Friday, March 25, 2011

Changing the World

Tuesday night saw the first Routledge / Stanislavski Centre Lecture at Rose Bruford. It was given by Anatoly Smeliansky, who is Dean of the Moscow Art Theatre School, and Associate Director of the MAT itself. So he has a bit of a direct line to Stanislavski - though he was at pains to point out that Stalin and Co. represent quite a gulf between modern Russia and the great man.

Anatoly is a dramaturg - that central figure of European theatre who you hardly ever encounter in Britain - and so he has been on the scene for many of the great events of Russian theatrical history, without taking part in them directly. It gives him the critical distance and ironic voice of the great raconteur. He seems genuinely to believe that all the main events in Russian history somehow happen in the MAT before they happen outside. The obvious case is Chekhov's prophecy of the Revolution in The Cherry Orchard - but his more recent anecdote is better. When Gorbachev came to power, he came to see Uncle Vanya. This in itself was odd, since most Soviet leaders only watched propaganda pieces. Gorbachev phoned the director the next day, and Anatoly was in the office. The discussion was about the actors, using their first names, about the play and how moving it was.... and at the end, the director put down the phone and said to Anatoly "Russia is about to change". And, as we know, it did.

Sometimes the world changes from below. I went yesterday to a workshop on Ethics in Participatory Theatre, run by Frances Rifkin for the Arts Council. Joel and Gabrielle from Polygon came too, and there were some very interesting and experienced people from other companies like Theatre Is... Spare Tyre and London Bubble. There seemed to be a bit of a movement towards establishing some sort of ethical code for practitioners - rather like nurses or therapists have. I'm not sure I'm convinced about that. The conversations through the day seemed to me to suggest that we live in an ethical minefield, and that every case has to be taken on its merits, with a huge awareness of political, social and cultural context.

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