Yuri Vutto, “I appreciate movement in life”
People often say that they like to watch the artistic process but I always ask “What about the result?”. Naturally, each person answers according to their worldviews. Yuri Vutto, the art director of the Minsk Region Drama Theatre in Molodechno, has his own opinions, which he shared just after the premiere of ‘For You to Live’. Here, he tells us about the art of theatre, the sense of the profession and performances, which he thinks must fit a theatre’s repertoire
Yuri, how did you get involved in theatre?
Stage director Vladimir Korotkevich, who was the Art Director of the Grodno Drama Theatre, noticed me playing a cameo role in student theatre. I was born in Grodno, attended school and entered the chemical-engineering college there. Korotkevich and his wife Nelly then invited me to join the university theatre; my first role was in ‘Versailles Story’. I entered the theatre and Minsk’s Art Academy under the burden of being a ‘star’.
After you graduated from the dramatic faculty, you worked for the Young Audience Theatre, didn’t you?
I started working at the Young Audience Theatre as a fourth year student; I played Pechorin in ‘A Hero of Our Time’ by M.Y.Lermontov. My work there began after I’d served my time with the army.
How many years did you give to the theatre?
23 — directing as well as acting; they are equally important professions. Even now, I sometimes act a scene to the company’s actors, to show them my vision for the cha-racters.
As far as I remember, you directed the Young Audience Theatre.
Yes, for ten years. I worked as a stage director alongside six actors; it was an interesting experiment.
How did you decide to become a stage director?
Through improvisation; Mikhail Petrov (Honoured Artist of Belarus) and I were ‘salaried congratulators’, inventing scripts for amateur variety revues. These were showcased at special events — such as theatrical season openings, anniversaries and actors’ birthdays. We organised evenings of light humour. Sharp-witted comedy was popular among theatrical groups — and we even came first in a competition. We were supposed to be performing in St. Petersburg but ended up touring Dnepropetrovsk while ‘Christophor’ (the Theatre of Humour in Minsk)
took our place.
Did those revues give you a taste for freedom?
Yes. I didn’t become a stage director to make actors dependent on me. I chose it as a profession because I appreciate development; I can’t bear stagnation. I am enthusiastic person. If our lives were longer, I would try other professions. Working with the Young Audience Theatre, I wrote 12 plays and presented 12 plays and fairy-tales. I’m always learning something new. The Theatrical Art Council certified me as a stage director and I won the Liubov Mozolevskaya prize (the first stage director of the Young Audience Theatre) for my direction of two performances — ‘Small evil-doers’ and ‘Super-SHA’.
How did you become the main Santa Claus of the country?
A Minsk school invited me to organise a New Year’s children’s matinee. My addiction to improvisation turned out to be useful in playing Santa. I enjoyed it and other places besides schools invited me. I participated in lots of events, including a matinee at the Palace of the Republic. I was the main Santa Claus for seven years (with a one-year break).
Does the Santa Claus costume remind you of that role?
Santa Claus is forever. As long as children exist, they will need Santa Claus.
How did you come to Molodechno?
In 1999, during a theatrical festival, I met director Sergey Valkovich, who asked me to present a monologue for his birthday. Since 2000, I’ve directed one play for them annually.
What is your attitude to ci-nema?
I’m on friendly terms, having acted in over thirty films; I’ve lost count. I had many good roles, from businessman and military man to mafia. I was lucky to play in ‘Mika and Alfred’ by Vladimir Fatyanov (Russian stage director) in St. Petersburg. I’ve recently returned from Montenegro, where I met Andrey Panin (a popular Russian actor).
What do you like best about film?
You can meet good actors, study their behaviour, gain inspiration and learn from their professionalism. Fatyanov reminds me of Michael York — well known from ‘Cabaret’, starring Lisa Minnelli. He is like a Hollywood star but, even when he is tired, he remains friendly and approachable. I looked at how he communicated with people and learned from him. I’ve acted for stage and screen but have a long way to go to master my profession. I’m always learning. My mottoes are ‘if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen’ and ‘if you’re going to jump, do so with both feet’. I am also learning from Andrey Panin, who has so many facets to his acting. Geniuses like him act because they are born to do it — with no thought for the money.
How do you use such experience with theatre actors?
It enriches me, giving me something to share with colleagues.
What do you appreciate in your actors?
Professionalism, including self-improvement. Communicating with actors, I use my experience with students. I occasionally teach at the University of Culture in Minsk, experimenting with new stage direction. Being an assistant professor, I’m writing about how actors interact with audiences and am pondering how to hold them spellbound. How can we make them laugh, while giving them self-knowledge and catharsis?
Your theatre doesn’t miss this opportunity, does it?
It provides such an opportunity. We have 24 performances in our repertoire. ‘Evening’ by Alexey Dudarev is among them, which I love. We also perform classics. Former director Sergey Valkovich used to invite guest directors; I’m trying to continue this tradition, since it brings in fresh ideas.
How often does your theatre leave Molodechno to tour and attend festivals?
Often enough to understand what we should be aspiring to.
What place does your theatre hold among the 27 Belarusian theatres?
Some of our performances are in the top-ten countrywide. However, it’s impossible to define such a ranking once and forever. Theatre is a living organism, always changing and growing. An actor could play the best role of a hundred worldwide one week and then be unknown the next. Five years ago, I found ‘The Beginning’ by Boris Vasiliev (Russian playwright), where the action takes place four hours before war is declared. The plot and characters are amazing! This performance is still in our repertoire; we just keep changing the actors. It will be fitting to mark the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation. On average, a performance runs 3-4 years, though some survive longer.
Has your work with Molodechno theatre contributed to the popularity of drama in the region?
Our small district centre has an intense feel for drama. We have a Palace of Culture, a puppet theatre, museums and a musical college. The regional Belarusian-language theatre gained its status in 1991, established on the basis of the People’s Theatre.
I felt the cultured nature of the audience during the performance...
This time, we had a mostly adult audience but, sometimes, the hall is full of teenagers and school children. They tend to be quiet; they listen attentively and react to what they see and hear on stage.
Why is this?
Molodechno audiences are less corrupted by mass culture. Our profession is respected — a tradition passed on from generation to generation. According to social research, 27 per cent of people (the population is 110 000) are theatre-goers. This is an impressive figure, taking into account the fact that theatre is still seen as an elite form of entertainment. Intellectuals are regular patrons — teachers and doctors — but young people also visit the theatre. Our repertoire is for young and old alike.
Is your new performance ‘For You to Live…’ aimed at the older generation?
Yes, but young people will still watch it. Students of vocational-technical schools occupied half the hall during the premiere. There were so many emotions on their faces. These youngsters sympathised with the old men on the stage. I chose the play ‘Three Old Ladies’ by Mikhail Kolomensky for its post-Soviet culture references. Many people will be able to relate to it — but there are plenty of older women who’ll especially enjoy the story. My mother, who is 78, remains as restless and dedicated as she ever was — just like the heroine of the play, Alexandra (played by Galina Kukhalskaya). Such people love selflessly and work with commitment. My mother was a director of the Palace of Culture for the deaf and dumb. She lives in Grodno now.
Is the character of Alexandra inspired by your own mother?
Not really; they are simply alike.
It seems to me that the actresses in the performance drew everything possible from the play. It doesn’t have a great deal of plot; Kolomensky builds his plays on dialogue.
I shortened the play with the author’s consent and am satisfied. Of course, there is room for improvement and we could work on our pauses, since these give the audience — particularly elderly theatre-goers — opportunities to recollect moments from their own lives.
Do you like the process of stage direction?
Yes, I do. A premiere is important, since it gives a first impression. It is a ready-made product, which has to be sold competently. The process of creation is an art in itself. Life is so interesting when you are searching for something... and then find it.