March 9 through 11 marks the 2nd annual New Russian Drama Festival (NRDFest) at the Off Center. Hosted by The Breaking String Theater with support from the Center for International Theater Development and Austin’s own FuseBox Festival, the NRDFest will feature visits by Russian theater dignitaries, discussions about the current cultural and political landscape in Russia, staged readings of new works by Russian playwrights and the U.S. premiere of Maksym Kurochkin play The Schooling of Bento Bonchev.
So what is so hot about Russia right now? You may have noticed Russia in the news. Russians are rising up in protest against the corruption of Putin’s administration. There is widespread outcry against election fraud and demands for change, even as Russian leadership step onto the global stage to support the brutal crackdown on protests in Syria.
The changes in the social and political landscape are not limited to protests in the streets. There is also a cultural revolution going on in Russia, and the theater-makers of Russia are taking a major role in this new glasnost. The current force of theater in Russia had its beginning at the turn of the century, and it is this vanguard of Russian drama in the 21st century that this festival celebrates.
New Russian drama is the name taken by a group of playwrights who rose to international prominence as the first generation of theater artists to come of age in post-Soviet Russia. Graham Schmidt, the artistic director of the Breaking String Theater, has been fascinated with Russia, and the story of its theater tradition, for over a decade.
“Russia has had a worldwide influence on art and politics in the 20th century. . . ” Schmidt says, “No other country looms as large in the American imagination as Russia does, whether in politics, art, theater, you name it. “
Schmidt is excited to be building this connection between the theater-makers of this New Russian movement and the exploding theater scene here in Austin.
“Here in Austin, we have a highly educated population, an adventurous and engaged theater community, and people want to be connected with art and politics in places as far away as Moscow. The festival allows us to connect Moscow with Austin in an authentic and rich way, wrapping the American premieres of these new Russian plays in context and introducing Austinites to some of Russia's most important and celebrated playwrights.”
A highlight of the festival is the U.S. Premiere of The Schooling of Bento Bonchev by Maksym Kurochkin, who will be in Austin for the festival along with his translator. Schmidt, who is directing this production, was attracted to Kurochkin’s work because “his plays are at once challenging and accessible. He's extremely erudite and works in elements from ancient antiquity into his plays, mixing them playfully with scenes and settings from the modern world. It's a postmodern approach, and within that erudition there's a sense of play, joy, a subversive quality.”
John Freedman — writer, translator, critic, scholar of Russian drama and theater — translated Kurochkin’s work. "Max's work has always attracted me with its intelligence and its inventiveness” Freedman says, “He may be the only writer I know of who at least comes close to working in a new genre each time he writes a play.”
This play, written as a series of ‘flashes’ performed by a cast of ‘organisms,’ Freedman claims, “explores the very nature of sexual and romantic relations in the modern world. Romance is lost!” He says, “All that's left is sex, both acrobatic and violent. [Kurochkin’s] play is a response to that.”
The festival will officially begin at the opening of The Schooling of Bento Bonchev on Friday March 9. Discussions and staged reading will continue through the weekend, and all festival events will be free and open to the public.
Tickets to the performances of The Schooling of Bento Bonchev are on a sliding scale and the show will perform Thursdays – Sundays starting on March 9th and closing March 31st.