Spirituality Knee-Deep in Mud

Nikolay Kolyada has written ninety eight plays, sixty seven of which are put into production throughout the whole world, as far as in Australia. He resides in Yekaterinburg. Following his education, he is an actor and a prose writer. Following his calling, he is a builder of the theatre. Not only in the exalted sense (as a troupe gatherer and style author) but in the literal sense as well (electric wiring, water supply, fire alarm have been installed by him personally). The art director of the “Kolyada Theatre”, the main personage of the “Kolyada-plays” festival. The generator of dramaturgic activity in the Urals who gives a course at the local theatre institute. And generally, a man who loves his work, knows the price of freedom and is willing to pay for it. His story about the life of a small private non-metropolitan theatre known far beyond the boundaries of the country might seem a workshop of survival to some and give hope to others.

The reason I started to stage did not lie in the fact that my life had been so good. In 1993 the first festival of productions based on my plays was to take place: twenty three theatres came to participate. And before that the main director of our academic drama theatre said that we should participate too. I have a play called “America gave Russia a steamship” for two actors. She’s over forty, he’s eighteen, a melodrama about love that failed. The director told me, “I would just take on eight actresses and one guy, can you imagine?” I did imagine that horrible picture – eight women per one guy. What a conception! I said, “May I stage my play myself?” I took my “Oginsky’s Polonez” and staged it so that it was on for ten years. I really liked that work and I began to stage plays at the theatre approximately once per year. But each time it was more and more difficult to reach agreement with the director.

In 2001 I paid eight thousand Rubles to a lawyer and had my own theatre incorporated, got a settlement account and a seal. For two years the theatre existed without premises. Little by little the troupe formed. At first we played at a basement with not even light installed. I paid twenty five thousand Rubles – and the light appeared. Six months later we carried out repair works but as soon as we finished, there came a firm that owned the basement and cancelled the agreement with us. Besides, our basement was close to a restaurant…

We fought for two years until we were finally evicted. Then we settled on mattresses straight on Lenin Street and went on a hunger strike. We lay there for three days until the region minister of culture came and told us to leave the place immediately as Nurgaliyev was about to ride through the street. After that the minister of the State Property Committee paid us a visit. But we did not leave until we got a place, even two, so that we could have a choice. The first option was a former bomb shelter. I came there, went forty meters down and imagined how children would come to us to see fairy tales. The second place was a wooden house with twenty eight little rooms, no heating, no hot and cold water, and had stood empty for six months. I was told that it would cost 50 million to arrange for utilities in that house. We began to do everything ourselves. To supply water we had to dig a ditch to the plumbing system, it was dug by my honoured actors. We still have a boiler for hot water. It took a month to destroy those 28 rooms and make a hall looking like a theatre.

The first performance we showed there was “The Phoenix Bird”. In accordance with the text, the characters delight in heat, however, our spectators in the auditorium wrapped themselves in fur coats and actors - blue with cold - were a horrible sight to look at. And so, our new life began. We give 50-60 performances a month. On Saturdays and Sundays we perform plays for children at 11.00 and 13.00 and productions for adults - at 18.30. We also have a project “Theatre in the Boiler Room”: a short play or reading of a new play at 21.30. We do not give four performances a day due to a happy life, we just need to earn money.

We have recently showed “Moidodyr” at the “Long Break” children’s festival. Anton Loshak - the producer who took our “Cherry Orchard”, “Hamlet”, “A Streetcar Named Desire” to the Odeon - came to the backstage to see me. He came in tears and said, “Oh, Kolyada, how bloodily you earn your money”. My actress Irina Ermolova – Ranevskaya, Ophelia, Blanche DuBois - comes out in that performance dressed as a little spruce tree with the appropriate text. Of course, an actress of such level should not act in the extras. I told them once, “Listen, it must me hard and awkward for you to perform in matinees for children. Let me substitute for you”. But they objected, “No, we do want it!” My school. An actor must come onto the stage seven times a week as a pilot must have a flying time of many hours.

They say, my theatre is an amateur one. Well, I don’t have a single amateur, everybody graduated from Yekaterinburg Theatre Institute. There is even one Muscovite in the troupe. He came to the “Kolyada-Plays” festival and then for a few days running came to me, asking to admit him to the theatre. “ Are you crazy? – I asked, - Everyone’s going to Moscow, there are soap operas, money and opportunities. Are you a bad actor, probably?” “No, I’m a good actor”. He’s been working with me for three years now and has found a girlfriend here.

And I have no administrative manager, stage designer, music director and so on. For instance, I’ve started to stage “Boris Godunov” now. When I was in Moscow, I devised an intricate combination: I called Eugenia Kuznetsova, the literary manager at the Sovremennik, asked to get in touch with Pavel Kaplevich so that he would look for the old “boyar’s” stuff no one needs any more in different theatres. We would re-saw, re-trim it and fix on fake diamonds and it would save us money.

As always, I do not have a precise plan. I only imagined Godunov not as a giant portrayed by Chaliapin or Hvorostovsky but as a little fair-haired jester who holds everyone in his hand, fools them and carries on intrigues. I have such an actor of genius – Oleg Yagodin. When he reads the monologue “To be or not to be”, especially the part concerning the mockery of the worthy by the unworthy, I sit behind the scenes made up as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father and always cry. And only then I realize that I actually have make up on my face. He can do anything.

After the first rehearsal of “Godunov” I went to a warehouse-shop where one can buy store equipment. I saw a block for meat chopping for eight thousand Rubles. “Give it to me”, I said. Swearing, they crammed the block into my Chevrolet-Niva. Before the rehearsal I also bought fish and boiled chicken. I called a stout actor of mine, undressed him up to his waist, put fish and chicken on the block. “Chop”, I told him. Then I made him put his head on that bloody medley. The day before I recorded a soundtrack in my car in a traffic jam. First I sang a children’s song “Vo Sadu Li V Ogorode” (one should bring as many memories from childhood to the theatre as possible) in a drunk voice. The next track came as “One cannot pray for Herod, Mother of God forbids it” in the same tune and in the same voice. And after that – “What a Pushkin, what a son of a bitch!” And finally, a mix of the doggie, Mother of God and the son of a bitch. As if a heavily drunk guy sat looking out of a black window and sang, sang, though he had strength neither to drink nor to sing any more. So, our Maxim lay with his head in that medley and a hoarse voice sang a song about the doggie, Mother of God, Pushkin and Borya Godunov. And it looked so scary and so pretty. And so Russian.

Once critics in Samara (which is a very theatrical city!) said there was only filth and no love for Russia in my performances. It was after we brought there our “Inspector-General” that we perform knee-deep in mud. And when the last spectator leaves, we look out of our rooms to see: have they all gone? They have. We roll up our trousers and start washing the floor: Khlestakov and the mayor and Maria Antonovna. We wash, talk in a friendly way and laugh. If we manage to finish before 1 a.m., it is good. “Do we really have so much filth, where is spirituality?” the critics say. As for me, I’d rather do something useful than kiss each other in the beard and wear a cross. For instance I have my little “vegetable garden” – my theatre. I cultivate it and I don’t know how to love Russia in a different way.

Written down by Pavel Konstantinov


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