When you’re doomed to lead a perpetually exciting life, playwriting is not the best way of attaining peace and balance. This may surprise people who only know Russian drama through painfully earnest productions of Chekhov, but nothing surprises me anymore.
Mid-week at the annual Lyubimovka festival of young playwriting, I had witnessed a number of great readings – the most memorable one being Anna Yablonskaya’s “Pagans” – when the general excitement was upped a notch by a drunk director. The director and had briefly crossed paths when I joined the Laboratory of Modern Playwriting as a way of distracting myself from my perpetual bad mood (I hadn’t yet realised that one can become a playwright out of desperation).
“I love your hair,” he said, grabbing me in a manner that suggested we were more than casual acquaintances – which was news to me. “It’s dyed,” I said. “Then I love it even more!” He countered, kissing my blond dye-job. “You are brilliant. For choosing this colour. What can I do for you?”
“Er. Come to the reading of my play?” I offered. A one-act of mine had been chosen to be read at Lyubimovka as part of a special Russian-Ukrainian project called “PGT.” I was thrilled and terrified.
He told me that he would, and then followed me into the bathroom at Teatr.doc and tried to kiss me. I had to make my boyfriend aware of the proceedings, and in the middle of the “razborka” that ensued, I thought about new drama – and how much of it must be acted out on the street and in bathrooms before it can reach the stage.
A critic comforted me by saying that for the theatre, this was normal. “Why, I was there when [famous actress] decided that her husband, [a famous playwright], looked at another woman for too long. In a flash, she stabbed him. Then she ran after the ambulance. Compared to that, you’re doing great!”
On yet another night, a fellow young playwright, Maksym Konyaka, took offense to what was an especially horrific reading of his play. I was making my way to the theatre from work, when I had to dodge a group of running, screaming people. Konyaka, who was escaping the reading, was at the head. As he turned around and yelled at the crowd in Ukrainian, on-lookers asked me to translate. It took one of the founders of Teatr.doc, Mikhail Ugarov, to point out that beneath the thrill of the scandal was the fact that a good play was ravaged by a bad director. I wish I could tell you that Sir Slobber-On-My-Hair was the bad director involved, but I would be lying.
As for the reading of my own play – there was no screaming, and no sexual harassment either. There was no excitement, in fact, unless my stupid smile at hearing compliments on my writing, as opposed to my dye-job, counts as excitement. I did not attain peace and balance at Lyubimovka. But I did find out that every once in a while, desperation pays off.