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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

What do they laugh at in Omsk?

The Galerka Theater comes to Kyiv for the first time, September 7 through 13
6 September, 2012 - 00:00
THE ABSURDITY AND THE TRAGICOMIC MOMENTS ARE INTERTWINED IN FAMILY PORTAIT WITH A STRANGER, AND THIS REMINDS SO MUCH OF THE REAL LIFE / Photo from the archives of the Omsk Galerka Theater

This year the Galerka Theater from Southwestern Siberia celebrates its 22nd anniversary. But our audience is not yet familiar with it. Posters announcing the plays by the Omsk theater appeared in Kyiv only 10 days before the first performance date. That was a risky step! Even the popular Moscow theaters started generously advertising their fall tours back in summer. The Lenkom will give performances in our capital from 8 to 17 September, and The Maly Theater will be touring in late September – early October. What do the Siberians count on? Why are six plays out of seven presented in their playbill – comedies? We talked about how the company was created, Ukrainian diaspora in Omsk, and much more with the head of the Omsk State Drama Theater Galerka Vladimir VITKO.

“The theater was created in 1990, and ever since then it has been following the original direction what was chosen during its creation. We are devoted to the traditions of Russian psychological theater. Our repertoire contains stage adaptations of works by great writers and dramatists: Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Aleksandr Ostrovsky, Aleksey Tolstoy, Sergey Yesenin, Aleksandr Vampilov, Valentin Rasputin, and others. Our audience is fond of works by modern comedy playwright Stepan Lobozerov. At this time our theater’s playbill includes five of his plays, and we are going to perform two of them in Kyiv (Family Portrait with a Stranger, and Family Portrait with Bills).

“We are bringing a rather rare repertoire. For example, The Married Bride, a comedy written in 1817 by prince Aleksandr Shakhovsky jointly with Aleksandr Griboyedov and Nikolai Khmelnitsky, which has an alternative name, A Family of One’s Own. This is one of the best examples of poetic comedy of the early 19th century [The play is rarely staged in Russia, but it can be seen at the Saint Petersburg Youth Theater on the Fontanka, produced by Mikhail Chernyak. – Author].

“I am sure that the audience will appreciate the play Lazybones, which is going to be the opening one for our tour. This is Aleksey Tolstoy’s first play. It is staged only in two cities: Omsk and Chelyabinsk.

“I advise the theater goers to watch the play A Farewell in June based on Vampilov’s work. By the way, we had a whole Vampilov cycle in our theater, when all five of his plays were staged. We even held a festival, dedicated to his work. The playwright’s widow visited Omsk then, and also leading theater critics showed positive attitude towards our initiative. The Galerka’s youth plays in A Farewell in June – artists who came from Chelyabinsk a year and a half ago and joined our company. This performance is about a touching love story: two meetings on a bus stop that turned the characters’ lives upside down. I would also like to direct the audience’s attention at Carefree Lover, a funny vaudeville based on Sologub’s piece, which is the most highly demanded piece of Russian classics.

“Lobozerov wrote Family Portrait with a Stranger in 1991, and the premiere took place in Omsk on November 5, 1992. After that, the Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater resorted to the dramaturgist’s work. Nowadays, the play is a stage hit, and it is performed in many theaters across the CIS. The absurdity and the tragicomic moments are intertwined in it, and this reminds so much of the real life. And Family Portrait with Bills is the follow-up of it, but in the genre of rural detective story. We are going to close the tour with a premiere or The Karamazov Brothers. This play was only performed three times. It is our own interpretation of the classics. In it young actors play young characters of Dostoevsky’s novel. I took a risk when I let the youth play the leading roles, but this adds some certain charm to the performance.”

Nowadays it is really expensive for a theater company to come from Siberia to Ukraine. How did you manage to accomplish this?

“From the first years of the Galerka’s existence, we have been actively touring not only in Russia (we performed in Saint Petersburg, Kirov, Irkutsk, Rostov-on-Don, Khanty-Mansiysk), but abroad as well: in Belarus, France, and Italy. We won the grant of the Ministry of Culture and Amur oblast for the trip to Ukraine. This is not a commercial tour, but an opportunity to establish ourselves in your country. It is a great honor for us to perform in Kyiv, since our plays will take place at the Ivan Franko National Theater. The outstanding contemporary actor Bohdan Stupka was tightly related to this famous stage. Two years ago, in September, the Franko company came to our city to participate in the International Festival ‘Academy,’ which was held by the Omsk Drama Theater. Kyiv actors performed Oedipus the King by Robert Sturua, in which Stupka starred brilliantly. We met at the festival, and that is when the idea of our theater coming to Ukraine was born. In winter, before our trip to Italy, I talked to Bohdan on the phone, and he confirmed that he remembered our arrangement, and said we would settle the tour schedules via mail. In March I came to Kyiv, but Stupka had already been at the hospital, and I discussed the tour details with the director of the Franko Theater Mykhailo Zakharevych. And then we learned the horrible news that Bohdan Stupka died… Death of this genius was an irretrievable loss not for Ukraine only; it was a cause of grief for millions of his fans from all around the world. That is why we dedicate our tour to the memory of Bohdan Stupka.”

Tell us more about the theater company, how many actors are coming to Kyiv?

“Our company is not too big, we have 40 actors, and 25 of them are going on this tour. So, if you count the crew members too, about 40 people will be coming to the capital of Ukraine. Of course, we are anxious to know in what way will the audience perceive us, but I am sure we will not disappoint the spectators.”

You personally were not born in Siberia. This is what Dostoevsky wrote in one of his letters: “Omsk is a filthy town. There are almost no trees. In summer it is unbearably hot, people suffer from sand storms, and in winter blizzards happen too often. I have not seen beautiful nature here. The town is nasty, military, and extremely depraved. I am talking about the common population. If I had not found any worthy people here, I would have surely died.” What were your first impressions of Omsk?

“Omsk is the home town for my wife and mother-in-law. I was born in Riga. My father served in military, so our family moved often. By the way, I lived in Ukraine and studied in a school in Kirovohrad oblast. I still have not forgotten Ukrainian language. I remember my Ukrainian roots, and know Taras Shevchenko’s, Lesia Ukrainka’s, Ivan Franko’s poems. I have received my first acting experience at the Gorky Drama Theater in Kostanay. After I was done with the army duty, I worked at theaters in Alma-Ata, Norilsk, Maykop, and Omsk. The latter is not only an industrial center, but also a theater city. We have this special ‘theater’ air there. Though Dostoevsky was right, the climate there is awful, it is sharp-continental. Yes, we have sand storms, and it gets incredibly hot in summer and awfully cold in winter here, but despite the natural cataclysms, the city’s hospitability and history attract people. We have really good public here, and the Franko Theater actors who performed here can confirm it. By the way, the Film Forum Zolotoy Vityaz was held in Omsk not so long ago, and two Ukrainian directors received high awards: Mykhailo Illienko for Firecrosser, and Ivan Voitiuk for Platon Angel, the latter starring Bohdan Stupka.

“I have a dream. It came to my mind during one of the conversations with Stupka. The thing is that a huge Ukrainian diaspora lives in Omsk oblast (about 70,000 people), and the south of our oblast has a lot of towns named like Poltavka, Odesskoye, Tavrichanka, Bogodarovka, Vorontsovka, etc. We have whole villages of Ukrainians. I want to bring the play Natalka Poltavka performed by the Ivan Franko Theater company here and show it to people who live in Omsk oblast countryside, or make a tour round towns of the oblast. The government of our region supports this idea. I think that the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine and the new artistic director of the Franko Theater would not mind sending Kyiv actors on a mission to Russia.”

By Tetiana POLISHCHUK, The Day
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