Anything can happen and it usually does

This Saturday, the Lyubimovka Festival of Young Playwrights begins once again – a good time to head on out to Teatr.doc and the Center for Playwrights and Directors if one is fond of a particular performance format known as a play reading.

A reading is not a staging – and the format can appear deceptively minimalist.

“Why would I want to go to a reading?” a friend asked when I mentioned that my own new play will be read at Lyubimovka and invited him to come along. “Isn’t it just a bunch of people, sitting around on chairs, reading a play?”

Yes and no. People at Lyubimovka do mostly sit around on chairs – and read texts off a page. This doesn’t mean that the readings aren’t dramatic, or that directors don’t come up with innovative ways to bring a text to life. At a good reading, even stage directions are interesting.

Some plays lend themselves better to the reading format. Pavel Pryazhko’s hilarious, obscenity-laden “Life Is Grand,” for example, is performed in a reading format at Teatr. doc as part of the regular theater season. It would be really hard to perform “Life Is Grand” otherwise – considering the sheer amount of sex and asides such as, “But you know me! I’ve got the sperm of a boar!”

A play reading engages audience members by allowing them to use their imagination. So if you’re a lazy audience member – then sure, this format is probably not for you. If you want to be part of the interpretive process, however – then there is ample opportunity to enjoy yourself.

Another aspect of Lyubimovka is, of course, the discussion that takes place after every reading. These also present ample opportunities for enjoying yourself – particularly if you want to start a big fight, or accuse someone of antiintellectualism, or launch into an amusing anecdote about that one time that your cousin totally did that one thing that the hero of the play did and wound up arrested.

The discussion period is priceless, because you never know which direction it’s going to go – will there be an actual discussion of the play, complete with the obligatory round of “let’s poke the author with sticks” (something I am particularly fond of, of course), or it will the entire thing descend into absurdity? Discussions are unique and unpredictable and are sometimes just as interesting as the plays being read – and occasionally even more so.

According to Elena Kovalskaya, one of the festival’s main coordinators, “a third of the plays at [this year’s] Lyubimovka are about dead people” – which is as good a reason to check out the festival as any. My own play features zombies in some supporting roles, so I have certainly contributed to the trend – and there is even a play, by Dmitry Obukhovsky, titled “Why it’s forbidden to feature a zombie in a play,” which I am especially curious about.

The festival program, which can be accessed on, also features a project called “American plays in Russian,” which ought to be seen by anyone who has ever tried their hand at artistic translation.

Traditional Lyubimovka favorites such as Yaroslava Pulinovich, Lyubov Mulmenko and Nina Belenitskaya all have new plays featured in the main program. The festival once again confirms that young women have a particularly strong presence in modern Russian drama.

The festival is also a good place to preview two of Teatr.doc’s upcoming documentary projects concerned with the modern political landscape. One deals with Russian nationalists and the other takes a close look at political repressions in Belarus.

Admission is free, and Teatr. doc does get incredibly crowded on most nights during Lyubimovka – so it’s a good idea to come early. Who knows, you may even become witness to a scandal. There are scandals every year at Lyubimovka – such a high concentration of writers, directors and actors, many of them quite young, makes them inevitable, and all the more entertaining.

Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #69”

Leave a comment