It used to be impossible to gain entry to the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre; for the last three years, it has been undergoing restoration. Even now, after the solemn opening of the country’s main stage, acquiring tickets requires patience. Most are sold out 4-6 weeks in advance.
Increasing numbers of tourists are evident in the audience however, with foreign travellers visiting the Belarusian capital not only to see architecture and museums, but to go to the theatre. Besides ever popular opera and ballet, plays in Belarusian are seeing full houses.
Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre ticket office sales-woman Zoya Amosova describes the situation as ‘overfull houses’. For many years, she has been selling tickets, but she can’t recall similar demand for arts tickets since Soviet times. Today, people have TV and Internet at their disposal — so what really draws them to the theatre?
Ms. Amosova thinks that many are now tired of mass culture and relish the idea of being carried away into the world created by actors, finding inspiration for their own lives from the stage. In times of crisis, values can be shaken, since the struggle for existence is aggravated. Theatre assumes even more relevance in such circumstances.
Meanwhile, tickets rise in price. According to the Deputy Culture Minister, Vladimir Rylatko, increases are most evident for opera and ballet tickets — on purpose. Art in Belarus has traditionally always been ‘affordable’ but, clearly, price rises are not deterring audiences. The latest statistics show that music and theatre tickets in Minsk were 90 percent sold — creating a profit. Now, the question is not how big an audience can be attracted but the number of performances and actors’ salaries. Audience should see professionals who, in turn, want proper wages — rather than just flowers.
It seems that people understand. Many admit that they’ll pay more for a good production featuring famous actors on a prestigious stage. A few days after tickets for The Savage Hunt of King Stakh went on sale at the Yanka Kupala National Academic Theatre, they were sold out. The opening night of Run (based on Bulgakov’s story) at the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre was a sell out long beforehand.
Ms. Amosova, being an expert, notices, “Productions featuring famous names (authors and actors) are much in demand. Classics are what people want; they don’t go to the theatre just for the sake of going.”
The fact that many viewers come from the provinces adds to the excitement. Meanwhile, tourists coming to the capital are shifting their interest from Soviet era monuments and cosy cafes in the Old Town to theatre culture. Germans, Chinese and Russians are even keen to see performances in Belarusian.
Perhaps, the use of our native language in the capital’s theatres has a certain purity. Belarus is still a mysterious country for many visitors and our language may help them understand us. Theatre is a bridge between peoples, with art retaining its own life-force, regardless of economic upheaval.
Full houses, as ever
Foreign guests visiting Minsk theatres more than ever