Year of Theatre in Russia. The time has come

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Pic.1 Year of Theatre

*On 28 April 2018 the President signed Executive Order On Holding the Year of Theatre in Russia to further develop the art of theatre.*

by Tatyana Badina, St.Petersburg

The Year of Theatre started on December 13 2018 with an opening ceremony held on the stage of the Russian state academic drama theatre  in Yaroslavl. The choice of venue was not accidental. The city with a thousand-year history stands out in the history of Russian culture as the place where the first official professional Russian theatre for the general audience was established in 1750. In 1752, the company moved to St Petersburg, and in 1756, Empress Elizabeth of Russia decided to create, the first national theatre for the general public. This, of course, gave an incredible impetus to theatre art not only in Russia, but throughout the world as well. Since that time a breakthrough of Russian culture has been achieved mainly through theatrical forms, thanks to Pushkin’s „Boris Godunov“, „Little tragedies“, thanks to Gogol, Ostrovsky, Chekhov and many other great names that would be honoured in any culture, but in Russia these are not just a list of names, but continuity of culture and virtues. Theatre in Russia means the most serious, deep attitude to people, humanity, it is an absolutely indispensable part of the Russian culture.

Vladimir Putin in his address at the opening ceremony said: ”I strongly hope that the Year of Theatre in Russia will do more than just give an impetus to theatre art. It will help theatre professionals strengthen their positions in our country, take them around the world again and, of course, give an opportunity to theatre lovers in Russia to enjoy the performances that the theatre community brings to our people”.
The Russian society has been longing for the impetus for many years since Alexander Kalyagin, the Chairman of Russian Theatre Union has first proposed the idea of holding the Year of Theatre in order to draw attention to the issues of the industry in legislation, financing, technical renovation and shortage of qualified specialists. The year raises high expectations for venues, theatre workers and audience. Cultural venues expect less bureaucratic obstruction of creative process. Artists and technical staff would like to see increase in salaries. And for the audience the year should give greater access to foreign and domestic productions, increased touring activity. In 2018, Russians set a record for visiting theatres, said Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets. She announced that 40 million people visited the theatres during the year, which was not the case even in Soviet times, when the population of the country was much larger.
Although the Year of Theatre is the 4th year in row dedicated to humanistic subjects after the years of literature, cinema and culture, it’s not just another ordinary year. It’s the first time a professional union (Theatre Union) is supported by the government in taking the central place in the country’s development agenda.

The Year of Audience
The schedule of the Year of Theatre in 2019 includes over 2,600 events at more than 500 platforms. Over 600 cultural institutions have joined the celebration, giving audiences plenty of interesting and diverse choices.
One of the key events of the Year is International Theatre Olympics, which for the first time in its history, will be run concurrently in two countries – in Japan and in Russia. The event was founded by the famous theatre director Theodoros Terzopoulos in Delphi Greece 1993 as a platform for exchange of ideas, cultures, forms and practices between theatre practitioners across the globe to uniting them under the  „Flag of Friendship“ . The event was once hosted by Russia in Moscow in 2001. This year the Olympics will open in St.Petersburg on June 15 on  Ostrovsky square around the Alexandrinsky theater with a grand festival of street theatres from Netherlands, Germany, France, Poland and Russia,
The program of the Olympics will run for almost 6 months, from June till December. The Olympics will present 30 theatre productions from 15 countries, among which are the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Greece, Israel, China and Japan.
The program of Chekhov International Theatre Festival  is included in the Olympics. It will open on June 16 with the performance „Bells and Spells Company, directed by Victoria Thiérrée-Chaplin  (France), followed by productions by Lin Lee-Chen (Taipei), Daniele Finzi Pasca (Russia-Switzerland), Theatre Republique (Copenhagen), Sadler’s Wells, London, etc.. Among other event of the Olympics are „Access Point“ summer arts festival in July, the „Baltic House“ International Theatre Festival in October and the NET (New European Festival) in Novemeber. The organizing committee of the Golden Mask National Theatre Award and Performing Arts Festival  prepared a large-scale program of the best productions, which will be presented in 18 regions of Russia.

The motto of the Theatre Olympics is „Uniting to create“, which brings about two novelties. First, it endeavours to link cultures of Japan and Russia and secondly – to bring traditions of many national theatres from different regions of Russia on one stage. The two countries will organize exchange tours between Alexandrynki theatre and Suzuki Company Of TOGA and stage many performances in Far Eastern Region. Regional theatres which preserve their indigenous traditions but remain are isolated and are hardly known outside their regions especially from remote corners of Russia will be introduced to public in St.Petersburg during the Olympics in October.

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Pic.2 Bells & Spells Company (Paris), source:

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Pic.3 From The Ship of Fools by Denis Bokuradze, Gran Studio-theatre, Novokuibyshevsk, Samara region, source:

Another significant event of the Year of Theatre is the All-Russia Theatre Marathon, which started in January in Vladivostok and will end a year later in Kaliningrad- the westernmost part of the country. The Theatre Marathon will cover all 85 regions of Russia. It started at the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Vladivostok with The Sleeping Beauty – a spectacular three-act ballet by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, choreography by Marius Petipa (as edited by Konstantin Sergeev, Eldar Aliev). The idea of the Marathon is to promote touring activity nd mobility of theatres. The project is conducted in the format of relay race: regional theatres go on tour to the neighboring region and pass the special symbol of the Year of Theatre to the next participating theatre. The symbol is the statue in the form of an inverted Greek amphitheatre with the coats of arms of 85 regions of the Russian Federation. The marathon is unique in providing exchange between regional theatres and opening the rich palette of the theatrical art of the neighboring regions for the audiences.

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Pic.4 Symbol of the Year of Theatre

The National Project “Culture” 2019-2024
The decree which announced 2019 the Year of Theatre was followed just a week later (right after Putin’s inauguration ceremony in the Kremlin) by the Executive Order On National Goals and Strategic Objectives of the Russian Federation through to 2024. The order set up a list of 12 priority sectors for development during Putin’s current presidential term. Culture was outlined among these areas along with Digital Economy, the Ecology, Labor Productivity and Supporting Employment, International Cooperation and Export, Education, Small and Medium Businesses and Support for Business Initiatives, Healthcare, Demographics, Safe and High-Quality Roads, Housing and Urban Environment and Science. The Order sets the task to organize and implement the respective National projects by the minisitries. The implementation of the Culture National Project started simultaneously with the Year of Theatre on January 1, 2019. The total budget of the project equals to 1.56 billion EUR.
The Culture National Project involves developing the sector’s infrastructure (renovation and construction of cultural centres and cinemas), supporting creativity (first of all, creative activities of children) and integration of digital technologies to improve access to main cultural events of the country for people in all regions. According to the objectves the project is split into 3 divisions: “Cultural environment”, “Creative People”, “Digital culture”.
The directives of the project are:
– Strengthening Russian civil identity on the basis of spiritual, moral and cultural values of the peoples of the Russian Federation;
– Creation, restoration and refurbishment of cultural, educational and museum complexes, including concert halls, theatrical, musical, choreographic and other creative schools, as well as exhibition spaces;
– Provision of necessary instruments, equipment and materials to children’s music, art and dance schools
– Provision of support to talented young people in the field of music, i.a. through the creation of a national youth symphony orchestra;
– Creation (reconstruction) of cultural and leisure club-type organizations in rural areas, development of municipal libraries, and creation of virtual concert halls in at least 500 cities of the Russian Federation;
– Facilitating construction of cinemas located in towns with a population of up to 500,000;
– Training of personnel for cultural organizations;
– Modernization of regional and municipal theatres for young viewers and puppet theatres;
– Supporting voluntary movements, i.a in the area of preserving the cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation.
New cultural centres
Implementation of the National Project has also enshrined creation of 4 major cultural and educational centers in four regions. The locations are chosen from the geopolitical perspective: Kaliningrad will form the basis for cultural development of the western regions, Kemerovo – for the Urals and Siberia, Vladivostok – for the Far East, and Sevastopol – for the South of the country. The centres should include Museum branches of the State Hermitage Museum, State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, branches of Bolshoi or Maryinski theatres, Higher School of Musical and Theatre Arts, choreographic and music schools, concert facilities, exhibition areas.
The infrastructure will also include educational and training centres, courses for theatre practitioners, residential houses for artists, teachers and students. The construction works should be finished by 2023. The total cost of construction of four centers is estimated at 1.65 billion EUR. The money will come from private investments. The project will be headed by the specially established foundation “National Culture Heritage”, formed by Maryinski, Bolshoi theatres, State Hermitage Museum and Tretyakov Gallery.
Long-overdue regulatory changes
Long before the shocking news about the embezzlement case against Kirill Serebrennikov and the Seventh Studio theatre company, the Russian art community repeatedly attempted to draw attention of the law-makers to the outdated legislation which regulated culture and creative process in theatres in particular, especially financial management.
The Federal Law № 44-FZ of 1 January 2014 „On the contract system in state and municipal procurement of goods, works and services” which governs planning of procurements, determination of Suppliers (Contractors, Performers, conclusion of contracts, audit made no difference between culture venues and any other publicly funded institutions and was not until recently adapted for ever-changing creative environment. The law obliged to make procurements through tender procedure in a unified system which would require competition of at least 3 participants. The winner had to be chosen based on the best price criterion. This principle made it hard and sometimes impossible for theatres funded from state or city budgets to buy what they really need for production, because being forced to opt for the cheaper price, they had to compromise on quality. Elena Drapeko, an actress and State Duma member mentioned that once the winner in the tender for costume production turned out to be a tailor shop for military uniform, which didn’t have any experience in costume making for theatres. Likewise it was impossible to justify any purchases in cash. Bypassing the procurement procedure was the common and often the only solution but obviously illegal. Director of the Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg Mikhail Piotrovsky voiced the unilateral position of the artistic society that if the state didn’t change the rules of financial management for museums, theatres, and film studios, many cultural institutions risk facing the same accusations as the Seventh Studio.
The dead end situation was finally recognized by the government this year, when members of professional society, including Alexander Kalyagin, (Chairman of the Theatre Union), Vladimir Urin (General Director of the Bolshoi Theatre) and Maria Revyakin (Director of the State Theatre of Nations) were invited for discussion to design amendments to the troubled law.
The amendments were adopted and signed into law by President in April. The whole adoption procedure which provides for thee readings and as a rule can stretch in time for many months, extraordinarily was completed in less than a month. Coincidently when the draft law was approved in the first reading Kirill Serebrennikov and his co-defendants Sofia Apfelbaum and Yury Itin  were finally freed from house arrest.
The amendments significantly simplify the law application in the field of culture. Сultural institutions will now be able to make procurements for specific goods and services without tendering procedure, will be able make any changes in contractual terms without fearing of losing financial support. Moreover, the updated law obliges to verify competence and relevant experience of prospective contractors. Restrictions on procurements for orders with undefined volume of goods have also been lifted. Many other issues like intellectual property rights and mandatory price justification were also addressed.
The updated law is just the first landmark on the way for better regulation. The reform of legislation should continue to put an end to hazy and indistinct rules, and shape a clear legal framework for creative industry. The current law on culture was adopted in the early 1990s and is not effective today when the sphere is not limited to large public theatres, but encompasses thousands of small companies and individual practitioners. The new law should change the approach to culture. It should no longer be considered a service, because it can’t be measured or assessed. Instead it should be recognized on the legislative level as a mission, an activity aimed at creation, dissemination, preservation, development and promotion of cultural works and values. Moreover as Mikhail Piotrovsky said: “Many of the laws we have are unfriendly to culture. All laws on offenses to feelings, including insults of religious feelings, do not stipulate any reservations that culture is a special sphere”. The new law should ensure the constitutional rights of citizens to cultural life and freedom of creation.
The concept of the new law is now actively discussed and elaborated during public hearings and forums, organized by the Theatre Union in eight cities of Russia. The new is expected to be passed by the end of the year.

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