For people who thought Russian drama began and ended with Chekhov, the Yale Cabaret presents a show that will make them think again.
The production — a pair of new Russian plays collectively titled “Russian Shorts” — is the culmination of a 10-day residency for four Russian artists sponsored by the Yale School of Drama and CEC Artslink’s Open World Cultural Leaders program, a program dedicated to bringing Russian artists from all disciplines to the United States for short-term residencies.
Now in its seventh year, the Open World Cultural Leaders Program has included a residency sponsored by the Sundance Film Festival for Russian filmmakers as well as a residency at the American Dance Festival for Russian Choreographers.
“We thought, ‘Who would be the most exciting host in the United States?’” said Masha Pyshkina, the director of the Open World Cultural Leaders Program. “And that’s how Yale School of Drama came up. It truly is an amazing institution with great history and terrific presence.”
Pyshkina and Joan Channick, associate dean of the School of Drama, began collaborating to organize the exchange in January of 2009. The goal of the residency is to facilitate a dialogue between the young leaders of the American and Russian theatrical communities.
Pyshkina said each of the four artists whose work will be part of this production embodies a new wave of contemporary Russian drama that began in the last 10-15 years.
“For a long time, what you could see in Russian theater was Chekhov and Ostrovski and the classics and there really was very little contemporary drama being staged,” she said.
BRIDGING THEATERS, WORLDS
Channick said the residency would ideally connect Yale students with the Russian artists and inspire future collaborations.
“They’re very much the peers of our students,” Channick said. “We’re training the future leaders of theater field here and these are some of the up and coming leaders of the theater world in Russia.”
The four Russian playwrights and directors have spent the past one and a half weeks attending classes, rehearsals and social events at the School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre. They have also attended a variety of performances in New Haven, including the recent production of “Hair” at the Shubert Theater and “The Train Driver” at The Long Wharf Theatre.
Marat Gatsalov one of the young Russian directors participating in the residency, said his time at Yale has been an interesting learning experience. Dressed in a brand new Yale hoodie and sporting a thick black beard, he said he has been impressed by the School of Drama and its students, in particular the amount of time they dedicate to classes and work on shows.
The schedule for the residency was designed to expose the four Russian artists to a variety of performance styles and rehearsal processes, according to Channick. For example, the group spent part of Tuesday at a student performance of “Eurydice” at the Iseman Theater, and last night, they attended a professional production of “A Delicate Balance” at the Yale Rep.
“I wanted them to see absolutely everything so they could see the tremendous range in what our students are being trained to do,” Channick said.
Gatsalov said he enjoyed going to the shows and said one of the most striking differences he observed between Russian and American theater is how the audience relates to the performers. For instance at “Hair,” audience members are invited take part in an onstage dance party at the end of the show.
“We were fascinated by audiences engagement and participation in the shows,” Gatsalov said through a translator. “It’s hard to imagine happening in Russia what happens here.”
Gatsalov and the three other Russian artists have been working with translators throughout their stay to communitcate with actors and other members of the School of Drama community while working on the pair of Russian plays.
“There was something really exciting about seeing what was universal about her work and her process,” said Meg Miroshnik DRA ’11, a playwriting student who worked with Russian playwright Nina Belenitskaya on translating her work, “Pavlik — My God.”
RED MEETS BLUE
Managing Director of the Cabaret Tara Kayton said “Russian Shorts” will give audiences a unique opportunity to see a piece of theater that, after only about nine hours of rehearsals, is very much “still a work in progress.”
The Friday performances at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. will also be followed by a question and answer session with the artists and their translator and is part of the Cabaret’s “Quick and Dirty” series, a collection of productions put together with minimal rehearsal time for a single night of shows.
Funding for the Yale residency was provided by The Renova Group — a major Russian conglomerate with interests in oil, mining and telecommunications — as well as two American federal organizations, the Open World Cultural Leadership Center at the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Following their stay at Yale, the four Russian artists will travel to New York City where their works will have another reading at the renowned experimental theater La Mama e.t.c. on Nov. 2.
Miroshnik added that the opportunity to learn from a culture whose theatrical process varies greatly from that at the School of Drama was invaluable.
“In the place that has such a strong culture as the Drama School, there are certain things that feel like the only way that something can be done,” Miroshnik said. “It’s really interesting to see options from other places.”
CEC Artslink was originally founded during the Cold War and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012.