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As part of our Russia program, TINFO – Theatre Info Finland arranged a training module for acting students from the University of Tampere Degree Program in Theatre Work. During the training, the students travelled to Russia to rehearse a Russian-language performance of Alexander Vvedensky's A Certain Quantity of Conversations with the director Boris Pavlovich. Students studied the impact of working in a foreign language on an actor’s idiom; the training also deepened the students’ understanding of the current state of Russian theatre.
TINFO had the opportunity to interview Boris Pavlovich:
”Public conversation can only be initiated from the stage, and theatre has clout,” Pavlovich notes. More and more, Russian directors are leaving the major centres for work in the provinces.
“It’s much easier for a young director to get an opportunity to stage a play in a distant city than anywhere else. Ten years ago, when I left St. Petersburg to lead a theatre in Kirov (which isn’t far from the Ural Mountains, 1000 kilometres northeast of Moscow), people were saying goodbye to me as if I was going to emigrate.”
“In Russia, a lot of workshops (laboratories) have been held over the past 15 years, and they have prompted young directors to go off to different cities… And critics, oddly enough, would rather pay attention to an interesting production in a small, remote theatre than in one of Moscow’s hundreds of theatres.”
Theatre avoids open conversation on political topics
For Pavlovich, contemporary Russian theatre is a theatre of “era of grievance.” Contemporary texts, documentary theatre, immersive theatre, and site-specific theatre are flourishing.
“Theatre avoids open conversation on political topics – and this is due to internal censorship, the desire to avoid problems with municipal authorities, rather than any genuine threat of a ban.”
For Pavlovich, directing and practicing theatre becomes meaningful in those places where theatre is needed. Amid the abundance of theatre in Moscow and St Petersburg, Pavlovich prefers to concentrate on theatre projects that foster a sense of community or social relations:
“In a provincial city, theatre possesses the potential of the forum of ancient Greece: if a performance becomes an event, it becomes an event on a city scale. Theatre of a high calibre genuinely boosts the self-esteem of the citizens. In Novosibirsk, Omsk, and especially Khabarovsk, which is closer to Japan than to my native St. Petersburg, I can afford to stage a performance of ‘pure art’ – and feel that the people there really need it.”
Russia is a vertical society, and not only politically. But a vertical country needs horizontal structures.
“Everyone knows who the ‘main Russian poet’ is (Pushkin), who the ‘main Russian writer’ is (Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, take your pick), what the ‘main theatre’ is (Moscow Art Theatre MXT). We have titles like ‘Honoured Artist’ and ‘People's Artist,’ and money and other resources are distributed according to this hierarchy. “
“The new generation that has grown up in the era of the Internet – the primary global rhizome – is looking for an alternative structure. The best things happening in contemporary Russian theatre are taking place specifically in this domain of ‘horizontal’ structures. The current, ‘post-great’ generation of directors are learning not to command, but to negotiate.
The interest in social projects is also linked to artists being interested in the figure of the Other. In social terms, the rhizome is an alternative method of searching for resources. When you cannot rely on the state, your only hope lies in your circles of friendship.”
Boris Pavlovich was interviewed by Hanna Helavuori