Volunteers and students from Step Up run Sh.Z Underground Theatre.
Sh.Z Underground Theatre is Step Up’s theatre studio. It is one of the projects that have grown out of something first initiated by students and graduates of the Centre.
Sh.Z Underground Theatre is made up of eager, novice actors who work under the tutelage of Vikenty Ekimov, director and fellow actor. When he is asked about the name of the theatre and what Sh.Z stands for, Vikenty smiles kindly and answers:
“How do you mean? Does nothing come to mind? Or do you want me to explain this to you myself? It’s too easy when people are spoon-fed”.
Somewhat uncomfortable following this explanation, and after 5 seconds of silence, Vikenty expands on the meaning:
“We are at a crossroads, we are always at a fork in the road and there isn’t a single, sole meaning I can give to our name. The letters ‘Sh’ and ‘Z’ could stand for ‘School of Slander’ and carry the meaning of a school, of progress, of the growth of actors as a group within the theatre and its walls. But the letters ‘Sh’ and ‘Z’ could also stand for ‘schizo;’ in other words the destruction of personality, a split, arguments, losing the ground beneath your feet and another reality, namely schizophrenia”.
So there’s the explanation. In our eyes, the originality of the name does in no way detract from the project. Sh.Z came onto the scene in 2010 and their repertoire includes plays such as ‘Cinderella’ by Shvarts, ‘The Night before Christmas’ by Gogol, ‘On the Film Set’ by Vikenty Ekimov and ‘Notes of a Madman’ by Gogol. But the director is not planning to stop. They are still performing ‘Notes of a Madman,’ and there are other ideas that the director would like to try and realise.
The actors of the Underground Theatre do not ask questions such as ‘What if it doesn’t work out?’ or ‘Who are we doing this for?’ They simply get on with their work, passionately and honestly talking about their everyday lives, and gaining spectators and appreciation in return.
Sh.Z.’s actors do everything on their own: they identify their own ways of getting into character and of creating their characters on stage. Rehearsals occur 1-2 times a week, while at the same time people are working on scripts, selecting music and creating props and sets. Until the day of the show, everything is kept in strictest secrecy.
If you would like to help the troupe, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 8 (495) 629-51-17, or 8 (964) 725-02-72 (Vikenty).
Cinderella // Director: Vikenty Ekimov
A few words about the plays
Everything started during the academic 2007-08 with Svetlana Sysoev, a teacher of Russian language and literature. Under her leadership, two plays were put on: Cyrano de Bergerac (2007-08) and A Hero of our Time (2009-10). After the staging of A Hero of our Time, the students had the idea of starting their own theatre studio. We called it ‘School of Slander.’ ‘School’ because we are learning and ‘Slander’ because it is accompanied by many words, most of which are not very nice.
At the first meeting of ‘School of Slander’ we tried to agree on which play to stage – but we couldn’t come to a unanimous decision. We needed somebody who was going to point us in the right direction. Ulyana (an old friend of our Centre who was in charge of Foreign Cultures Club) introduced us to Ksenia, a superb drama teacher and a master of her craft. She corrected us sensitively, gave advice, invited us to shows by her students and laid down the foundations of ‘Cinderella.’ We had never gone on stage with such zeal and seriousness. Each rehearsal was a step forward for us. We grew.
The premiere of ‘Cinderella’ took place on 25th June. You walked on stage with an air of such importance, the curious eyes of students, teachers, guests and friends gazing at you. And then, holding yourself together with the support of your team, you started to act: full of fire, smiles, and faith. Applause filled the room. We didn’t fully understand what had happened. So many worries, emotions, joy. It was unforgettable! The rehearsals and the shows made us more confident. We learnt how to solve problems, how to work in a team and how to help one another. It is amazing when the creative process brings joy, smiles and new opportunities.
Polina Byoknya, actress of Sh.Z. Underground
The Night Before Christmas // directed by Vikenty Ekimov
On the 28th January, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church was transformed briefly into a theatre (please forgive us Father Simon!). In the hall by the entrance there was a theatrical poster, photographs of the actors on the walls, and, in the church hall, a real set. The theatre was full of spectators. Despite the freezing cold we had many visitors that night: friends, sponsors, volunteers, children from Moscow orphanages, and 40 children from orphanages in Ivanovo and Kostroma.
Everyone is watching the stage, spellbound at the magical music playing. Two sacks are moving around. A beautiful girl is dreaming about love. An indifferent guy, not noticing her, leaves the stage into the auditorium and the crowd. A clerk, having tried to exchange his wife, ends up in a sack. A drunken weaver and godfather sing ‘Moscow evenings.’ Behind everyone’s backs a nimble and agile devil and the grand witch Solokh are plotting intrigues. But in the end, of course, love conquers all.
Read more about the show here
On location // directed by Vikenty Yekimov
And so… before us we had a play within a play, the creative process depicted on the stage, and riddled with classic film quotations. It was an attempt to tread the fine line between comedy, self-parody and simple chaos. A bold and fresh attempt – the sort of thing only a new creative team, who reject professional “grown-up” art, could come up with. Drama and theatre historians warned us: “it’ll never work, don’t try to be too clever and go for the provocatively post-modern.” But we told them: “maybe you’re right, but we want to do things our way. The only thing we want is you to keep out of it.” Soon enough the moment came for us to present our theatre studio to the world. No amount of theory can justify our methods and our idea – the only thing that matters is the audience. How would they like it?
See the article about the play for more… more…
The Government Inspector // directed by Svetlana Sysoeva
The premiere of the Government Inspector was on 12th June 2012. A Step Up group, under the guidance of literature teacher Svetlana Sysoeva, showed off the culmination of a huge amount of patience, perseverance, trust – and long rehearsals. The first thing that entered my mind when watching it was: how on earth did the students learn such reams of text? The task was not easy. They needed not only to remember their lines, but to connect properly with their characters and perform artfully, even professionally. The play was made up of many scenes and included the majority of Nikolai Gogol’s original text. Several actors had to play multiple parts so that all the characters could be included.
The students were helped in realizing their roles by careful casting and well-chosen period costumes, which all but forced the actors to speak and act correspondingly.
I would like to thank Svetlana for her hard work and patience. It was, of course, her responsible approach, effort, patience and determination that allowed our actors to put on such a wonderful production.
Diary of a Madman // directed by Vikenty Yekimov
A pitiable man, whom no one ever sees or hears; a pitiable man, who dreams of standing up, of achieving something, of love; a pitiable man sitting alone greedily sniffing at the handkerchief his beloved has left behind – the only thing he dare rely on – repeating to himself, even in his dreams, “Oh dear, doesn’t matter…. silence….” Indeed, all he can do is dream as he can’t change anything. Society is oppressing, rejecting and ridiculing him. He exists, but does not live, within it. Society is driving him mad.
And when the pitiable man raises his head and asks himself the explosive question: “How come I’m a titular councillor…?” Society replies by diagnosing him with schizophrenia.
The pitiable, mutinous man is imprisoned within four walls, alone with his past and his madness.
Four walls, which are disappearing, and an imagination. An imagination that answers all questions. An imagination that allows him to be exactly what he wants to be, and that gives him a little taste of the life of which he dreams.
Varvara Glebova, Vikentiy Ekimov