes.”
Amateurs are never indifferent about acting. They do not get paid for it so fulfilment is their only motivation. The government does not support such theaters. Often they have no right to sell tickets and collect only voluntary donations from the audience. Actors spend their own money for costumes, settings and theater repairs. Amateur actors leave their theaters only for a career or a family. This lack of financial motivation leaves only those pursuing art itself.
For comparison, nobody mentions such thing as amateur theaters in Poland. They talk of an alternative theater movement that stands out for the interest of its members in art in the first place. Most Polish theaters are part of this movement.
However, amateur theaters have some professionals as most directors have professional training. They arrange regular classes for their actors therefore such theaters often act as studios as well. Lighting and sound operators learn from their own experience. Theater members make the settings or involve artists they know. Quite often amateur theaters operate at academic institutions or cultural centers where their directors work.
THEATER FORECAST FOR KYIV
Arsenal, the oldest amateur theater in Kyiv, and one which used to act as an amateur art group of the Arsenal plant, is 100 years old. Its best known staging is Till based on the play by Grigoriy Gorin; the repertoire includes another play by this director called Forget Herostratus. Director Mykhailo Bondarenko has a professional education and stages both classical and avant-garde plays.
Another professional director, Yuriy Sushko at the Raido studio theater, focuses on psychological theater but involves experiments in his plays. “Our theater is an attempt to find and identify the Human Being, feel the myriads of threads tying everyone to all things visible and invisible,” Mr. Sushko says. “It’s a way to yourself and to the heart of every person,” he claims. Yuriy Sushko works in various genres; his repertoire includes a mystical dream called Bologoye. Blues; a lyrical comedy These Free Butterflies! also staged at the Free Theater in Kyiv; Hey, Anyone! drama; A Plague O' Both Your Houses! tragic carnival based on the play by Grigoriy Gorin, and a duo of two short comedies in one play called I Offer You to Take a Risk! by Anton Chekhov and Eduardo de Philippo. The new season will include a play based on the Second Death of Jeanne d’Arc by Stefan Tsanev, a Bulgarian playwright, and an interpretation of Your Turn, a story by Oldi, Kharkiv-based duo of fantasy writers (Dmytro Hromov and Oleh Ladyzhensky – Ed.).
The teenage cast of the Play-Actors studio theater acts with amazing purity. The actors started training at the age of 10 and are 16-17 now. They make the audience cry performing At Dawn It’s Quiet Here, a play based on a short story about five young women fighting in WWII. In the upcoming season they are staging a drama based on The Rat Hunting, a play by Austrian playwright Peter Turrini.
Independent Kyiv-based theater 7 is working on Toibele and Her Demon, a fairy tale parable. Staged by Oleksandr Ptukha, a graduate from Kyiv-based Karpenko-Karyi University for theater and cinematography, the play is promising as the young director wants to turn his amateur theater into a professional production. The actors are taught to speak and move on stage and to act. “Everyone can join us,” he says, “but it’s not easy at the theater. It is a family and a lot of work.” The theater has already shown good acting in the staging called The Voice. A Version based on the play by Jean Cocteau. Also, the new season will feature Parasites. (Love and Hate), an experimental play based on modern German drama, and The Aspern Papers melodrama.
Oxymoronis the first theater in Ukraine whose cast has learned the Italian comedy technique known as dell’arte firsthand from the master Fabrizio Paladin. Dell’arte comedy is a mask theater with typical features of characters and specific moves created by the artist. Masks are not merely an addition to their faces; they direct the plot and involve a certain vision of theater art rather than just a set of expressive means. In the upcoming season, the theater will stage Komed Medved, a play the audience is familiar with, staged as part of the Chekhov Dell’Arte international project. Another premier underway is a new concert play that contains elements of the opera, performance and of course, Italian mask comedy.
The Black Square held dress rehearsals of five new plays at the end of the previous season. Premiers will start this Fall. Director Olena Yermalaeva says the cast tends to stage happy plays as everyone is tired of the “aggressive violence of life.” The new works include Hedgehogs in Her Eyes and An Invitation to the Dawn. Also, the theater is planning to change the format of improvisation, its trademark.
THEATER AS A CURE
The studio theater called From the Other World has gained popularity in artistic circles for staging plays at the Pavlov psychiatric hospital in Kyiv. The cast includes mentally healthy youth, but director Serhiy Enenberg has another team called Budmo! Made up of the hospital patients. In the upcoming season, the theater will work on Anton Chekhov’s and Sergei Averintsev’s short comedies and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The young theater will revive fairy tale plays for children, stage The Annunciation of Virgin Mary by Paul Claudel and La Balade du grand macabre by Michel de Ghelderode. “Psychological theater is the basis for our experience in creating it in the language of an instance mythology,” the director claims. “We are trying to not break the rhythm of the author’s life story and listen to the sound of silence between the lines when the direction of time changes,” the theater writes of itself. Serhiy Enenberg claims that Kyiv has another theater using art as treatment. The Sprouts works with autistic people and people with Down syndrome. They do very moving things yet they are vulnerable to the picky audience similar to Budmo! actors. Zhytomyr also has a theater called the Wonder World where patients from a psychiatric hospital act.
Playback theaters stand aside other amateur theaters. Ukraine has seven such theaters – one is the Zhytomyr Playback Theater, two others called Where We Are and the Suitcase are in Donetsk, and Kyiv has the remaining three including Déjà vu, Audience Playback Theater and Reflection. In playback theaters, the viewers tell their stories and the actors use various techniques, from dynamic to static, to retell them as accurately as possible. Déjà vu actress Kateryna Tytova says people are mostly introverts and share superficial stories but actors are happy when they come across courageous viewers ready to open their souls as it gives the actors something interesting to stage. Playback theaters fascinate professional psychologists who run the casts. The plays have a therapeutic effect as people find it hard to take action as long as they are affected by circumstances while this sort of play allows them to observe the case from outside and get it under control. What makes playback theaters different from a psychodrama though is the fact that psychotherapy is not one of their tools, says Volodymyra Savinova, Déjà vu director. “Our task is to create something good; playback is art that contains some elements of a show,” she says. “Performances open people to each other allowing them to explore the world of modern people.”
Fire theaters have existed in Ukraine for nearly five years. Kyiv Fire Theater abbreviated to KOT is one of the biggest fire theaters. It has no director and the members put together every play on their own. Fire does not allow them to work anywhere other than open air, nor does it give the depth of silence, yet it can be both an instrument in a show and a way of artistic presentation of characters. KOT has used this approach to stage The Little Prince. Still, plays like this contain some show elements. Kyiv has many groups working with fire yet the only high-quality theater, other than KOT that arranges fire theater festivals, is Proty Nochi (At Night) that has a school of its own. Professional fire theaters from other cities include Simferopol-based Oberih (The Talisman) that stages plays with fire, the Kharkiv-based Panther group known for its synchronized dances, and Hephaestus in Eupatoria, Crimea, where stilt-walkers work with fire.
Also, amateurs develop the art of musicals. Kyiv-based music expert Stanislava Liasota has staged Notre-Dame de Paris musical involving professional singers and choreographers. It will be performed in the upcoming season. Theater Comme il faut is working on the Ukrainian-language version of the Kazanova musical composed by cast members.
Sevastopol-based Strawberry Lane theater stands out for its eclectic vision of art. “Theater is as diverse as life itself,” says Oleksandr Haykalov, the leader with a degree in history. He involves everything that seems to fit into the show in his plays. The Strawberry Lane has performed in the woods and even at archeological digs, and has actors of all ages. It is a family theater where both grandparents and children act. The director says older people are no worse than professionals as they have something to say.
Dniprodzerzhynsk-based the 10th Block is known for its dance shows staged by choreographer Anatoliy Bedychev. Corona astralis, a choreographed play based on Maksymilian Voloshyn’s poetry, staged at the Live! festival got an ovation even from people who were not fans of this type of poetry and dance. The Family of Monsters, a play based on Dmitri Lipskerov’s script resembling the theater of the absurd that premiers in the upcoming season promises a show no less vibrant.
The plays staged by Kharkiv-based Theater at Zhuky have a unique style. It is working on two new premiers for the upcoming season including a true knightly fairy tale by a French author written for children yet presented in an adult language and its own interpretation of a short story by a Bulgarian author. The theater presents the titles of new plays as a surprise. Also, it will perform its old plays including the Choice based on Grigoriy Gorin’s Forget Herostratus, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, We Care a Lot based on a play by one of the theater’s cast actors, and the Plasticine of the World by Yevgeniy Kliuyev.
Few amateur theaters beat the Masks, a Dnipropetrovsk-based public studio theater, by number of awards. Over 40 years, it has won 11 Grand Prix from theater festivals all over Ukraine. This year, it will stage The Hotel of Two Worlds based on a play by the French and Belgian playwright Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
Ukrainehas more amateur groups than anyone could imagine. Every city and many towns have them complementing or even replacing public theaters. Open-minded viewers have a chance to experience huge power the amateurs contribute to their acting without turning a blind eye to mistakes.