Theatre Of Dignity

A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare

Mikhail Kaluzhsky

Alexei Malobrodsky, a well known theatre manager and former general producer of Studio Seven, an independent not-for-profit theatre, is currently being held in a pre-trial remand centre. The studio's chief accountant Nina Maslyaeva is also on remand and Yuri Itin, its former head, is under house arrest. At the end of May, Russian Investigative Committee officers also searched the home of director Kirill Serebrennikov, the studio's founder, and questioned several other former members of staff before relieving some of them of their foreign passports.

The former studio employees are being accused of embezzling 200 million roubles out of the 216 million (£2.8m) they received from the Ministry of Culture for their Platform project. The accusation seems absurd—between 2011 and 2014, the project was rolled out at such a rate that it would have been impossible to stage all the shows and hold all the round table discussions for a mere 16 million roubles (£208,000).

Russia's theatre sector has somehow managed to be much freer and more diverse than its media and cinema. In the current situation, with Russia's conservative turn and daily restrictions on freedom of speech, independent artistic expression is inevitably seen as political.

Even more absurd was the statement made by the public prosecutor, who claimed that the studio's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream never took place and the money designated for it disappeared into people's pockets. Apparently, reviews weren't enough to prove that it had been staged. Serebrennikov's production opened, was nominated for a Golden Mask award in 2016, went on tour and closed just a few days ago. But Russia's performing arts and the Investigative Committee exist in parallel universes. After the public prosecutor refused to admit the reviews as sufficient evidence, Malobrodsky was arrested and remanded in custody.

Like any other Russian business enterprise (with the exception of the corporations close to the Kremlin), its activities are subject to dozens of regulations and the ever-changing rules of the game. State owned theatres (i.e. practically every theatre in Russia) are, in addition, required to comply with the demands of superior bodies, account for their activity and expenditure, fulfill their "state commission" and follow the "road map". This economic and legal straightjacket would impede any business enterprise. For a creative industry it is doubly disastrous.

The result of all this is what director Boris Pavlovich wrote about on his Facebook page a few days ago: "Russia's legal and economic structures leave no opportunity for entrepreneurs, including cultural entrepreneurs, to be completely 'snow white' and 'transparent'—simply because of the mutually exclusive regulations and lose-lose situations they encounter at every step. Absolutely every executive producer has to take decisions without knowing the complete picture, and then tailor their expenditure to the real needs of the production process. This is in no way a matter of squandering or, even less, with misappropriation. Simply, individual people sacrifice themselves to fill the gaps in our cultural politics and economics, which are the enemies of real art. 23 May : Kirill Serebrennikov is taken in for questioning. [Source : Ruptly/Youtube]

The Platform project was a free space to speak a new language. But it would be naive to see the Studio Seven case as an isolated incident. It is part of a trend that includes Teatr Doc's eviction from its premises in 2015, the rows over the Taganka Theatre's "Anniversary Year Group", the ban on a production of Tannhtiuser at Novosibirsk's opera theatre over a disagreement between its director and the theatre management, attempts to derail shows at the Moscow Arts Theatre and Sakharov Centre, attacks on the Gogol Centre and the "Golden Mask" award ceremony and attempts to merge the Theatre History and Criticism and Theatre Management and Production faculties of the Russian University of Theatre Arts (GITIS). The theatre is a dangerous place for those afraid of diversity and discussion.

[source : Open Democracy]

Vol. 50, No.5, Aug 6 - 12, 2017