Sancho Panza No. 12
Oksana Mysina Plays a Male Role and Debuts as a Director
Sancho Panza No. 12
An interview by Olga Romantsova
Vedomosti (News), August 28, 2001
The end of July is usually called the dead season. Theaters are closed. Actors are on tour or vacation. But this is also when rehearsals of next season's first premieres are being held. One of those is Quixote and Sancho, based on a play by Viktor Korkiya, staged by Oksana Mysina with the help of the LeKur Agency. Quixote and Sancho is the directing debut of a talented actress. Moreover, Mysina will play the role of Sancho Panza in her own show. The premiere is slated for mid-September while previews are running at the Vysotsky Center right now. Critics are not being let in to see the show yet, but Mysina agreed to answer a few questions from our correspondent.
— Oksana, why did you decide to play Sancho Panza?
— It wasn't a matter of deciding. I recently counted up 11 actors who could have had that role before me. Three actually did rehearse, the rest were actors I offered the role to at various times. I gave them the play to read and listened to all their comments. Some were frightened off because there is no action in the play and they felt it was impossible to perform. Others thought it was too long and that spectators wouldn't understand anything. Still others were crazy about the play but turned me down because of time conflicts or other reasons. For some reason, all my Sanchos kept falling away. The mass exodus concluded just four days before the first public run-through. The actor playing Sancho informed me he was leaving for a film shoot. Consequently, we had a friendly parting of the ways and I entered the show. So I am Sancho Panza No. 12.
— Is there really no action in Quixote and Sancho?
— No. And I like it that way. The absence of external, visible action teases the imagination. It makes you come up with new ways of giving expression on stage to Korkiya's vibrating fragility and his sensation of the times we live in. I took on this play because I don't like the fear directors have of contemporary plays. They often say there are no good new plays, but I say they are just trying to hide from the era they live in. Life in Russia in the last ten years has constantly changed before our eyes. And our theater has barely responded to that. Directors continue to concoct Aesopean languages; they continue to fine-tune the classics, replacing one nuance with another. One director devises a black-red space; another changes it to red-white. Of course, you can eternally play games with familiar texts, looking for ever new devices and tricks. But you know what I call that? Pouring empty into the vacant.
Right now, Viktor Korkiya's play gives us the opportunity to understand ourselves and the world we live in. While working on the play these last 9 months, we sensed we were working with a living classic that almost nobody knows. Quixote and Sancho is a multivalent, profound play. I understand I'm running a risk by taking on a contemporary play. But I've done that consciously.
— Did Viktor Korkiya take part in rehearsals?
— No, Viktor didn't come at all. He didn't want to get in our way. He said, I trust you implicitly. You can cut my play; you can do whatever you want with it. If you want, I'll write you new scenes. If you want, I can rewrite the whole thing. He has a passion for changing everything all the time. I once asked him, Viktor, I'm trying a new actor, please give me another copy of the play. He brought me a version that didn't correspond to ours at all. I said, Viktor, what have you done?! And he said, You know, I couldn't resist. As I was printing it out on my computer I started making changes on the spot. I constantly had to hold him back. I said, Vitya, I beg of you! Stop! Leave your play alone! It is wonderful! Please don't make an eighth version; leave us the first! In the past his plays have only been staged at the Moscow State University theater. When he saw what we had done, he was crazy about the actors and Dima Pisarenko in particular. Until now he had only been performed by students.
— What did you try to get out of your actors?
— My ideal on stage is purity and freedom. Contemporary theater is filled with all kinds of director's artifices. Directors are constantly coming up with new devices to show how inventive and hip they are. What I wanted was to preserve the natural simplicity in my actors. If there is improvisation in a show, it must be truly spontaneous, not planned ahead. Then the actors will have naturally sudden outbursts and true flights of fantasy. I have tried to prepare my actors not to fear pulling off some crazy stunt on stage that even they don't expect of themselves. It is extremely difficult to be open and defenseless on stage. But that's the only way you can bring real life to the theater. I am very happy that we are finally showing Quixote and Sancho to spectators. For me, they are one of the most important components of my show. Without an audience theater does not exist, or, at least, it is not theater but something else. I believe that the give and take with the audience actually changes the inner workings of the characters. And, since this is a contemporary play, we have the opportunity to tap into the live responses of the people sitting in the hall, to enter into a dialogue with them. When we perform Oleg Menshikov's production of Maxim Kurochkin's Kitchen, we constantly come up against the natural, unexpected responses of the crowd. They are hearing the text for the first time. And all the actors understand that the performance is taking shape right here, right now, at this very second. I hope my show will also be a living organism like that.
— Doesn't Don Quixote seem an archaic character to you?
— Yes, Don Quixote is archaic. But his type has not died out on Russian soil and he still offers much to intelligent, thinking people. And, even if he does die out, we'll have to play Quixote and Sancho to remind people of what wonderful eccentrics there used to be.
— Is it tough playing when it's so hot?
— Before the first public run-through we were sitting in the Vysotsky Museum. It was brutally hot and humid. No air conditioning. No fans, even. And Dima Pisarenko (who plays Don Quixote and who, in the second act, dumps a bucket of water on his head), said: You're all sitting here suffering. But when I crawl off towards my bucket of water and dump it on my head, boy are you going to envy me!
— You have said in interviews that you want to play Hamlet.
— And I may do just that. Viktor Korkiya just finished a play called Hamlet.ru. In it, the late Shakespeare scholar Alexander Anikst becomes a theatrical character and discusses the tragedy of Hamlet with Hamlet. It is an unbelievably talented, funny and paradoxical play. If nobody has the nerve to stage it next season, I just may do it myself. I'd hate to let a play like that get away.
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