Yulia Kazakova 2017-09-14
Passion, Lies and Affectations: Student's Theatre is Delving in the Russian Soul

Russian Theatre is an exploratory world that delves in instantiations of the Russian character. Its relevance to Russians’ lives is visible throughout history, starting from when Peter the First ordered to build a public theatre on Red Square in 1702. In three hundred and seventeen years the concept of theatre has changed a lot as new technologies and media have emerged. New media has brought not only competition but has also offered theatre a new course. The task of continuing 300 years of theatrical tradition are now in the hands of those who have ties with the last century; and also in the hands of those who bring fresh ideas that make use of new technologies.


HSE students brought our attention to the bohemean life, filled with lies, passion, and affectations. They inform us that these changes in Russian theatre have naturally affected student theatres like the two (Le Defi and HSE Theatre) at HSE. While Le Defi is positioning itself in modern patterns and delivering performances in French, the HSE theatre continues to uphold traditional style with performances of Russian classics. Read Square explored the soul of those who broaden horizons and create a new world in limited frames.


Think like a Russian, play like a Frenchman


It has been always a challenge to get an offer from a theatre , although Read Square « défié » and talked to the founder of Le Defi theatre Kesha Zammedyansky. Innokentii, a graduate student of the HSE Faculty of «Media production in creative industry», felt especially gruelled when the idea of setting the theatre came to his mind. After losing his love, his friends and the goals of his life, he found himself at an art party. Having been surrounded by actors, producers and directors he got the inspiration to set up Le Defi.


Did HSE help you with developing the project?


I had a desire to turn this “little students’ chaos” into a project. HSE helped me with the Cultural Centre, which assisted us with all the events we organized. This Centre had a wonderfully enthusiastic team. It’s a pity the Cultural Center was disorganized, which made it complicated to continue working in this field. Thanks to the program, I was able to join efforts with the department, which is assisting us now. I wish the Cultural Center was restored.


What qualities do you look for in your actors?


To begin with, those who want to act in our plays must have a clear objective in their life. An actor from our theatre must realise what direction he or she wants to move in. We also take into account the personal desire and pay a lot of attention to people’s motivation. You know, we need people who want to be the best, rather than those who just want “to try as much as possible”.

How do you think people can find themselves?

It’s very simple: you must set a goal and pursue it, and moreover you must realise what you are ready to do in order to achieve it.


Could you tell us how you go about scriptwriting? 

I believe everyone who reads a lot has something to express. Last year I wrote a play in French, which takes place in a mental health institution. This year, we have translated it into Russian. In general, the first thing you should do is explore the topic and understand the issues you want to share with the public. You also need to make it comprehensible for the audience. Each play is directed at a different type of audience. It is crucial to know the audience your play appeals to.

If a Frenchman comes to you, what kind of possibilities opens for him or her?

Last year two Frenchmen e-mailed me, but at the casting sessions there were ten. We were really glad to see so many French people, but were unable to accept everyone. For French students, acting with us is a great opportunity to practice their Russian, that too a more theatrical Russian than a colloquial one. Secondly, they can learn something new from our acting trainings. As a result, we have got a play in French, which was produced for a direct festival. It is the festivals where our original plays are staged, and they are welcomed very well and seem to be far more “alive” than usual plays.


What plays do you have in your repertoire now?

We’ve done plays such as “The Elevator” and “A Positive Madness”. One of our actresses was even awarded with a prize for the best female role in “Barbouille’s Jealousy” by Molliere.  Our other plays also got prizes at various festivals for scripts, acting so on. We are very proud of it and will always remember this praise but our ultimate goal right now is to move to a new level rather than be happy with what we have got now.



During the third year of studies many students struggle with choosing between a job and some extra-curricular activity that they’re passionate about. How did your choice help you?


I staged plays and worked at the same time. I didn’t have any connections or network that could land me a job like that of a diplomat’s assistant that would use my first degree in International Relations. At that time, I wrote many web articles and freelanced a lot. I could work almost everywhere, and also found many opportunities more useful than working in diplomacy.


My experiences now prove invaluable in the training sessions I run for actors. Theatre really helps us all. A typical student is more than likely to be depressed, sad or just unmotivated. All of this can change if he or she has the chance for self-development. Theatre gives one a lot of experience, discipline, and can prove useful in future jobs.


Fresh students recited memorized Russian poems with gestures. We were most impressed with an actress who had pursued a career in theatre since her teens but is now a student at HSE. She said that she wanted to get an education but didn’t want to give up her hobby. Two or three candidates were very scared to fail the exam and prioritized studying over acting. Read Square has a biased opinion but we feel that if someone enjoys performing or writing (as we do!) he or she should dig into it as a real Russian.


After recruiting Kesha expressed the anticipation of the upcoming year. She told us, “The level of students who came for selection has risen tremendously. This is all I can say. Unfortunately, until now some people come for selection not knowing what they want. What may it mean? I do not want to make hasty conclusions. We will see at rehearsals who can do what.”


Upholding traditional Russian style 


Recruiting made us interested in watching a play performed by HSE students. At 7 pm HSE Theatre (located on the first floor at Myasnitskaya, 20) opened its doors and the season with the piece of Aleksandr Volodin titled “Do not part with your beloved” (С любимыми не расставайтесь).

In a small but cozy setting in the theatre at in Myasnitskaya, young actors of the HSE theatre illustrated diverse facets of love in adult life. The story takes the audience to three rooms. One room shows a problematic relationship between the two leads. While they struggle with their love, the guy in the relationship seems to look for distraction and finds a ‘salad on the side’ in the form of a beautiful young woman who had ‘.. lost my booklet’. In the other room we find the judge. While the lead actors are struggling with their love life in their own room, the room of the judge shows the stories of the other actors. In the judge’s room, we see all kinds of couples (old, young, sexy, grumpy, slow, drunk) passing by; who either seek divorce or marriage counselling. The outcomes of these talks with the judge differ from time to time. As scenes move from one set to the other, the judge tries to figure out why these couples are together or why they should stay together. The outcomes differ per couple: while some remain together; others see that life would be better if they follow their own paths to happiness.

In the last room the audience gets to see both the opening scene and the final scene. This room resembles a discotheque in which ‘American’ music blasts out of speakers while the actors gather to forget their troubles. The female lead struggles in this discotheque about her problems at home. When at a certain moment she is taken to the hospital and her husband finds her there, all the struggles, problems and misery seem to be forgotten for that moment. The pain of seeing a beloved one in a situation of misery is unbearable for both.

The theatre’s interpretation of this 70s film showed great artistic skills, managing to convince the audience even though young couples enacted struggles of those of later age. The audience gave a big round of applause as gratitude for a great evening.


The future of Russian Theatre is uncertain. But we believe that it will surely prosper if pushed forward by passionate individuals, who believe in what they are doing, and by actors who continue to reveal to us how the world is filled with unordinary characters.