Moskvaer talked to the art director of Moscow’s “Theatre is Alive,” Maxim Razuvayev about theatre life in the era of new technologies, the language of contemporary plays and how the current political events should be reflected in the arts.
MOSKVAER: Maxim, I want to ask about this manifesto–theatre is alive. In what condition is Russian theatre nowadays, and what has changed in recent years?
MAXIM: That name is not a manifesto or resistance to anything, but rather, a reminder for the contemporaries that theatre exists–this fact is being questioned now. Hence the name “Theatre is Alive” is a kind of reminder to people and an offer to pay attention to the fact, that apart from the Internet, TV and music, there is the theatre. It’s still alive. Often, directors and actors themselves make it into something very mediocre (even if called “performance art”), thereby leveling the very fact of the theatre’s existence.
The desire to be popular and to please the consumer prevents the theatre to be itself and speak its own language, the language of imagery. Now there is the Internet, television, technologies in cinema and the circus, and some think that the theatre should take this all in account and use it. But it is not quite right. Yes, it must be aware of the all new, but at the same time should cherish its own language and tools and be sure to use the competitive strength of this language. It should be modern, but should still keep in mind that modernity means finding imaginative theater language or just bring it back, in spite of new technology and new generation hobbies.
I learned a very amusing idea from a theatre manager, who said that a performing theatre now competes for the viewer not with other performing theatres, but with cinema theatres. Thus it should build its strategy of development, according to this basis. Do you agree? How do you possess “Theatre is Alive” and who are your main competitors and spectators?
MAXIM: The coaches usually tell athletes, remember, your main competitor is yourself. My main competitor is me, myself with my multiplying knowledges, crystallizing taste and sense of proportion.
Our theatre speaks a language, which is understandable to different types of people. Performances differ only by the age of the audience on which they are oriented, but otherwise they are available to everyone, and all are equally interesting. For example, the performance of “Elizabeth, Mary, and so forth.” Is about the history of relations between the two great women. If you do not know the story, you will find this play very interesting, and if you know it, then very, very interesting.
How do you feel about the way the political context is introduced in art today–on the theatre stage, in paintings, etc. In your opinion, should art in general and the art of contemporary theatre in particular be completely apolitical?
MAXIM: Even Pushkin had poems that were preaching either one or a completely opposite position. On the one hand there was “Poet! Do not value the people’s love..”, where he offers to be above public opinion, above the crowd, above politics including, engagement in pure art, trust only yourself, go the chosen way, be faithful, serve for Melpomene. On the other hand–“And long the people yet will honour me…” and yet some lyrics dedicated to his Decembrists friends… Everyone chooses for themselves.
Probably, in different works and performances we can consider both positions. And also I think rather the audience, which can be considered the co-creator of the show, decides as well as those who embody it. Of course, the author’s position, in our case–the director’s position–is important, and perhaps, I am personally not a fighter. The artist must be above it all. But at the same time not knowing what is happening in the country and in the world, not understanding these processes, and avoiding and hiding from them is not the right thing to do. We need to be interested in life around us and have our own opinions on it. But the artworks must represent the consciousness of what is going on, but not edification.
And with regard to religion? Russian viewers take very hard any reference to the subject of religion in art. Orthodox activists are constantly offended. It was so with the artist Sidur and the director Bogomolov, on whom they even complained to the prosecutor’s office. What is your relationship with religion in the context of theater, and art in general?
MAXIM:The theatre has always been persecuted by the church. Despite that it originated from religious ceremonies, I think that the church considered it a serious competitor. A competitor in the field of keenness–not fun! I mean keenness in creating independent images. No wonder that in the church, as well as in the theatre there is the concept of “image”, and we often define theatre with the word “temple”. This once again confirms that the theatre is quite a religion… If to engage it seriously and love it as the church requires to love. I would venture, probably, the wrath of the religious people, but I consider both theater and religion to be powerful cultural phenomenons. My religion is the theatre.
In Russia, there is a perception that the most advanced theatre is German. Do you agree? In your opinion, which country today dictates the rules in the theatre world?
MAXIM: I disagree. Moreover, what they do now in Germany, perhaps, destroys the theatre. What seemed to be an innovation in the 70s is now considered to be in bad taste. There are some talented manifestations of individual directors (even German) and theatres, but not countries.
In general, the European theatre is a very cold, prudent and unemotional spectacle that rather contradicts the notion of it. Meanwhile, the theatre has a very simple task. It doesn’t entertain, doesn’t teach, doesn’t protest—it relieves the soul, creates beauty. A man comes there to cry—happily, surprisingly easily—to just cry. It’s called a simple yet complex word, “catharsis”. We come to the theatre for cleansing. This is not a pretentious word. You just need to burst into light and happy tears. Be touched and smile. Then a man goes out there happy and wants to go back to re-experience these sensations. This is catharsis.
Rabindranath Tagore said: “The world loved man when he smiled. The world frightened man when he laughed.” Laughter is good, but not the most valuable. Smile, even through crying, that is the theatre.