Lyubimvoka & Gogolfest: plays in Moscow & in Kiev

So I had a reading at the Lyubimovka festival in Moscow this past Friday. It was part of a special project called “PGT” – which refers to a denomination dreamed up in Soviet times for small towns that are bigger than villages, but aren’t quite towns in the strictest sense of the word.

Both of the other authors involved in the project are Ukrainian, and live in Ukraine. My situation is wildly different than theirs, nowadays, but we both have that common denominator. After the readings, when they had us up on the stage, I felt myself reacting very strongly, even painfully, to the criticism levelled at the other two authors.

Without patting myself on the back too much, I can say that my play was the most well-received of the three. I think this happened because it fit the format of the festival much better. The other two plays were more “global” – mine was extremely personal (I even went as far as name the heroine “Toosia,” which is a diminutive of “Natalia”). The other two readings were “imported” – the director was a guy from Kharkov, the actors were also from Ukraine; my play’s reading was directed by a Russian, and the actors were Russian.

At the discussion afterward, the moderator said that my play didn’t attempt to answer socio-political questions: In my case, the potential theme was the “is religion needed?” question, because one of the main characters is a widowed Orthodox priest, and the play’s big climax involves something that may or may not be an exorcism (I’m saying “may or may not”, because it was important to me that people make up their own minds – though as the author, I would lean toward the notion that yes, it was an exorcism, or something like it). The moderator said, “this play paints pictures,” referring to the fact that the text had a different context. This made me extremely happy, and it was one of the best things that anyone had ever said about my attempts at playwriting.

When I was a kid, I had this fantasy of painting pictures and handing them out to people on the sidewalk, and seeing what they think. This past Friday, I saw that fantasy fulfilled. Although the context of the project presumes a conflict between rural and urban life, when I wrote it, I had to wage bloody battle against the idea of “simple ol’ country folk vs. corrupt city life,” because I could feel myself slipping into that familiar trap, and it blew. To have someone publicly tell you, “hey Natalia, you avoided that bullshit” was good news.

And, once again, the format of the play appeared to fit the format of Lyubimovka.

All of this brings me to the fact that on Monday, two of my plays, including “Daughter”, which was just read at Lyubimovka, will be read in Kiev, as part of the LSD (Laboratoriya Sovremennoi Dramaturgii – the Laboratory of Modern Drama) project at Gogolfest. I will not be able to be there, and I have no idea how it will go. Will the plays be totally out of context in a Kievan setting? Will there be a disaster and a debacle, or – even worse – a total muted failure, of the sort that one doesn’t even want to gossip about? My cousin is reading the lead part in “Daughter” – so I know for certain that there aren’t likely to be any fuck-ups there. Also, the guy reading the part of the Orthodox priest is Dima Yaroshenko, one of my favourite young actors, so you know that shit just got real. Still, I’m nervous.

It would have been interesting to see the differences between how a play in Moscow is read, vs. how it is read in Kiev with just a few days in between. I think this is one of those instances where a director’s work – what directors do and how they do it – would be exposed and apparent.

On Thursday, at Lyubimovka, there was a scandal involving a young Ukrainian playwright who, five minutes into a completely disastrous reading of his play, walked out. Then he walked back in again, and called everyone “idiot”, and called the lead actress a “whore” (a great example of male Ukrainian playwrights keeping it classy). I think this kind of behaviour sucks and would never do it, even if it is a way for the author to rescue himself in what is an essentially unfair and painful situation. A simple walking out would have been way classier than the trash-tastic screaming and fighting that followed. I only caught the end of it, and I was honestly irritated by what I saw and heard (it was hysterical, though, because I found myself surrounded by Russians who were asking me to translate what the guy was screaming – as he was screaming in Ukrainian).

The debacle was a clear example of how a completely awful reading can kill a good play, though.

The actress who was called a “whore” was telling me outside just a few minutes later: “WE WERE UP UNTIL 5 A.M. TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HIS STUPID, CONVOLUTED TEXT.”

Even laying aside the fact that she was emotional after having been publicly insulted, I still think that what happened is representative of a certain problem. If the text is “stupid” and “convoluted” to begin with – how about you give it to someone else to read?

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