Backstage child

[b]The leading stage master at the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre, Honoured Artist of Belarus Andrey Dushechkin, shares his thoughts on working with our theatre for thirty years[/b]Andrey inherited his devotion to acting from his parents: mother, Alexandra Klimova, was a People’s Artiste of the USSR, while his father, Andrey Dushechkin-Korsakovsky, was an actor and teacher. He breathed the theatre’s rarefied air from an early age and easily entered the Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Academy of Arts). Using the surname of Dushechkin, no one associated him with the great Klimova and Korsakovsky — even though his father was teaching at the same institute (known only as Korsakovsky). Andrey Dushechkin long ago established himself as an actor, with his talent praised at the highest level; he was given the title of Honoured Artiste and the Frantsisk Skorina medal.
The leading stage master at the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre, Honoured Artist of Belarus Andrey Dushechkin, shares his thoughts on working with our theatre for thirty years
Andrey inherited his devotion to acting from his parents: mother, Alexandra Klimova, was a People’s Artiste of the USSR, while his father, Andrey Dushechkin-Korsakovsky, was an actor and teacher.
He breathed the theatre’s rarefied air from an early age and easily entered the Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Academy of Arts). Using the surname of Dushechkin, no one associated him with the great Klimova and Korsakovsky — even though his father was teaching at the same institute (known only as Korsakovsky).
Andrey Dushechkin long ago established himself as an actor, with his talent praised at the highest level; he was given the title of Honoured Artiste and the Frantsisk Skorina medal. Despite his family constellation being significant in size, his star shines brightly in that galaxy, radiating its unique light. “Andryusha is a thoughtful partner, boldly experimenting,” notes Olga Klebanovich, a People’s Artiste of Belarus, speaking of her younger colleague. “Moreover, he is a warm person and very responsible.”
Andrey’s amiability is apparent from his description of his partners in Alpha Concert’s Ladies’ Night (a non-repertory performance). The cast is very talented and Mr. Dushechkin finds kind words for each. “Sergey Chekeres acts perfectly, Kostya Voronov has dazzling gestures and Misha Yesman plays the role of a blunderer wonderfully. Andrey Krivetsky is good at portraying uncertainty and doubt while Vasya Kozlov captures the shyness of his character, who struggles to overcome his weakness. Alena Kozyreva is a beautiful vamp and Ruslan Krivetsky is splendid in the role of the hero.”
After seeing this stylish performance, directed by Valentina Yerenkova, I’m convinced. Dushechkin plays Bernie, who is keen to break from routine, with passion — almost ‘swimming’ in his role.
Dushechkin’s parents supported him in his acting ambitions early on. However, they saw the theatre as a strict workplace, not a playground. Embarrassingly, during the final tragic scene in Warsaw Melody, when his mother had brought the audience truly into her virtual royal world, casting a spell over everyone, ten year old Andryusha lost his way and rushed onto stage carrying a wooden shield and a sword (created for him in the carpenter’s workshop). We can only imagine how the audience fell into laughter and how angry his mother must have been.
“They hid me for a long time from my mother — in the wardrobe room or somewhere else… I don’t remember exactly,” smiles Andrey. Other such accidents would occur, after which Andryusha was left at home to watch TV until he learnt how to behave during a performance.
It’s easy to chat to Andrey. His perception of himself as a ‘writing actor’ is immediately apparent and his answers to my questions are detailed and laconic. He’s a member of the Union of Writers of Belarus and of Russia. I ask him to bring some of his books to our meeting, but he admits that he has none. I’m astounded but it turns out that he’s donated them all, without leaving a single copy for his home library. He does bring me the latest copy of Nemiga Literaturnaya magazine though, which includes extracts from his mother’s diary. We begin our conversation with recollections of Alexandra Klimova, whom I once saw on stage.
MOTHER. Recently, the theatre hosted an evening dedicated to my mother’s memory; she would have celebrated her 90th birthday. It was warm and spiritual. All those who wished to remember this great actress came along. Her acting colleagues from past times were also remembered.
The general feeling was that today’s theatre lacks powerful drama and expression. Of course, actors like Klimova are irreplaceable. I was pleased that young actors, who had never seen my mother act, attended. They were able to watch video clips of her performances and were astonished by her self-sacrificing devotion. I don’t believe that an actor can burn out from working too hard. In fact, I think the opposite is true; the more an actor gives, the more they receive back. Even when actors are in pain or running a temperature, they never feel it on stage, as they are so caught up in the moment. It sometimes happens that an ailment can disappear after a performance, too. However, it does undermine our strength and health to go on stage when we feel unwell, so it’s better not to do this.
Naturally, a performance can’t be cancelled and an actor’s profession is healing. It’s quite a mysterious process. My mother gained great joy from appearing on stage and always returned home inspired, cheerful and with sparkling eyes.
We’d often sit in the kitchen together — the hub of the home. We could scold, reconcile and laugh while speaking about the theatre. She liked to recollect the past and I was keen to listen to her stories. I later used many details to edit her diaries and write my essays. My mother was a strong soldier until she was 75, having tough peasant genes and Siberian blood. She enjoyed telling me how she worked at a steel works in Magnitogorsk during the war, as a young girl. She wasn’t tall, but seemed so on stage, playing all the famous queens. At the steel works, she stood on a box in order to work on the tank components. She also performed in a hospital.
I helped organise birthday parties for her several times. Our last party was to be for her 85th birthday but she died beforehand. She was wonderful. I say so not just because I have the honour of being her son but because my mother was a great Russian actress. She was born for the theatre. Nothing, except for the process of acting, interested her. Of course, she was also involved in public work, as well as sports and family, but these all took second place.

FATHER. I was brought up primarily by my father. He and I were a supplement to my mother’s life. I’d fall asleep without hearing a mother’s ‘good night’. I was deprived of these touching and tender children’s moments, but had no idea of any other way. I was brought up to be friends with my parents, so I was self-sufficient from an early age. I understood that each family member had their own role to play and was unafraid of loneliness or death. I’m well aware of the nature of the theatre and how it should be perceived. You should treat it with irony, or you’ll seem ridiculous and, even, stupid. Few great actors exist, and I’m convinced that they are born rather than created. It’s like driving: many people drive, yet only a few become genius racing drivers.
I learnt lessons of survival from observing my parents. My father was from Kiev (the Dushechkins are from Ukraine) and all my relatives were captains and seamen on the Dnieper River Navigation. They still sail the rivers and seas. My father was the only artist, having worked at the Lesya Ukrainka Theatre in Kiev, where he met beautiful Alexandra Klimova. My mother was invited there to play a role. In fact, my father was closer to me than my mother, as he had more time for me. Later, when he passed away, I took responsibility for looking after my mother.
I remember telling her that she was lucky to have me looking after her and stayed with her until her last day on Earth. Sometimes, it was incredibly hard, as she wasn’t known for her patience or softness. When she was 75, she had a pile of photographs in the hall to sign, but categorically refused. I knew her signature and was used to forging it, so did this for her (I can now reveal this secret).
It’s not easy having an actress in the house; she required special handling, as my father understood. He was a good actor, working for our theatre, but later became involved in teaching.
THEATRE OF THE PAST. If I hadn’t been involved in theatre, I’d have been keen on music. I can play the classical guitar quite well. I began with rock music, which I still enjoy. I was brought up during the musical revolution and used to perform as a rhythm guitarist with my school band from the 6th grade, playing at discos. I played well. We couldn’t afford to play badly, or we might have been beaten. Our band was popular all over the district. It’s how I fell in love with performing to an audience. However, it wasn’t easy to pursue a musical stage career at that time, so parents suggested that I enter the Theatre and Art Institute.
Where else could I go?! Of course I entered. During the first interview, Ilya Kurgan — the oldest vocal teacher — talked to me. I’m very grateful to him for initiating me into radio and television work. He had no idea who my parents were (as no one else did either). When they found out, they were very surprised. I was studying like all the rest and didn’t pay any attention to the fact that I was the son of Klimova and Dushechkin-Korsakovsky.
I did well in my exams, studying successfully because I enjoyed it. I worked as if obsessed. Moreover, I was the only male student of our course to gain excellent marks. Famous Belarusian playwright Andrey Makayonok, who chaired the diploma commission and saw all the diploma performances, said it’s necessary to support people like me, so I was very pleased. I came to the Russian Theatre and gave 40 performances a month. I became physically exhausted but everyone still viewed me as being ‘lucky’ — attributing my success to my mother. This irritated me, as my mother treated me like a toad under a stone!
When I asked her about my performances, she was always faint in her praise, just glancing at me and saying nothing special. It was almost unheard of to be praised by her. In rare cases, she might say that I’d done well. This happened when I completely strained every sinew. Her strict attitude encouraged a feeling of professional dignity in me. Now, when an actor begins to get pompous, I laugh. I’m well aware of true dignity and the cost of stardom. Dignity either exists or it does not. Now, I don’t ask anyone about my acting.
THEATRE TODAY. The global magnificence of the theatre has disappeared, as has the age of great dramatic actors and the theatre’s direct influence on society. It has become something average and more for entertainment than enlightenment. However, we all know that the theatre reflects the level of moral culture in society; it’s like a flower choosing where to grow. Undoubtedly, theatre continues to be popular, although less so than cinema or television. It’s revered by the elite of society and I’m confident that it will survive our sickly period of mutation, one day returning to its former glory. My soul is warmed by the fact that, in my profession, I explore deep moral values during wonderful stage performances. The theatre reinforces my personality and nurtures my self-respect.
STAGE SOUL. What do I give to the theatre? My soul. Entering middle age, I understood one important thing: theatre is inseparable from our moral state. I understand now that lying is never permissible, under any circumstances. Of course, we’re not angels; compromise is sometimes necessary. However, it leads to dissatisfaction. If I enter stage feeling like this, I’m weak in my role, lacking in spirituality and talent. I can’t act as I should because I don’t believe in myself. How can I speak to an audience about high morals if I violate the laws myself? According to great Russian actor Mikhail Chekhov, the actor’s mission is to save the soul of the theatre… I save myself through self-knowledge and inner penance; then, all goes well in my role.
I love Belarusian theatre. If I’d been told that I couldn’t work here, I’d perceive it as a personal insult. It’s easy to offend actors’ children, but it’s difficult to knock them down. Like other representatives of acting dynasties, I was born in the theatre, so my fate is special.
ACTORS. It’s wrong to believe that all stage actors are unbalanced. I think we are mentally sane but have a touch of irony — as we live so many roles, seeing the world as if from the sidelines. We don’t penetrate deeply into situations in real life; instead, we observe and analyse. We have a clear view of life and an ability to comprehend it. It’s also a myth that all actors are alcoholics, although it was once fashionable to be so. Now, everything is different. Contemporary theatre requires iron discipline, strong health and a clear conscience.
ROLES. I’ve played many roles, each individual. Stage director Valery Maslyuk was the first to experiment with me, giving me the role of a terribly cruel and cynical young boy: Volodya in ‘Night Dwarfs and Antigone’. The performance was one of the best in the repertoire of the 1980s. It gave me immense creative pleasure to reveal new layers of my character. I wanted to be seen as charming as well as disgusting. Later, I played many roles which were dissimilar from my inner state. This is the essence of acting: we must change our faces.
I played a female role in ‘Vado per Vedove’: the Italian widow Concetta — a la Verka Serdychka. I was absolutely unrecognisable. I was also given antagonistic roles in cinema. Recently, I played the central role of a colonel with the military investigation department, in a film by Russian director Dmitry Astrakhan, in ‘Detochki’. It was interesting work. My colonel isn’t a superman — he’s a real person, tired from his profession.
I don’t like roles which give nothing to the mind or soul. However, we all endure such roles at one time or another.
At present, I have a good repertoire, which I enjoy: ‘The Run’, ‘Uncle’s Dream’, ‘Krechinsky’s Wedding’ and ‘I Believe in Horoscopes’. I play significant roles in these wonderful performances. My dream role is Prince Myshkin. I know how to play it, but it’s too late. I’m now rehearsing a cameo role in ‘The Woes of Wit’; my catchphrase is ‘somewhere away from here!’
PARTNERS. I’m pleased when colleagues say that I’m an actor with a fine appreciation of my partners. Is this professionalism or part of my personality? Of course, it’s my nature. I’m an intuitive person, following my gut feeling on stage. Of course, over long years of working with the theatre, I’ve developed some acting formulas, which always help when intuition fails me.
Various states and moods occur. Your fellow actors may or may not be on the same wavelength; it’s a delicate situation. Ideally, you help your partner or they help you. Where there is an absence of connection, there is no magic; this requires a spiritual bond. It isn’t a disaster when this is lacking; it just happens sometimes. My mother suffered greatly when she lacked a connection with her partners. She was often critical of herself at home, saying that she could have done better or have done something in a different way. She never bathed in her own magnificence. A partner is something sacred. Actors should love their partners, working for them, while enriching themselves. I was brought up in this manner…
STAGE DIRECTORS. The longer I live, the better I understand how actors need direction. Without a good director, an actor is like a child without parents. I trust my director and always want to see whether he understands my role. I’m pleased when we understand each other well. I’ve had the same situation with many directors, including Sergey Kovalchik, Chief Director of the Russian Theatre. The great Stanislavsky once said that an ideal director dies in his actors, understanding which roles suit them and simultaneously taking into account which role the actor wants to play.
PLAY. Some plays are destined for global success; the world almost falls at the feet of the actors. The same is true of pop songs, theatre performances and gallery exhibitions. Art can greatly influence the human psyche. I’m currently taking part in an act of creativity: a non-repertory performance, entitled ‘Ladies’ Night’. It’s a popular show, full of entertainment. It has a simple plot, which relies on musical and dance effects, and is sold out (over 1,300 tickets for Minsk’s Concert Hall). This three-hour show balances all aspects of performance perfectly. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such great delight from an audience or have seen so many people come to see a show. It’s not a classical piece — and certainly not Shakespeare — but its success is evident. I believe that another good drama is waiting for me in the future.
CREATIVITY. Every creative person is thought to be otherworldly. I believe that a special state is bestowed at birth — but sacrifices are needed to bring it to fruition. You have a special world outlook and a unique soul which develops over your entire lifetime. You are always trying to create something new. Creative people see more, sympathise more deeply and love more sincerely.
It’s said that humanity’s pain passes through a poet’s heart. As a rule, creative people are not easy to spend time with, as they are always searching for something — wanting to change something in the world. Not everyone likes this, so many of them remain lonely. Personally, I need creativity. Through my writing, I say more than is spoken on stage or in usual conversation. My soul needs avenues of self-expression other than the stage. For me, literature is the highest manifestation of creativity. I’m a writing actor with no pretensions otherwise. I have three books published, alongside essays and poems. It is always interesting for me to write although many think that nothing new can ever be said.
CINEMA. At a young age, my mother occupied a high position, so we lived in a good flat, although there wasn’t much money. We had enough though and my parents were content. I embrace the same principle. When I was a student, I took a film role not for the money but from interest. I worked with many good film directors. It may seem strange but I enjoyed criminal action films, playing the roles of investigators and military men. For Belarusfilm Studio, I often play doctors. Cinema allows you to play a variety of roles. Since May, I’ve had five Russian projects; I’m now awaiting the premiere of ‘Detochki’ (a social drama about teenagers from an orphanage). Money is secondary to me, though it sometimes helps.
FAME. The burden of my mother’s fame never pressed on me; I just rejoiced at her successes. She endlessly needed recognition — to know that her efforts weren’t in vain. Of course, she was waiting for a response which existed. Do I need fame and recognition? Of course. Those who deny their desire for recognition, fame and success are fooling themselves. Actors perform for an audience, so they naturally need a response. Who can play to an empty hall, purely admiring their own creative self-expression? Actors always want recognition.
SPIRITUALITY. This is a huge world of paradoxes. Do you remember the famous words of Anna Akhmatova: ‘If you had only known from what rubbish flowers grow, without any shame’. As far as acting is concerned, spirituality is the major component. Without spiritual feelings, you can’t act well. Technique without spirituality will be always bare, as Mikhail Chekhov noted.
FAMILY. My family unit is more than a ‘backwater in which to rest from storms’. Joint work and responsibility is needed. We are a team. I’m glad that my wife, Lyudmila, a school worker and musician, can both work with me and be my friend. She understands that I’m a reliable partner in our family team. There’s no place for games regarding the role of father and mother and whether they are in love or not when neglected and hungry children are sitting in the corner. I have two children: Sasha is 15 and Kristina is 16. I enjoy chatting with them and I love to understand them. Family is about friendship and duty; I’ve never transferred the latter to other shoulders. My theatrical colleagues are also my family to some degree.

By Valentina Zhdanovich
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