‘Spectators shouldn’t see how a play is born, let this remain a mystery’

A preliminary seminar ended in Kazan for finalists of an open international competition for the Kamal Theatre’s architectural concept with 22 finalists from Austria, Great Britain, Spain, Russia and Japan. It is members of eight consortiums that went through a selection stage. Realnoe Vremya’s correspondent listened to the arguments of what the city and theatre wanted to get from them.

Opinion exchange — in the format of talk and play

The international jury of the competition chose the best in 39 applications in mid-October. The guests arrived in Kazan late last week and were accommodated at Neo Kazan Palace by Tasigo. On the first day, they could particularly see expositions in the Tatarstan National Museum and Yooha film with its director Tania Chernoguzova’s comments.

While the main work with the finalists of the competition began later, with a tour to the territory with Kazan’s chief architect Ilsiyar Tukhvatullina. An aide to the Tatarstan president and initiator of the project Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova told them about the transformation of Lake Kaban, its embankment. The competitors also spoke with Mayor of Kazan Ilsur Metshin and the republic’s Minister of Culture Irada Ayupova about renovated public offices.

Director of the Kamal Theatre Ilfir Yakupov and head of the Nekrasov Library’s Science and Research Department Maria Ignatyeva told them about the function of the new building. The participants already have a functional building, a kind of terms of reference of their dream, what the theatre should be like. After lunch, Director of the theatre Farid Bikchantayev, head of Vakhitovsky and Privolzhsky Districts Marat Zakirov, Director of the Culture Office of Kazan Azat Abzalov and others could answer their questions. Also, the competitors could receive individual consultations with the city’s chief architect.

In the evening, the theatre prepared an immersive dialogue play in the format Citizens’ Theatre for the guests, not professional actors but spectators who love theatre played. So spectators could also share their opinion about the future. The premiere of the play is said to be in February.

The next day, guides told the architects about the Old Tatar, Cloth Mill, Archangel settlements: the current building of the theatre is located in the first one, while the appearance of the other two obviously should be taken into account when building a new one. After that, the excursion continued at landmark sites — Ekiyat theatre, and Crystal residential complex.

“What’s your spirit like? How do you feel?”

“They ask questions about both technical aspects and the land,” says Director of the theatre Ilfir Yakupov between the talks. “Both we and the chief architect are involved in it. But Asif Han (Editor’s note: an architect from London) asked about our spirit, how we felt, how we could explain in two-three words who we were, who came to us, he asked us to describe our people several times. But this cannot be said simply. I offered him to live here for a month or watch plays in the evening. It is tough, indescribable things for us because the audience constantly changes.”

At the same time, Yakupov noted that he asked the architects not to “touch” the stage, not to change it.

“The stage is the most important thing for us, theatres, where we make money, exist. We service spectators through the stage. So this box cannot be touched. Other things can change, public spaces can change. I annually change the timetable, rename some posts, look at new demand. For instance, I don’t know if I will leave the ticket office next year because the website now sells 7-8 times more than a cashier.”

The participation in a competition of architects is good motivation, Yakupov thinks, considering that their portfolio will have a project of the national theatre. At the same time, he noted that now there is even no link between the Old Tatar Settlement and the Kamal Theatre. Will the new building become a catalyst for Khadi Taktash Street?

“It will attract people. Its form doesn’t matter. In the end, the spectator comes to see a play, artists, an event.”

“I am afraid a person will think: what the hell should I go in?”

Yakupov repeated a part of these thoughts at another meeting with the competitors, with the administration of the theatre. Director Farid Bikchantayev and designer Sergey Skomorokhov became the guests of a talk show Kamal Theatre in 2056. Host of the event Alexander Ostrogorsky first shared thoughts about Palladio, while Bikchantayev told them a brief history of the theatre adding that the Tatar company is the only Russian theatre created without an order from the top:

“This theatre was created by madrasah graduates in the early 20th century amid the revolution in 1905.”

He called the creation of the theatre “real hooliganism because Islam officially banned theatre, women couldn’t perform on the stage. They violated all laws, they played in the theatre despite everything.”

Skomorokhov noted that Tatar art is polyphonic, this is why different solutions are in demand in the theatre. Diversity is always preferred.

“I wouldn’t like the project to become very Oriental. We are at the crossroads, it is our happiness and woe that we are at the centre.”

Whereas Ostrogorsky reminded them a phrase that an Oriental theatre can’t stand emptiness. In reply, Bikchantayev claimed:

“I don’t agree with the idea of emptiness that there is an attempt of filling this emptiness here. In this respect, I can put an example. I love to go to the mosque very much because there is emptiness there. This feeling of the light and white is crucial.”

Ostrogorsky cited another phrase expressed by above-mentioned Asif Han. The competitor who created “the darkest building on Earth” — the pavilion for the 23rd Winter Olympic Games in South Korea — noted in Kazan that the function of the theatre was a fight against digitalisation, the disappearance of reality in life.

Yakupov considered the issue globally and noted that as a result of technical revolutions production will soon be automated:

“Humanity will switch to a sofa lifestyle. They will have to walk, go to the theatre. And we must attract them.”

Asif Han himself asked a question about open spaces from the hall: now there is a popular tendency when spectators see not only the play itself but also the process of its preparation, the rehearsal, the shop.

“Chief architect Ilsiyar Tukhvatullin backed my thought yesterday,” Bikchantayev replied. “She said we talked a lot about openness, frankness that the theatre couldn’t be simply a place where a play is performed, that the foyer must be open, people should come and go.”

He sneered here.

“But the theatre must keep the secret, there must be a mystery. Spectators shouldn’t see how a play is born. Let this remain a mystery. Now there are a lot of sites where spectators sit in the afternoon, in the evening. I am afraid a person will think: what the hell should I go in? I will sit in the foyer, write, use the laptop, I feel fine here. This is what I fear.”

And he continued his reply. If one of the shops has a glass wall, might it be seen according to a timetable, from 16 to 18 o’clock.

Application submittal is the next stage of the competition. It will end on 20 January. While the winner will be announced on 3 February.

Radif Kashapov