Ilya Gordon

Today in "Foreigner" rubric we present the whole theatre - Berlin "Russian Stage". The only foreign repertory theatre-house, making performances in Russian, with permanent company, premise, studios and festival history, but without any state financing. And... really cherishing its Russian tours.

"I married the theatre" - laughs Ilya Gordon, Director of the "Russian Stage". And adds seriously: "If I knew that it would be so difficult, I would hardly get down to theatrical business". Mathematician-programmer by profession, he went to Germany in 1990s, and came to the motherland for business trips. From one of such business trips he came back with the wife - Inna Sokolova, Stanislavsky's "granddaughter" (Inna studied at Yuri Malkovsky course, one of the last students and assistants of Konstantin Sergeevich).

Upon changing the country, Inna didn't want to change the profession (however, she didn't change the country to a full degree -she keeps on teaching in her alma mater, University of Culture, during short visits). To earn money she opened children's theatrical studio in Berlin as far as since university she used to work with children (soon it turned out to be the most reliable way of making money). Then she made her first performance in Berlin - "Jewish Wife": from a small fragment of the "Fear and Poverty of the III Empire" she made a full-fledged performance with Brecht's poem translated by Yuri Levitansky. "We do not always understand what treasure we have - wonderful translations - says Ilya. - One German, who studied in USSR and knew Russian very well, told me after the performance, that translated Brecht sounded better".

That performance is already a history, the actors of the "Jewish Wife" went to different countries and the feeling that in Berlin, with 400 thousand of Russian -speaking population, one can create Russian theatre, remained. They travelled from one place to another making a company (by the way there are still a lot of volunteers - among 400 thousand there are many professional actors longing for theatre) and finally settled down in a small premise in Kurfurstenstrasse.

Today there are seventeen adult and five children's performances in the repertory of the "Russian Stage". Authors - Shakespeare, Schiller, Ostrovsky, Chekhov, Yukio Mishima, Matei Vișniec, Pushkin, Byron, Lermontov, Figueiredo and even Salvador Dali - cannot but make the audience serious. The theatre cannot afford the densely populated performance. The most crowded performance - "The Seagull" (total nine actors, including students). "King Lear", for example, is played by two actors - the Fool here is almost the main character, commenting the events (“Oh, my crazy master" performance). "Small Tragedies" by Pushkin - for four actors. Every time the director must invent original interpretation to justify such decisions.

One of the most well-known performances - "Confessions of a Mask" after the novel of Yukio Mishima - has been on stage for several years, was performed in Moscow for several times and became the winner of international festival in Macedonia (Bitola). Andre Moshoy, playing the cruel drama of alter ego growing-up of Mishima himself, for first time played in Russian in Berlin. He was born in one of Moldavian villages, where nobody spoke Russian, studied at Moldavian studio of Shchukin Theatre Institute, then emigrated, played in Romanian, and later, after moving to Italy, in Italian. And only in Berlin, in "Russian Stage", he started to master Russian scenic speech after thorny acting path from Ivan the Fool to Kain and Kimi, a young Japanese, who becomes aware that he could live absolutely different life and does not want to content himself with what he has. His fascinating accent with interlacing European languages, even better underlines the condition of his character - unhealthy, reserved gay teenager, who feels alien from the very childhood, teenager, whose sincerity is perceived by people as peacockery and the play in rudeness, courage and other qualities unfamiliar to him - as natural.

However, there is an actor in the theatre, who, thanks to his abilities, is allowed to play in German as far as he is Kurd born in Berlin. As for the rest, all performances and classes in the studio are in Russian.

The theatre earns money mainly with the help of studio - children's, teenager's and adult. Everybody can be admitted - some dream about acting, others come to solve their problems: master native Russian, which becomes foreign, solve problems with the speech, get rid off complexes, learn how to control the body. According to Inna, psychological problems are typical for many children of emigrants. It happens that children cannot get into the work for a long time, they just sit at the classes and absorb everything. But later they open up to the full extent. Older children of Ilya and Inna are not connected with the theatre at all, but younger daughter is always in the theatre and always ready to replace any sick student.

"We do not pay salary, all actors are playing for free - says the Director. - The only problem is to pay rent and royalties for the use of music, even Russian (the regulations regarding copyrights are very strict in Germany). Sometimes we talk about possible closing, but it is a pity to give up the business with so much efforts put in. Nevertheless if the landlord decides that it is unprofitable to deal with us, we will have to leave the theatre. By all means actors must work somewhere else: I make translations, the other teaches, the third works on the radio, the fourth creates sites and works as operator, the fifth - a model on the catwalk. We are obliged to consider this: for example, if I know that actor-model finishes the work at 07:30 p.m. (and the performance starts at 08:00 p.m.) I take the car and drive to take him to be on time by the beginning. Luckily there are almost no traffic jams in Berlin".

The creators of the "Russian Stage" are not going to compete with German theatre or become integrated in the German environment and believe that their strength is in the peculiarity of repertory and language.

"According to statistics every evening from 1600 to 2000 cultural events take place in Berlin - says Ilya Gordon. - Why would we go into this huge market with products which are certainly lagging behind the original products. In Berlin there are a lot of theatres with colossal competition between them, but it is often impossible to differentiate one from another. Much expression, game of defeat, desire to certainly see, which partially explains the design form of many performances. And we have "The Seagull" - actors are students and no special effects, striking the imagination, nothing shocking, but actors adore the performance and there are always visitors. Why become more German than Germans themselves, trying to outplay them on their field?

And of course visitors, who's opinion we value a lot, live in Russia. It is not a customary thing in Germany to invite a girlfriend to the theatre".

Olga Kaniskina

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