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New Theatre Season in Kaunas. The Curtain Rises!

7 September, 2021, Kotryna Lingienė | Interviews, News, Topic of the month

There’s a bustle in theatres as autumn approaches. Rehearsals, last cosmetic repairs, costume, and set design production… The premieres have been missed more than ever this year; no one wants to go back to the screens. The distances between the four theaters of Kaunas – puppet, musical, drama, chamber – are so small that they can all be visited in a couple of hours. But of course, it will take much more time to evaluate the work put into new theatre productions. We have the whole autumn and winter for that.

Dramas that are always relevant

First of all, we asked Egidijus Stancikas, General Director of Kaunas National Drama Theater (NKDT), to what extent, in his opinion, the pandemic, migrant crisis and other factors that divide society, affect cultural life, audience involvement, repertoires and choice of plays. According to the director, who is also a professional actor, the art of theater has always been a reflection of everyday life, analyzing the surrounding problems and asking questions. “All the listed phenomena, experiencing them, turns us back to classical works that are about ideas and values that help everyone understand this time or create a field of political discussion through theatrical means of expression.”

E. Stancikas regrets that professional arts do not reach the increasingly radical social strata, which is participating in the protest rallies. “Art is incomprehensible and unnecessary for them. And it is art that can bring us together to do noble things; it teaches us to understand ourselves in relation to others and respect ourselves and those around us, and to create a common life and a common future through dialogue. I believe that the Kaunas 2022 community program and ConTempo Festival that goes into open spaces, encourages us with their work to move closer to that section of society that does not visit cultural institutions. It is only a pity that the development of human spirituality and cultural awareness is extremely slow, so let us be patient and hopeful as we continue to work.”

Nevertheless, the head of the NKDT sees that the Lithuanian cultural sector has become particularly united and strengthened during the pandemic, and there are more and more examples of inspiring joint projects. “There is less and less isolation of institutions and local personal ambitions. We started talking to each other and sharing the joy of creativity. We gain the best experience from communicating with our prominent foreign partners. We realize that all creators in the world speak the same language of talent and creative professionalism. We open up to the world, realizing that we are equal creative partners.”

“This autumn is quite special for the theater. Creative collaboration with artists from Germany, Canada, Hungary, Norway, Luxembourg, USA, Georgia and Latvia await us. Some projects have been coordinated for several years,” NKDT public relations coordinator Jolanta Garnytė-Jadkauskienė says. She calls not to miss Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which is being produced in a Lithuanian theatre for the first time by Hungarian and NKDT artists. “Director Csaba Polgaris reads the story through the experience of Eastern Europeans. He moves the main character from the woods full of trolls to a Soviet block of apartments, replacing the poetics with sarcasm-enriched humor.” It is promised that live musical insertions will allow the viewers to see the actors and the play itself in a new light. (for performances with English surtitles, press here)

Dainius Svobonas. „Peras Giuntas“. Donato Stankevičiaus nuotr.

In September, people will be able to see the last premieres of the last season: the interactive play The Navel of the World (director Agnė Sunklodaitė) about a very relevant topic of youth violence, will go to the festival in Bergen this month; Agnius Jankevičius premiere Caligula and the latest Jonas Vaitkus’ play Not Just People, which invites us to reflect on our identity as a nation.

“While waiting for the theatre’s birthday, we will see the premiere of a young, talented director from Germany, Nikolas Darnstädt. Danton, a confrontation of history and current events, will be shown on December 10, 11 and 12. In his play, which is based on the 19th century play Danton’s Death by Georg Büchner, the artist reminds us how during revolutions political visions are destroyed by different interests, individual struggles and indifference to the world we live in. The crucial question is: why in their fight against inhumanity the heralds of revolution themselves became inhuman? There is no doubt that this material is born at the right time and will respond to the issues of today,” J. Garnytė-Jadkauskienė assures. She reveals that by next summer, the NKDT’s audience will be presented with 5 more productions by Oskaras Koršunovas, Kamilė Gudmonaitė, a company from Canada, director from Latvia Valters Sīlis’ productions and a play for young people Tower of Babel with international partners (Norway, Hungary, Iceland).

International musical ambitions

Kaunas State Musical Theater (KVMT) is currently very busy with work, even in the cloak room where the orchestra is rehearsing a program dedicated to the centenary of Lithuanian opera (it dates back to December 31, 1920, when La Traviata was shown in this building). It is probably not worth telling why the concert, which will feature a medley of the most popular theatrical works, will take place this year. But why are rehearsals taking place in the cloak room? Because the stage is occupied by Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Turk in Italy rehearsals. This is the fifth collaboration of Kaunas and Estonian cultural organization, the international opera festival Promfest.

“The first performances with Estonians were a shock to our theatre collective. They interpret opera in a modern way, looking for interesting directors who have not previously worked in this genre. However, now our people are used to surprises and are waiting for Estonians to come, because they know that the work will be interesting, free and different,” KVMT’s advertising and information manager Lina Stankevičiūtė tells us while waking us through the theatre. By the way, she shows not only journalists around the theatre but also groups of school children and says that they are most interested in attending a rehearsal and seeing how that secret work happens. We agree.

Photo by D. Rimeika

It is worth seeing The Turk in Italy for several reasons. First of all, it is a rarely staged opera. Each time Profest chooses a work depending on the winners of the festival’s soloist competition. It is an unconventional but charming decision, as the winners have the final say in fulfilling their dream roles. The visual part of the show is also special. Artist Madis Nurmas is responsible for it all: from decorations to the costumes and shoes of the early 20th century. By the way, not only the soloists and the choir will be on the stage but the cameras as well. The pentagon of love will be solved based on the principles of a reality show.

The international troupe will show the Turk in Italy in Estonia in September and then it will return to Kaunas. Here we will have another premiere – Zita Bružaitė’s opera for children Gulliver’s Travels. We are very curious to see how the emotions of a small person in a world of giants and vice versa will be conveyed on the stage of a musical theatre. But we are even more curious about how we will welcome the New year on December 31 (the year of the European Capital of Culture): Anželika Cholina with her team is working on a completely new production of La Traviata. Although in recent years this opera was shown the day before, on the occasion of the premiere, La Traviata will return to its traditional time.

There is a reason why we mentioned the European Capital of Culture. KVMT has ambitious plans for 2022. In the spring, the Kaunas 2022 program will feature a musical dedicated to Romas Kalanta, and the classical opera Nabucco will be shown at the Ninth Fort of the Kaunas Fortress. The grand premiere of the musical Elisabeth also awaits next year.

“The driving force of society and the world is a new beginning. Although it has been extremely difficult emotionally for a year and a half, I believe that the creators will return to the stage and the audience to the theatre with joy,” Benjaminas Želvys, head of KVMT, says. We had a short conversation with him right after the theatre troupe’s trip to Zarasai, during which the baritone told us he saw people’s eyes full of emotions. “This emotional charge is extremely important for performers, who, before the pandemic, were accustomed to gaining energy several times a week while on stage,” B. Želvys noted.

Before saying goodbye, B. Želvys happily told us that the future KVMT visitors are educated not only by the theatre but also by its neighbors. He praised the afternoons for children organized by Kaunas State Philharmonic, as well as the long-term activities of Kaunas State Puppet Theater, ensuring that an older viewer would already have a sense of what a good quality and valuable play is. So, let’s visit it too.

Puppets are not just for children

Probably the biggest news of Kaunas State Puppet Theater is a performance for adults, based on Balys Sruoga memoir Forest of the Gods. The decision to create and open the theater for adults too is a merit of Rasa Bartninkaitė, who took up the position of the head of the institution more than a year ago. According to Kristina Baguckaitė, the theatre’s public relations and project coordinator, the team agreed with this idea. “We are inspired to have a broader perspective, not just focus on our traditional audience – children aged 3–12 – and more boldly look for a connection with teenagers and adults.” Of course, there have been such attempts in the history of the theater, but they have not taken root in the repertoire.

The representative of the theater says that there is a lot more to be done; one premiere will not be enough to change people’s beliefs. After all, many of us think that puppet theatre is only for children, we pass the posters without even glancing at them. “In other countries, there is an equal amount of puppet theatre plays for adults. Poles and Czechs have old traditions of it and in Lithuania, only Klaipėda University focuses on puppeteers.” According to K. Baguckaitė, the actors of this theater work in other institutions as well. So, this opening to new audiences is also an opportunity for them, to show more and grow.

We also discussed with K. Baguckaitė the tests of quarantine, which has already ended. “We tried to keep a positive mindset. When you cannot do something, you start looking for things you can do. So, we tried out the virtual space. And while it’s not easy to create a certain impression and atmosphere when the viewer is separated from the actor, we were able to show both Christmas performances and part of the repertoire, kept in touch with friends via Facebook. We recorded Advent readings, broadcast them before Christmas, there were also audio fairy tales that we offered to schools so that educators could diversify their lessons.  Basically, worked without catching a breath,” the theatre’s representative recalled.

The premiere of Agnė Sunklodaitė’s Forest of the Gods has already taken place at the Kaunas IX Fort Museum, which is another sign of the broadening perspectives of Kaunas State Puppet Theater. This performance was part of a larger event dedicated to Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism. And at the end of September Forest of the Gods based on the interwar period writer Balys Sruoga’s experience at the Stutthof concentration camp, will be shown in the theater. This performance is for those who have already reached the age of sixteen. And for the younger ones, the theater is preparing a premiere about Baron Munchausen in October.

Photo by D. Matvejev

Young chamber traditions

Kaunas City Chamber Theater is starting the season for the sixth time with the young theater festival Starting Point. “The concept of the festival is “young for young”, so our main audience is young creators, young or older enthusiasts of youth’s creative work. The festival marks the opening of the season. September is chosen because that is when the school year begins. It is the time when everyone returns to the city,” theater representative Paulina Okunytė notes.

The theme of the festival is different every year, “In 2019, we were bursting social bubbles, last year we spoke about what is usually passed over in silence. This year’s theme – distances, both physical and internal – was dictated naturally by this difficult and challenging year. The theme of the festival always resonates with what is relevant at that time,” P. Okunytė says. According to her, in terms of form or genre, there are no restrictions in the selection of the festival program – from undeveloped ideas, sketches, to recognizing productions – everything fits under the roof of the festival, if the topic is relevant and important to young people.

We are wondering what the young artists themselves expect. How much novelty and freshness their ideas have, and how much of the continuity of traditions? The representative of the theater emphasizes that traditions in art change very quickly, so it is difficult to name what it is. “Kaunas City Chamber Theater has been moving towards interactive, immersion theater for many years, so it has already become a kind of tradition that the festival continues. If we talk about the traditional, psychological theater, its revival now often sounds like a novelty.”

The purpose of the Starting Point is not to shock, but to establish a connection between the creators and the audience. One of the most important highlights of the festival is a competition for young artists. That is how the plays Kafka Insomnia (director Žilvinas Vingelis) and Bowel (director Naubertas Jasinskas) as well as DramaLab educational programs saw the light of day.

“The distance conveys a lot of charge. It can be used to measure many things, from physical exclusion to identity divides, relationships and opening precipices. This year, the topics of democracy, values and statehood are becoming more important than ever in response to what is happening in the social and political space not only in Lithuania, but also in the world. This is also reflected in the festival program.” P. Okunytė invites you to get acquainted with the Starting Point’s ideas. The festival will start on September 14 and continue until the 26.