Playing puppets seriously

Independent puppet theatre rivalling any professional company is new and little-seen phenomenon on capital’s cultural ‘landscape’

By Vasily Petrovsky

There are plenty of amateur companies who tour nurseries and schools with a couple of suitcases of carelessly sewn puppets; these lower the ‘aesthetic bar’ for puppetry, making people believe that the genre is only for children. However, Dmitry Gaidel, director and producer of Province Theatre — Belarus’ first and the only private puppet theatre, which recently toured Minsk — is confident that his young actors’ talents rival those of any in Europe.

Mr. Gaidel, is it difficult to create one’s own theatre?

It took me three years.

Meanwhile, you’ve remained an actor with Grodno’s Regional Puppet Theatre...

As long as I can combine these opportunities, I will. The Province Theatre is a creative, rather than a commercial, project. In Minsk, people know artists, stage directors and painters; there are some outstanding names and brands, but the situation is different in the provinces. Artists don’t take part in films or soaps, preferring to make their name while they’re young, so we decided to set up our own theatre, attending various festivals.

Which places have you already visited?

Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Moscow and St. Petersburg…

How are you welcomed?

We’ve won prizes. ‘The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights’, staged by Oleg Zhyugzhda, has three international diplomas. This year, Kafka-based ‘Metamorphosis’ took a prize at the ‘Moscow Holidays’ International Forum of Chamber Puppet Theatres. We’ve also applied to join events in Germany and Austria. The puppet world is rather unusual, being more consolidated. There are lots of drama theatres, even in Minsk, but only one puppet theatre. Previously, we weren’t highly rated, although we don’t give performances to pre-school children. We are true artists, searching for major festivals at which to present our work. We’ve already made a name for ourselves. To create something good, you need to work hard, with good directors and set designers. Our performances are staged by Oleg Zhyugzhda, chief director with Grodno’s Regional Puppet Theatre; he is known in Europe. Valery Rachkovsky, chief artist with the Belarusian State Puppet Theatre, worked with us on ‘Metamorphosis’.

Do your colleagues from the Grodno Theatre form the major core of the troupe?

Yes. There was a time when we wanted to experiment. We don’t have our own theatre and there are only six of us, so our performances are mobile and small in scale. We don’t aim to perform to large audiences; we seek out our own, theatrically sensitive, spectators.

Are you always understood?

We’re equally well accepted in the East and in the West.

Mr. Gaidel, what are the major problems facing puppet theatre?

They’re the same as those facing drama theatres. Firstly, audiences tend to go to the theatre when everything is well in life. In Grodno and Minsk, people don’t tend to go to puppet shows, having other interests. Secondly, people mistrust private theatres. Even those who studied with me at the theatre institute treated us with irony until recently. They didn’t understand why we operated privately.

We want to prove that, today, it doesn’t matter whether a theatre is private, state or municipal. If a steady company exists, engaged in its favourite occupation, audiences will always be found.

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