Mystery of life is joy
[b]Fans of the talented Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre will soon see their favourites — Veronica Plyashkevich and Andrey Senkin — in new TV film: Wise Woman[/b]Young, happy and cheerful, they appeared in the editorial office immediately after shooting the Russian Wise Woman four-part TV mini-series. Joy played like a fountain around this beautiful couple, inspiring smiles, and I couldn’t help but recollect the optimistic saying that joyful people can cure all ills. It seemed to fit the pair perfectly. Being actors, Veronica Plyashkevich and Andrey Senkin are attuned with their surroundings, creating miracles via their stage characters. Although both just 27, they already boast a solid repertoire, distinguishing themselves with the Russian Theatre (as we traditionally call the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre) and on the big screen, playing memorable roles. Originally, we intended only to interview Ms. Plyashkevich. So many have been her roles since 2006 that it’s easier to list those plays she hasn’t yet appeared in.
Young, happy and cheerful, they appeared in the editorial office immediately after shooting the Russian Wise Woman four-part TV mini-series. Joy played like a fountain around this beautiful couple, inspiring smiles, and I couldn’t help but recollect the optimistic saying that joyful people can cure all ills. It seemed to fit the pair perfectly. Being actors, Veronica Plyashkevich and Andrey Senkin are attuned with their surroundings, creating miracles via their stage characters. Although both just 27, they already boast a solid repertoire, distinguishing themselves with the Russian Theatre (as we traditionally call the Maxim Gorky National Academic Drama Theatre) and on the big screen, playing memorable roles.
Originally, we intended only to interview Ms. Plyashkevich. So many have been her roles since 2006 that it’s easier to list those plays she hasn’t yet appeared in. After seeing her in the films The Shield of the Fatherland and At the Crossroads, I decided to ask if she might bring along her screen partners Ruslan Chernetsky or Alexey Senchilo (who have also played alongside her on stage). She agreed that both are friends of hers and that she admires both their talents. I wondered whether she might even bring more than one with her. I’d heard of her friendly character from her senior theatre colleagues and joked that she might like to invite Andrey Senkin — who also stars in At the Crossroads. He is actually her husband — a fact I hadn’t realised; accordingly, they arrived together.
I well remember Andrey for his splendid debut in the film Cadet — and for his stage roles in Russian Vaudevilles, The Run and Pane Kochanku. To see a young husband and wife stage team in love is something to behold; they radiate their own theatre of joy.
During our conversation, I observed their tentative yet respectful attitude towards each other’s opinions. Moreover, they often continue each other’s ideas, without needing to interrupt one another. Their laughter is contagious too. “Yes, we’re different,” smiles Andrey. “But we complement each other: Veronica is impulsive while I’m calmer…” They sincerely wish everyone to be as happy as they are — not just stage directors and actors but all those who have lost the ability to enjoy life. “If you can understand that the mystery of life lies in joy, you’ll enjoy even awkward moments on stage … and in life. Life is a great wonder!” explains Veronica. Andrey adds perkily, “Look, the sun’s come out!”
I share the deep conviction of my guests that people are pure and filled with light; life should be about being satisfied with what you have, rather than finding fault. I also like their thoughts on the nature of joy: those who experience happiness comprehend the mystery of existence.
It’s been said that theatre is like voluntary hard labour — rather like being placed in the galley. How do you feel about it?
V.: Unfortunately, we aren’t on stage every day. However, we do have rehearsals between shows — like all actors. As soon as performances end, you’re free. You simply turn up in the evenings for the audience and life becomes more balanced. Of course, it’s easy to fill time usefully, but actors do tend to miss the theatre when they’re not taking part in a show or rehearsing.
A.: There’s something magic in acting. Veronica and I often chat about this. Each time a performance finishes, we yearn for new roles.
With each performance, a show becomes stronger, like a child taking its first steps. Of course, new ‘flavours’ appear…
A.: Yes, from performance to performance, everything gains momentum and becomes stronger, including actors’ work…
V.: Saying that, there are some performances where everything you’d expect to see by the 100th show is present in the first night.
Have you played in such a performance?
V.: It was the ‘Taming of the Shrew’; at the time, I was still a student…
How did you find your way to the Russian Theatre?
A.: When I was a fourth year student at the Culture University, I was enrolled with the Young Spectators’ Theatre. However, as a fifth year student, in 2008, I was already playing with the Russian Theatre. I had a major role, playing a 19 year old boy in ‘I’m Your Bride’. State director Valentina Yerenkova sent me the role, for which I’m very grateful. At the same time, I was also involved in rehearsals of ‘Run’, and then ‘Pane Kochanku’ and ‘Russian Vaudevilles’.
V.: In 2006, I was invited to play the role of Anzhelika in the second team for ‘Stepmother’. I worked with the Russian Theatre while still studying at the Academy of Arts’ Theatre Department.
Who do you go to for advice in the theatre if a role goes wrong or you’re having difficulties?
V.: I don’t ask for advice. Rather, I discuss my role with older colleagues. I can always ask them to share their thoughts when doubts arise. I’m thinking of Olga Klebanovich and Bella Masumyan, and Alexander Tkachenok — our People’s Artistes. And Rostislav
Yankovsky`s advice is also of help. I’m always eager to hear their opinions on my performance. The actors in our theatre are sensitive to others’ feelings. As a rule, if they spot an inaccuracy in my work, they’ll advise me. It usually helps, so I’m pleased to listen. Alexander Zhdanovich also offers good criticism, treating the profession of acting very reverently. I always enjoy listening to him. I’m also on friendly terms with Sergey Chekeres, although he doesn’t wait until I ask. He just jumps in to tell me what’s wrong! However, whatever anyone tells me, I do make up my own mind. I wouldn’t change a role to reflect someone else’s ideas if I didn’t agree. I like the way our stage directors work with us, as they aren’t dictators — despite what many might think from hearing certain legends.
A.: Veronica is absolutely right. Whatever I’m told, I listen to but I only act as I feel best. I do try to meet the wishes of others, but I believe that one and the same dish can taste differently to various people — even if the ingredients are all the same. Acting is similar, since each actor has their own accent and unique style.
Do your parents ever come to see your performances?
V.: You may not believe me but my parents haven’t seen a single performance of mine. They’re either too busy in Zhodino or, when they’re free, I’m not involved in anything. However, they do watch my films; apparently, my mother always cries. I sometimes imagine her in the audience while I’m acting. I think that she’d enjoy seeing me on stage and, of course, would cry from joy and pride.
Who do you take after in your unrestrained passion for acting?
V.: My parents: my father used to DJ at discos and was keen on ‘The Beatles’ while my mother recited poetry with an amateur group. They’ve supported my desire to become an actress in every way.
A.: I was also brought up in a creative family. My father is a musician while my mother is musically talented, so they approved of my choice.
Do you enjoy the atmosphere of your native theatre?
A.: Yes, I do. I don’t feel any ambitious competition between the actors. We have absolutely independent personalities, with our own characteristics. Each has their own place.
V.: I’d say that competition exists but that it’s based on healthy foundations. No one envies another’s role and some can even offer other candidatures who would have played a role better than themselves once roles are distributed.
What’s the meaning behind your profession?
V.: Sincerity. If I’m not sincere and don’t strain every sinew, the audience won’t learn anything. Actors are psychologists of the human soul, however pompous it may sound. Our art is driven by sincerity, which leads to the creation of souls and harmony with fellow actors and the audience.
A.: Acting is always a juxtaposition of your own self and your role.
V.: Theatre allows us to look at a problem and its solution in real time.
According to critic Marina Davydova, the Russian Theatre is unique in focusing on the inner world of a character, with a confessionary style. Passion for experimentation and the search for new forms are supposed to characterise young people. Which do you prefer: ‘living’ on stage or real life?
V.: Anything dealing with the human soul is close to my heart, as are the psychological means with which we reveal our characters on stage. Your set should also be beautiful. Two people may stand on stage discussing the deepest philosophical aspects of life. However, music, special effects and lighting can add to the power of the scene. If this were not the case, theatre would be just the same as ordinary life.
A.: Of course, expressive technical means are needed to heighten the emotional charge and reveal the inner thoughts of characters.
Does your Russian Theatre have relevance today?
A.: Absolutely, with a repertoire selected to cater for every spectator and taste. We also perform many classical works — as these remain eternally relevant.
V.: In my opinion, we’re a little conservative but this does have advantages. Look at what’s happening on the Moscow stages. They may shake people up but I don’t like avant-garde performances. I’m thinking of the confessionary style of acting. Of course, people occasionally yearn for a little naughtiness, as we realise, so we bring humour into our performances. However, we aren’t slaves to fashion, unlike some theatres, which are constantly trying to shock audiences. The Russian Theatre has its own identity.
Are you interested in Lithuanian theatre?
A.: Yes, certainly. We saw NekroЁius’ ‘Idiot’ at the International Panorama Film Festival. It was complex — as you expect from Dostoevsky.
V.: ‘The Idiot’ offers a wonderful master class in psychological analysis, in a difficult genre. Andrey and I like this work very much. My soul responds to every word by this great writer. I understand him, so NekroЁius’ performance resonates with me.
A.: It was a very symbolic performance, as you might guess.
V.: We pondered it greatly, as not every symbol was explainable in words. We responded emotionally to what happened on stage; our hearts raced and it was hard even to breathe. Only later did we understand that the performance by the Lithuanians is about our fears, complexes, loneliness and, of course, about love.
Veronica, how do you perceive yourself as a person and an actress? How would you describe yourself to others?
V.: I don’t know… Probably, like all the rest. I have the same features as others: both good and bad. I sometimes enjoy hearing praise or thanks for my help, as it inspires me; I immediately wish to do more. However, at other times, I may think that I don’t deserve such praise. I can be hot-tempered and, even, aggressive but I immediately curse myself for behaving in such a way, realising that I wouldn’t like others to treat me in that manner. I suffer if I offend someone. Really, I have a lot to work upon.
A.: Veronica is a very good person: kind, beautiful, smart and talented. She has so much passion and power, which is important on stage. She is also known for her femininity. Yes, she is hot-tempered but what does that matter? In fact, I’ve never met such a cheerful person.
I’m very grateful to my parents for raising me as I am. I have hands and legs and look ok, thanks to genes. Reaching adulthood, I feel more grateful to my parents. I’m beginning to understand my mother and father more and want to help them, making up for the time when I paid them little attention.
V.: Of course, it’s very pleasant to hear such words from Andrey but I don’t want to be in debt and say that my husband is a wonderfully pure person. He has a transparent nature and knows intuitively about people — as children often do. I can’t help but admire this quality. Moreover, Andrey is Jack of all trades, being very good at home improvements. We recently received a service flat, where Andrey is doing all the work himself. He can even sew brilliantly, like a true designer. I enjoy cooking, so I’m glad that Andrey likes my dishes.
I believe a single person can be a whole universe, with endless worlds to explore. However, many actor marriages seem to be short term, with people searching for alternate worlds elsewhere. What do you think?
V.: We’ve been together for three and a half years now, and are well aware that marriages between actors often fail. How do you preserve a marriage? Primarily, trust is needed. Much, if not everything, depends on what you expect from your spouse. Moreover, it’s vital to understand that everyone has different talents: there are many wonderful people on Earth — talented and beautiful universes as you say. If you appreciate the happiness you’ve already experienced with someone close to you, and realise that this can continue indefinitely, you won’t be allured even by the most beautiful person.
What’s your brightest recollection from childhood or adolescence?
V.: There are many but the moment I most recall is my elder brother returning from Germany. At the time, our family had only a small income, so his gifts were unimaginable: chocolates and fruit and other things. I was walking along the street with bananas and candies, sharing them with other children. It gave me great pleasure — being the hero of the day. At that moment, although still a child, I understood my significance. I think that marked my entry into society.
A.: My brightest memory is of receiving my first guitar, as I love playing this instrument. Staying in my grandmother’s village, I found an old guitar lying abandoned. It was broken, with just two strings, and belonged to my godfather. He gave it to me and I brought it back to Pinsk, making four more strings from ordinary technical wire. I remember plucking my first chords while standing on the bed. We lived on the second floor, so my friends used to climb trees to see me playing. It brought such huge happiness! Later, my father taught me to play properly.
Have you ever had to criticise each other’s acting during a stage or film performance?
V.: Definitely. I reproach myself for being so frank sometimes. If my stage partner is doing something wrong, I feel pushed out of my own role, so I might shout at them off-stage, saying: ‘What are you doing?’ I then apologise and feel anxious.
A.: I’ve never had such moments at the Russian Theatre.
And during filming? For example, when you were shooting Cadet?
A.: ‘Cadet’ was my debut, when I was absorbing everything and trying to understand what they wanted from me.
Did you enjoy the world created by the stage director in Cadet? What do you remember from At the Crossroads?
A.: It was my first major cinema role so it was a revelation to me how important it is to try and get everything in one shot — for an immediate result. I enjoyed working with Vitaly Dudin very much. He is smart and sensitive, directing the human spirit rather than special effects. He sought our inner life in each shot; of course, this wasn’t easy. He rehearsed alongside us before shooting and corrected our actions, giving advice on how to move. It was a brilliant school of entrance into cinema. It was more comfortable for me in ‘At the Crossroads’ (as an actor and personally) as I was then already familiar with Dudin’s style. Moreover, I was shooting with Veronica. According to the script, my love was unrequited.
V.: At first, I was afraid to work with Andrey on a film, since he is my beloved husband. Anything might happen. We might argue or become too familiar with one another. However, we managed to remain ‘objective’ during filming, acting without showing too much interest in each other.
A.: I was also very calm, having already shot with Ruslan in ‘Cadet’. When you’re aware of your partner, you primarily aim to unveil the plot wisely.
V.: When you don’t know your partner, your thoughts override the plot. You look into your partner’s eyes to see how they respond. Undoubtedly, it’s an interesting process of first acquaintance during filming. Those who boast great screen experience try to meet beforehand to chat and find points of coincidence, since this helps them during filming. Overall, my experience on ‘At the Crossroads’ was wonderful.
My personal debut was in ‘Shield of the Fatherland’. I remember Dudin telling me: ‘You’ve disappointed me’. This happened again on the eve of screen tests for ‘At the Crossroads’. It upset me at the time. I remember asking myself: ‘What should I do?’ Then, I realised that I have an independent personality and can rise above events. I passed the screen tests and later understood that Dudin had been using tactics to make me stronger as an actress.
Do you attend other theatre premieres?
V.: We were at the Youth Theatre yesterday, watching ‘Quadrature of the Circle’. I enjoyed seeing the young actors greatly: one (Andrei Bibikov) is eccentric while the other (Maxim Braginets) is a new social hero. Moreover, Yegor Legkiy‘s stage directing is meticulous.
A.: I love seeing good performances staged in Belarus (as opposed to abroad) since it makes me feel proud. We boast talented actors and directors.
How do you combine your theatre and screen work?
V.: We sometimes manage to combine them and sometimes not. Everything depends on our schedule of work at the theatre.
Are you satisfied with your work in Wise Woman?
A.: I was playing a major role: a photo journalist who falls in love with a wise woman — played by our theatre actress Yulia Kadushkevich. Veronica plays the editor-in-chief of the magazine and the opposite of the wise woman in character.
V.: In my role, I’m an independent ‘she-devil’ whose behaviour is dictated by circumstances. My screen husband falls in love with the wise woman also but I fight for him desperately. This is the setting for the story. All ends well, as my husband stays with me while Andrey stays with the wise woman.
How do you deal with professional failures?
A.: I think that it’s vital to admit your weaknesses as an actor and not become upset. They are just part of your professional experience. Not everything goes well immediately.
V.: When something goes wrong, you need to understand that life consists of peaks and troughs — personally and professionally.
Do you ever take Alexander Pushkin’s advice of opening a bottle of champagne or rereading ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ when dark thoughts come? What do you read or open?
A.: I’m currently playing Cherubino in ‘Figaro’ at the Modern Arts Theatre, so have no need to reread this work. As far as alcohol is concerned, I don’t drink — as I don’t like it.
V.: I open something only if there’s good reason: celebrations with friends or someone’s birthday. Thank God, we tend not to have many misfortunes…
Veronica, in one of your interviews, you admitted that you’d like to play Tom Sawyer. Why?
V.: He’s like me in character. I’m keen on adventures.
Have you ever enjoyed that rare moment when the hall breathes with you, deeply empathising?
V.: I’m aware that such moments do occur during performances. I’ve had times when I’ve pronounced a word and have felt that the audience understands me. Without this, I’d never understand the happiness of the acting profession. Although such moments are rare, I know their aftertaste and await them eagerly.
By Valentina Zhdanovich