Sergey Shub: “Good performances are always welcome”

The International Festival of Theatres of CIS and Baltic countries “Meetings in Russia” will be held in St. Petersburg for the 19th time on April 6 – 13, 2017. The Festival will be opened by the landmark event – the founding congress of the Association of the Russian theatres abroad. We asked the director of the Baltic House Theatre-Festival Sergey Shub to tell more about the upcoming events.  


Sergey, this is going to be the 19th Festival, but the Association will be established only this year. You obviously felt the need in it. What was the reason to initiate this process?   

First of all the Festival exists for more than 20 years. But first 2 or 3 Festivals were held once in 2 years, but the willingness of the theatre professionals to meet was so strong, that we decided to make it annual.

For the past years, the Festival got stronger and today has a reputation of a prestigious event. The Festival has acquired quite a big number of friends and participants; we gathered a rich database of theatres existing in the post-Soviet countries. Moreover, the new theatres appeared everywhere including non-CIS countries: in Australia, Germany, Israel, Austria. But at the same time we faced new challenges: the more we distance from the common cultural and theatrical space, the more dramatic shortage of highly-qualified staff we witness. These theatres used to be “communicating vessels” and, for instance, the best Russian directors and actors used to work in Tallinn. Today there are many difficulties: visas, citizenship, etc.  

This is why the need for coordination of efforts and actions arose. The last year’s V St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum devoted to the CIS 25th anniversary became a great framework to gather a round table for theatre representatives from CIS countries to discuss existing issues. It were the participants who proposed to establish the organization that will accumulate the information about new theatres, help them with finding the partners, implement joint projects including educational ones. One of the goals of the Association is to develop theatres as places not only for performances, but for exhibitions, concerts, etc. This is why we invited the representatives of the State Central Theatre Museum, the Saint Isaac's Cathedral, and theatres that host exhibitions on regular basis to participate in the Association assembly.     


Do you feel the need in the Russian theatre and Russian culture in the post-Soviet countries?  Is there this kind of request from the spectators?

The spectators need high-quality art. There surely is some kind of nostalgia for language, but a spectator won’t go to the theatre to listen to the language but will go to watch a good play. In this relation, we work closely with the Theatre Union of Russia: we facilitate the exchange of the production teams with the Russian theatres abroad, implement educational programs for actors, and organize readings of modern Russian drama to make it appear on stage. These are the efforts that help to produce high-quality performances.   


Is non-Russian speaking audience interested in performances of Russian theatres abroad?

In this respect, culture is truly international. Regardless of the country where the theatres are located, each of them has its own national character both in the performance style and in the literary basis. Theatre has always been some kind of common cultural space and it should be opened to everyone. For instance, the performances of the Russian theatres in Riga and Tallinn are simultaneously translated into official state languages even though the percentage of Russian speaking population is very high there. I consider it as a sign of good manners.  


Is there any difference in the repertoire of Russian theatres in different regions? Are there any preferences; is there something what the spectators appreciate more?  

No, here is no a common model. As a rule, the spectators appreciate classics. The reason is simple: the majority of spectators are people of the older generation who favor more traditional performances. They lean toward a more conservative theatre, where they see a traditional plot, love, tears, but not toward an avant-garde theatre. This is why the classic predetermines staging of traditional Russian theatre performances.   

However, modern drama attracting young generation is becoming more and more popular. Our educational programs are often aimed at presentation of new material to the audience, it’s very important. But it’s not only the drama that matters, but the theatre language that young national directors use staging the performances in the Russian theatres abroad; we rely on them.  


Are you expecting the representatives of non-CIS or Baltic countries this year? Or are you more oriented on post-Soviet space

It might sound pretentious, but we are oriented not on geography, but on good performances. If there are good theaters located even far away, we are surely inviting them. This year we have theatres from Tbilisi, Vilnius, Donetsk, Mogilev.

It is great we now have a choice. To be honest, Russian theatres in USSR have been “older brothers” for a long time: they’ve been resting on their oars, and as a result lots of them became unable to keep up with the times. This is why when they were deprived of these preferences, many of them were lost, some of them had to change the artistic directors; the time required them to be competitive.    

It was tough at first, but later the new theatres and new directors appeared. I have to say, in all modesty, that “Meetings in Russia” and the Theatre Union support center deserve credit for that. We witness that the level of performances rises from year to year. I am sure the Russian theatre exists and actively develops as both a cultural phenomenon and a communication phenomenon; and our Association will make everything possible to facilitate this process. 


As regards the performances presented at the Festival, are there any you would especially advise to watch?

First of all, it is the M. Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre due to its high status: the Festival is opened with its performance. We are also hosting very interesting puppet theaters from Yerevan and Mogilev. As an exception, we also invited a theatre from Russia – a very famous Academy Theatre from Tatarstan.    

Based on the experience, I can tell that each Festival has not only famous directors and performances on the program, but brand new ones as well. And suddenly something you didn’t consider to be a priority but worthy becomes the Festival sensation, otherwise everything would be predictable and boring. This is why we look forward to watching all the performances.  


In conclusion, how does the Petersburg spectator perceive these performances?

The most delighting is the fact that not only some performances have a certain reputation, but the Festival brand in general. In the first years of the Baltic House Festival the spectators mostly wanted to watch certain performances by famous directors: Nekrosius, Hermanis, Korsunovas. Today the tickets to all performances are sold out, even to those that people know anything about. In the framework of “Meetings in Russia” we organize the theatres’ presentations: for instance, the director tells about the life of the Russian theatre in Georgia and about its performances. Considering the big number of people coming to these presentations, we can speak about the interest of Petersburg spectators in Russian theatres in general, but not just in certain plays, what is delighting.


Thank you.