This year’s anniversary has a bitter taste because Marko Brovun, the “knight of Ukrainian stage,” People’s Artist of Ukraine, winner of the Shevchenko Prize, wonderful manager and many-year head of the Donetsk Theater, did not live to see it. The theater decided not to cancel the festive events, but turn them into tribute to Brovun.
This anniversary is an occasion to talk about the cornerstones in the life of the theater: the periods of its establishment and growth, which have become history, as well as the current problems. At the moment the company of the Donetsk National Academic Ukrainian Theater of Music and Drama is one of the most successful ones in Ukraine, and one with by far the highest attendance. Apparently, Donetsk residents have found a kind of balance in the playbill: on the one hand, they know how to attract the audience with the help of interesting plays and original productions, on the other hand, they don’t forget about the revenue. The theater’s director general Natalia VOLKOVA told The Day about her vision of the future of the Donetsk Theater of Music and Drama.
“It’s true, the path of our theater has never been a bed of roses. Marko Matviiovych (the artistic director of the Donetsk Theater) who has dedicated 35 years of his life to theater, said ‘all good things we have today have occurred to us not thanks to something, rather in spite of something.’ The theater and its head needed to prove something all the time. At first, that we can be interesting for our audience and the reason why we stage one or another play. Later, that we are worth of the title ‘academic’ and the status ‘national,’ and that Ukrainian theater in a mostly Russian-language region needs support of the state, even that theaters of music and drama are worth of a separate company of actors. But as the saying goes, ‘that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.’ Having such a leader, our theater could not be weak. Besides, on the hard way of establishment (because of some or other circumstances), at the beginning the theater was also facing the task to bring the audience back to theater. Besides, there has been the mental peculiarity of the Donetsk audience, the question of language, and many others – the theater has managed to develop its own unique style of work, which distinguishes it among other companies. Probably, among other things, this is due to the balance in the playbill, but also the work in various genres, as well as a well-balanced company, and a strong technical base, and, which is also important, a beautiful cozy building (for which we are especially grateful to the leadership of the oblast and the city). Besides, the special atmosphere in our theater. We love our audience and work not just to satisfy our own ambitions, but for the people who come to the theater. That is why our theater is called a ‘living one.’ This is namely the way I see it in the future, a living, interesting, developing and experimenting one. Marko Matviiovych had designed a long-term program of theater’s development, and we have successfully realized two of its stages (to bring and keep the audience in the theater) and gradually came to the third one, to lead the audience. So, the path outlined for us by our artistic director is still lying ahead of us.”
Five theater stages are functioning in your theater, which gives an opportunity for the company for creative exploration and experiments. This season two premieres have taken place: Double Life, or Mademoiselle Cunning after Ervez’s vaudeville-operetta Mam’zelle Nitouche and Purely Women’s Games by Clare Boothe Luce (The Women), but these plays have not been included in the program of festive events. Why, out of the entire repertoire, you have chosen the production Frederic, or the Boulevard of Crime by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, as well as modern parable …and They Turned into White Cranes by Aleksandr Selin, to be presented before the guests of the anniversary event?
“At first we were planning a somewhat different program. We wanted to present our four creative subdivisions. Singers, orchestra musicians, and ballet were supposed to take part in the concert program. And drama actors could have shown themselves in the production on the Small Stage, where our young actors are involved, in the scheduled for the second day of the anniversary event premiere Frederic, or Boulevard of Crime. We also have rehearsed the performances of the concert, the costumes and decorations were ready. But the demise of the artistic director of our theater Brovun has brought its own sad corrections. At first we wanted to postpone the festivities, since November 17 marks 40 days since Marko Matviiovych’s death. Later everyone agreed that we don’t have any right to break his plans and a worthy celebration of the theater’s anniversary will be the best commemoration of the person who had revived the theater. We have only changed the program: instead of the concert we decided to show the premiere of the play a day earlier. All the more so Marko Matviiovych was emotionally involved with this material and dreamed to stage it in our theater. The play Frederic, or the Boulevard of Crime tells about theater and people of theater, serving theater, and self-sacrifice. We want to dedicate this production to our former artistic director.”
I remember, in an interview Marko Brovun admitted that when he started to work in the theater, he felt like “a friend among strangers, and a stranger among friends.” The demise of this “knight of theater,” a natural manager, and wise man is a huge loss for the company, Donetsk, and theater in Ukraine, as well as for you personally as his daughter. I would like to express my most sincere sympathy. Today you have to continue the cause started by Brovun the reformer. What life and theater lessons from Marko Matviiovych do you consider the most important?
“Today I know for sure that the Donetsk Theater of Music and Drama has a colossal reserve of strength: we have a strong and versatile company, a good material base, and a strong administrative team. Marko Matviiovych was a wonderful teacher. He shared his experience not only with our company, but also with many colleagues from other theaters. It was against his rules to look good at the expense of other people. On the contrary, he considered that healthy competition is very important for one’s development. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to work next to him, so I know the specifics of theater, its written and unwritten laws not from hearsay. I have been taught to respect all of the employees, no matter what their position, titles, and age are. Marko Matviiovych had a rule – he knew every member of the company by name, patronymic, he could easily talk to a young actor, electrician, and cleaner. He always congratulated everyone on their birthdays, for those were not simply his co-workers, but members of our big family. Namely this family spirit is what makes us strong.
“Marko Matviiovych taught us that we should be open for new things, not to be afraid to take risk, if the risk is justified, believe in yourself, but also be able to listen to other people. Besides, he has taught us that to be a leader means that you should take responsibility over every single member of the team and theater on the whole, and you have much fewer rights than duties.
“The words of his coach, ‘we should win with a clear advantage,’ were Marko Matviiovych’s life credo. This expression has long ago become the slogan of our theater and we are trying not to betray it.”
A theater is a living organism: creative ambitions, sometimes a terrarium of partisans. There have never been loud conflicts in your team. Share your secret: how do you manage to keep a normal working atmosphere?
“We have never had any conflicts indeed, and hopefully there will not be any. And the secret is simple: on the one hand, as I have already said, it is respect to every person, on the other hand, an opportunity to do one’s favorite business. In an interview Marko Matviiovych said ‘Give work to a creative person, and s/he will have no time to be ‘friends against somebody.’ We are keeping an account of the load of every creative employee. Luckily, we have five stages, so that any director, set designer, artiste, musician, singer, and dancer could show his/her creative potential.”
For many directors of theaters today finding money for new productions is pain in the neck. And you bake the premieres like hot pies! Have you raised sponsors from your audience?
“Our theater has a couple of good friends who have helped us with some productions. But we stage a lion’s share of plays for our own money. According to Ukraine’s law ‘On theaters and theater business’ our theater receives the money from the oblast budget, which completely covers wages, energy carriers paying, and this is the groundwork for staging new plays, because we want directors and artists to realize themselves, and the audience will have something to see, too.”
Are there any tours scheduled for the near future?
“Our most short-term plans include the premiere of the play based on Kulish’s Myna Mazailo scheduled for December 1, fairytale Morozko, comedy Dinner under a Scandalous Sauce based on a play by Simon. We have started to work on a musical, which we are going to show on March 27 on Theater Day. They will be held on the main stage. There will be for sure new productions on other stages, too. As for the tours, at the moment we plan to go on a traditional summer tour to Luhansk and Mariupol, but we are also considering a few more variants. The main thing for us today is to grow and develop in terms of creativity, remain interesting for our audience, and not to lose our individuality.”