The so-called industrial Luhansk region has never focused that much on the development of creative professions. Back in the 1990s, there were 42 massive industrial facilities in the region, employing hundreds of thousands of people. Despite the region’s maximum focus on heavy industry, it is clear that some of its inhabitants did not see themselves as miners or millers and “paved their way” in palaces of culture, museums, or theatres.

Actually, the least amount of theatres was in Luhansk region: by 2014 there were only eight of them. In addition, the vast majority are on the territories that are currently out of Ukraine’s control. Today Luhansk region has only two theatres. The first is the resettlement theatre Luhansk Regional Academic Ukrainian Music and Drama Theatre. It moved to Severodonetsk having a fairly large staff and a wide repertoire.

We tell in more detail about the second one called Art&Hart Theatre Workshop. It also moved from Luhansk to Severodonetsk. Art&Gart is often called “Schmal’s Theatre” because of the founder and sole director of all the performances, Oleksandr Schmal.

Alexander Shmal at the play Fantasies of Euthanasia
Oleksandr Shmal at the play Fantasies of Euthanasia

Oleksandr names his performances “Theatre of Objective Art”, contrasting them with traditional performances in academic theatres, where spectators sit still and watch the stage. Schmal pulls his audience out of the comfort zone, minimizing the distance between the actors and the audience. As a result, the performance can turn into an emotional shock, although this effect is what the director truly seeks to achieve.

“In a traditional theatre, there is a rumble of passions on the stage, and at this time the spectator can unfold the caramel candy with its paper’s rustle. In the theatre of objective art, in return, there are no scripted passions and emotions are forbidden on the stage, but the spectator is nailed to the wall, and not only during the action. As a side effect, such a play is not going out of one’s head for two years. The viewer receives a kind of emotional exposure, regardless of whether he wants it or not. He came here by accident, walking down the street, saw the poster, and decided to give the play a look. In an hour and a half, instead of three and a half, as it is arranged in all the ordinary theatres, the viewer goes out and does not remember his name, where he is coming from or how to get home. According to statistics, at this moment he is most attracted to having sex or getting drunk after it, but neither will save him. The next morning, the viewer, waking up, realizes that yesterday he got under such a tram, to get out from which will take him a long time,”- assures the director.

Photo from the play Fantasies of Euthanasia
Photo from the play Fantasies of Euthanasia

Art&Gart does not have its own physical space and fixed funding.  Oleksandr’s attitude to the Theatre Workshop, emerged as an alternative to the classical and traditional theatres of Luhansk region, was quite critical, although from 1993 to 1997 he was the director and chief director of the Severodonetsk State Drama Theater. Due to a conflict with the city administration, Schmal resigned as director and has not wanted to cooperate with local authorities anymore.

During 43 years of work in the theatre, he created 13 theatre projects, including the Art&Gart Theatre Workshop, which began operating in 2004, but ceased its activity in 2013 due to the difficult political situation in the country. In 2015, Oleksandr was forced to move to Severodonetsk, where he revived the theatre. To do this, the director sold his own apartment.

Such a radical gesture was prompted by the lack of funds for the work of the theatre. The team won a grant from the United Nations Development Program, and even the donor’s financial support could not cover all the costs, so Oleksandr decided to sell his flat. These funds were only enough for 2 years, and since 2017 the theatre has no physical space and funding.

Despite all the difficulties, the theatre is still alive thanks to the enthusiasm and optimism of a small team of actors, who are bound together by a love towards art and faith in the director. Schmal is very respectful of Art&Garth actors, even saying that he has never met such unique people in his entire career as a director.

“Pavlo Alyoshin is an actor so unique and incomparable with anyone at all, what he creates is a miracle… In truth, he is now a citizen of Russia, but he is waiting for his return to the theatre as soon as the war is over. Zakhar Benkfell fell from heaven out of the blue. He is a famous KVN man from Severodonetsk, a DJ, a completely unique person. I didn’t particularly approach him, because I determined that Zakhar was already a star in a completely different genre. The next person is Tatiana Marusina, a graduate of my acting course. And there is our choreographer Olena Serdyuk, also my graduate,” confirms Oleksandr.

 

Now the Art&Gart director lives outside the city in the country house, which he was able to buy just recently. He leads a stable and quiet farm life, growing potatoes and tomatoes. At the same time, he writes memoirs, although, according to him, most of the text is about the theatre workshop, not about him.

However, the moving does not mean that everything is over with the theatre. On the contrary, Oleksandr wants to open a theatre community on the territory of his house.

During the quarantine, the theatre did not hold rehearsals or performances, but soon enough it will show the play Fantasies of Euthanasia at the festival TerraFox 2.0. Oleksandr directed it, and he plays one of the roles there.

Fantasies of Euthanasia
Fantasies of Euthanasia