Interview with Nina Belenitskaya and Evgeny Kazachkov

An interview about the project at Theatre 503 – original article by going to this link. Reproduced (unformatted) below.

Theatre louder than politics

Is it Getting Cold in Here…?, a selection of plays on contemporary Russia, currently runs at Theatre503. The Kompass spoke to Nina Belenitskaya and Evgeny Kazachkov, the two Russian playwrights part of the project.

Friday, June 27, 2014 – 7:15pm
By Ilaria Parogni
Related event: “Is it Getting Cold in Here…?” at Theatre503

If Russia were a book, it would be so tempting to judge it by its cover. London-based Theatre503, however, challenges the notion and turns the country’s reality into a play – or eight short plays, to be more precise. Is it Getting Cold in Here…? is produced in association with Sputnik Theatre Company and puts together the works of six British and two Russian playwrights in an effort to stimulate the creative exchange between the Russian and British communities. An exploration of modern-day Russia beyond political differences, the initiative is part of Theatre503’s new writing festival series, aimed at promoting entry-level writers.

Running until 28 June, the show saw the direct involvement of Sputnik’s artistic director Noah Birksted-Breen, who sought out to include a Russian playwright’s point of view by getting emerging talents Nina Belenitskaya and Evgeny Kazachkov to join the project. “As I see it, the first step to improving any situation is talking about it,” he told The Kompass. “So, that is perhaps the main point of this project. To allow artists in two different countries to connect; to discuss what we know and don’t know about each other countries; to express our satisfaction and our dissatisfaction about contemporary life.”

Belenitskaya’s The Sounds of Silence, personally translated by Birksted-Breen, and Kazachkov’s Start-Up, directed by Tom Latter, join a line-up also including works by critically acclaimed authors, such as Ailís Ní Ríain and Steve Waters. The Kompass spoke to the two Russian playwrights about the project and its significance.

Can you tell us briefly about your play?

Evgeny: My play, Start-Up, is about two brothers who have an argument over the house left to them by their father, who has just died from an unknown disease, and explores their relations with him. The fight is broken up by the State Priest and his people, who have a different approach to the situation and their own interests. In a way this play is about my feelings about what’s going on with the Russian society, culture and government.

Nina: The Sounds of Silence is a collection of very short plays, all about Russian current issues.

How did you get to participate in the project?

N: I was invited by Noah Birksted-Breen; he sent me an email when he came to Moscow and we met. It was a wonderful conversation. I discovered that Noah is aware of all that is happening in the world of Russian theatre and he told me about this project in which British and Russian playwrights create plays inspired by what’s going on in my motherland.

What does it mean to you to be able to show your work in the UK?

E: It’s exciting and feels like an honour.

N: It’s a wonderful chance for my writing to reach British audiences, which I very much admire. In fact, I also admire your literature and playwriting. I guess your audience is quite exigent and used to high standards. I’m a bit frustrated, as I won’t see the reaction of the public, but I’ll ask Noah. Despite the fact that the British are very gentle and polite, I hope I will get the truth and find out how it really went.

The project explores different images of modern-day Russia. What is the Russia that you are trying to show the world?

E: I’m not actually trying to show Russia in this way or another. I can’t speak on behalf of the whole country. And I’m not trying to set up a “show window”. It was a chance for me to pay attention to what I feel about my country in general right now. So, from my perspective, Russia is controversial, torn from the inside, not sure about its own identity, afraid of itself and of the future, and desperately looking for love, spiritual life and a source of self-respect.

N: My Russia is torn apart. It’s people who can’t even normally talk to each other inside a family about politics. Men and wives, fathers and children… Everybody is overreacting; close relationships between people are in hazard. We are at war, but it’s all happening in our minds. In one of my plays the main character decides to hide from the world and goes to live inside a wardrobe.

What does it mean to you to be part of a cross-cultural project like this, at a delicate time in bilateral relations between Russia and the West?

E: It’s great to be a part of international cultural community which exists in spite of any political issues. War and politics belong to a language that tries to make you reject your personality and become a part of some big impersonal and demanding mechanisms. Art and culture belong to a language that reminds you of your personality and connects people from heart to heart. I believe these connections are more endurable and true to the human nature than any big political machination.

N: It’s normal to be a part of this kind of projects and it’s so normal that Theatre503 makes it happen because it’s what art should be for – connecting people and artists above politics. I strongly believe that in a situation like the current one theatre is the strongest tool to bring minds in order.

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