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You can hide in a professional theatre but here you can’t

The inclusive theatre lab ‘Literal Action’, supported by the programme ‘New Civil  Initiatives’ of the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan, launches a crowdfund campaign on the Kazakhstani platform Start-Time.kz. Thus, the project is aimed at raising extra funding for development; and most importantly – to be able to put on an inclusive play. We talked to the lab actors about what transformation they have been through for the last months, and why it is essential.

Project coordinator, actress Yelena Vovnova says that the inclusive theatre has a lot of prospects: the play will be welcomed at many international festivals:

‘We have lots of plans. Now we are searching for sponsors, partners, patrons, friends to raise funds and let the play happen – which we are going to present in 2019. For this purpose, we set up the crowdfund project on the Kazakhstani platform Start-time. We will ask Kazakhstanis not only to participate but also contribute to our project. We thereby would like to tell the public about the inclusive theatre lab ‘Literal Action’. We are appealing for help so as to enable the project exist, develop, and to have funds to put on the play. Actually, there is plenty of prospects like a variety of festivals, which will be glad to host us, including international festivals as well, presenting inclusion projects along with common plays. By the rules of crowdfunding, for every contribution you get a souvenir, for branded items – a special reward.’

Despite the completion of the training stage with guest tutors, the lab continues its studies, actors still meet in class once a week. Classes finish by noon, guys pack things, parents have come to pick somebody up, somebody is waiting for a regular taxi. Almaz and Bota are waiting for the car to take them to the “Ruh” Foundation. They like spending time at the theatre, they love singing and dancing:

‘I like to spend time at the theatre very much. I can sing, I sing various songs. I know waltz,’ says Almaz.

‘How about dancing?’ we are interested.

‘I dance, and how! We dance and sing too,’ he adds with pride, ‘We study at the theatre, then we have a break, after that I take medicines, later, we study again. The regular taxi will pick us up soon to go to the centre. We will have lunch, dance, play volleyball and go home. Personally, I adore volleyball and maybe football too.’

‘I love the theatre. We have friends here, we communicate. Friends support us. We rehearse moves at the theatre… I also love singing; I have a favourite song which is sung by Zarina Umarova,’ shares her impressions Bota.

About work at the inclusive theatre

The bus has come to pick up the guys; another part of the inclusive theatre stays in the ‘Transforma’ space.

‘Creating an appropriate environment is one of the most important activities which people should be engaged in. For instance, we do not see people with special needs in the streets of our city at all. We have no conditions for wheelchair users – what we have is very little; they are just starting to pay attention to this. People with developmental disabilities live in isolation; they communicate only with each other. Our guys, for example, see only each other at the foundation. Why? It is as if you separate people who like green colour and make them socialize only with one another in a closed space.
This is not right. One of the very important tasks that we are working on is to create a favourable environment, where everything is equal and normal, where people in spite of their character, their preferences and peculiarities, can get together and do the thing that unites them,’ says actress and tutor of the lab Katerina Dzvonik.

‘In society, they call them ‘people with limitations’, which is wrong. We say ‘people with peculiarities’, which is also wrong since all people have their own peculiarities.’

Responding to the question what preparation is needed to work in the inclusive theatre, the actress says that it is impossible to get ready for work in the inclusive theatre like for any other kind of work implying human contact:

‘All we can do is to rebuild a rapport with everybody in every class. It does not mean we establish a rapport only with individuals with peculiarities. It is the same within a team: we are all different in the group, they are people with totally different creative jobs. We have got photographers, artists, directors, and choreographers. And even in a seemingly homogeneous cast there are people from different schools, occurring on its own in a common theatre, causes big scandals (laughs). We adapt to each other again every time.’

‘As a professional actress with 20-years’ experience, I can say that to come to the inclusive theatre, you have to be fed up with the contemporary theatre, the theatre with set patterns, pseudoplay, pseudoemotions, pseudofeelings,’ adds actress Yelena Taimatova. ‘When you have too much of it in your life, you start to look for something genuine, something animated, something real. The inclusive theatre gives this genuine, animated, real sense. It’s an incredible experience for the actor. I think all the people who are here are searching for this because they live this way; and it is impossible to exist differently, you cannot fake it with them. When the actor is playing something on the stage, he loses. Unfortunately, it is like this. That is why the actor who got fed up with the representational theatre comes here.’

‘It is the same process as any other process in any sphere: acting, creative, non-acting. You look for new interconnections within yourself and new interconnections, opportunities of contact with the outside world and surrounding people… In the first meeting, a person does not open up fully even if he is an extrovert; he won’t let you get so much closer. There is a line you can’t cross in the first meeting. Is is the same here, and this line is pushed away, so we, as actors, get to know each other better: we feel the guys better – and so do they. Speaking of this as a single organism, I think it is becoming more harmonious,’ photographer and artist Irina Dmitrovskaya tells about her experience in the inclusive theatre.

‘When you realize that in the world, there has been done a lot in this area – in the area of inclusion; and when you realize that with the group of amazing guys, we are taking initial steps, it is surely difficult. It is difficult in all senses: organizational, financial. I get the same feeling, if, for example, I am thrilled about something personal. Of course, there’s lots of fears and responsibility, however, this gives us a stimulus – we are determined to reach the aims. We not only develop the process but we also have a goal – the play that we hope to put on in 2019, and invite an audience,’ explains Yelena Vovnova.

About motivation of the audience

‘An audience might have different types of motivation: somebody comes out of curiosity, somebody out of fear – how can you do it with such people. People are sometimes afraid to give their hand to a person with Down syndrome, being afraid of catching it,’ says Yelena Vovnova.

‘It would be good if people visit us like any other theatre, not being cautious that it is an inclusive theatre as if they visit the Lermontov or Auezov theatre. Here they can get more impressions as the Kazakhstani theatre is built on an idea, but here there is no plot, there is no idea. So far. Our three-four performances that we’ve already had were not connected by any idea. They were connected by very sensual things, from which people get some emotional outburst. Probably they don’t get it in a professional theatre where they watch a play with mind,’ adds Yelena Taimatova.

‘There are such things which you can articulate in a professional sense. For example, organic existence. People who watch a play, no matter what background, education and needs they have, they catch these subtle things: the truth and untruth of existence. We have no initial pattern which exists in a professional theatre – a final script. Who knows we might have it one day but don’t have it for the time being. Behind the script, all other patterns hide, actors themselves hide behind the script. We haven’t got it. We expose the inside of the process, which is why we don’t play either Shakespeare or Chekhov. We exist here and now. I haven’t got a script, but I’ve got my body, some sound production, there is the most precious one – contact. It is a difference between looking and seeing, listening and hearing. The dramatic composition itself is based on another layer – on the contact layer,’ goes on Vovnova.

‘It all happens on instinct,’ says Dzvonik. ‘When the audience is watching, they perceive everything: the text, movement. If it corresponds to the audience’s idea of the truth, the audience gets emotionally involved. The process itself produces the dramatic art. Going onto the platform, you don’t know what will happen the next second. This is how ideally should be in a professional theatre as well.’

About how the actors change

‘The very important technical matter we are working on is demonstration of your will. Everybody started to have this issue: both professional and amateur actors in their theatre education, have such an executive function – they do what they are said; they stand where they are put. In this regard, we work a lot to avoid it: if I want to do something, I do it. It relates to everybody,’ explains Dzvonik.

‘This relates especially to our guys because they are protected too much, they are overprotected,’ Yelena Vovnova gathers up the thread of the story. ‘Here they find themselves on their own. They have to take a decision – whether to go onto the platform, or leave it; whether to do this exercise or not. This influences their life as a whole. While talking to their parents, we find out that they bring this independence home. Masha, for example, tells her Mum herself ‘Mum, don’t pack my theatre bag, I know myself what sneakers to put in it.’ In other words, they bring home the independence needed for the creative process.’

Alina Abilkalam actress of the “Asabalar” and “Teatr Sosedei” theatres talks about how the theatre changes the guys:

‘The guys start to look after us, take care of, protect, help and show us where to go and what to do. In life, everybody cares for them, but here they have an opportunity to be in this role. I think, this is an invaluable experience. In our theatre we don’t have such a thing when some actors tell what to do and the others do it. Our roles always change, the man happens to learn to take other roles which he was just not given before. Not because he can’t take care of others and help, but because they didn’t let him.’

Certainly, these changes happened not only to the guys with mental disabilities. For instance, programmer and director of the theatre “Asabalar” Artur Aslanyan tells about how he has learnt to feel the emotional state of other people:

‘After our classes, I started to take most things easy. So as a director, I did work as if we were storming the Maginot line blitzkrieg. And now I see that you can ‘storm the Maginot line’ not after five minutes but later, having had tea first. I see when people are tired, when it’s time to switch to something else. Also, I’ve understood that everyone has their own processes and you have to maneuvre among them.’

‘In fact, we go to the society, and after classes here, you become softer, calmer. I drive, and sometimes I am driving on the road and swearing, and then I think I work at the inclusive theatre, I calmly accept a person who completely breaks all the rules, which I set out here. So why can’t I accept a person who is driving on the same road? At this point, all the borders on any grounds disappear. You learn to accept a person as he is. First and foremost, this makes your life comfortable,’ concludes Yelena Taimatova.


Note: the theatre troupe of the lab ‘Literal Action’ consists of 24 people. 12 people are the theatre actors and 12 – individuals with Down syndrome и autism spectre disorder from the “DOM”, “ARDI”, “RUH”, “KUN BALA” Foundations. The minimum age of the participants – 23 y.o.


In June, the troupe finishes the season on 21 June with the performance in the space “Transforma”.