"The time has come to treat our audience like adults," stage director Roza Sarkisyan's observation following the experience of her mobility tour to Berlin
Stage director Roza Sarkisyan's story of one that grew from a Culture Bridges'-supported partnership that would become the basis for further partnerships. Roza had previously worked in Lviv on a Culture Bridges'-supported project with Polish playwright Joanna Wichowska on the production of Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful Times. The pair is currently working on a new project. To develop its idea Roza visited Berlin during the trip funded by her international mobility grant.
The project's idea
The project is a combination of the post-documentary production "H-Effect" and the "Hamlet Syndrome" documentary. The production is built on two texts: Heiner Mueller's "Hamlet Machine" and the Shakespearean tragedy. It also brings in the story of six Ukrainian performances of the role of Hamlet, including those by professional actors, as well as soldiers, journalists and civic activists. Roza is working out the theatrical portion of the project together with Polish playwright Joanna Wichowska, German playwright Anya Kvikert, Polish artist Robert Rumas and German composer Tomas Kürstner.

The film is foreseen as a full-length documentary by German-Polish directors Elvira Nieviera and Piotr Rosolovsky (with support from RBB/ARTE and the Polish Film Institute). The film will describe the daily life of the actors putting on the "H-Effect" production in a country at the epicentre of political and socio-cultural upheaval.

The team is currently preparing for rehearsals and filming. The plan calls for three rehearsal sessions in June, July and August to take place in Lviv and Kyiv. They'll be working with both text and personal stories in the manner of "devised theatre", with the playwrights as well as the actors working together on an original script.
Casting call for Hamlet Syndrome
Establishing partnership
Roza partnered with representatives of the Internationale Heiner Müller Gesellschaft during her mobility project due to Elvira Nieviera and Piotr Rosolovsky. With the duet Roza began working already in 2017.

"They were researching, looking for characters who had been involved in the events in eastern Ukraine. They wanted volunteers, veterans, journalists, and artists who had begun to reflect on the situation. Elvira and Piotr wanted a stage director who had worked with traumatic events and the concept of memory and the effect of these on the collective unconscious. Their Polish partners advised them to contact me" , Sarkisyan explained.

For sector colleagues, Roza names such tips on building partnerships. Before you establish partnerships, be sure that your potential partner's mission, goals, and values match with your own. Less important is understanding the risks that come with artistic co-productions. Every artist can have a radically different view on the issue you want to address.

Roza mentioned "On the Move" as a resource to follow for people interested in Ukrainian and European culture and creative industries.

Roza Sarkisyan
Working on the project during the trip
Ukrainian artists generally lack presentation skills
All the Ukrainian director's meetings in Berlin were conducted in a helpful, multi-sided format. The people who took part were all working on topics touching on identity and the traumas experienced by younger people because of political change and war – topics that are, as it turns out, also relevant in the EU. During this mobility project, Sarkisyan was introduced to modes of "interdisciplinary thought" as applied to her performances and other projects. She also was trained in handling negotiations and project presentation. She notes that Ukrainian artists generally lack presentation skills.

"At this even a lot of professional theatre directors have their own websites with a portfolio of their work, links to reviews, and information about festivals they've taken part in. Who among our Ukrainian directors has a site like that? At best, actors who've been in films do. Somehow, we've learned to feel ashamed of talking about ourselves. Still, anyone you meet starts off by wanting to know: Who are you? What have you done? What do you want? So, I think if you're interested in building international links, you've got to start with writing out a basic CV and not just in Ukrainian. In addition, in theatre education in Ukraine we need to have courses on "Pitching" and "Creative portfolio", – Sarkisyan added.
About the Berlin Theater Scene
During her trip, Roza visited a string of Berlin performances. She was especially impressed by the variety of approaches and bold handling of themes and context she saw in "ugly duckling" at the Deutches Theatre, "Mitleid" at the Schaubuhne, and "Roma Armee" and "Yes but No" at the Maxim Gorky Theatre.

"In Ukraine, we often ask: is the audience ready for complex themes? In Berlin, I realized that if we see our audience as infantile, we'll be asking this question forever and directors will be afraid to enter into a dialogue with the viewer. Perhaps, the time has come to treat our audience like adults – someone who can help out in solving the issues we raise", Roza commented.

She adds that alongside consciousness expanding, stereotype challenging projects in Berlin there are also those that are interesting only in the most formal sense and their social message is identical to what you'll find in most any Ukrainian State institution. A good theatre, in her opinion, is the exception, not the rule.

"It is important for Ukrainian artists not to be afraid to work with new formats that coexist on the margins of theatre, performance, music and post-documentary theatre in the contemporary art process. It is also very necessary to begin to relate theatre with the processes people are currently experiencing in our society".
A good theatre is the exception, not the rule
The way "Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful Times" turned out
Most critics concluded that "Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful Times" by Joanna Wichowska was a controversial production both for the First Theatre and for the Lviv theatre scene. Still, it was seen as a positive step for art for the country. Following the premier in July 2018, the troupe has been receiving invitations to perform at festivals: the Golden Lion 2018 Festival in Lviv; ParadeFest in Kharkiv; the pan-Ukrainian Worldview Festival in Severodonetsk, and the "Bliski Neznajomi" Festival in Poznan, Poland. It took home two awards for its final performance: Olena Basha for Best Actress and for Creative Directorial Effort. At the pan-Ukrainian HRA Festival it was honoured as one of the Top-5 Best Experimental Plays in the country.
About other plans
One upcoming project with Joanna Wichowska will be a performance based on Todd Strasser's book "Wave". That will be the Ivano-Frankivsk Drama Theatre, with actors performing together with school kids from the theatre's Children's Drama Workshop. This work will look at the trauma of World War II, with a premiere set for the end of May 2020. The artists also have two further joint theatrical projects we're working on for 2021 outside the country.

Roza also plans to run an arts-education project to acquaint the Ukrainian public with the work of Heiner Mueller following the close of her "H-Effect" project.
Photos provided by Roza Sarkisyan