Vladimir Putin talks to young actors and theatre directors during his visit to the State Theatre of Nations
15 september 2011
Transcript of the meeting:
Remark: Good afternoon, Mr Putin!
Yevgeny Mironov: Mr Putin, you should know Chekhov and Stanislavsky are said to have met here in 1897. Now you are here close to them in this sacred place.
Vladimir Putin: So, there are rooms with a history! How beautiful!
Vladimir Putin: They are just wonderful! First of all, I would like to congratulate you, Yevgeny…
Yevgeny Mironov: Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: …and your colleagues on such a wonderful day, the theatre’s opening. As far as I know, this restoration project has existed since 1993, but the reconstruction itself started only in 2007 if I am not mistaken…
Yevgeny Mironov: In 2007.
Vladimir Putin: …very soon after Yevgeny Mironov joined the theatre company and his…
Yevgeny Mironov: …and my plea reached you.
Vladimir Putin: Yes. But the reason was not the plea, but rather the fact that the theatre was joined by people with both the talent and enthusiasm necessary to take charge of this work and push through it. It is a real pleasure to see this enthusiasm, which is a rare thing to happen. This is why I would like to congratulate you! It does not happen often that public money is spent wisely and work is finished on time. I see that this has happened here. But as far as I know, the archaeologists found Vasily Shuisky’s treasure trove in 2009. Where is the money?
Yevgeny Mironov: Where could it be? I think you have it, Mr Putin, if you know about it.
Vladimir Putin: Did you pocket the money?
Yevgeny Mironov: No.
Chulpan Khamatova: We wanted to keep the renovation going.
Yevgeny Mironov: I was afraid a little bit, I really thought the repairs would stop and the archaeologists would start digging to get more treasure. But thank God, three coins were enough.
Vladimir Putin: So, it is finished?
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: It has taken four years, right?
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, maybe even less.
Vladimir Putin: Major work has been done in less than three years. What I have just seen is impressive and I am not exaggerating. The restoration has been finished. A beautiful building reflecting the spirit of old Moscow has been restored. Now it is equipped with modern technologies. It is an excellent ground for arts enthusiasts and theatre lovers, in particular. The artistic director told me that his concept of the theatre was to invite young actors and various drama companies from Russia and abroad -- to invite talented directors. This is everything that you are successfully doing now. There is such a wonderful platform to make these ideas come true, and to polish and present them to the public. I’m sure this will be a centre of attraction.
Yevgeny has just been talking about the plans for expansion. Mr Sobyanin is nodding his head, which means that Moscow, with its big financial resources, will join the effort. Moscow's resources are truly great, because well above half of major taxpayers are concentrated in Moscow. The city's taxable income and revenues are huge.
Zhenya and I will be close by and will help you, of course. I hope that the second part is no less ambitious, perhaps even more ambitious than the first. It is hard to say when we will begin and when we will finish, but this is an interesting idea and it can be fully carried out. I wish you success. Thank you very much. Congratulations!
Yevgeny Mironov: Mr Putin, may I say something before the guys who were so eager to meet you – actors, directors and even critics…
Vladimir Putin: What for?
Yevgeny Mironov: Just in case, so that nobody will make anything up later, but will know for sure what was said here. I’d like to start with one unpleasant matter, so that I can leave it behind afterwards and talk only about pleasant matters. The programme I’ve described to you is that of a unique, international theatre centre, a centre of innovations in every area (as you said, plays by great directors, and most importantly, a school of debut, of advanced qualifications and festivals). We have been involved in this for four years now, but to be honest, we can no longer continue in this way. We have no power left and will simply cease to exist. I can see that you look cross, and yes, I really am going to ask you for money and I’m not ashamed to do so, because I know this is a very serious and important cause.
Vladimir Putin: And I’m not ashamed to tell you that there is no money.
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, Mr Putin.
Vladimir Putin: But we will search for it.
Yevgeny Mironov: That's the main thing. I knew you wouldn’t toss us aside.
Vladimir Putin: I never toss anyone aside.
Yevgeny Mironov: We are always responsible for those we have tamed.
Vladimir Putin: But we need to clearly formulate the requirements, the scale, the deadlines and so on.
Yevgeny Mironov: I know, we simply… To live and work with an outstretched hand... I’m referring to sponsors, because after they help we have to perform for them at corporate parties and all kinds of festivals. We simply cannot continue like this. Whatever we do, we want to do it seriously, as adults. Serious directors and even experimentations… They must have a chance. If a budding director stages his first play, we shouldn’t simply thank him and forget all about him. We should monitor his progress and help him grow into a master. We want to be responsible for everything and, to be honest, to do so we need… We have a budget. We have looked at the budgets of other Moscow theatres that do not have such a difficult and interesting structure as we do, and we realised, let me repeat, that we need support.
We have drafted a tentative annual budget. We have also indicated what we have done, and we did so honestly and modestly.
Vladimir Putin: Please, write to Mr Avdeyev.
Yevgeny Mironov: But since we have addressed this letter to you…
Vladimir Putin: I’ll redirect it to Mr Avdeyev here and now.
Yevgeny Mironov: And what else will you write?
Vladimir Putin: What do you think?
Yevgeny Mironov: I think you will ask him “to resolve this problem”.
Vladimir Putin: This would be superficial solution. I’ll write: “Please review this.”
Yevgeny Mironov: I was warned this is not a very good resolution. Is that so?
Vladimir Putin: Spit in the face of those who told you so!
Yevgeny Mironov: Okay, Mr Putin. That's all I wanted to say. Now I’d like to introduce you to the guys. Some of them are actors. We simply wanted to share our problems with you, our ideas of how to enter into adulthood and how the Theatre of Nations may help do this.
Yulia Peresild: May I?
Yevgeny Mironov: Yulia Peresild.
Yulia Peresild: My name is Yulya.
Vladimir Putin: Hello.
Yulia Peresild: I'd like to say that Theatre of Nations is like a breath of fresh air for the younger generation of budding actors and directors.
Vladimir Putin: It was the Theatre of Friendship of Nations in Soviet years, wasn’t it?
Yulia Peresild: Because here, they have freedom of creativity. We have gotten to know directors whom we couldn’t have dreamed of meeting. The typical scenario is that you graduate from the institute, go on to a repertory theatre and then sit in the smoking room for five years waiting to be given a role.
Remark: Five years if you're lucky.
Yulia Peresild: Indeed! And what happens next? In five years you no longer want to work. All you want is to receive a salary. But here, things are totally different. People do not simply come here without a reason.
Vladimir Putin: You have desire and opportunities – everything is there.
Yulia Peresild: Only people who truly want to accomplish something come here.
Yevgeny Mironov: And Yulia is not the only one to come here. It turned out that her entire class performed… A class usually falls apart, doesn't it? It all depends on luck…
Vladimir Putin: Where are you from, Yulia? Where did you graduate?
Yulia Peresild: I graduated from the Russian University of Theatre Arts (GITIS), from Oleg Kudryashov’s class, but I come from Pskov.
It worked out that after graduation we all very much wanted to stay together, as a kind of a creative gang, and we could not find a place for ourselves for a long time. Everyone wants commercial success; everyone wants some famous actors to perform in their plays. And what about young actors? Then, suddenly, it all came together for us. We came here and almost my entire class works here now, in this theatre, already in several different plays; other internationally acclaimed directors invite us to perform in their plays… A director comes and chooses actors he wants to work with. This probably explains the result.
Vladimir Putin: So you invite a director and he chooses…
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, but there can be different variations here.
Chulpan Khamatova: There is no company here…
Vladimir Putin: But where do they choose from then?
Chulpan Khamatova: It’s a sort of global casting.
Yevgeny Mironov: A director comes…
Vladimir Putin: And how are these young people related to the theatre?
Yevgeny Mironov: They can come here – any class that has graduated or simply young people who have come from different cities. If they want to stage their own play or if they have an idea for a play, they come here and tell us… If it shows talent, if it is convincing, we give them the green light. Moreover, after they produce their play… There are ten such directors, if there will be adequate financing, because as of now we have had to work with 95% of our money coming from sponsors, which we have had to earn.
Vladimir Putin: And what is your cost sheet, by the way?
Alexander Avdeyev: 303 million roubles.
Vladimir Putin: How much do you get now?
Yevgeny Mironov: We had received 40 million a year.
Vladimir Putin: And now?
Yevgeny Mironov: 30% goes towards the utilities bill, and what is left over is enough for a play and a half…
Vladimir Putin: No, what is your current actual budget? How much do you receive?
Yevgeny Mironov: The budget has now been raised to 50.
Vladimir Putin: Just 50 million?
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes. And considering that one modern arts festival, say, costs 30 million…
Vladimir Putin: Mr Avdeyev (Alexander Avdeyev, Minister of Culture), how much can we add, in your opinion?
Alexander Avdeyev: We could double it.
Yevgeny Mironov: You know, while preparing for this meeting, we worked with the Ministry of Culture. We met here and calculated how much money goes towards these programmes. There is an estimated cost sheet.
Vladimir Putin: But you must have asked for more than you are entitled to. Usually…
Yevgeny Mironov: Honestly, no.
Vladimir Putin: This is what usually happens: people ask for more…
Yevgeny Mironov: I know, but I don’t like it.
Vladimir Putin: To be given…
Yevgeny Mironov: I will tell you honestly, I cut it down personally and said we would do things as we are supposed to. In all honesty.
Alexander Avdeyev: Mr Putin, we will have to rob someone then, either Mr Tabakov (Oleg Tabakov, artistic director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre) or…
Yevgeny Mironov: Why, what does that have to do with it?
Alexander Avdeyev: The problem is that we have two behemoths on our hands, but the Bolshoi Theatre is about to be completed. Another outstanding project and outstanding theatre is the Mariinsky-2. We are now trying to find as much money as we can…
Vladimir Putin: You know, I think we should reward them at least for not exaggerating their budget, as was the case with the Bolshoi Theatre’s reconstruction, with the Mariinsky, where the work is delayed, and with some other places as well, such as in Astrakhan and with the children’s theatre in Saratov, I believe.
Alexander Avdeyev: Exactly.
Vladimir Putin: So they should be rewarded. Let's simply add a bit of money towards the Ministry of Culture, specifically for them.
Alexander Avdeyev: All right, Mr Putin. But it is also important that…
Vladimir Putin: That we do not take anything away from anyone. There's no need for that -- otherwise he will be eaten alive, he won't just have a broken leg, but all of his remaining limbs as well.
Alexander Avdeyev: I was simply joking. Mr Tabakov will have no reason to be angry, because we will not reduce his budget.
And it is also very important that this theatre is moving away from the Soviet system of staffing. This is how all theatres in the world operate, and the Theatre of Nations and Mr Mironov are leaders in shaping a new form of theatrical life.
Vladimir Putin: Zhenya, it may not be 300 million, I can't be sure, but it will certainly be more than 50 and perhaps even more than 100. We will add something, but Mr Avdeyev will have to meet with you once again to talk everything over. He will report to us and we will make a decision that will come close to the parameters you are counting on. Let's see, okay?
Alexander Novin: Mr Putin, may I?
Vladimir Putin: Go ahead.
Alexander Novin: Mr Putin, I would like to add that this is a truly unique theatre…
Yevgeny Mironov: Tell us where you are from.
Alexander Novin: I'm from Surgut and I graduated from GITIS. You and I are from the same parts, Mr Sobyanin.
Vladimir Putin: Does this mean that Moscow will also join in?
Alexander Novin: It is a truly unique theatre. In January we staged Tracey Letts’ play, "Killer Joe." Letts is an American playwright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. He founded the genre of pulp fiction, something our audiences are not yet familiar with. We know about it from the films by the Cohen brothers and Quentin Tarantino, but it has never been staged.
Yevgeny Mironov: In general, it was an experiment.
Alexander Novin: Yes, it was an experiment.
Vladimir Putin: Why necessarily Joe? Don’t we have killers of our own?
Alexander Novin: We are writing it… And so I think the good thing about this theatre is that if you wake up in the morning and feel that you want to laugh and cry today, you come to the Theatre of Nations to see the stories of Shukshin. If you suddenly feel that you want some drive and passion, come see "Romeo and Juliette." And if you want something more edgy, come see "Killer Joe." In other words, the plays and the directors that are staging them are completely different. People from my class in Surgut came here to see a play, and they were shocked. They said, “We have never seen anything like this. Why has no one ever staged like this before?” This genre is new to our audiences, so the theatre is number one in this respect -- because Chekhov’s "Seagull" and Ostrovsky are very good and very necessary, but I think different plays need to be staged in order for the audience to develop. The Theatre of Nations is number one in this respect, for which I am very grateful to you and to Mr Mironov.
Vladimir Putin: I had nothing to do with it.
Yevgeny Mironov: Thank Mr Sobyanin.
Alexander Novin: Special thanks to Mr Sobyanin!
Vladimir Putin: Sergei, you won’t wriggle your way out of it now.
Alexander Novin: They ask me in Surgut, “Have you seen Mr Sobyanin even once?” And I used to say, “Only on TV.” Now I will be able to say that I have.
Vladimir Putin: You can say, “I have seen him, he is such a nice man, you wouldn't believe it. He supports culture so much and he has such a fine appreciation…”
Yevgeny Mironov: He just saw me and immediately gave me an apartment. Such a good guy.
Alexander Novin: I don’t have an apartment either, Mr Sobyanin. But seriously, "Killer Joe" will be performed on October 1-2. I think you would find it interesting, Mr Putin.
Vladimir Putin: I would prefer to watch Shukshin’s stories.
Yevgeny Mironov: Right.
Alexander Novin: Shukshin goes without saying.
Sergei Sobyanin: Zhenya, if you are not opposed to what the young man is saying… What is your name?
Alexander Novin: Alexander.
Sergei Sobyanin: Alexander, from the same parts as me. Indeed, many of our theatres have apartments that we give out for young actors to live in. I was also thinking about what kind of present I could give you. We gave you one present, a building of 1,200 square metres. But since you have decided to demolish it, it is unclear whether it was really a present at all. So if you are not opposed, we will give the theatre three apartments for you to distribute. I will certainly not distribute them, it is up to you to decide.
Vladimir Putin: That's not bad!
Response: Thank you very much, Mr Sobyanin.
Sergei Sobyanin: Not at all.
Yevgeny Mironov: Thank you very much, Mr Sobyanin -- I thought about it, but decided that I would not talk about dormitories and other such things, because theatres usually…
Sergei Sobyanin: This is instead of a dormitory.
Vladimir Putin: They need service housing and permanent apartments for those who work more or less continually.
Yevgeny Mironov: We also get internationally renowned stage directors that all theatres in the world dream of. They love working at Moscow theatres, but putting them up at the Marriott or similar hotels takes out a hefty chunk from our budget. Certainly, we will need to agree on special rates at these hotels or think of some other solution.
Vladimir Putin: This needs to be given some thought. By the way, you can get a deal with the hotels. They might provide discounts in exchange for using the names of their distinguished guests for advertising purposes.
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, we considered this…
Vladimir Putin: Just go ahead and do it. These hotels are run by smart people, believe me, they know everything about their business and can appreciate these kinds of opportunities. There are many options, so you have a choice here. We’ll give it some thought and discuss it.
Yevgeny Mironov: Hey, guys, young stage directors. Why don’t you say a few words about the work you do? Nikita Grinshpun has just staged his first play, The Swedish match, which was instantly nominated for the Golden Mask prize. It’s your first play, right? After that he left Moscow, because they wanted him in many places…
Vladimir Putin: He left for Sweden?
Yevgeny Mironov: He went to Sakhalin to help revive a theatre there.
Vladimir Putin: Good for him.
Yevgeny Mironov: And organised an actors' workshop there.
Vladimir Putin: What’s your name?
Nikita Grinshpun: Nikita.
Vladimir Putin: Nikita, what about the Sakhalin theatre?
Nikita Grinshpun: There’s a theatre there, the only one on the island. After our entire class (Yulia started talking about it) went to this theatre (it was a unique opportunity for us)… Mr Mironov looked at it… We did not have a place of our own, rehearsed in the kitchen, and our audience included my mom and the dog. They saw our rehearsals and our plays in this theatre. Each time I come here, I think “It’s a miracle!” So, we gathered in those hallways, and then Mr Mironov saw us and invited us over here.
We performed our first night here and we still have workshops here, which is a totally out-of-this-world opportunity. Everything worked out, for which I am forever thankful to Mr Mironov. Then things started rolling, and we had offers coming in from everywhere. There was an offer to go to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. We got a call from a seemingly insane lady asking me to come there as a director. So I went. I spent two years there as a theatre director doing everything (I can say it now) that I saw here. I set up workshops, but not at the level they have at the Theatre of Nations…
Vladimir Putin: Even better.
Nikita Grinshpun: I tried to do my best. I invited good stage directors and the best critics… In a word, life was exciting. Funny thing happened when I returned to Moscow after the contract expired. I came to a theatre with an idea. People at the repertory theatre tell me it’s too expensive. I go around theatres, good theatres, with my ideas and they keep telling me that my ideas won’t work at a repertory theatre. Finally, I shared my ideas with Mr Mironov. He said you've got to be nuts to talk to these people about your ideas. What I mean is that you can do things at the Theatre of Nations that you can never do at a repertory theatre. I don’t want to sound immodest, but I’m sure that not a single repertory theatre can put on The Swedish Match.
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Nikita Grinshpun: Because it’s impossible. It’s all about the actors, the ones that you can see now sitting at the table, they are trained differently, they can sing, it’s a whole different group of people.
Remark: They staged this play using students from their class. It’s impossible to pull it off at any theatre, because the theatres have their own actors.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, yes.
Nikita Grinshpun: This company is unique. When you asked: “What do these people have to do with this?” The answer in my head was because they are the best.
Remark: No, there’s more. Sorry for interrupting you, but it’s just because you cannot bring your own company to any theatre. You come there with your own company and they tell you that everything is fine, but they also have an excellent actress or an actor, and things begin to fall apart right away, because many actors, even the good ones, just get a bit slow after a few years spent in the same theatre. They make honest efforts to blend in with the newly arrived company, some of them occasionally succeed. But then you look at some other plays…
Nikita Grinshpun: What you can do here, you can’t do at any other theatre. I’ve been around and I know this for a fact.
Yevgeny Mironov: Here’s the director Tufan Imamutdinov. He’s now putting on his second play at our theatre. The opening night is due in late September. The name is Shosha; it’s based on Singer’s novel. Do you want to say something?
Tufan Imamutdinov: I come from the same studio, Kudryashov’s class, but we graduated four years later. In other words, our class followed a trail that had already been blazed. Mr Mironov knows us, knows our teachers. And also knows that we do good work, so I hope… Anyway, it’s great that we have this opportunity, because staging a play with actors who you’ve known for four years is a unique opportunity and, most importantly, you don’t have to waste your time in the hallways.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Mironov, now you have not only the stage, good acoustics and equipment; you also have an excellent artistic team. I wish to congratulate you once again and also thank you for your work. You did a lot of hard work that’s unrelated to art. You took time away from your creative work, because you had to deal with things like utilities, cloak rooms, walls and roofing. However, you did it, and did it admirably. Don’t break your legs anymore; don’t waste your time on it, you better focus on acting. Let me reiterate that the most important thing is that you now have such a remarkable team, young, good-looking, talented people, and I’m sure that you will bring a lot of joy to art lovers. Thank you very much! I wish you every success in your work. And we will do our best to help you.
Yevgeny Mironov: Mr Putin, I would like to tell you how grateful I am to you. In fact, I called you at a moment of despair. I thought that I would just quit, because it makes no sense to be a ceremonial bystander without any prospects to make my idea a reality. The fact that you responded instantly… Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. I thought: “How can this be true?” You told me: “I will call you back in a week.” I thought: “Where is he going to call me? Home?” My mother spent the entire week expecting your call and doing incantations. A lot of receivers were put on alert. But I didn’t expect it to work out for me… You just called and said that you supported the idea. Things weren’t all peachy after that, just like you said: “Zhenya, the hardest work lies ahead.” But the fact that you believed in it, believed in me and our theatre, and supported us during the construction process, because there were a few instances when I, and I’m sorry about it, couldn’t manage without your help, because they started shutting everything down. Only you could resolve it. So, I called you. And you continue to follow the developments at the Theatre of Nations.
On behalf of everybody present here, and not only here… I can imagine crowds of new actors and directors who will come here, if things turn out well, and we have a good repertoire, financing and everything will be all right. You will come to see our play, the one based on Shukshin’s stories, first of all, you promised. Chulpan and I, as well as all other actors present here will be waiting for you to come.
Chulpan Khamatova: We are looking forward to it! Are you going to talk about the centre?
Yevgeny Mironov: You go ahead.
Chulpan Khamatova: Certainly, this is a special team. I am not part of Kudryashov’s class and I am more than four years older than them. I am an outsider; I work at the Sovremennik theatre. I love Sovremennik. It is my kind of a theatre, and it formed me as an actress. But this theatre has an unique spirit to it. First, because Zhenya is here. He has a heightened sense of responsibility for everything that he does, because… I worried about him; he virtually buried himself in this construction project and went through a lot. It’s not just another theatre in Moscow, not just a new stage, different plays or new opportunities for young people. This theatre is about a whole new level of thinking, a whole new concept of a theatre (perhaps, even internationally), because the professional and human level of the people who gathered at this theatre calls for expanding familiar boundaries that everybody got used to at the repertory theatres. It is taking shape as a theatre centre replete with workshops, experiments, festivals and training school. You know what makes me unhappy? The fact that we don’t have an advanced training school for actors.
Vladimir Putin: You just had me guessing there for a moment what you might be unhappy about. It’s a relief to know that it’s only about an advanced training school…
Chulpan Khamatova: Yes, if you play lead roles, get your salary, then you should and even need to evolve as an actor. There’s so much going on in the world. If you don’t buy a ticket to go to London or Berlin to see things for yourself, no one will ever do it for you. The Stanislavsky system is not the final destination; things are moving forward are becoming more and more exciting. However, we cannot use new techniques, even though the Russian theatre school (and I don’t say this lightly, I heard people say it about my acting) is among the most reputable in the world. Certainly, such a place for socialising, sharing ideas, soaking up such experience and taking it to another level (not only for Moscow residents and summer tourists) is a great thing to have, because I can afford going places (not always, though) but vast numbers of people can’t…
Yevgeny Mironov: We would welcome the best teachers from such schools to hold master classes here …
Vladimir Putin: You have a place now, and Yevgeny and I have just discussed further steps.
Yevgeny Mironov: Here’s a letter for you…
Vladimir Putin: Look at this bureaucrat!
Yevgeny Mironov: Yes, yes. There’s no other way around it.
Vladimir Putin: As for the Russian repertory theatre, it doesn’t exist anywhere in the world except Russia. This is our heritage, and we will certainly support it. Repertory theatre is the basis of all our theatrical life, but the things that are being done by Mr Mironov are unique to Russian art, so we will help him with it.
Yevgeny Mironov: Things that are being done by us all!
Vladimir Putin: I wish to congratulate you again. Good luck.
Remark: Thank you.
Yevgeny Mironov: And the present? Here we have a present for you.
Vladimir Putin: A present for me? For doing what?
Yevgeny Mironov: For everything.