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Puppets and puppeteers return home

Grodno Regional Puppet Theatre reopens after reconstruction, its near three hundred year old building renovated, extended and returned to its former glory
By Yekaterina Charovska

Before its repair, the theatre was almost falling apart at the seams and could hardly accommodate its actors (those made from wood, fabric, metal and papier-mвchй as well as those of flesh and blood) in addition to its sets and props. The puppeteers would create new characters and decorations on their knees in the most unexpected corners of the building — later to thrill their audiences young and old and inspire admiration, sympathy, tears and laughter.

Regional authorities have funded new sound and light equipment, as well as a smoke generator and a device for artificial light. There are even new timber and metal processing machines and a welding unit, alongside industrial washing machines for costumes and decorations and a new vacuum cleaner. Traditional theatrical dust should become a thing of the past.

To improve comfort, aisles have been widened and the number of seats has been reduced, with wide, padded chairs installed; seating capacity is down from 300 to 242. The 18th century building is fundamentally sound and was last reconstructed in the 1970s, when its coquettish towers were removed from the roof. They’ve now been restored, returning the theatre to its former glory and charm, using drawings by Napoleon Orda and some photos of the original silhouette.

Director Valentina Tsyganest notes major disputes regarding wall colour. “For some reason, the design organisation insisted that the theatre should be painted in burgundy but we were very much against that idea. We had to seek out historical evidence for the building never having been painted in garish colours. We located the information, finding that the halls and the building itself were always painted in pastels.”

Forged balcony parapets, open-work curtain rods, sparkling parquet, a graceful colonnade, velvet curtains with heavy fringes and crystal chandeliers which sparkle in all the colours of the rainbow now grace the interior. The theatre looks just as it did when it first opened to the public — in all its glamour and pomp.

The puppeteers used the Drama Theatre during repairs, seeing full houses despite cramped conditions. They even premiered a historical tale called Auroch Hunting (based on Mikola Gusovsky’s poem) and Boy-Star (a philosophical fairytale based on Oscar Wilde’s play). The children’s Fairytale about a Magic Clock is also ready for performance.

Remarkably, their temporary home has brought luck to the Grodno puppeteers, whose Queen of Spades won four out of ten nominations at the latest National Theatre Awards ceremony. The performance is opening the new building and should become its talisman as it enters a new age. No one doubts that the talented theatrical troupe will find success in future. Already, all tickets until mid-January are sold out.

In May, the stage will welcome foreign companies and is to host a new festival entitled Puppets under the Nieman River. Puppeteers from Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Serbia have confirmed their participation.
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