Charm enhancing mastership
[b]Sergey Zhuravel is known countrywide as an artist of theatre and cinema. He works at the State Youth Theatre and, as soon as he begins to speak — on the street or in a supermarket — people immediately recognise his voice. It’s heard daily on Minsk’s popular STV television channel. Recently, he shot in Andrey Kudinenko’s Massacre, by Belarusfilm Cinema Studio[/b]People in theatrical environment can’t but admire him and, in the many years of our acquaintance, I’ve only heard good opinions. At first, he worked for the Young Spectators’ Theatre, where he was sent after graduating from the Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Belarusian Academy of Arts) and later — for the Youth Theatre. If often happens that, when buying tickets at the box office before a show, audiences ask whether Zhuravel is performing.
People in theatrical environment can’t but admire him and, in the many years of our acquaintance, I’ve only heard good opinions. At first, he worked for the Young Spectators’ Theatre, where he was sent after graduating from the Theatre and Art Institute (now, the Belarusian Academy of Arts) and later — for the Youth Theatre. If often happens that, when buying tickets at the box office before a show, audiences ask whether Zhuravel is performing.
It’s difficult to imagine the Youth Theatre without this actor. Undoubtedly, there are other talented performers in the company, but Zhuravel is very special. He has natural charm, which strengthens all other skills and accentuates his acting technique. Zhuravel often plays complex characters who aim to bewilder or provoke the audience while also arousing sympathy and fondness. We are supposed to ponder their motivation. Think of the character of Pierre in Francis Veber’s Le Diner De Cons (staged by N. Pinigin). It’s no surprise that Zhuravel, possessing powerful energy, makes us hold our breath as he enters the stage. As a final year student at the Acting Department, he was invited by the Young Spectators’ Theatre to play the role of Serezha Tyulenin in Young Guard — a performance about young undergrounders during WWII. He appeared on stage before children and teenagers (notoriously difficult to inspire). The humming hall became silent, with chatter and laughter disappearing. Their peer stood before them: a cheerful and noisy boy, who lived a heroic life and died during the war.
Zhuravel didn’t just enter the stage; he flew out, hardly touching the floor, moved and sang wonderfully. As soon as he took up his guitar, it seemed that he was born in harmony with the instrument. His enchanting voice, perfect diction and fluidity moved everyone.
In the mid-1970s, theatrical critics forecast a brilliant future for this young actor. It came true and he received the title of Honoured Artiste of Belarus. His roles included Salvador Dali, Scapin, Demon Taibele and Tartuffe. He worked with various stage directors, with different approaches, resulting in a great ability to transform. This has always been and remains an indicator of theatrical professionalism.
I’ve often met up with Zhuravel at premieres, on World Theatre Day or on someone’s birthday. Recently, we met at a birthday celebration for a geologist who won the Lenin Komsomol of Belarus Prize in the 1970s (a high award at that time, given to young specialists for various achievements in science, literature and arts). Mr. Zhuravel was awarded this for his role of Bambi in a performance by the same name, based on Felix Salten’s play.
…The festive evening was in full swing, with numerous toasts, flowers and music. Geologists are known to be cheerful and witty. Famous academician Anatoly Makhnach (who was also awarded this prestigious prize) is known in scientific circles as a poet, besides being a scientist. Mr. Zhuravel was welcomed with acclamations — some recognising the artist while others were seeing him in person for the first time. A festive table can easily take on a life of its own, accompanied by the buzz of people’s voices. However, Zhuravel caught everybody’s attention. Zhuravel stood, paused for a while, played a few chords on his guitar, congratulated the hero of the evening and began to sing…
Today, Mr. Zhuravel is a guest of our column, telling us about his life on stage and off and about his creative process, revealing his personality.
Do your acting skills help you in life?
If I want to draw attention to myself, my acting mastery undoubtedly helps me. However, some natural features, like charm, also come into the equation. In my youth, I was small and thin — not a smart man or a hero. I was often told that I wouldn’t be able to become an actor and that I wouldn’t even be allowed to enter the Theatre and Art Institute. However, I’ve done it. Regardless of being on stage, I try to behave naturally, as if I’m playing myself.
How does an actor catch an audience’s attention?
It’s a mystery. Messing said that he was hypnotising. Once, my son came to see the ‘Rainmaker’; afterwards, he went backstage and asked me: ‘How do you do it? You just stand silently, but I see that something is happening with you and with me…’. I often ask him the same question, especially when he repairs a kitchen tap or a motorcycle. For me, it’s mind-boggling that he can do this. Maybe this is why he studies stage engineering technology, rather than acting. I’m involved in my own business, where the ability to concentrate plays the major role. Some people are able to develop this ability more than others. It’s also important for an actor to flesh out a character; each has their own biography and life…
Does each character require such ability and mastery?
Absolutely. We gave a wonderful performance of ‘The Censor’, based on Japanese Koko Mitani’s ‘University of Laughs’. In two hours, the playwright describes the philosophical state of the protagonist. He is remote from the creative process, yet falls in love with it and begins to understand that it’s extremely interesting. I played the role of the censor, who is a former intelligence agent. Why does he, a soldier who organised terrorist attacks in Manchuria, become interested in a young boy who has written a play? I decided that he may have survived some tragedy — such as the death of his only son during the war. He treats everything relating to the military very seriously and can’t understand how a comedy can be written in wartime. In this way, I justified his strict attitude towards the comedy created by the young author. It helped me make the role multi-faceted, imagining the fate of the character. I believe this is an indispensable part of creating a role.
How do stage directors assess a role? They may not like an actor’s interpretation of a character.
They wouldn’t like it if I didn’t invent a fate for my character. Actors are dependant on their stage director, although they take the limelight. Co-operation is jointly creative; it’s a partnership. They say stage directors know everything but I dare to disagree. I’d say they experiment, but actors aren’t dolls — or pencils for the stage director to draw a plot. Moreover, each actor has their own perception of the play. The genius of a stage director lies in their ability to compromise with each actor. If they fail to find this compromise — with the actors and playwrights — the performance won’t be a success. In this case, my role will also fail.
Who has censored your own life?
Mostly myself. If I’m confident in the task set before me, I try to explain my position to the director, so they’ll change what doesn’t suit me.
They say talented stage directors always expect enthusiasm and initiative from their actors?
I’ve always worked with stage directors who are experts in their profession and can find a common language with actors. The Artistic Leader of our theatre, Modest Abramov, doesn’t stage performances; he works. People say that a stage director has staged a performance. Then what does the actor do? We joke about spectators — remote from the creative processes of actors and stage directors — who say: ‘the performance was good, but the actors were bad’ or ‘the actors were perfect but the performance was bad’. This cannot be, since everything works in harmony. Moreover, we must understand the profession and have knowledge of our occupation. I’m always pleased to see a professional — on stage or otherwise. I used to do all my house repairs myself and even plastered the walls of my summer cottage, although I failed to do it well. However, I didn’t dare repair the terrace; I called in a carpenter. It was a pleasure to watch him work; he was a true professional, a virtuoso. He could do with just two hacks of the axe what would take me an hour. Since then, I haven’t bothered to try car or house repairs.
Is your devotion to cars well known among actors?
Actually, I’m a fan of new cars. I have this passion not because I need additional adrenaline. It’s different. I sit in the car and my bad mood immediately lifts. My car protects me. I’m often not sure what I’m doing but I acquire this confidence when I’m in the car. Once, I was driving from a film shoot in Lida [Grodno region — author] and the weather was terrible — an icy snowstorm. However, I was sure that my Toyota wouldn’t fail me.
Are you making more films?
In 2009, I shot in four pictures. However, I’m not a screen actor. Theatre is more intimate, more immediate and interesting; I hope I don’t offend my cinematographer friends. It’s pleasant to shoot a film, especially if the team is good — as was the case on Andrey Kudinenko’s ‘Massacre’. I liked him very much; he trusts actors and isn’t obtrusive in his comments. Conditions were difficult, since it was -18 degrees Celsius, with ice. We were in a ramshackle castle, but the atmosphere was very warm. We also had a live bear, named Stepka, brought from Moscow. It was so tender and friendly and liked to be photographed. It sat near the animal trainer, waiting for its turn. It seemed that it liked to be patted and embraced.
Does the film promise to be spectacular? I’ve read that it will be a mystical thriller.
Something of this kind, maybe, with elements of drama. I think that the film will be popular. It’s full of mystery and, even, terror. I play Duke Ostrovsky — one of the guests of the major character.
How do you spend your time when you aren’t involved in theatre or cinema?
I’m busy most days. However, I do find time for other occupations and feel great satisfaction at being master of my time. I understand that my mood greatly depends on this. When I have too much to do and many places to visit, I feel under pressure. I don’t like to be late and business matters harass me. Therefore, I refuse invitations which make me feel pushed to the limit. This is why I left my job at Alpha Radio, although I’d worked there 19 years — since the foundation of this popular radio station.
You bring various characters to the stage; do they penetrate your own personality?
Of course. I can’t become another person — such as a doctor, who dedicates his life to medicine — without getting inside the role. If I hadn’t been an actor, I would never have understood what it’s like to be a doctor. I played the chief doctor of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Koch, in Alexander Yefremov’s film. However, it’s not the profession that’s vital but their thoughts and feelings. Theatre — like art — studies the human soul. This enriches me as an actor. I’ve been lucky to meet good stage directors using quality scripts. It’s pleasant to explore new acting aspects in yourself.
Do you often become tired in roles?
Sometimes. However, when you stand before an applauding audience and see the thankful faces of spectators, your tiredness disappears. The energy you give to the public is reflected back to you. At this moment, you experience overwhelming emotions.
Do you believe in luck? You’re a successful person. Are you satisfied with your life?
From the point of view of my profession and career, I can’t grumble.
Everything has gone well. I don’t believe in luck; you need to make good choices in life. Once, in Mannheim (Germany), our theatre took part in a festival. My colleagues came to my room and we decided to exchange impressions of trip. I began to move the bedside table from the bed and found 500 Belgian francs lying on the floor. My colleagues said: ‘Zhuravel, you are lucky again’. It wasn’t luck. Simply, someone had lost money, which may have created problems for them.
It may sound banal but I’ve always been lucky in meeting good people and professionals, such as my first teacher, my teachers at the institutes and stage directors. When I was 22, I played Treplev in Chekhov’s ‘Seagull’. At that time, I wasn’t pleased with my interpretation of the role. However, it was a school of acting mastery…
Is it pleasant for you to hear your own voice on STV television channel?
I have no strong feelings, since this is my additional job. I’m on TV two or three times a week, advertising films or TV programmes.
You must have favourite prog-rammes.
I like to watch TV from years ago, watching actors who were popular when I first began acting. I also enjoy programmes about animals; creatures are sincere. Several years ago, I picked up a dog from the street and called it Dusya. This mongrel is very smart and knows my mood perfectly. It doesn’t mind if I tell it that I need to work. As soon as I finish and think about the dog, it immediately comes up to me. It’s really a mystery to me how it understands people.
Do you go to premieres at other theatres?
If I have time. I’m also involved in non-repertory companies. One of the latest is ‘Woman and Clarinet’ — based on ‘The Lady and Her Men’, where I play one of the men.
What do you think about in your free time? What brings you joy? What do you recollect?
I like to recollect the past — such as our theatre’s trip to German Mannheim. We also travelled to Egypt, presenting the fairytales of One Thousand and One Nights. We were heartily welcomed in Lyon with our ‘Les Fourberies de Scapin’. The French were keen to see how Belarusians interpret their national hero. Like all of us, I think about what is dear to me: about my mother, who is old; about my health; and about future work… I try to live in the moment, enjoying life as it unrolls.
By Valentina Zhdanovich