Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA, Baku-Lankaran-Baku
Repertoire included classical and contemporary plays by Azerbaijani, Iranian and Russian playwrights. A joyful atmosphere reigned the stage of the Lankaran State Drama Theatre for five days. Children from six to thirteen years old watched performances of puppet and drama theatres. All these events took place under the 1st International Festival of Theatrical Performances for Children, the festival by and for children. The important and necessary event was organized on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan and the Lankaran mayor's office. The festival was attended by 14 theatres from Azerbaijan, as well as theatres of the UK, Georgia and Iran.
If they are today, they will be tomorrow
Children are the most demanding audience. They feel the falsehood and untruth of adults. Therefore, for actors of plays for children, each performance is a kind of test for professional maturity and honesty. We can say that almost all local theatres passed this test successfully. Unfortunately, there were those who failed to establish a sustained dialogue between the stage and the audience. But that is one of the reasons we need festivals — to analyse, compare and draw conclusions, to look for new forms of expression, to invent, if necessary, a new language of theatrical action, which the children will fall in love with.
The festival was the first of its kind held in Azerbaijan. Perhaps, it will become thematic or have a different format in the future, but it will always stay as a means for a detailed analytical and artistic study of the modern theatrical process in Azerbaijan. Why is it important? Because we should be able to shape the tastes and views of our children on theatrical art since childhood. And perhaps this is only at a high artistic level.
It’s not a secret that theatres often underestimate the level of their own artistic requirements, hence becoming uninteresting and little in demand. Modern children audiences are the key to the fullness of theatre halls of the future. The more is the level of interaction between theatres and children the more will be the popularity of these theatres in the future, when the same children become adults.
Learn or entertain?
Judging by performances presented during the festival, we can say that the Azerbaijani theatre has not lost its position in terms of developing the 'rational, kind, and eternal' in our children, although sometimes the quality of performances left much to be desired because they slipped to the level of entertainment only. It is clear that sometimes directors, obviously flirting with the public, want to amuse their audience. But what about children and the parents who bought tickets to the play thinking about the value of performance in the eyes of their children? It is unlikely that attempts to shock them increase box office revenues. But the effect on professional reputation is harmful, as such 'pursuit of entertaining happiness' often downgrades a true theatrical performance to the level of popular culture, which is absolutely unacceptable. Theatre, however, must always (under any circumstances!) remain a genuine Art, not a subordinate element of mass culture, including street performances.
Local drama for children
The festival also was a real chance to test drama for children. Or rather to test playwrights writing for children. When we take our children, especially small ones, to a bookstore, we are looking for an interesting book to buy them. And we usually buy books of foreign authors. The only two local authors which came to my mind instantly are Inna Rustamova and Laman Bagirova. That's it! It is a shame that the number of local authors writing books for children in Russian is very, very low. There are no playwrights writing plays for children. There was a period when the Russian Drama Theatre would hold competitions for beginning playwrights. But the attempt to determine the most gifted writers in this particular genre did not yield serious results. The almanac published by the theatre, including the plays of novice authors, showed that none of the authors could really write in this genre of literature. As for translations from Azerbaijani to Russian, the situation is much worse: they lack high artistic level, 'killing' author’s authentic style of writing. Member of Azerbaijani parliament, Elmira Akhundova, has repeatedly discussed this issue, righteously saying that the Russian-speaking readers' community of our country should have an idea about the literature of modern Azerbaijan.
Fairy-tales presented at the festival, often written by the producers themselves, also need to be improved. They have weak compositional structure, poorly developed characters, weak cause-and-effect relation, broken logic of interaction. This applies to Beautiful Fatma (Baku Children's Theatre) and Pussy With A Bell (Ganja Puppet Theatre), where the quality of acting was excellent, but the drama component of both plays needs some improvement. On the other hand, Namig Aghayev's (OL Theatre) Tale of the Brave Prince Melikmammad can be called impeccable in terms of theatrical action and dramatic visualisation with a balance of production thought and the understanding of the target audience.
Thus, the 1st International Festival of Theatrical Performances for Children revealed both the successful achievements of our theatres and their existing problems.
The festival left a good impression as an important and necessary process. “The 1st International Festival has become an important test for us. We did have a few drawbacks in terms of organisation of the event due to lack of experience, but we have already analysed them to eliminate them in the future. But the most important thing is that we could create an ambience of mutual creativity. We could create a relaxed atmosphere. Our British, Georgian and Iranian guests still call us and thank us for the atmosphere of mutual creativity and cordiality, for all those joyful and memorable moments they enjoyed together with the residents of Lankaran. It is important that the festival was a professional renewal for all of us. It was a great incentive for further creativity! It was a holiday not only for the participants, but also for children, and the most expensive gift for all residents of Lankaran who love theatre,” Tofig Heydarov, Director of the Lankaran State Drama Theatre, said at the end of the festival.
Commenting on the festival, Assoc. Professor and PhD. Vidadi Gafarov, one of the leading art critics in Azerbaijan, Head of the Cinema, Theatre and Television Department of the Institute of Architecture and Art of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, said: “Azerbaijan needs theatre festivals for many reasons. They help to visualise the overall picture of ongoing events in almost all theatres of our country and draw attention to the weaknesses of theatrical process. It is even better when the festival is international. This encourages professionals to engage in analytical and research thought even more and activates creative search for self-expression. I believe the organisers should add one more word to the title of the festival, children. Because any adult theatre begins in childhood. Or it does not begin at all. The conceptual position of the festival also needs to be determined; this will help theatres not only in choosing a play, but also in developing theatrical thinking, including among young viewers. It is good that the festival is held in the southern region of our country, as Lankaran has a good theatrical experience. There are many famous and popular actors who are known throughout the country and love their work. The region is also interesting because of its historical, economical, special ethnic and cultural background, mixed with the features of Azerbaijani, Talysh and Russian cultures. I hope the festival has a long life helping us improve the overall theatrical process in the country.”
Residents of Lankaran attach great importance to this event, regarding it as a manifestation of state's concern for the cultural development of the region.