Behind the Stage
The theaters of the Soviet Union lived under the vigilant surveillance of the state, and the state paid all of their expenses. An actor who was accepted into a theater troupe could always count on a stable salary, the opportunity to tour, and a pension. Actors were not required to work long hours, or at other jobs. With the arrival of a market economy in Russia, state grants for culture were abruptly reduced, and every theater had to develop new working processes and funding sources. Many turned to the regional or city governments for support. Russians Magazine recently visited the Ruben Simonov Theater, which is funded by the Moscow city government, to see how it has survived, and to talk with some of the theater staff and performers.
. The small Ruben Simonov Theater could not accomthe crowd. The aisles were filled with chairs, and people sat on the stairs and stood near the walls. "The house is full," the manager cried wearily, trying to shoo away those who were late and had no chance of a seat. The play that evening was enchanting, a premiere performance of "Cherchez la Femme," based on a play by the great master of the French detective story, Jean Poiret. Superb costumes, wonderful music, and beautiful women intertwined harmointo one enthralling event. It seemed that the actors were as happy and rich as their heroes. Is this really the case? Let us check backstage.
The backstage of this small theater reminds one of a communal flat. It is cramped and overcrowded, with a dozen make-up rooms stacked together like nesting boxes. Though noisy at rehearsals, the silence backstage at a premiere is tangible, and is only broken by rare outcries, which are quickly conto a whisper. Performers show up briefly in the hall behind the stage, reserved and full of concentration, some smoking nervously. Made up beyond recognition, they tensely listen to the cues of other actors. Their responsibility is high. They must not only directly surthe audience, they must also make them want to come to another play. This is the market, which has befallen this small group of performers like an act of God.The Ruben Simonov Theater is not among the most fashionable or popular of Moscow theaters. It was founded late in the Soviet era and at the start did not even have its own stage. At first, the theater company performed on various stages and toured Russia. Finally, the Moscow city government gave the thea three-story mansion in the center of Moscow, on the famous Arbat Street. But, just when the company thought it could realize all of its creative plans, everything started to collapse - budgets, salaries, staging, and tours. Russians Magazine discussed the theater with members to learn how it has progressed since that time.VYACHESLAV SHALEVICH -- art directorThere are now 13 plays in our repertoire and perof 8 of them are sold out. Our theater has 32 actors who perregularly in different plays. As a municipal theater of the Moscow Government, the city finances the theoperation, hires and employs the staff, provides money for salaries, and sometimes funds production costs. This money is not adequate, but it surely is better than nothing at all. Our wages are less than in the federal theaters. City theater wages are $60 to $70 per month. Of course, this is a ridiculous sum. Actors also receive premiums for each play, depending on the role, which might amount to as much as $80 per month. We do not prohibit actors from working in other places. They would rather not, but there is no alternative.Like most theaters, we now have sponthat are indicated on playbills. Otherwise, we could not survive. The average staging cost of each play is around $13,000. The expensive cosfor a play such as "Cherchez la Femme," take up half of the budget. Unfortunately, we have no funds for tours. Nevertheless, we are ranked 11th among Moscow's 67 budget theaters.
I feel like a lucky person. After leaving school in St. Petersburg, I was able to enter the Moscow Schukin College of Theatrical Arts in Moscow. Stage is the most important thing for me. It offers you the rare opportuto be the man you can never be in everyday life. For instance, I can weep without shame on stage. Try to do it on the street, and you would immediately be called insane.
When our theater had had no premises, we often toured, and sometimes it seemed like there would never be a theater at all. Fortunately things have turned out fine. Of course, the salary is low. I earn approxi$80 per month from the theater, even with my title. This is enough for me to live on, because I have learned other ways to earn money from my profession by parin other theatrical productions and presentations, and performing in film.
VLADISLAV DEMCHENKO - lead actor, was named Honored Artist of Russia, and is the holder of several intertheater awards. He has acted in more than 30 films.IRINA KOURNOSOVA -- lead actress, graduated from the Schepkin Theater College, and previously worked at the Moscow Art Theater (MkhAT).I was born in Novosibirsk where my father is a miner and my mother worked in a knitting mill. I first studied in a polycollege, where I took part in amatheatrical productions. I was afraid to come to Moscow to study theater because I did not consider myself to be educated enough. I remember arriving at the entrance examinations wearing a lot of makeup. My future teacher asked me if I had a handkerchief and a comb. I thought to myself that I must seem like such an awful provincial and that she thought I did not even know what a handkerchief was. She remained silent for a while and finally said, "Go to the washroom, and wash off your makeup, and comb your hair." When I returned, she asked, "Well, Kournosova, are you now ready to conquer Moscow?"I play five roles in our theater and I love them all. Our workload is heavy. I lost five kilos just acting in this play. My usual salary is just $40. The largest salary I ever made, which included preand other bonuses, was $130.ALEXANDER GORBAN - directorI believe this theater has a good future. Much depends upon money. To earn it, we must play on other stages, and invite producers in from outside. This is business. The difficulties that bother me the most as a director lie in the spiritual and professional spheres. A theater must impress the audience and ours must be outstanding. Otherwise, it would be better to close. There are several reasons for this. First, it is difficult for us to bring in much money, as the auditorium is small, so it should always be filled. Also, we are a young theater, with young actors and actresses, all under 40 years old. We are also privileged with a good locaon one of Moscow's spiritual metropolitan streets, the Arbat. In other words, we have the necessary prerequisites for success. Promotion may help us, but this is not the only requirement.Beginning in 1990, I started working at the Satiricon Theater and spent five seasons there. I watched the theater grow. The actors there work a lot, though they occasionally have time to act in films. They are deeply dedicated to their profession and they work very hard. Their inner and outer discipline is strict. I suppose a theater has to function like a small army. If military personnel live under army regulations, actors should live under a creative regime. This is possible if actors are in love with their profession. Actors should be given an opportunity to develop their abiliWhen they are abandoned, and must take care of themselves, one should expect trouble.Theaters are in a difficult period right now and they are tired of crises and shortages of money. But the theatrical world is now developing rapidly. I believe that in a few years there will be a revolution in this field, and new forms will appear.