Monday, October 13, 2008

Independent opinions of a jury member

I speak here as someone who has never been to Belarus. The 30-minute distance of my place of residence, a youth hostel called Raketa, from the centre of Minsk, where the performances took place, proved dispiriting to me. This made it impossible for me to seek out the theatres and churches of Minsk in a way that was independent of the other jury members. Their professions make it possible for them to return to Minsk. For me, this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

The festival's main winner was a Russian student production of "Cyrano," in which Cyrano's famous monologue, which Steve Martin transformed into a stand-up comic routine in the film "Roxanne." No one particularly thought the actor who played Roxanne gave a performance that was special, and yet the show won the hearts of the public anyway (in a tally of the audience's vote). Its professional qualities, heavy use of multimedia and large cast swayed most jury members; in the first tally, it garnered the most nominations and therefore took home a special prize. I thought it touristic and schlocky, with qualities that would fit right in a Broadway show.

My sentimental favorite was "Jakob," the Dutch entry about a young man who is seduced by her older teacher. I thought the best production was the Estonian production of Sarah Kane's "4.48 Psychosis."

One highlight of my stay in Belarus (from a professional standpoint) was visiting Sergei, the new artistic director of the Maxim Gorky National Russian Theatre. We were introduced by the playwright and screenwriter Andrei Kureichik. Sergei was an amazing force, a frank talker and a shot of fresh vibrance in a long-standing theatrical institution whose previous artistic leader retired only last year after almost three decades of stewardship.

I wish I had time to meet the folks behind the Belarussian National Theatre.
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