Christine Matvienko[1]

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Festival for Young Playwrights Liubimovka-2011 in Moscow, Russia, September 8-18th.

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Liubimovka was created in 1990 by the elder generation of Russian playwrights to support the younger ones. Victor Slavkin, author of the famous Elder Daughter of a Young Man, (Vzroslaya doch molodogo cheloveka), 1978, and Serso, directed by Anatoly Vassiliev in 1985, Alexey Kazantsev, Vladimir Gurkin remembered too well how difficult and even impossible it was to get access to stage if you are still a young writer. That is why they decided not to wait for support from the state theatre but did it by themselves. Ten years later management was handed to the next generation of playwrights, Elena Gremina and Michael Ugarov in particular. During these 20 years Liubimovka has proved to be a remarkable example of a well-working non-profit organization based on collective leadership.

It is within Liubimovka where for the first time were seen for example these plays by the most important Russian playwrights: Plasticine (Plastilin) by Vassily Sigarev, Playing the Victim (Izobrazhaya zhertvu) by Brothers Presnyakov, Tanya-Tanya(Tanya-Tanya) by Olya Mukhina, The Eye (Glaz) by Maxim Kurochkin. The festival has moved from a nice suburb, where Stanislavsky used to live, to the center of Moscow – to Theatre.doc. But with that Liubimovka gained big new audiences. This year, the next wave of success for Russian new drama gave us new plays written by 30-year-old authors such as Pavel Pryazhko, Brothers Durnenkov, Yury Klavdiev, Natalya Vorozhbit and Yaroslava Pulinovich. But in addition to new works by these names there is something else very characteristic to Liubimovka – and very important: it opens opportunities to authors hitherto unknown. Everyone, even a non-professional may send his first play for the competition. The expert jury wishes to find someone absolutely fresh which very often means – somebody who writes without any rules.

From the Liubimovka reading of Kitchen Talks Two Days Before Getting Arrested, a new documentary play, where two young nationalists discuss why lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasya Baburina should be murdered.
From the Liubimovka reading of Kitchen Talks Two Days Before Getting Arrested, a new documentary play, where two young nationalists discuss why lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasya Baburina should be murdered.
From the Liubimovka reading of Kitchen Talks Two Days Before Getting Arrested, a new documentary play, where two young nationalists discuss why lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasya Baburina should be murdered.
From the Liubimovka reading of Kitchen Talks Two Days Before Getting Arrested, a new documentary play, where two young nationalists discuss why lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasya Baburina should be murdered.

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Traditionally, Liubimovka is the starting point of every new theatre season in Moscow. This year we saw at least 30 stage readings during a week. Every play receives a discussion by both professionals and ordinary audience members. Everyone has a right to criticize the text or even to give advice. It could be unpleasant for a playwright but this is a rule. If you are the playwright you must have a strong character.

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What were the main changes brought about with new plays this September? The first one is an attempt to catch a new type of contemporary hero. It is hard to say definitely who this man is. There are no more brutal teens as in early Klavdiev’ plays or criminal girls who are victims of their circumstances at birth as in Pulinovich’ text. But there are ordinary people from offices, ordinary lonely women looking for happiness and just friends wasting away their free time as in Pryazhko’ new play Angry Girl (Zlaya devushka). The main surprise of this edition of Liubimovka were these “calm” voices of 20-year-old playwrights. They try to describe ordinary life as sharply as they can. Why should ordinary life be bright and marginal? No, honestly, it should be painted in grey colour. So the play Antisex (Antiseks) written by Liuba Mulmenko from Perm is about an ordinary woman’s visits to a doctor. Marina (Marina) by Olga Strizhak from St. Petersburg is about two friends, a girl and a boy, who are trying to find something important in their lives. No Blame among us (Vinovatyh.net) by Maria Zelinskaya from Rostov is a reflection about the death of relatives. Standing of a Hero Face down (Poza geroya litsom vniz) by Marina Krapivina tells us the story of a typical urban man who changes mistresses every night till one of them dies in a car crash because of his betrayal. In I Died Last Year (Ya umer v proshlom godu) by Nina Belenitskaya a guy discovers that his documents belong to a dead man. All of these characters look like us, or at least like our friends and next-door neighbours.

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All these new texts for theatre are written by young people who usually have no professional education in the field of dramaturgy. And that is the reason why they are more interested in reality than any professional writer. So that’s why their frank texts evaluate our society better than any sociological research. There was one play about the national question in modern Russia – Rusostan (Rusostan) by Halid Mamedov which demonstrates us the highest level of hatred toward any stranger, especially to those from the Caucasus. But this is an exception. The rest of the plays avoid such problematic topics and prefer private themes of private life. Probably there is less of a lie in the field of privacy than in the field of big politics. And the young writers prefer to safeguard their own honesty.

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The only question which remains unsolved since the time of the first Liubimovka is whether some of the new plays will be staged. Russian theatres in common are afraid to have a risk with new texts and not well-made plays. The theatres are still in waiting for a new Chekhov and that’s why they missed all the important texts during New Drama which has been in existence since the beginning of 2000. So the odds for getting staged are still low.

But it doesn’t make sense to feel sorry for missing the big stages. A show based on a new text and staged in a small Theatre.doc becomes more important for the author and – if it is any good! – will get more publicity than a regular performance in a big theatre. The audience who is looking for something new and real will no longer go to big theatres. The big theatres with their boring classics are the field of entertainment. Why should we spend our free time for entertainment only? It is funny, but a big part of modern Russian youth doesn’t want to spend their time for fun only. The big theatres are the place for the 40-years-old women, according to statistics. The rest of us aren’t interested in theatre at all, or go to see New Drama.


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[1] Christine Matvienko (born 1974) lives in Moscow, Russia. She is a theatre critic and researcher. She also works as artistic director for New Play Festival (Moscow). Her Theatre Research PhD is from St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy. In addition to her critical work for Russian newspapers and magazines she has worked for New Drama Festival, managed playwriting and documentary theatre workshops in Russian theatres and was for two years an assistant to the artistic director of Stanislavsky Drama Theatre.

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To Be Honest in Moscow