Author: Valentina REZNIKOVA
The centenary anniversary of the Samed Vurghun Azerbaijan State Academic Russian Drama Theatre, which precedes the Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis, coincided with important events for the country: restoration of justice in Garabagh and its historical borders. Victory in the Patriotic War confirmed the unity and solidarity of the people not only in Azerbaijan, but also far beyond it. Even the pandemic could not prevent the manifestation of patriotic feelings. The staff of the theatre, as an integral part of the theatrical culture of Azerbaijan, also joined the celebrations through proliferating the truth through information. 100 years is quite an age! However, the loyal servants of Melpomene do not feel these years gives them right to complain about ‘creative senility’. It’s exactly the opposite! They have no time to be sad or grieve, despite the cloudy season amidst the global pandemic lockdown. The friends of the theatre are now online, and continue to send congratulations from different corners of the world. This exhaustive list includes the Association of Russian Theatres Abroad (St. Petersburg, Russia), the Maly Theatre (Moscow, Russia), the Mikhail Chekhov Russian Drama Theatre (Riga, Latvia), Rossotrudnichestvo (Baku, Azerbaijan), The Kumyk Music and Drama Theatre (Makhachkala, Daghestan), the Maxim Gorky Russian Drama Theatre (Makhachkala, Daghestan), the F. Volkov Academic Drama Theatre (Yaroslavl, Russia), State Chamber Theatre ‘St. Petersburg Opera’ (St. Petersburg, Russia), the Vladimir Mayakovsky Moscow Academic Theatre (Moscow, Russia), Academic Theatre of Satire (Moscow, Russia), the Evgeny Vakhtangov Academic Theatre (Moscow, Russia) and many, many others.
The anniversary of the theatre has been in the headlines of local television channels and websites. In a word, the holiday was celebrated with a tiny tone of nostalgic sadness, because being a century-old temple of art is quite a significant achievement, which makes you look back and analyse all the accomplishments and failures, hesitating which way to go further. However, due to the pandemic with no live performances or rehearsals, only one thing is clear: every member of the theatre, including the actors, have a burning desire to return to native theatre and work, work, work in real time. Because online rehearsals can never replace the live rehearsal on stage!
Director of the theatre, Honoured Worker of Culture Adalet Hajiyev:
"Are you afraid to see your actors and directors lose their professional ‘grip’ after such a long period of forced downtime?"
"I don’t even want to think about it. But then I understand that there is no need to worry. Drama actors are not ballet dancers. When I talk to them on the phone, I understand that they are all dreaming of returning to the stage. They understand we have titanic work to do, and they are ready to rehearse at least a day just to restore all the repertoire performances. Moreover, they are ready to rehearse at least two or even three times so that they can meet their audience as soon as possible."
"What are they doing now, during the pandemic?"
"Many of them volunteer as part of the groups helping our soldiers. Others act in films, if permitted, work on individual poetic compositions, read news bulletins on the Internet or radio, or self-educating. We have actors who periodically repeat their roles hoping to see the lockdown over soon..."
Indeed, Mr. Hajiyev often receives calls from actors who desperately wait for their return to the stage and see the theatrical hall in dreams. It's scary when it's empty. Those who ever worked in the theatre know that there can be no worse dream than this for any actor or director. It is even more terrible when one hears a sound hanging in an empty hall in his dreams. The sound just freezes on his lips. And that's it! Fear turns to horror. Feeling like in the films of Alfred Hitchcock or Guillermo del Toro. Actors tell him about their feelings and dreams, confiding all their fears - both human and professional. And he has to console them giving his voice confidence, saying that all these are temporary difficulties, you just need to be patient and... wait. But do not sit idly, do something to improve yourself. How? Using the techniques available to actors and their craft. For example, young theatre actors Oleg Amirbeyov and Teymur Rahimov made a short film dedicated to the centenary of the theatre thanks to the help of colleagues from television.
"Do you plan to celebrate your anniversary in real time?"
"We hope that it will be possible in the near future. We are thinking of a big festive celebration, a performance on stage, a full house in the auditorium with both local and foreign guests, our colleagues from different neighbouring countries, cakes and champagne, you name it."
He told me about important conversations he had with the actors both on phone and in person, when he collected them in the backyard of the theatre. Talking about the responsibility of every citizen during the pandemic and the war in Garabagh, he seemed to be re-discovering the people with whom he had worked for many years. And this discovery made him happy. He thought that everything is repeated. It reminded him of a similar event that took place in the same yard on June 24, 1941, when the Great Patriotic War began. Many of the actors then volunteered for the front, many became members of the militia detachment and the brigades giving concerts on the front. Now, almost 80 years later, other actors gathered in the yard again. Descendants of those who are no longer with us. And again because of the war. Patriotic war for the liberation of Garabagh.
"In principle, I am a peaceful person. But the problem of the illegally occupied Azerbaijani lands and the protracted conflict in Garabagh made me, a patient person, completely different. Like our entire team, I supported the decisions, tactical and diplomatic actions of our president. Because he returned the self-respect and dignity to our people, to all of us. Our Supreme Commander-in-Chief did this for our country what will go down in the history of multinational Azerbaijan as a fact of the highest wisdom, well-adjusted policy of strategy and tactics. We are not just living witnesses of the history, which we write here and how. We also take an active part in this important historical process."
He also said that during his live communication with the actors, he not only rediscovered them but also felt that strong unity of all the people and the leadership of the country that can only exist in such a multinational country like ours. In a country where everyone, regardless of national origin, is an Azerbaijani. Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Lezgins, Tatars and Jews working in the theatre feel like Azerbaijanis. People who not only felt but also lived the state of soul that President Aliyev declared as ‘Together we are strong!’ It was this ‘together’ feeling that Adalet Hajiyev was impressed with. Recalling this past memories today, he believes that all citizens of Azerbaijan have experienced the same feeling of unity. He believes that the audience will return to the theatre hall with a completely different attitude. These viewers will return stronger and more matured spiritually. Mr. Hajiyev looks forward to this meeting with his audience and believes that the future dialogue between the theatre and the audience will be exciting and interesting.
"Don't you think that the audience will less frequently visit theatres opting for popcorn on the couch?"
"I confess that I had such fears at the very beginning of the pandemic. But not right now. Now our viewers and many of my colleagues are telling me that they cannot wait for the end of the pandemic to come to the theatre. They say that the pandemic made them learn how to appreciate what we always had at our service. And because it is always there and always near, it seemed that it would be there forever. Now we understand that everything in this life must be appreciated. Every second lived. Including the possibility of going to the theatre. So, I think the halls will not be empty."
He enthusiastically developed his theory about the temporality of the pandemic and remembered that this was not the first such case in the history of the world theatres: a pandemic, closed theatres, and overcrowded hospitals. But both the humanity and theatres survived. Therefore, we must be hopeful. Actors must be ready to go on stage and create at any time!
"What are your thoughts, when you celebrate the centenary of your theatre waiting for new meetings with your audience?"
"You won't believe it but I am thinking of Magsud Ibrahimbekov. How would he, with his sense of humour, react to the existing situation with the pandemic? What would he write? In the mid-90s, he wrote the play The Oil Boom Smiles at Everybody. What boom would he be telling his readers about today? Maybe about a theatrical one?"
"Do you mean that you are already thinking about a new repertoire today?"
“We always think about this. But it is too early to talk about it. It is important to survive the pandemic, to preserve and strengthen the gains of the Patriotic War. We'll make up for the rest. And believe me, the audience will choose us, not popcorn on the couch."