Note: Click on photos to enlarge.
This post aims to look at the present as if it were the past. It will be easy to do, because Moscow’s ground-breaking Teatr.doc, although it is alive and well, is on the verge of great changes. A murky, backroom conflict with the authorities in Moscow – specifically the Moscow Property Department – has led to the demise of Teatr.doc as we know it. I emphasize “as we know it,” because founders Yelena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov are currently taking steps to find a new space for this little playhouse whose influence on Russian drama, theater and film in the 2000s is enormous. The city chose to break off its rental agreement with Teatr.doc, forcing it off of the stage it has occupied since 2002. There are all kinds of reasons tossed around as to why the city wants Doc, as it is commonly called, out of the center of Moscow. Is it too politically bold? Does it occupy a space the city could receive much more money for? Does somebody not like someone personally? The official reason is that Doc allegedly violated safety rules when putting in a new entrance door from the street. But it was the Moscow fire marshal who demanded that they do that, and all the construction work was carried out under the guidance of officials. In short, the real reason as to why Teatr.doc is vacating its famous quarters is still yet to be determined. But the fact that it will no longer occupy this space, beloved of its army of fans, is incontrovertible. When the December schedule is played out, Doc at this space will be no more.
It is (was) a theater that is (was) hard to find the first time you went. Only a tiny little black sign with an arrow at the bottom gave you directions back into a tiny courtyard it would never occur to you to go into otherwise. (Even that wasn’t there in the beginning, of course.) And, a few steps later, when you reached the tiny courtyard, nothing here really looked like it had anything to do with a theater. In the last few years stencils of “Teatr.doc” appeared on window blinds and the door, but for years there was only a tiny little sign by the door, almost as if someone wanted to keep the place incognito.
Doc, once it got going, was anything but incognito. Young people made a bee-line for this place almost from the very beginning. Here was a space where they could hear and see people talking about hard issues in a language that was familiar and accessible. Shows here touched on difficult social issues such as homelessness, murder, prison life and such. Over the years the shows and readings and evenings hosted here became more and more political. This is not the place to write a history of Teatr.doc, but suffice it to say that such productions as September.doc (about the Beslan terrorist attack at an elementary school), One Hour Eighteen (about the murder to muckraking attorney Sergei Magnitsky in prison), BerlusPutin (a spoof of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) and Two in Your House (about the aftermath of rigged presidential elections in Belarus) could not possibly have been pleasing to the authorities. Nor could they have been happy with the many politically charged evenings, such as those organized by Varvara Faer to bring attention to the plight of Pussy Riot, when the members of that group were still in prison.
But all of this – and this is a lot – cannot come close to giving a sense of the importance of all the new play development projects hosted by Doc. The major one was (and, one assumes, will continue to be) the Lyubimovka new play festival, which has run every Sept. for many years. Over the last decade and half I think it is safe to say that Doc, through its various play development works, has unleashed 400 to 500 new plays into the world. It has been a place that discovers new writers as well as helping established writers try out their new work. Maksym Kurochkin, one of those whom Gremina considers a co-founder of the theater, has used Lyubimovka virtually every year to unveil some new, wonderfully wild work. You can sort of see Maksym in the second photo below, chatting with my wife Oksana Mysina near the entrance to the performance space. Beneath that you see a typical use of the stage space – this was for a production of Kurochkin’s Circuit Breaker, mounted by the Brusnikin Studio, but it could have been for any number of Doc’s barebones shows.
On some days or evenings, one suspects that the walls at Doc bulged outwards. Look at the photo immediately below. This was taken during the reading of Yury Muravitsky’s Pornography a couple of years ago, presented at Lyubimovka. That’s the stage you’re looking at. And those are spectators packing the stage – leaving the actors only a tiny space on which to move. And, yes, that is a photographer taking pictures from outside through one of the windows, while below her a spectator who couldn’t get into the hall found a decent vantage point from which to follow the goings-on. It was at this very event that I counted, I believe it was, 136 people in the hall. The two outside topped the attendance off at 138. It is an example of how a tiny stage fit for about 50 or 60 spectators could handle more than twice as many. The next photo below shows Doc’s minuscule foyer, including the table where Vika Kholodova has sat selling tickets and handing out comps for I-don’t-know-how-many-years. On the right you see a few of the dozens of awards and plaques that the theater has earned over the years. Finally, below, is the stage entrance door. Behind it is the cramped little dressing room, if it can be called that. When the theater is overflowing with spectators at a reading, this door will be thrown open so that another eight to twelve people can stand on chairs or a table and peer from behind the backs of others in front of them to get a feel for what is happening. When that door closes for the last time later this month it will be a shame. And from that point on, the little basement at 11/13 Tryokhprudny Pereulok, Bldg. 1, will pass into history.