Scenes from The Bald Opera Singer (based on a play by E. Ionescu); Larysa Paris, director.

The Kyiv Experimental Theatre is called “experimental” because it stages “experimental” plays. In spite of being tautological, this statement nevertheless brings out the most essential feature of this theatre. At present, the theatre functions on the premises of the National Academy of Kyiv Mohyla Academy (NUKMA), probably, quite a proper place for it.
It began as the Kyiv Youth Theatre at the end of the eighties. Director Valeriy Bilchenko staged two plays, Archaeology (1989) and I Said “F...” (1991), both based on dramas by Oleksiy Shypenko. Archaeology made a sensation at the first Golden Lion Theatre Festival in Lviv (since then it has become a regular and prestigious theatre festival in Ukraine). I Said “F...” shocked some and made others ponder the most essential issues of our life. Inspired by his early successes, the young director decided to go ahead and create his own theatre which would develop along “experimental” lines. The Eastern March staged in 1994 was experimental in the sense that the actors centred on improvisation rather than on faithfully rendering every word of the play. It was improvisation not for improvisation’s sake but for the sake of creating certain moods that would change as the play unfolded. Waiting for Godot, the new theatre’s next play based on Beckett’s, took experimentation one step further. The two protagonists do not seem to be waiting for anybody any longer, they are quite satisfied with talking to each other; they argue, confess to wrong doing, discuss politics and weather. In the play that basically preserved the text of the original play by Beckett, the emphasis is laid upon nuances in the changing moods of the protagonists (as they were played by Anatoliy Petrov as Estragon, and Yaroslav Chornenky as Vladimir) rather than on the absurdist waiting for the “saviour” who will never come anyway.

The play paradoxically turned the absurdity of existence (as Beckett originally designed his play to show) into a serendipitous discovery of the miracle of life.
Waiting for Godot was directed by Alla Zamanska (and not by Bilchenko, the founder of the new theatre who had already left the theatre by that time), and performed on a stage provided by NUKMA. Another play by the Kyiv Experimental Theatre, which also turned out to be a remarkable event in Kyiv’s theatrical life, was A Shot in the Autumn Garden based on Chekhov’s play Cherry Orchard.
The play received a prestigious award, Kyiv Pectoral, in 1995, in the best play of the year and best director nominations. In 1998, the Experimental Theatre again won Kyiv Pectoral in two nominations for The Bald Opera Singer based on a play by Ionescu, and directed by Larysa Paris (a director from Moscow who, surprisingly enough, speaks excellent Ukrainian and elegantly performs as an actress in The Chairs at the Dvoyina Theatre). Valeriy Lehin for his role in The Bald Opera Singer got an award for the best leading role and another award went to Viktoriya Avdeyenko for the best supporting role.
Staging plays in the theatre of the absurd line, the Experimental Theatre does not overdo with “black paint.” These plays deal with issues close to the Ukrainian mentality: friendship, love and family.
Family has been given much attention by playwrights and directors in the past and it is being given much attention now. Family can be regarded as a sort of a paradoxical situation, and as such has a lot of material for playwrights of the absurdist line.

Waiting for Godot by S. Beckett,
directed by Alla Zamanska.

Scene from The Bald Opera Singer.

Experimental Theatre performance in the street during the Day of Kyiv Festival.

Amphitrion by Peter Hax; directed by Oleksandr Ihnatusha.

These days when so many prophecies of the impending doom are uttered by anyone who can talk, the middle class values seem to be the only hope for survival. The plays staged by the Experimental Theatre are a success for several reasons — good acting, humour, good choice of plays, life-asserting, not at all vulgar, and probing into profound issues of life.
In 1998, the Experimental Theatre got another Kyiv Pectoral award, this time for the best scenography (Amphitrion by Peter Hax). The Goethe-Institut cultural centre in Kyiv was involved in the production of the play.
Amphitrion, a light philosophical comedy which would probably suit best a commercial theatre, was turned by the Experimental Theatre into an ironic philosophic drama. Deity Night (Tetyana Shuran), top deity Jupiter (Valeriy Lehin) and his messenger Mercury (Taras Rudenko) come down to earth from their heavenly abode to find themselves in a chaotic and disturbing situation. The stage (scenographer Volodymyr Karashevsky) looks like a building site, complete with mounds of sand, cement and timber. There is even a sort of a big tub in the centre of the stage for mixing sand, cement and water. The deities fly around and once in a while fall into the tub. But the mortals who are engaged in the never ending building or repairing process, feel themselves quite at home. In the interaction of gods and mortals the true worth of man, made of dust and to dust returning, engaged mostly in wars and a little in love, is revealed. There are many issues raised in this play, meaningful both for us living here in Ukraine and for the humanity as a whole. The Experimental Theatre shows its plays not only at the stage of NUKMA but elsewhere as well. They perform on makeshift stages during the Day of Kyiv Festivals in the central square, they perform in the courtyard of the NUKMA compound. These performances are easily modified and adapted to a particular occasion or the place they are performed at. Though such performances are not a widespread theatrical phenomena in Ukraine yet, their popularity is growing.
The Experimental Theatre is an active participant of theatre festivals, held in Ukraine and abroad. Waiting for Godot and some shows performed right in the streets were a great success at the Promised Land International Festival in Lodz, Poland and at the Szena Avant-Garde Theatre International Festival in Hanover, Germany in 1998. When the Experimental Theatre performs in the streets, NUKMA students take part in such performances as actors. Olena Zamostyan, head of the NUKMA Culture and Art Centre, a great enthusiast and supporter of the theatre, is a frequent performer, too.

In 2000, the Experimental Theatre is planning to stage Ghosts by Ibsen (Volodymyr Ohloblin, a prominent Ukrainian director of wide experience, has already been invited to direct the play) and Seagull by Chekhov, with Dmytro Lazorko, quite a young man, as the director.

By Valentyna Hrytsuk, theatre critic,
regular contributor to Kino-Teatr magazine