Paval Prazko. A text as a snapshot

Lecture by Tania Arcimović which happened on the frame European Café: lectures about modern art, Juny, 2012. HERE the text of the lecture is whole (on Russian). Translated fragmentary

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Paval Pražko I’m free

Before we begin the lecture, I would like to tell you why I’m going to talk about Paval Pražko and why I will try to link his works with photography. I know Pražko’s works for many years and as a director, I had experience working with his plays in frame different theatrical projects such as stage readings. When I first encountered his plays, they did not like me. Then I was a student at Belarusian Art Academy, where we were educated in the tradition of classical, academic theatre, and despite the fact that in Russia at that moment New Drama Movement was developing actively, our lectors convinced us that it is a temporary, newfangled phenomenon, but only Chekhov and Shakespeare are eternal, and we hadn’t find a sense in the texts of young authors, because it’s absent.

In 2007, I participated in the workshop for young directors on the festival Mart@Contact in Mogilev, the condition was working with a text of young Belarusian playwrights. After reading a lot of different plays I didn’t find an author as Chekhov (My teachers were right – I thought). But I needed choosing because of the condition. So, I chose a play by Paval Pražko Rainbow in your home. I couldn’t say I like it. But there were some fragments in the play which touched me emotionally. In another Pražko’s play The Sun of Arcadia I found another fragment and created a mix as my own work, which of course had, I thought thus, a lot of sense. Of course, this way also can be, and it is one of the forms of the director’s work with a play in modern theatre. But it was no Paval Pražko, it was me.

The same thing I did in 2009, also in the workshop, but with the play The Sun of Arcadia. I chose right for me fragments, removed words, which prevented my conception, has composed a beautiful visual picture, so, again instead of reading of Pražko’s text, I created a new play. It is important to note that at first on this Workshop I proposed another play Life is OK, a play that when I read it, I was shocked and angry. But I could not forget, I thought about it and decided to work with the play. This play subsequently opened for me a phenomenon of Paval Pražko. But then, in Mogilev, I couldn’t work with this play because the organization didn’t agree on this. There was a lot of taboo language in the play (more than half). And I chose the less shocking version of Pražko.

In 2010, during the discussion  The theatre in modern society: in search of identity, which was held at the Center for Belarusian dramaturgy and directing, I still decided to do it, I mean, to prepare public reading of Life is OK. With actors Vital Kraučanka and Natalia Slasčova we did it and this was a cause a debate between apologists and protagonists of new drama. But, despite of my deep sympathy to works of Pryazhko at that moment, I can say that performance was also no linked with Pryazhko’s style. It was again my work but not Pražko.

But I understood it later, when I first started thinking about finding an adequate stage language for each author and his or her text. This form of working with a material, when a director doesn’t use a play for creating his or her own story, but trying to find a stage signs for author’s words, to visualize that an author wrote.

Therefore, when in 2011 in Mogilev in frame of the project Katerina Averkova Stage Readings I prepared a presentation of A Closed Door by Pryazhko, it was my goal to read just Pryazhko.  I will speak about this play later, and it’ll become clear what conditions were dictated by the text. But it seems to me that it was the first time I came as close as possible to Pražko’s language through stage’s forms.

Thus, my personal experiences with his texts, the analysis of his recent works are the reasons why today I am going to talk about Pražko. But there is a second key word – photography.

The fact that once, at the opening of a photographic exhibition at Nova Gallery in Minsk, now I do not remember exactly what an  exhibition was, I was talking with a photographer and a curator Vladimir Parfenok about Theatre, and he asked me, that  don’t I really think that Theatre today can be actual?! Of course, I think so. But suddenly I understood that Vladimir, which is well-versed in the latest photographic trends and knows that forms of photography, its concepts are constantly changing. However, he didn’t know what contemporary Theatre is. (Of course, first of all because we have little examples of such practices in Belarus, we don’t discuss problems o modern theatre).

At that moment I looked at the wall of the gallery where some documentary photographs were, and said that Theatre today can be like that. Vladimir didn’t fully understand what I mean. But after this incident seemed to me that to draw parallels between different forms of art need not only for the comprehension of these forms themselves. But in order to discover how the same issue, the trend may be embodied in various practices of art. Because, perhaps, if photographers who work with contemporary photography, read texts Pryazhko, they also begin to say, it is not Theatre and Drama.

A Little Biography

Before the beginning of the talk about works by Pavel I’d like to present some facts of his biography.

So, Pavel Pryazhko, a Belarusian playwright, was born in 1975 in Minsk. He studied first at legal rights, than left the school. He entered the Institute of Culture in the literary department and also did not finish the studies. He began writing in the early 2000s, and the first play was in 2004. But now Pavel doesn’t put his early plays in his portfolio. On the one hand, it is clear, because in these plays Pavel just looked for a language and way of working with subjects of everyday life. On the other hand, the earliest of his plays, in principle, are very personal, and the main character of it is the author himself. Pavel described his feelings, used facts of his biography, for example, in The Sun of Arcadia, and so on. In his later plays these features have disappeared yet.

Over time, during some years from an author, who looks ‘inside’ himself Pavel turns to an author who observes; distance oneself from his personal feelings.  In an interview he had said: ‘While I do not see any interest in myself. So, how can I be interesting to others? In my opinion, there are more interesting things around’[1].

It is important to note that Pavel is one of the first Belarusian playwrights who began writing new drama (the movement of drama that emerged in Post-Soviet territory in the early 1990s) or, as it is called, new new drama, so as to distinguish it from the concept of new drama of  XIX-XX centuries (creation by Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, August Strindberg, Anton Chekhov and others). And also one of those who not only managed to break into Russian-speaking theatre space, but to become an author, who now one of the most popular playwright in Russian.

In general, Pavel Pryazhko wrote about 30 plays, many of which were awarded prizes.  For example, he received a special prize of the jury of the II International Playwrights Competition Eurasia-2004 (Yekaterinburg) for the play Serpentine; II prize and special prize Overcoming from Civil Initiative  at the I International Competition of Modern Drama Free Theatre (2005, Minsk ) for the play Corduroy Pants, the Grand Prize of Free Theatre (2007).

In 2010, the performance of his play Life is OK directed by Mikhail Ugarov and Marat Gatsalov (Teatre.doc and the Center of Drama and Directing in Moscow) has received a special prize of National Theatre Award Golden Mask in Moscow. At the award ceremony Anatoly Smelyansky, a Professor, Rector of the Moscow Art Theatre School, a person who once opened for Russian readers works by for a long time prohibited Mikhail Bulgakov, about ten minutes talking about why the scandalous play by Pryazhko, provoked heated debate and discussion, received a reward. ‘Modern Russian theatre is trying to cut the mass of life that I, a person living in the center of Moscow and going out at night to Patriarch’s Ponds, watches in full, Smelyansky said. I do not want to celebrate this as a sign of bad or disturbing. Chekhov would call it a diagnosis, which is raised with very responsive hearing’[2].

In 2012, a special award (‘Best Play’) of New Play project of Golden Mask Festival was received the text Pryazhko A Wicked Girl. Today in Russian theatrical space Pryazhko not only research (in literature, theatre), but the experts say about the phenomenon of ‘theatre Pryazhko’ which means, the playwright proposed to theatre plays, which require a different, special stage language.

This is most clearly manifested in tandem Pryazhko-Volkostrelov. Dmitry Volkostrelov, a young Petersburg director, calls plays by Pryazhko as texts that he, as a director, has to decode, that is, to adequately translate into stage signs. And he, in my opinion (and in the opinion of many experts) could do it very well.

What are features of searching by Pavel Pryazhko? How does he work with the language? And what distinguishes Pryazhko’s play from his texts, written in recent years? To answer these questions, I prepared a short presentation of some of his works. It could help, first, to see how Pryazhko’s  creative method transforms. And secondly, to draw an analogy his texts with snapshots.

A Dialogue: Panties and Life is OK

I’ll start with his play Pantieswhich was written in 2006, and then staged by Ivan Vyrypaev in St. Petersburg and Elena Nevezhina in Moscow. Later in his text An Owner of Coffee House through the hero of the text Pavel will thank Vyrypaev for the fact that in 2007 he staged Panties. Vyrypaev at that time became a significant figure, and thus he has made significant the Pryazhko’s text.

‘It’s important. He staged my text in St. Petersburg. and thus supported me. Make me a little known. Shared his reputation with me, that he had put his name close to my name’ (Pavel Pryazhko,  An Owner of Coffee House)

Russian theatre for a long time did not take seriously for Pryazhko’s texts, and fundamentally divided into those who understood the innovation by Pryazhko and those who thought he is a temporary phenomenon.  Today works by Pryazhko also have opponents, but it has been rather arbitrary and about those critics who still considers Theatre as a sacred place and pulpit. On the whole, especially after Golden Mask, plays by Pryazhko perceived as a fact. And just Panties was one of those important plays.

It is also important to note that Pryazhko, indeed, will be staged and read mostly Russian directors, and, probably, later Russian theatre will have the right to call Pryazhko as a Russian playwright, because just there Pryazhko’s plays were needed, in contrast to Belarusian theatre.  Such need of course stimulated active creative work. But just Panties was a text which was first performed in Minsk. Free Theatre performed reading of the play on the terrace of café Stary Mensk.

I saw the reading, and at the moment I did not like Pavel Pryazhko, I like Chekhov. It was also the first time when I saw another example of theatre form, where actors exist in very expressive manner. I didn’t like such theatre because my teachers in Academy said it’s not really theatre. In addition, the actors used dirty language. But when I listen the play (no matter that at the moment I wanted to convince myself that it is no theatre and no a play), I was understanding the play was made with virtuosity and had a sense (!).

Panties is a story about a girl Nina, who lives in a residential area on outskirts of a city and has a passion – she collects panties. The story at first seems a funny, because a lot of Nina’s panties, which disappear from time to time, and she should write a statement about their disappearance.  In parallel, we can see her neighbors who condemn her. But in the middle of the play, and even more so in the finale, when Nina was burned as a heretic, it becomes clear that Panties  is a modern tragedy. Let the subject of faith and Nina’s fetish is panties, but, as it should be in a classical tragedy, for her faith, otherness, the heroine has to pay by her life.

Pavel Rudnev, Russia theatre critic wrote about the play: ‘Pasha Pryazhko writes about the moral limits of the era of consumption. Panties is not just a metaphor embodied secret desires, a kind of quintessence of supermarket, but for Pryazhko also a symbol of spiritual burning, as it is funny. Our age has mixed spiritual and material compound in a salad, in a virtual world and the spirit and matter have no weight, impersonal, and in the Nina’s mania of panties collecting Pryazhko sees an almost religious passion, the way to have beauty, and the right to separate from the world, and the factor of martyrdom, and spiritual work. And it’s the causes that majority would like to burn Nina as a new Joan D’Ark’[3].

The moment of otherness, despite the theme of displacement values, became for me the key to understanding this play. Nina is another, and therefore dangerous for the majority, and therefore, in the opinion of this majority she should be burned.

1 A woman

You’re bitch, you don’t want to live like everyone.

2 A woman

It is a cause you will be burned.

3 A woman

You would like to wear red panties.

Nina

You will have to bow your head in front of them!

4 A Women

That will never happen.

5 A Women

A fire will be quickly, you should know.

6 A Woman

Hey, Natasha, my dear friend, burn a fire.

(Pavel Pryazhko, Panties)

If we talk about the form of this play, it is dialogue, in which remarks carry out a secondary role, basically, as explanation. It is also important the play has a clear genre. Pavel Rudnev calls it a parody. [4]

Pryazhko skillfully uses a form of a chorus, recitatives, inspirational monologues, which give a reference to the form of classical tragedy. The author uses a completely naturalistic vocabulary; characters speak without notes that become their exact characteristic. Through giving ‘low’ modernity classical form of ‘high’ tragedy Pryazhko create new meanings.

The next play by Pryazhko is Life is OK (2008). It was staged in two theaters: Teatre.doc (directed by Mikhail Ugarov and Marat Gatsalov) and Practice Theatre (directed by Victor Alferov and Edward Boyakov). The performance at Teatr.doc received the award Golden Mask.

It is important to note laconism of the form with which this performance was made, it’s a form which in principle will be the main means of expression for the production such kind of texts. Another important point is a method of actors’ existence.  Mikhail Ugarov wrote: ‘No scenery, there are 15 black chairs set in front of the auditorium. No costumes (only a wedding veil), actors were put on their causal dress. The performance is made in special technique. At the rehearsals, we called it like an ‘opera in concert performance’. The building system of the performance is to reflect all steps of the creation of the performance – from the readings for dramatic actors’ performance. Actors begin the performance, but the characters end up it’[5].

For such kind of texts the stage reading form is important because many directors and actors, when they take these plays, ask: how do they have to play it? How could they being as a character?

The plot of Life is OK is simple. School friends Lena and Angela are lovers of their gym teacher Alexey and his brother Vadim. Alexey loves Lena and marries her. But Lena likes Vadim and has secretly relationship with him. The central event of the play is the wedding of Lena and Alexey, where heroes are drinking already in the registry office, then under Verka Serduchka’s songs and continue to drink on the way home. In the end, Lena exclaimed: ‘It’s shorter than most ugly wedding, where I was. And this is my own damn wedding. So you can not start. It should be shorter than a divorce’. And after three months, as Angela says in the final of the play, Lena and Alexey really get divorced, but their life is really ok, ‘Vadim works in the market, selling computer and DVD disks. Lena and I hang out every day with him. And Alexey puts windows in the apartments…’

The Russian critic Marina Davydova described these characters as ‘unicellular’ and the performance by Ugarov as ‘a true hymn to life of unicellulars. It is, so to speak, the apotheosis. (…)Pryazhko’s play is a drama-illusion because according drama canons this archetypal literary scene (the rivalry of brothers for a woman) should in the result to have some impressive coda – murder, dueling, suicide or the departure of one of the characters somewhere far away… But it doesn’t happen. Early we could think that strange creatures with three brain cells in the head and thirty words vocabulary can feel, suffer, love, and know how to think about eternity. Even the Pryazhko himself, according his play Panties , seems to believe in it. In the performance Life is OK suddenly discovered that they do not know how. They just know how to live, to float as plankton, subject to the flow of water’ [6].

Pryazhko writes about the play: ‘It may seem that the title of the play has an element of irony. It’s not true. The title does not imply any irony or satire; I’m very honest in his assertion that the life of my heroes is really OK. Just the people I write about, a little different look at life, and they have their own criteria of happiness or unhappiness’[7].

On the one hand, indeed, into the ‘sacred’ theatre space Pavel places the hero, which can be described as a ‘one-celled’. On the other hand, it is noted Anatoly Smelyansky, the language spoken by these characters is not only their language but also the way of communication and vocabulary in principle today’s youth. And the fact that as a result of becoming a wedding, not only happens among the ‘plankton’, but among the ‘complexly organized organisms’. So, Pryazhko diagnoses what is going on with modern culture and a person in principle.

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