Actors waiting for attention and love from the audience

Yakub Kolas National Drama theatre premieres Wolf Song — staged by its Artistic Head and Director Valery Anisenko
By Valentin Petrovsky

The premiere is a true debut, recreating the atmosphere of Chekhov’s times — when he headed the Republican Theatre of Belarusian Drama. Mr. Anisenko has previously organised open air shows near Minsk, staging The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, which are still much spoken of. The premiere is his first work as the Theatre’s Artistic Head and, accordingly, has attracted huge attention from actors and critics alike. “I can speak!” he has announced… but will he be heard?

Life is not all sweet
The troupe is yet to truly ‘taste’ the play, written by the Youth Variety Theatre’s chief director, Vyacheslav Panin. It is no cosy armchair piece, allowing you to sit with a glass of wine and fall asleep for a while. On the contrary, it is full of challenges and thought-provoking ideas, which can be easily turned into ‘Mowgli’ for adults or boiling Shakespeare’s drama in its complexity. 

Its eternal themes include the individual’s place within wider society and our sense of identity, alongside love and collective duty. While ‘popular theatre’ draws crowds and creates revenue, it’s important to also nurture serious plays. Pinter’s absurd cross-word puzzles and Beckett’s misanthropy may be difficult to follow, but we cannot live on a diet of love stories.  Original, experimental, innovative approaches and bitter-sweet works must surely be encouraged or we may die from an overdose of sugar! Sometimes, a spark is required to ignite our souls: a spark only struck from sweat and perseverance — never from the comfort of routine.

How can an actor portray an animal? We can only advise the troupe to watch the opening of Mr. Abdrashitov’s The Servant, in which Oleg Borisov growls at a wolf. Here, we feel the aggression in his eyes and old teeth, which frightens the wolf into retreating into the forest — like a vulnerable kitten failing to lap milk.

Tension runs high
Vitebsk’s audience braved the rain to attend the premiere, brandishing umbrellas rather than flowers. The city on the Dvina River has always nurtured culture, like a gardener coaxing flowers into bloom. On October 21st, it hosted the French Baby’s Laxative (from Minsk’s TEART International Festival). I watched one man peruse the unusual poster, perhaps wondering if it might be suitable for a family outing. He looked more as if he’d prefer Yevgeny Petrosyan’s comedy but perhaps he was experiencing a true theatrical hunger. Vitebsk’s audience is known for its appetite for innovation — as any Moscovite playwright might dream of; Serebrennikov and Shirvindt would be delighted. Sadly, the regional centre lacks its own drama festival to attract such theatrical giants.

Glubokoe... and beyond
While fastening his bow-tie, Mr. Anisenko is as anxious as a boy before his premiere. “I believe that the Vitebsk Region needs a revival and I’m ready to help. We’ll take the performance to Glubokoe, Postavy, Polotsk, Novopolotsk and Ushachi; the Vitebsk Region is larger than Belgium so why are we sleepy? Why don’t we have a theatrical movement? Is it laziness and apathy? Simply, let’s get going! I think that actors have fallen out of the habit of receiving love and attention. As Director, when I presented an LCD TV set to one of my actresses many were utterly surprised. However, we are not living in the Stone Age! I’ve reopened the cafй, which serves tasty sandwiches, and have ensured that all the lights are working. We’ve also gotten rid of old furniture. I’m now thinking of organising an open air show at Repin’s mansion in Zdravnevo,” he tells me. 

“You’re certainly busy,” I note, and he replies, “How else should I be? I urge actors to show their professionalism by fighting! The time has come to rival Minsk, ridding the Kolas Theatre of its eternal second place.
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