What is the River Theatre? What difficulties does an actor face when preparing a premiere in a forest? Why did the thankful audience want to call police? Read our interview with Andrei Urasau, Belarus Free Theatre’s actor and the person behind the river theatre.

Aramais Mirakyan
Aramais Mirakyan
Journalist, translator, writer

Project Citizen Journalism

– How did you come up with the idea of the River Theatre and when? It’s not a usual form of theatre…

– I just came up with the idea. (smiles). I have been doing rafting and theatre all my life. I wanted to combine these two things, so we can say I didn’t have another choice. It’s a cool project, I think.

Firstly, it was important for the people living near the site of our river experiment – the village of Vuhly, 50 kilometres from Babruisk. What entertainment do they have? A shop on wheels and mobile phones, with the latter being popular mainly among children. The locals came to watch even our rehearsals. We are rehearsing, a wonderful sunset, they are fishing with their rods. What a beauty!

– How long did it take to prepare the performance?

– Three weeks. From July 17 to August 6. I had little time. I worried that we would have just a few rehearsals, I worried about the result. We didn’t have enough time, and it affected the final result. I wish we had had probably one more week for rehearsing.

– What was the most difficult thing when preparing the performance?

– The work with non-professional actors, the guys who did it just “for the idea”. They had to face an absolutely new world. Acting was not always easy because many things were completely new to them.

– How was the team for the project formed?

– Initially, I shared my idea with my best friend. He liked it and said, “I’m with you.” Our team began to form, but many who initially agreed later refused to go. Arranging a trip in spring is one thing, but when summer comes, they say, “Oh, I’ve flown to Egypt, sorry.” But my friend and I were so charged with the idea that we were ready to do everything even alone. Later, director Yury Dzivakou joined us, and I understood at that point, “Okay, we have two actors and a director. What else do we need?” Then I started to invite all people at out theatre, actors, students.

Sveta Yafimava and Nastsia Belka joined us. Yury Dzivakou found a prop master, a girl who earlier worked with him on the play Woyzeck at the Kupala Theatre. When the prop master appeared, I understood we could add puppets to the show.

I am thankful to Kolia Kuprych, who went with us and filmed us playing Tsar in summer. Now anyone can see the result of our work.

– Where were you living while preparing the performance?

– In tents, in the forest. Maybe it was the reason why many refused to go – it’s not an easy task to live on a raft for three weeks.

– What did you choose to stage the play Tsar Maximilian?

– I wanted to stage something simple and funny that everyone can understand, but it needed to be biting, satirical, and I wanted necessarily to link it to the Belarusian context. So, we needed to make the play relevant to our audience. We transformed everything – the son, the tsar; we introduced the language aspect – in our version, the tsar speaks Russian while the son speaks Belarusian; the tsar then shifts to ‘trasianka’ [a mixture of Russian and Belarusian] and begins to think in Belarusian.

It is a kind of a talk with the audience, like skomorokhs used to do. The play based on a folk drama was written in 1919 by Aleksey Remizov, a very interesting Russian writer, playwright and artist. By the way, we used one of his drawings for the show poster. We drove a stake into the ground and hung the poster. It depicted that drawing and the caption “River Theatre – 1.7 kilometres”. And an arrow showing the direction.

– How did the audience react to your performance on the makeshift stage?

– In the best traditions of the ancient art of street theatre – they applauded, shouted, sometimes during a scene. Children were filming us on mobile phones. In general, the reaction was very good. We saw that people were happy just for the fact that artists had come specially to them. The people were joking a lot. Some jokes were like “Oh, we are going to call cops on you.” An interesting, rather specific manner of joking, of course, but we saw that people were friendly and greeted us warmly.

– Do your friends and you plan to develop your River Theatre?

– Yes, we have plans, but much depends on time and funds – whether we will manage to stage something new or we will show Tsar Maximilian again. It’s unclear now, but we want to go on.

We also make Batleika [a traditional Belarusian portable puppet theatre]. We are currently on the stage of sketches, puppet design and ideas for a show. Yura Dzivakou is a puppeteer, so we want to work in this direction, too. Why not. But we have a lot of work to do.

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