SATURDAY EVERY DAY
Soviet Life magazine. Washington, 1975. №12. P. 27-29
By Evnika Svetlanova
«Are the plays you stage in print?»
«Our shows are all Improvisations».
«There’s a lot of talk about your theater club. Have you been written up anywhere?»
«Take a look at our Spectators Book. That’s the only thing in writing».
So I, a guest of Leningrad’s amateur Saturday Theater Club, thumbed through the Spectators Book. It was a pretty good summary of what goes on in this unusual youth theater; I could almost hear the bursts of applause and feel the excitement. The audience’s spontaneous reaction to everything happening on the stage rang in my ears: approval and protests, bravos and catcalls, barbs from the wits and suggestions from the enthusiasts.
Each Is an Individual
Yon are wonderful! Every one of you is an individual whom we would love to know better.
From the Spectators Book
What happens in the auditorium, rehearsal rooms and offices of the Saturday? I interviewed the theater club’s director. Yuri Smirnov-Nesvitsky, Candidate of Science (Arts).
«When I said you couldn’t read our plays and that every show of ours is an improvisation. I may have been overstating the case. But in principle I was right. We really do not write finished plays. Our script is created collectively to serve as a reasonable jumping- off place for improvisation. Our aim is not to present ‘one more’ classical or modem play. We differ from the traditional amateur theaters in that we do not imitate the professionals. What we are seeking is our own method of ideologically and esthetically reaching the youth. We are working toward new forms of artistic perceptions of the world and man».
My own reaction to this credo: The shows of the Saturday are indeed, quite unlike the usual theatrical productions. The performers’ identities do not change: In their own person, name and real-life role they appear on the stage and take off from the given situation. Life itself seems to present the problems — usually tricky and unexpected — and the actors have to find their way out.
The members of the club are young men and women from every kind of background: They include factory and office workers and college students. The club is open to everyone, but it is not easy to meet the qualifications. Every applicant goes through a test period, assigned not only creative projects, but also dull, routine work.
Average age of the members is 20. An elected council of eight is the company’s ethical and creative conscience. Four of the council members are chosen to be the artistic directors. The present — elected — chairman is 18-year-old Galya Romanovskaya. Her sister Alina and brother Boris are also members of the club.
Monologues have no place in this theater. Performers interact with one another, in harmony or in conflict, and the dialogue arises out of the developing situation. The whole audience joins in. and the line between the theater and life quickly fades away. The actors are the hospitable hosts and the spectators invited guests drawn into the common game.
I should tell you the Soviet theater. In Its history and its varied forms — including the amateur theater — has never considered itself removed from social and ideological problems. The cultivation of character and the service of high ideals have al- ways been our goals. The Saturday Theater tries, in its particular way to carry out that responsible mission by creating a special atmosphere — at once ethical, esthetic and emotional. That ambiance makes it easy and natural tor spectator-participants to express themselves creatively and as social beings.
Be Yourselves at All Times
How wonderful that you know how to be friends! How wonderful that you know how to be yourselves on the stage! Be yourselves at all times both on and off the stage.
From the Spectators Book
Those are the comments of Soviet playwright Alexander Volodin. He was struck by the young people’s interest in social problems. Take, for instance, the show titled Theater Pages. These are dance and song «reviews» of professional theater premieres in Leningrad. Wearing their every- day clothes, with no makeup, the young people act out their impressions of current theater in sketches, songs and interludes. «Theater discussions» follow.
A discussion can go like this: Two of the actors who have just taken the roles of dissimilar types of drama critics give their own opinions of one or another production. They may agree or argue their differences, present an opinion, develop it and perhaps be refuted in the end. To appear on the stage with such an improvised commentary, drawing the spectators into the debate, you have to be well prepared — not merely to repeat the lines written by a theater critic, but, what is much more difficult, to be a critic yourself.
Or take another of the club’s shows — Problems of Youth. This is an oral journal in which the young people, with verse, song and dance, relied upon their aims and aspirations, «play» life rather than stage a finished dramatic work about it.
In Windows. Streets and Gates the short expressive scenes are based on incidents of no great importance that have happened to the amateur actors. Now, in the theater, remaining themselves, they analyze the reasons for and the consequences of one action or another, as if from a distance and without bias.
Another unusual presentation. Chronicles of the Romanovs, is similarly developed. With the general participation of the audience, all three Romanovs talk about themselves as in real life, recounting major and petty events, amusing incidents and serious ones. A morning scene is shown, followed by an episode on a bus. Then we see what happens on the job: the problems tackled, the acquaintances made. The relations established, School. Visits to friends. Conversations at the dinner table.
The purpose is to find out, in each episode, what has really happened to the Romanov family, the underlying meaning of each event and the consequences. What we have, finally, is a full delineation of the characters.
The Saturday consumes most of the actors’ free time. But the returns are incalculable.