Theater where beauty is identical to functionality

Text: Veronika Sklyarova
Photos: Publicist Theatre

Kharkiv is a city with strong university and theatrical traditions. Ukrainian theatres were created around educational institutions, as part of Europe cultural context. Scholars performed philosophical and theological texts, antique tragedies and from 18th-19th centuries. Nowadays, university theaters are fascinating objects for observation. Publicist Theater is one of the oldest among students’ theaters in Kharkiv. It is based at the State Academy of Design and Arts. Audiences are enthused by sophisticated and elegant performances. Scenography and artistic design often becomes as full-fledged acting character. The term “artist’s theatre” aptly names the performance’s aesthetics. The theater focuses on the image and embodies text through the visual.

There are some changes happens in administrative structure recently. Anna Onishchenko, theatre’s director and artistic director, has now been joined by co-director Kostyantyn Vasukov. He was in acting venue of Publicist for years. New director kindly agreed to answer a few questions for our Kharkiv Observer correspondent.

Question: Theater company is often gathering around one personality. How it complies with Publicist situation?
Kostyantyn Vasukov: Yes, our theater is rallied behind our director Anna Onishchenko. She created special conditions for work: 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. Publicist’s members formed specific self-identification. We interpret our community 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: Is it relevant for you, to oppose classical to contemporary theater, maybe it is about interpretation focus - dramatic and post-dramatic esthetics?
KV: I’m not opposing 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 figure out director`s ideas of the performance, or perceive it with emotions?
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 are you focused on, as an artist, in 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, wich 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. The Path. The Road” 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: “The Way. The Path. The Road” is a coproduction work. It was aimed to drawing attention to the presentation of the “Iyov” opera-requiem by Vlad Troitsky in Kharkiv. 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 project 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 artistic designers has an important role in this show. Daria Khalina and Victoria Teletyen designed archetypal images, in which one can see both the features of a modern person and look into eternity.
As for question about 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 passing through the old parts of the city. It was very expressive and exciting.

Q: Please, tell me more about your touring 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 “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 a big experiment for our theater. I hope this will be a surprise to Kharkivities. Vlad Troitsky started "a new opera" project which includes "IYOV", "Babylon" and others. This new course inspired us to make our own musical performance. It will based on the sacred-realistic works of Denis Osokin and the canonical texts of “The Requiem,”. Сollaboration with composer Oleksandra Malackovskaya and special bodily solutions of scenes. Nina Hizhna, a coach with extensive experience, actress, performer, choreographer 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.