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“Farewell, we hardly knew ye!”
“Welcome back to the fold!”
Two phrases that suit Teatr.doc this week.
Because for the second time in six months, the Moscow city authorities have driven Doc out of its working space. And for the second time in this period they quickly found another place to move to. The first eviction happened in December (you can read a little about that on this blog site); the second one happened about a month ago. Technically, the culprit was a show called The Bolotnaya Square Case, which tells the story of the family members of people arrested and thrown in prison for taking part in a legally-sanctioned protest on May 6, 2012. To say the authorities are trigger-happy about that incident and everything involving it is to say nothing at all. Waves of policemen and women, investigators, interrogators, tax police, fire marshals and the Lord knows what all else descended upon Doc the day before they opened the show on May 6, 2015. The next day – as you can see in the second and third photos immediately below – they were there in force again for the premiere. Three weeks later the boom came down – Doc’s lease for this building at 3 Spartakovskaya Street was cancelled. You can read a bit more about that in my Moscow Times articles here and here.
Of course, Doc founders Yelena Gremina and Mikhail Ugarov are not exactly the type of folk who roll over and give up when presented with a challenge. When Doc was kicked out of its first home last December, Gremina defiantly announced the theater would reopen Feb. 14 and by season’s end they would premiere 10 shows. When in late May they were kicked out of this new space, Gremina again defiantly announced they would reopen in a new space on June 23 and that they would open the new 2015-2016 season with five news shows.
So far Yelena has done remarkably well in her promises and prognoses. The space on Spartakovskaya did, in fact, open Feb. 14, as can be seen in several photos here, and by the time they abandon this space on June 22, Doc will have opened 9 of those 10 promised new shows. As for the June 23 reopening elsewhere – Gremina found a new space in another Moscow neighborhood within days of losing her lease, and that space is being readied for the first customers as we speak.
When we talk about Doc and Gremina and Ugarov and the people who work with them and the folks who support them – we are talking about some very serious people. People like this in other eras have been called heroes.
Right now I’d like to say a few words of farewell to the short-lived Doc on Spartakovskaya Street. It was a wonderful space that, thanks to the huge efforts of fans and colleagues, and donations of time, money and labor, was transformed from an abandoned old shack into a wonderful small theater in almost no time flat. As you can see in the photo immediately below, it is/was located just a long block from one of Moscow’s central cathedrals, Yelokhovskaya, where Alexander Pushkin was christened. The building, which Doc occupied (seen in the immediate two photos below on the far left and then the far right), was there when baby Pushkin was sprinkled with holy water. Pushkin was born in 1799, the Doc building was already standing at that point.
Doc did an incredible hurry-up job of turning the crumbling old structure into a usable space. They were planning on doing much more – in fact, the day they were told they were being evicted, they had just put a new coat of paint on the outside of the main building, and they were preparing to start fixing up the courtyard in the back. There were plans to create a second performance space in the basement beneath the main hall. There was a wonderful atmosphere in the hall, as you can see in the second photo below, taken the night of the space’s opening performance on Feb. 14, 2015. In the fourth photo below you see what the hall looked like when it was empty – this shot was taken from the street through the farthest left window.
I have no doubts that the historical significance of this place will be pushed into oblivion very soon. After all, just a week or so ago a building that Pushkin lived in was torn down in the center of Moscow by greedy builders while corrupt politicians looked the other way. If nobody gives a damn about the historical and spiritual connections to Russia’s most beloved poet, who is going to care about a little theater that only occupied some ragged building for six months before being chased on further by voracious, fear-mongering city officials?
In fact, my wife Oksana Mysina and I happened to pass by the old Doc a few weeks ago, the one on Tryokprudny Lane that Doc was kicked out of in Dec. We were curious to see what it looked like and we stepped into the familiar, tiny courtyard where the entrance used to be. There was nothing left of Doc or its atmosphere. There was just a tipsy worker sitting on some sacks of construction materials that belonged to the construction company that now is based there. Oksana asked the man if he worked there.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
“Did you know this used to be a theater?” Oksana asked.
“A theater!?” he replied in surprise. “No.”
“Yes,” Oksana said. “A famous theater called Teatr.doc. They were kicked out by the city.”
“Wow,” the guy said. “Thanks for telling me. Now I’ll know.”
That’s the same basic reason for this post here today – so that people will know. Maybe some construction company or hair salon or grocery store will move in here to replace Doc. Or maybe the little abandoned building will just be abandoned again. Today is Saturday, June 20. Three more shows are left to be performed here. Then it’s on to the new space at 19 Maly Kazyonny Lane in the Pokrovka region of Moscow. Gremina and company – with help again from all kinds of people, including even a group of American students led by Professor Marc Robinson – have whipped the new space into shape in one month’s time. I don’t doubt it will be as welcoming and inspiring as the last two Docs have been. As for now, let’s give a proper send-off to Doc No. 2. It didn’t last long, but it gave us a wonderful six months of real life and real life theater. That’s no small thing.