The Ilkhom Theatre and Its Friends

Last year the Ilkhom Theatre, which was founded back in the Soviet era by a famous director Mark Weil, turned 35.  The Ilkhom became one of the first non-state theatre companies in the USSR, and is currently the only independent theatre in Uzbekistan. 

Here are the numbers and facts that speak for themselves.  180-200 productions and over 25000 spectators per year.  Participation in over forty international theatre festivals over the last 10 years (USA, Japan, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Holland, Denmark).  Over ten prestigious international awards and prizes, including Le Prix Paris-Europa (2007), which recognizes the most significant projects in the area of theatre art and culture as a whole.  

Today the Ilkhom Theatre, whose current artistic director is Weil's student Boris Gafurov, demonstrates that after its founder's death in 2008 it is capable of developing the potential laid down by the master, raising a new generation of students of the School of Dramatic Arts, and launching new joint international-level projects (Nice, Lublin, Moscow).

Along with theatre productions, the Ilkhom was always known for its openness with regard to new trends and support of young artists and musicians.  These days the theatre conducts rock music, street art, and public art festivals, the "Ilkhom. New Drama" Festival, art exhibitions, and international workshops on documentary cinema.  Tashkent audiences are introduced to contemporary plays from Germany, France, Israel, USA, Russia, and Switzerland as part of the "Stage Improvisations" project.

And all of that is done with complete absence of subsidies from Uzbekistan's government organizations and cultural institutions…

The Ilkhom theatre's artistic prosperity creates an illusory impression of financial wellbeing as well.  Ordinary spectators all share a popular belief that the theatre does not want for anything financially (regular trips abroad),  is well fed (the most expensive performance tickets in the city),  and affluent (associating with diplomats serving in Uzbekistan).  Real life, however, beats in a different key, amassing seemingly unsolvable problems. In creating noncommercial daring projects and bringing the young under its wing, including artists and musicians, the Ilkhom Theatre Company is taking a big loss (financial, of course, not artistic).  Festivals that are held on the stage of the Ilkhom Theatre enjoy free use of the theatre's technical facilities and the assistance of its staff that operates on pure enthusiasm. 

And yet… The theatre has no money to repair the roof that leaks with spring downpours: they are forced to take down artwork whenever it rains or snows.  There is no money to repair the floor air conditioning units, a gift from a sponsor from many years ago.  As a result, in the winter the artists' teeth chatter from the cold and the audience keeps their winter coats on, while in the summer both pass out from the heat.  Back pay owed to theatre workers sometimes amounts to five months' worth.   Only the most unwavering idealists and optimists persevere under these conditions.   

In recent years a number of actors from the theatre's key staff  have abandoned it.  Some left because they were unable to come to terms with the death of Mark Weil; others - because they couldn't support their families; others still decided to leave the country altogether.  When it comes to the Ilkhom, though, any one person's departure is  a disaster.  Thank God that the theatre's ranks are constantly being replenished by students from the School of Dramatic Arts, which was founded 20 years ago.  This allows the Ilkhom Theatre to maintain its legendary repertoire and even to upgrade it.  The School needs money for upkeep too, though...

International tours, a good revenue item, disappeared from the Ilkhom's balance sheet.  The economic crisis rendered its jampacked productions, where musicians work alongside the actors,  "non-ambulatory".  In previous years, though, the theatre earned good money on tours, which allowed it to survive for six months at a time with timely payment of wages.  Now the theatre can no longer count on that, despite the sincere admiration on the part of European and American audiences.  The country has no sanctioned institution of art patronage.  Neither Uzbekistan's legislature nor the local psychology encourage art contributions.

All throughout its history the theatre has been an independent organism that received no government subsidies whatsoever. 

The Ilkhom Theatre continues living independently; but, unfortunately, the absence of a permanent sponsor or the support from business circles turns the theatre's existence into basic "survival".  And these days the Ilkhom speaks openly about the fact that its subsequent existence is fully dependent on real aid, both financial and material.

The theatre isn't sitting around, twiddling its thumbs and wallowing in despair.  Numerous steps to locate sponsors have been undertaken already, and the results have been positive.  And yet it is not enough.   The theatre is in constant talks with local businessmen.  Things are more complicated when it comes to international funds, however: some of them are barred from operating on the Uzbek territory, while others would have loved to help but under the current legislature simply cannot find an article that would have allowed them to provide such assistance.  This is how the Russian Center for Support of Russian theatre abroad commented on the situation: the Center has no authority to provide financial assistance; the assistance we can provide is of artistic or pedagogical nature.

Meanwhile, the theatre's fans have begun collecting private donations for the Ilkhom Theatre.   They were also the ones who gave the theatre's company a projector, a vacuum cleaner, a microwave oven, a printer, office furniture, and even paint for the lobby walls.   The Friends of the Ilkhom Theatre Club was also created a little while ago.  The Club collects small monetary contributions, which the theatre rewards with various bonuses.   This can, of course, provide temporary support, but, unfortunately, it will not be able to save the theatre from a global disaster.  And the loss of the Ilkhom Theatre is bound to affect the communal cultural situation of our equally communal spiritual space. 

 Irina Alpatova

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