"Where are you, mum?"
Bulgarian director shares his theatrical experience in Kyiv

Yavor Binev is a celebrated Bulgarian theatre actor and director, the creator of dozens of stage productions including several where he worked with Ukrainian actors. Last year, Yavor together with Kyiv's Koleso Academic Theatre and with the support of Culture Bridges worked on the production "Where are you, mum?" (drawing on Sigmund Freud) based on the play by Kalin Iliyev. The Director and the Head of Koleso's Literature and Drama Department talk about their collaborationexperience and share plans for further Ukrainian-Bulgarian co-productions.
— How did you find out the Koleso Theatre?
— I've known the artistic director at the Koleso Theatre, Iryna Yakivna [Iryna Klishchevska, National Artist of Ukraine, ed.] since 2007. It was then in Lovech, Poland that we worked together, staging a performance in just 10 days, but that ended up running for more than three seasons. Last year we had a detailed discussion about our creative plans. When we finally met, she suggested that I choose a Bulgarian text and invited me to stage it in the Kyiv theatre. We met several times in Bulgaria over the summer to achieve mutual understanding on costumes and stage décor, and then this fall I came to Kyiv to work – to put on "Big Mama", a play by a famous Bulgarian playwright, Kalin Iliyev.
There have been projects by Bulgarian artists in the Koleso repertoire and are now, directed by Dima Dimov and a play by Kalin Iliyev. We participated in Bulgarian festivals and Bulgarian theatres have come here. One prominent project was our collaboration with the Racho Stoyanova Gabrovsky Theater. Racho Stoyanov: 5 Koleso actors working under Iryna Klishchevska and 5 Bulgarian actors led by Dymov worked on Rado Rallin's "Golden Fleece." We did the festival tour circuit in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Ukraine with this show. So our creative connection with Bulgarian artists was formed long ago and the play "Where are you, mum?" (drawing on Sigmund Freud) is a natural continuation of this.
Іlyina Hensitska
Head of Koleso’s Literature and Drama Department
— Tell us about your trip to Kyiv.
— We were working with actors at the theatre from 10 am to 6 pm almost daily. They spoke three languages - Ukrainian, Russian and Bulgarian – but not English. I wanted to get acquainted with Kyiv's theatre process, to feel the pulse of the public, and I was watching Koleso performances and those of other theatrical groups both national and private. I had hoped to visit the puppet theatre, but ran out of time. I watched plays at Koleso a number of times, thinking about how various spectators would respond to the same scenes. I also went to the Revutsky Chapel Male Choir concert at the House of Officers.
— What is the main difference between Ukrainian and Bulgarian theatre?
— I was interested in the public, because the theatre isn't just an actor or a playwright, it is primarily the audience. In Ukraine, the audience reacts to what is happening on the theatrical stage like something it encounters daily. I watched as people would get up from their seats and approach the stage décor, take a snapshot and then head back to their place. That was unexpected. I hadn't seen it before. In our theatres it's absolutely forbidden to approach the stage like that. The audience is also quite active, showing its attitude but not interfering. On the contrary, if a certain sense of ease prevailed, then the audience assisted the actors maintain it, and kept the play going in that vein.

Koleso is also a boulevard theatre and the rhythm of the actors' work differs from what I'm accustomed to. They're calmer, more deliberate in developing their roles and are developing a bit more slowly and calmly, but the action in this performance is set at a film studio where everything is always jumping and people are rushing back and forth. In the end the actors adapted to the rhythm I required. I had to explain things clearly here that in Bulgaria are taken for granted, and conversely, have things explained to me things that are quite obvious here. But with patience we found common ground and I was able to get done what I wanted.
— What challenges did you have to face? What did you have to change?
— In this play one of the players, an actor, dies. As it turned out, Koleso had been trying to eliminate that type of role, considering it a negative. So I was compelled to restructure the finale, bring it all together without losing the idea.

I had to learn to speak Ukrainian in order to deliver the text correctly and not require the actors to translate everything in their heads. In general, Ukrainian is similar to old Bulgarian, so it all worked out. The translation was made by Ukrainian writer Anna Bagryana and she coped with it well, preserving the Bulgarian heart of it. But Bulgarian is more phonetically stringent than Ukrainian and we had to formulate some phrases with the actors' help in order not to mess up the lines and to sustain the play's pulse.

I haven't had such a great working relationship with the set designer in quite a while. Lyudmila Parezhik worked well with me, searching for costumes and developing concepts, and I think we managed to achieve something that surpassed my expectations.
— What acquired skills can you put to use in Bulgaria?
— We analysed the text with the actors, studied the internal state and the protagonist's motives. This kind of approach to developing an image is much different from the process going on in Bulgaria. I explained the text in a completely different way, and when I acted it out speaking Bulgarian so they would not rehearse my words, but my meaning. I will try to use this method in Bulgaria, that is, demonstrate the work in a language the actors don't know, since, as it turns out, this not only doesn't hinder the meaning, but assists their understanding of a text.
There have been projects by Bulgarian artists in the Koleso repertoire and are now, directed by Dima Dimov and a play by Kalin Iliyev. We participated in Bulgarian festivals and Bulgarian theatres have come here. One prominent project was our collaboration with the Racho Stoyanova Gabrovsky Theater. Racho Stoyanov: 5 Koleso actors working under Iryna Klishchevska and 5 Bulgarian actors led by Dymov worked on Rado Rallin's "Golden Fleece." We did the festival tour circuit in Macedonia, Bulgaria and Ukraine with this show. So our creative connection with Bulgarian artists was formed long ago and the play "Where are you, mum?" (drawing on Sigmund Freud) is a natural continuation of this.
Іlyina Hensitska
Head of Koleso’s Literature and Drama Department
— Do you plan to continue collaboration with Ukrainian artists?
— Following our performance, Alexander Krukovsky, the general director of the Revutsky Men's Choir suggested we do something together. I plan to get a hold of him at the end of January with an idea and we'll start our discussions.

A Bulgarian theatre director was interested in our work, asking if we had a recording of it, but I advised him to fly to Kyiv and watch the performance on it home stage. I'd like to show "Where are you, mum?" in Bulgaria, but need to think about the staging, because the Koleso Theatre is quite small and it's important to adapt this scenography correctly to fit a different space.
Koleso now enjoys the prospect of participating in a festival in Bulgaria and a Bulgarian theatre will come here for a summer festival on the recommendation of Kalin Iliev and Yavor Binev.
Іlyina Hensitska
Head of Koleso’s Literature and Drama Department
Photo by: the Koleso Theatre
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