Tag Archives: Teatr.doc

Teatr.doc 2, Moscow

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“Farewell, we hardly knew ye!”
and
“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.

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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.

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Teatr.doc, Moscow

Note: Click on photos to enlarge.

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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.

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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.

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Andrei Sakharov Center, Moscow

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The Sakharov Center, located in a small corner of wooded land just above the Yauza River in the teeming metropolis of Moscow, is a pretty amazing place. Its official address is 57 Zemlyanoi Val. Its main building (above, bearing a banner proclaiming “Freedom”) used to house a police precinct of some kind, while its second building, which hosts exhibits, conferences, theater performances, concerts and general town-hall-type meetings, was the garage. Andrei Sakharov, in case you’ve forgotten or are too young to know, was the great Soviet physicist, one of the creators of Russian nuclear weaapons, who became one of the most prominent and influential Soviet dissidents and spent most of his final years being harassed by the Soviet government as he defended human rights while being deprived of his own. Google him if you need information. He was one of the great citizens of the world of the last half of the 20th century.
In recent years these two small buildings have hosted countless cultural events. It is an amazing process how seemingly inanimate buildings take on the aura and the energy of the people who inhabit and/or use them. It’s a process that is evident at the Sakharov Center. Over the last few years I have attended more theatrical or theatricalized events there than I can count or remember. For awhile journalist Mikhail Kaluzhsky teamed with Moscow-based, German theater director Georg Genoux’s Joseph Beuys Theater to present important theater-based performances that touched on difficult historical topics, such as Nazism in Germany, fascism in the Soviet Union, the problem of political prisoners in Russia, issues of free speech and more. Some of these events were (almost) straight-up theater, such Genoux’s production of I, Anna and Helga, which weaved the director’s own family story into the harrowing tales of Anne Frank and Helga Goebbels. Others, such as an evening discussion organized by Genoux and hosted by Kaluzhsky, brought in prominent artists to discuss the problem of collaborating with the government. Participants that night, in early Dec. 2011, included Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyoshina, whom, in a few months, the world would come to know as Pussy Riot.

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Thanks to the efforts of the Center’s information director Yelena Kaluzhskaya, the Sakharov Center continues to host major cultural, political and social events, and to support politically oriented theater elsewhere. They host an internet discussion channel called Gogol.TV that provides provocative conversations on timely topics. I joined the actress Anastasia Patlay to discuss the importance of Teatr.doc’s production of One Hour, Eighteen Minutes last fall.
The photos you see here were taken yesterday, Aug. 30, 2014, after a benefit concert for political prisoners in Russia raised nearly $5,000. Performing at the event were the playwright and satirist Viktor Shenderovich, the poet, satirist and scholar Dmitry Bykov, the musician Alexei Paperny, the actress and singer Oksana Mysina (my wife, thank you), the poets Alexander Timofeevsky, Igor Irtenyev and many others. It’s all very much in the realm of activity of this vital organization which helps a culture continue to speak out in times of conflict, repression and war. The final picture below shows a banner that hangs on the “garage” segment of the Center. Here is what it proclaims in full: “Freedom says ‘Yes!’ in various languages. The Sakharov Center unites people who defend and bring about freedom and human rights in various languages: Law, Philosophy, Ethics, Poetry, Fine Arts, Politics, Education, Science, Theater, Architecture, Music, Business and many more. The Sakharov Center is a place where projects and programs are realized whose goal is to defend and support intellectual, creative, religious, political, civic and economic freedoms and human rights.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

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