stage manager: Vlad Negrea
lighting technicians: Mădălina Mânzat, Andrei Mitran
sound technician: Vasile Crăciun
sufleor: Irina Barbir
Bitter and explosive comedy…
It is the 90s, and we find ourselves in a Russian provincial town, where the censorship and the dehumanising routine of communism were suddenly replaced by the void and the disorientation emerging from the transplantation of capitalism; in the life of ordinary people, the regime change is tantamount to an earthquake. Two girls and four women, recently out of a job, run into each other in the freezing hall of a cinema, where they are all waiting, quite frantically, to take part in the Audition: the Great Audition that is supposed to provide freedom, the valorisation of their beauty and talent, the promise of a better life, far from the squalor and the misery at home. It is a form of rebellion and emancipation for each character in her own way: the beautiful pseudo-artist Olga no longer tolerates her husband’s blatant infidelity; the intelligent intellectual Nina is running away from a marriage marred by depression and poverty, brought on by redundancy; the brutally honest Tamara can no longer stand the humiliation and the domestic violence she has been experiencing; as for the worldly Varia, she is trying to redeem her daughters, previously sold to the Russians, by selling them once again to the foreigners. However, regardless of the seriousness and the legitimacy of their pursuit of independence, the candidates’ amateurish artistic offer is comical, ridiculous, and pitiful to the Japanese spectators, who are looking for young uninhibited strippers rather than some poor disillusioned women. The hostile space of the cinema becomes, alternatively, the stage of the audition, an involuntary confessional, a fighting ring for the spouses, as well as the site of eventual reconciliation. As for the public, we can recognise the cruelty of History in their smaller, personal histories, we can laugh on a conciliatory, explosive, or bitter note because, again and again, those who believed in the possibility of change were and are taken for fools.
- Premiul Apostrof Radu Stanca: Irina Wintze, pentru rolul Varvara din spectacolul Audiţia după piesa dramaturgului rus Alexander Galin, care a avut premiera în primăvara acestui an la Teatrul Naţional „Lucian Blaga“ din Cluj, în regia lui Ionuţ Caras, 2022.
Au partituri foarte complexe cele șase personaje feminine ce întruchipează tipologii diferite, unite de disperare și de hotărârea de a-și asuma orice risc pentru o viață mai bună. Sunt admirabile aceste femei cu frustrările, necazurile și neîmplinirile lor, dar și cu acea parte de suflet care a rămas la fiecare necontaminată, în ciuda brutalității vieții de zi cu zi. Umanitate, sinceritate și vulnerabilitate transmit toate șase, încât la finalul spectacolului am avut impresia că am participat la o întâlnire cu prietene la care râdem, plângem, ne înduioșăm și râdem iar. Am râs mult la Audiția, dar m-am și întristat amintindu-mi de perioada tranziției care a fost atât de asemănătoare în Rusia și în România. Și m-am întristat gândindu-mă că lucrurile s-au schimbat probabil doar în mică măsură și că principala întrebare pe care spectacolul o pune este: ce face societatea cu acei membri ai ei care la un moment dat, împinși de istorie, devin inutili? De ce există mereu învinși și învingători și până unde ești dispus să duci sacrificiul personal pentru un iluzoriu confort material? (...) Ionuț Caras pledează mereu pentru un teatru militant și angajat. El reușește cu Audiția o montare limpede, coerentă și echilibrată, care nu cade în capcana stridențelor sau a inovației cu orice preț, o montare care aduce la Cluj un text lucid și de actualitate și care pune în valoare echipa Naționalului care pare mai bună și mai sudată ca niciodată.
În perioada istorică ce coincide cu transferul de putere dintre Boris Elțîn și Putin, protagonistele din acest spectacol al deșertăciunii sunt motivate exclusiv de dorința de a părăsi Rusia, chiar dacă nu au idee unde vor pleca și ce le așteaptă în țara de destinație. Dezabuzate, personajele știu însă exact de unde pleacă: dintr-o țară unde nimeni nu are nevoie de ele.
Punerea în scenă a Naționalului clujean durează circa 3 ore (cu o pauză), un interval de timp care are însă marea calitate de a da senzația unei durate mult mai mari, fără a plictisi. Deosebit de intensă și de profundă, tragedia scenică, împrumutată din viață, supraviețuiește duratei spectacolului, imprimându-ți-se pe retina sufletului, unde continuă să producă efecte multă vreme după ce se lasă la final cortina.
Sărăcia, comunismul, munca în străinătate, capitalismul sunt doar câteva dintre motivele care se regăsesc în acest spectacol. Însă, cel care mi-a atras mie atenția a fost cel al femeilor puternice. Fiindcă, în fond, despre asta este vorba. Într-o lume în care totul se învârte în jurul bărbaților, patru femei și două fete, de tipologii diferite, se întâlnesc și, dacă la început nu se suportă, în final ajung să se unească pentru un scop comun.(...)
„Audiția” este un spectacol dual, în funcție de cum dorește spectatorul să îl privească. Poate să se întristeze sau poate să râdă, dar cel mai indicat ar fi să le facă pe ambele. Fiindcă un astfel de spectacol ilustrează cel mai bine viața și merită pentru trei ore să punem pauză la orice ar fi în jurul nostru și să ne bucurăm de el.
Piesa Audiția (Konkurs în rusă sau Casting la Kursk după titlul germano-englez) s-a jucat și la noi pe la diverse teatre, în mai multe, variate, montări. Cea de la Cluj e focusată pe caricaturizarea intensivă a personajelor prinse într-un comic de situație aiuritor, bine ritmat, extins spre șarja fără limite. (...) Textul e generos, oferind actrițelor clujene partituri dintre cele mai elocvente, într-un evantai colorat ilar de temperamente și manifestări. Confruntările dintre ele fac deliciul spectatorilor.
Alexander Galin was born on September 10th 1947 in the village Alekseyevka (Rostov region) and spent his childhood and adolescence in Kursk, where the play The Audition is also set. He is one of the most important Russian playwrights, screenwriters, film and theatre directors at the moment. His first job was at the Himvolokno factory in Kursk, then he was hired as an actor at the Puppet Theatre. In 1973, he graduated from the Theatre Institute in Saint Petersburg with a degree in Directing, then he worked as an actor and director at theatres in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
His plays have had great success and have often been performed on famous stages in Europe, America, and Asia, such as the Art Theatre and Maly Theatre in Moscow, Royal Shakespeare Theatre in London, Odeon Theatre in Paris, Schiller Theatre in Berlin. Famous Russian directors have worked with his texts: Kama Ghinkas, Lev Dodin, Henrietta Iankovskaia, Roman Viktyuk, Galina Volcek, Roman Kozak.
He has written the plays: The Wall (1971), The Migratory Birds are Flying (1974), The Hole (1975), The Roof (1976, first performed at the theatre managed by Oleg Tabakov in 1984; it was also performed in English at Florida-Tallahassee State University in 1989), The Obsession (1977), Retro (1979), The Eastern Tribune (1981), Stars in the Morning Sky (1982, first performed at Maly Dramatic Theatre in Saint Petersburg in 1987, having been directed by Lev Dodin. This production was also part of Maly Theatre Company’s tour on Broadway. The English premiere took place at the Theatre of Los Angeles in 1988).
Other plays: Tamada (1983), The Librarian (1984), Jeanne (1985), The Group (1989, first performed at Lensovet Theatre in Saint Petersburg in 1990. It was also performed in English, with the premier taking place at the International River-Arts Woodstock Theatre Festival, New York, in 1990), Sorry (1990), The Title (1991 – it was first performed at the Contemporary Theatre Festival in Sienna, Italy, in 1992), The Czech Photograph (1993), The Clown and the Bandit (1997 – it was first performed at the Theatre of Leipzig, Germany, in 1997), The Anomaly (1996), The Mermaid and Victoria (1997), The Accompanist (1998) – a new version of the play Jeanne, The Competition/The Audition (1998), Rendez-vous in the Sea of Rain (2002), The Heroine’s Dream (2006), The Attendants (2007), The Face (2012), The Ricksha. A History of Moscow (2014), The Parade (2015), This Night (2018).
He has worked as a director at Sovremennik Theatre, managed by Oleg Tabakov, and at Lenkom Theatre in Moscow, at Vittoria Theatre in Rome, at the Lincoln Centre in New York.
His debut in film direction came with Casanova’s Overcoat (1993). His films, The Delegate (1993) and Photo (2003), have won numerous national and international awards. He wrote the script for the film The Marriage, directed by Pavel Lungin, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. Based on his own scripts, Galin has also directed the films The Czech Photograph (2003, in Russia) and The Victim (2010, in the USA).
As a screenwriter, he has worked in the film industry and in television: They Are Building the House (1978), Engineer Grafto (1979), The Last Way Out (1981), You Have My Hand and Heart (1988), The Testament (1989), The Roof (1990), The Ring (1991), The Marriage (2000), Marrying Pushkin (2016).
Alexander Galin has been decorated with foreign titles of great importance, including that of Ambassador of the Arts in the USA and the Laurence Olivier Award in the United Kingdom. He lives in New York.
About CASTING IN KURSK
The play Casting in Kursk (with the original title Konkurs) was written in 1998 and was first performed in 2000 in Moscow. Then came the German premiere, bearing the German-English title Casting in Kursk, in 2002, at Deutsches Theater Berlin, directed by Konstanze Lauterbach; then, the Swiss premiere, in 2003, at the Music and Theatre University of Berna, directed by Rudolf Koloc. In Romania, it was produced at “Radu Stanca” Theatre in Sibiu, at “Toma Caragiu” Theatre in Ploiești, at the Comedy Theatre and at “Metropolis” Theatre in Bucharest, at “Luceafărul” Theatre in Iași, and at “Queen Mary” Theatre in Oradea.
The Audition is based on a real event from the author’s life in the 90s. This is what Galin himself has said about the birth of his text:
“It has already been five years since I got a call from a friend, who told me: « Come at once to our theatre. You’ll see something which you’ll definitely turn into a play. It’s your material! » I went there and I saw some Japanese people sitting in the audience in the legendary, famous great hall of Taganka Theatre. They had rented the theatre for a casting. That hall meant a lot to all of us, because this is where the totalitarian regime had faced judgment! On stage, young Russian women were parading up and down; they were citizens of free Russia, hoping to be bought. The situation was both odd and sad and horrifying. In the back row sat the candidates who had been rejected. Seeing them, it became clear that they were my heroines. Unfortunately, they were no longer young, they could not even take part in the casting. Their hopes for a different, unfamiliar life, which they had believed in the way you believe in a dream had been dashed. Life was passing them by, they had remained in the past. In that moment I saw the play! I only had to write it down”. (In the magazine Theater der Zeit, April 2002, the article Konkurrenz und Konkurs, an interview by Thomas Irmer, translated into Romanian by Alexandru Cîrneală and Alma Diaconu).
In the play, the women who pass the audition will join the industry of entertainment, in Singapore. But behind the glossy term lies, in fact, prostitution. It just so happens that, due to miscommunication, the audition doesn’t only attract very young women; instead, the participants are women of all ages and social conditions, with various “artistic” talents, all driven by the same thing: the mirage of a better life. This is how six very different women end up meeting at the Cosmos cinema in Kursk, having paid a registration fee to take part in the audition. While at first, they perceive each other antagonistically, believing they are competing one against the other, the prolonged wait in the cinema’s freezing hall brings out their various personal problems; soon, it becomes clear that their chances are slim. They end up coming together through their desperation, their fear, and the drowning of their sorrows in strong alcohol, sold and generously distributed by Varia (the eldest of them all).
All six women are ready to sell themselves, being utterly exasperated by the dead end in which they have been thrown by Soviet and post-Soviet society: Nina, an aesthetics professor who has lost her job, is running away from her unbearable life with a husband whom she adores but whose depression has condemned them to horrible precarity; Tamara has been a simple housewife since the closure of the factory where she used to work with her husband; she is trying to flee domestic violence and constant humiliation, as well as the painful poverty which makes even decent clothing a distant memory; Olga, the beautiful circus artist also out of a job, is driven mad by jealousy and by a sense of uselessness in a social setting where she can no longer find her purpose; two very young girls, Katia and Liza, have been neglected by their mother; they have no documents and have resorted to prostituting themselves in the Rostov hotel, owned by their aunt-turned-procuress, so that they want to escape this terribly promiscuous life at any cost. The last character is Varia, their unnatural mother, degraded without hope after having sold her daughters; she is now living in a vodka factory depot. However, she proves extremely skillful and generous, using her humour and lack of inhibition to help her comrades in their suffering, like a bizarre, debased guardian angel.
All of them try to demonstrate their talents before the Japanese “buyer”, who seems to have descended from another sphere altogether. His presence highlights in a deliciously comical manner the differences between Russia and the rest of the “civilised” world. Not knowing how to get rid of the women who refuse to leave and who do not meet any of the requirements (with the exception of young Katia and Liza, who have unwillingly become familiar with the practice of striptease), Albert, the intermediary and, at the same time, the translator from Japanese, asks for the written consent of the participants’ husbands.
The reunion of the spouses does not take place in the best of circumstances, since the couples were already walking on thin ice, on a backdrop of grim existential sadness and a lack of communication and understanding. However, the three husbands, indignant and frustrated (Boris – Nina’s husband, an intellectual with conciliatory reflexes, Vasili – Tamara’s violent husband, and Viktor – an arrogant businessman and politician, Olga’s husband), keep fighting the urge to abandon their wives and end up welcoming them back into their homes.
The ending is relatively open, asking a few questions that do very little to sweeten the bitter comedy of these small personal histories, so telling in relation to the grand history we are witnessing today. Is true freedom doomed to remain an illusion? How can a civilised world still tolerate slavery, albeit in disguise? What kind of society expels its own members, proving to them that they are “no longer needed”?
The contemporary nature of Alexander Galin’s themes and the impact of these problems on today’s Romanian society have made The Audition one of Galin’s most popular plays, as well as one of his most striking texts, which acts as a wake-up call, in spite of the brightly colourful comedy of its situations and characters.
Eugenia Sarvari and Ștefana Pop-Curșeu
The Director’s Note: Ionuț Caras about CASTING IN KURSK
I worked with another text by Alexander Galin more than 10 years ago, while teaching my first acting classes at university. It was Stars in the Morning Sky. Both then and now, I appreciated the balanced structure of the text, the dark humour and, above all else, the extremely well-built characters, with rich inner worlds, never simplistic and always very challenging for the actor or the actress.
I think this is why I chose The Audition: clear situations, a tragicomic tone, and human, living, breathing characters. Of course, it helped that it was a text written mainly for actresses, which is a rare occurrence. World dramaturgy is not so generous in terms of female characters.
Together with Zsófia Gábor (costumes and set design) and Cristian Luchian (graphic design), we followed the author’s instructions and set the story in a former Soviet cinema in Kursk, sometime in the early 2000s, in a transitional period for Russian society. From a political standpoint, it would coincide with the transfer of power between Boris Yeltsin and Putin.
Although our conversations and the decision to stage Galin’s text happened a year ago, the current unfortunate situation made me read the play in a new light, trying to understand the workings of Russian society back then, as well as a possible connection with the tragedy unfolding at the moment. It is a circular arc drawn over recent history. While at present we are witnessing what could very well be the downfall of a dictator (and, lately, war criminal), the events happening in Galin’s play capture the effects of the transition on the lives of ordinary people precisely at a point in history when a new leader was beginning his term, promising to become the “saviour” of a declining society. We have all seen the consequences.
The plot of The Audition is clear, and, moreover, it is based on a true story. Galin himself has given the following account:
“It has already been five years since I got a call from a friend, who told me: « Come at once to our theatre. You’ll see something which you’ll definitely turn into a play. It’s your material! » I went there and I saw some Japanese sitting in the audience in the legendary, famous hall of Taganka Theatre. They had rented the theatre for a casting. That hall meant a lot to all of us, because this is where the totalitarian regime had faced judgment! On stage, young Russian women were parading up and down; they were citizens of free Russia, hoping to be bought. The situation was both odd and sad and horrifying. In the back row sat the candidates who had been rejected. Seeing them, it became clear that they were my heroines. Unfortunately, they were no longer young, they could not even take part in the casting. Their hopes for a different, unfamiliar life, which they had believed in the way you believe in a dream had been dashed. Life was passing them by, they remained in the past. In that moment I saw the play! I simply had to write it down”. (In the magazine Theater der Zeit, April 2002, the article Konkurrenz und Konkurs, an interview by Thomas Irmer, translated into Romanian by Alexandru Cîrneală and Alma Diaconu).
Because we cannot ignore the human tragedy taking place before our very eyes, we added a PROLOGUE to Galin’s text, which connects the story with the current sociopolitical context. Moreover, we got in touch with the author himself, who was kind enough to give us a short interview. We needed to ask his opinion on this absurd war. This is what he said:
Alexander Galin in Dialogue with The Cluj-Napoca National Theatre
Do you think that the socio-human situation that you presented in your play Casting in Kursk is still valid today? More precisely, does this Western mirage and desire to leave Russia still exist?
Alexander Galin: I think the audience will make the final decision about the relevance of my play, but as an author I certainly have hope that this play, written more than 20 years ago, is still alive – also because your theater chose it among many other plays. And I am sincerely grateful for that choice. As for the "Western Mirage", the characters of this play are no longer concerned with it. Fleeing from the total hopelessness, they are ready to run anywhere. By the way, in the play it is not the West, which is civilized and close to Russia, but the distant, alien and incomprehensible East.
There's a key-line in your text: 'You can leave if you can prove that nobody needs you here!'. It conveys a terrible sense of imposed self-condemnation... Have you ever experienced this feeling in your own country?
A.G.: In this case, I wrote a scene in which my heroines begin to realize how much their own country doesn't need them, the total indifference of their homeland to them. Many people in Russia live without thinking about it. But that has always been the case. Russian statehood is oriented toward the government, not the individual. It is no coincidence that one of my heroines says, with bitter irony, that even bloodsuckers have been flying around here lately. As for me, I write about my contemporaries and, therefore, feel and experience what they experience.
In your play, all walks of life are present through various characters, from the laid-off intellectual, through the politician become rich overnight, to the simple people without means. By this we understand that the whole of Russian society at that time was in crisis. Do you think things have improved over the last 20 years?
A.G.: The crisis, which the authorities have tried to retouch, has only intensified over the years, and as a result, we are once again in the shackles of totalitarianism. It is as if we are walking in a circle. It is difficult to imagine the future of such a country.
Have you had problems with censorship? Especially since your plays have been performed a lot abroad and you are extremely critical of the socio-political system in Russia...
A.G.: I lived in the days of Soviet censorship. It was painful. Nevertheless, even then the brightest theaters and plays were born, there were legendary actors, directors, and stage designers. From my own experience I can say that censorship, no matter how harsh it is, is inherently stupid. But I also had a happy time – unfortunately, a short one – when we were free from censorship. Now censorship is becoming louder and louder again, although it still remains formally forbidden in the Russian Constitution. Russian theater will have difficulties; they have already begun. But people have a great need for theater. It will survive.
Witnessing these major problems in Russian society, did you ever feel that the unfortunate situation at that time could evolve in the critical direction we are witnessing today?
A.G.: I wrote comedies, but the impetus for them was always the drama unfolding in our society. Its bitter end was foreseen by many, it was not difficult. Especially when, in the late nineties, people were again talking about the need for a "strong hand" at the head of state, and they began to speak kindly of Stalin more and more often.
In this respect, what would be the tools at hand to get out of the current crisis? Do you think that change has to come only from within Russian society or is it a problem that concerns us all? "What awaits us?"... to paraphrase Nina Karnauhova, the Russian intellectual in your play?
A.G.: Every country makes its own choices. Totalitarianism is a serious disease that affects one country or another from time to time. But any, even the strongest, "therapy" is designed primarily for the active work of internal immunity. It is still very weak in Russia. The patient must want to get better himself.
We are neighbours of a country now torn apart by war. In this context, we sometimes feel useless as artists, we wonder if theatre still has the power to make a difference... What do you think?
A.G.: War hardens people, divides them, divides them into friends and enemies. In this sense, there are no winners in war. Theater, as well as art in general, has much work to do in helping people to restore their humanity sacrificed to war.
How do you feel about this war in Ukraine?
A.G.: Just like all normal people: it's a crime. The true guilt of criminals will be determined in the future. Hopefully, the not-too-distant future. I remember as a child we used to play war. We shot with toy guns, sometimes at point-blank range, but no one fell – no one wanted to consider themselves killed. But those are children, and here we are talking about grown men of state. I despise those who started this war. They are people with underdeveloped, disfigured minds: when they start a war, they presumptuously calculate only one option – to win. Although a reasonable person always considers the option of defeat. But that is if he is reasonable...
Alexander Galin gave this interview to The Cluj-Napoca National Theatre on March 30th 2022.
CONTACT THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF CLUJ-NAPOCA P-ţa Ştefan cel Mare nr. 2-4 Cluj-Napoca, 400192 Romania