Kharkiv is a city with strong university traditions as well as theatrical ones. So Ukrainian theatres were created around educational institutions. Philosophical and theological texts, antique tragedies and vertep-shows have been performed by students since 18th-19th centuries. Nowadays, university theaters are fascinating objects for observation.
Publicist Theater is one of the oldest students’ theaters in Kharkiv. It is based at the State Academy of Design and Arts premises. Audiences are enthused not only by sophisticated and elegant performances, scenography and artistic design, but even make-up that sometimes becomes a full-fledged acting character. The term “artist’s theatre” aptly characterizes the performance’s aesthetics. The theater focuses on the image, embodies the “performance’s content” through visual images.
Changes have taken place recently. The theatre’s director and artistic director Anna Onishchenko has now been joined by co-director Kostyantyn Vasukov who has been acting in this venue for years. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for our Kharkiv Observer correspondent.
Question: Theater is often created around the personality, either a director or an actor. How did this happen in Publicist?
Kostyantyn Vasukov: Our theater is really rallied behind our director Anna Onishchenko. She created special conditions for creativity: equality, openness, and self-expression. They are based on the foundation of theatre staff diligent work. Due to this, actors, playwrights, musicians and artists formed a self-regulating system.
The theatre’s audience is diverse. Some are viewers and fans of Boris Smolyak, Andriy Ulyanenko or Roma Minin. Others just hang out. Well, there is a little bit of that.
Specific self-identification was formed in Publicist’s circles. We interpret our staff as “a sect.” This is due to the large number of people, involved in the creative process in any capacity. It’s more than a cast. Here, people in addition to theater’s life, just make friends, get married and help each other, even if they are not directly involved in the process of creating the performance.
Q: Do you consider, if it is relevant to oppose classical to modern contemporary theater, maybe it is just dramatic and post-dramatic?
KV: I do not oppose drama to post-drama theater. Each has its unique tools of influence on the audience. The fact that we have such innovative punk-shows as “My grandfather was digging..,” “DPU,” (which means the Pre-draft preparation of the youth in Ukrainian) does not diminish the drama, but expands the space to compete between these genres. I believe that the theater, as a form of art, will always be modernized. And at best it will be ahead of the present, with its setting, format and tone on stage. I’m not interested in “classical style plays.” Where is the director’s resurgence of the classics then?
For me, I divide the theater into high-quality and “dead.” I consider “dead” theater is “naphthalene” performances in academic theaters, vulgar staging combination companies and poor taste in general.
Q: In your opinion, should the audience just watch the play or also analyze the performance and get the director’s idea laid down in it?
KV: Contemporary art has such a criterion as “clarity.” The 20th century gave birth to new forms, new trends, which rejected life, objectivity, descriptiveness. This is not enough. As worthy followers of Kandinsky, Meyerhold, Bauhaus, Dadaists and other founding fathers of contemporary art, we should feel the performance with all senses and feelings. Also, we should let the viewer create their associations, make their conclusions. If these arise, it is the result of the modern theater’s influence. Mission completed.
Q: What, as an artist, do you expect to see in the other theaters’ performances?
KV: In addition to the Thought, which is essential for every performance, I really appreciate visualization. I love beautiful, aesthetic stage shows, where light, scenography and even a puppet can tell more than a person.
In general, when play, as a synthetic substance, includes music, monumental painting, graphics, choreography, video-art and other things in the right proportions, this, in turn, works for the main purpose of the performance.
And when stuff like this happens, it will impress me for sure, as it’s total theater.
In the end, it’s all about the director’s taste and interpretation, including a sense of measure.
Q: What topics do you discuss with the Kharkiv audience?
KV: I have always been interested in parallels between classical world art plots, scenes and stories compared to the present: How does a modern person take this or that as the truth?
Eternal questions which were first arose in the ancient Greek tragedies, the Bible, the theatre and by the literature and theater classics are still valid today.
How would the ancient hero’s motivation be changed contemporarily? What form does “the minor person” take on now? How do historical experiences of humanity affect different individuals? What acquired traumas and deviations determine our consciousness and behavior? How has humanity evolved, changing their attitudes and perceptions after two world wars, Nazism and communism? Who is the contemporary hero of the modern age?
Q: What about searches and existential questions? “The Way. Road. Way” performance which is a joint work with MDT theatre became a memorable event in Kharkiv. It has a deep philosophical concept and an unusual incarnation. How did you define the format of this performance? Are you planning to perform anything similar?
KV: This joint work was aimed at drawing attention to the presentation of the “Iyov” opera-requiem by Vlad Troitsky in Kharkiv. Working together with my colleagues from the Youth Theater, we were going to create an associative link between our street march and the new opera without using direct quotes. Our mystery is based on the story of Iyov’s challenges, but through the prism of our perception, using our visual images. If you watch the performance more closely, you can get its plot without any word. The main character in the cart, three riders and the crowd with translucent cloths, moving in the air, banging on drums, put the audience into the atmosphere of the biblical fable. As in most of our performances, the artist’s personality plays an important role in this show. Daria Khalina and Victoria Teletyen have actually designed archetypal images, in which one can see both the features of a modern person and look into eternity.
As for similar performances, the theater took part in the Mosaic international festival of street theater in Lithuania. An integral part of the festival was so-called “White March,” where we also participated. The primary feature of this event was its unusual route. In contrast to the pathetic state holidays that take place on the main streets and squares, “White March” was being planned through the authentic parts the city. It was very expressive and exciting.
Q: Publicist theater successfully integrates into Europe. What about your tour plans?
KV: This year, our theater has really traveled a lot. In July, we toured Georgia with “Somewhere and Beyond” performance by Hanna Yablonska to the International Festival of Regional Theaters in Poti. This trip turned out to be unique. Such warm welcome could give only Georgians.
As for September, we held it under the Lithuanian flag. First, we participated in the Mosaic festival. Apart from the street march, we performed “Moby Dick. The Sailing” in Vilnius and Visaginas. Then we attended the international festival in Jonava with “Somewhere and Beyond,” and after that, we showed both performances at the Kaunas Chamber Theater.
We made this happen thanks to the magnificent Traveling Hanger Ukrainian festival, which takes place in Lutsk annually. That’s where we met with the Georgian and Lithuanian theaters cast and administration who invited us on tours to their countries.
Q: What are your future projects?
KV: Now, we are working on a new show, which is an experiment and a search for our theater. I hope this will be a surprise to Kharkivities. The fact that Vlad Troitsky refers as “a new opera” in Ukraine like “Iyov,” “Babylon” and others did not leave us indifferent and we decided to make our own musical performance. Based on the sacred-realistic works of Denis Osokin and the canonical texts of “The Requiem,” in collaboration with composer Oleksandr Malackovsky, we are looking for unusual bodily solutions of scenes. A coach with extensive experience, actress, performer, choreographer Nina Hizhna helps us to embody our ideas into reality. The play will be quite monumental and multilayered. We’ll see what we have at the end, as it always becomes clear after the premiere, what we worked for.
Text: Veronica Sklyarova
Photos: Publicist Theatre