Our country is learning to live in the conditions of a war. Everyone is concerned about this mischief. However, the terrible news about the Ukrainian servicemen killed during the ATO, kidnapping of people by terrorists and Russian contractors, bloodshed in the east of Ukraine are becoming routine.
Culture (in all of its manifestations) brings us back to eternal human values and helps to fight the depression, considers Serhii PAVLIUK, the head of Mykola Kulish Academic Theater of Music and Drama in Kherson Oblast. He risked doing a daring thing by visiting the Academic Ukrainian Theater of Music and Drama in Luhansk Oblast to stage a play with his colleagues, A Night in a Mountain Valley, based on the eponymous poem by Oleksandr Oles. With blasts and machine gun bursts of fire in the background the workers of theater staged a play with a bright Ukrainian character in Hutsul style near the supporting point of terrorists located at the Luhansk ODA. How were the Kherson artists met? What were their impressions from the rehearsals and people who continue to live in the ATO area? Can such a working trip be called heroic? Serhii Pavliuk answered the questions of The Day.
“Last year, in summer as well, my colleagues and I staged Lina Kostenko’s Marusia Churai in Luhansk. It was a success, and I consider it one of the best of my works. After the premiere we agreed to meet a year later to stage a new play. But recent political events in the country made me reconsider my plans several times. Our families and friends tried to talk us out of the trip to Luhansk. We were hesitating with what work to choose. And then our Luhansk colleagues offered to stage The Night in a Mountain valley. I thought that they were crazy to stage a work dedicated to Hutsul topic these days, but decided to go, all the more so I liked the Luhansk actors and wanted to work with them again. Together with Yurii Bus, the choreographer of the Kherson Theater, we began to work. The play was ready in record terms – two weeks.”
What are your impressions from Luhansk amidst the war? How were you received?
“We were met and accommodated by an actress with pro-Russian views. She kept telling me that the Ukrainian army was bombing the city. She is an emotional woman, so we did not conflict with her. Later we found out that we were living several hundred meters from the ODA seized by the terrorists. Every day we were going past the building to work. On the whole, we immediately felt the lack of truthful information in the city. People are telling incredible nonsense, they trust rumors and spread them themselves. For example, they show a piece of wall which was broken and say that the house was hit by a bomb from a Ukrainian plane. It is clear even for a non-professional that an airstrike could not cause such a small damage. Many people call terrorists the rebels. There were conflicts in the theater, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the people were for Ukraine. Even those whom we expected to express pro-Russian views turned out to be considerate. They thanked us for coming. However, we had unpleasant conversations with some of our colleagues, and we had to convince them that they were talking nonsense. You know, people have gotten accustomed to the war. The city is empty, and those who have stayed seem to be living a normal life. After a blast they go to see it and make photos.”
Was the burden of different political views in the theater a pressure for you?
“The first thing I did at the rehearsals was forbidding everyone to talk about politics. They were welcome to do this after work. But it was hard for me to ignore this. We could hear powerful explosions during the rehearsals, sometimes the terrorists switched on the alarm sirens (to keep the people in a panic mood). There was a funny situation when after a powerful blast the light started fading like in films. Suddenly someone came in and said, ‘Relax. It’s the thunderstorm, it has started to rain.’ The work distracted us from everything that was going on around us. Yurii Bus was exhausting the actors with Hutsul dances at the rehearsals, so there was no time for arguments. And the material is complicated for an actor to behave logically on the stage.
“I cut the texts almost by 70 percent, created a story of my own, and added many rituals and dances. This is a small-scale, mobile play with a minimum set, but with a qualitative performance of the four leading actors. We were in a hurry, so that the leading actors could leave the town soon, because they could not stand the tense war atmosphere. Some took leaves at their own expense. Most of them were pro-Russian actors, who actually left to Russia to their relatives.”
When is the premiere scheduled?
“We plan to show it on October 20-22 in Luhansk (I hope the war will be over by that time). Hopefully, this play will be shown at the next Melpomena Tavrii Festival.”
Can your trip to Luhansk be called a brave deed?
“There was nothing heroic about it. Honestly, I didn’t feel any fear, because I was going to the Ukrainian land. They only asked me to come without an oseledets hairdo or embroidered shirt, not to irritate the ‘geese.’ I don’t have oselededs for a while, and I didn’t take the embroidered shirt either. Yurii even asked me not to talk Ukrainian (for our safety), but in the end I became so bold that I talked whatever language I liked. We knew that they could stop us at the ODA, therefore we were carrying passports with us. And when we asked for a photo with the terrorists, they refused and in a half-joking manner offered a place in their basement.”
You have received offers to work in Russia before. Do you keep contact with Russian workers of theater?
“I am going to Izhevsk soon. Last year I staged Chekhov’s Seagull there, and then I was invited to stage Between Sky and Earth in spring. The Russians were very grateful, there were no problems. I felt that the problem was not about the ordinary people, but about those who are in power. This is a problem of people and the power. However, it was difficult for me there, because I was worried about my family, the Maidan events, but I was thankful to Udmurtia actors who supported me. We got on well. We should remember that Russia is not just the dreadful gang headed by Putin.”
How do you think we should live through the terrible time of war and become stronger?
“I am sure that everyone should do what he can do and not intrude in other people’s business. A serviceman should serve reliably, defend the people; an artist – support the state with his works which will unite people and inspire them to do good things. Today it is of extreme importance. We should fight the lies and Russian propaganda. I am going to the neighboring country to show that we are worth of respect. I am staging Shakespearian Romeo and Juliette, I will show my own view on the conflict of two families. I will put it like this: we are bringing our ‘tires’ there.”