Octavia. A Rehearsal Diary
Boris Yukhananov | 4 June 1989

Boris Yukhananov

A Rehearsal Diary


Lucius Annaeus Seneca

 Octavia. A Tragedy in 3 Acts.

An experiment in the new imperial style in 29 episodes.

A production created by the efforts of the workshops and faculties

of the Moscow Free Lyceum.



4 June 1989





Excerpts from Lev Trotsky's essay “V. I. Lenin,”

published in Ogonyok magazine No. 17 (1989)

are incorporated into the text.


An early Christian-era plot. Joseph and Moses can be seen in Nero, as in Christ. Joseph the Savior, who remained in Egypt and accepted pleasure as a way of life. A hedonistic plot. As with all of post-Platonic literature, Seneca’s tragedy is structured on the notion of love, the myth of androgyny. Moses the Savior, who led his people from Egypt. Cruelty and inflexibility. Moses is established in the image of the Tablets of the Covenant. To bring a new generation to the promised land, strewing the earth with bones. Opposition to the theme: Would I choose Moses, so as to die later in the desert? No, I would rather remain with my pleasures in Egypt. Perestroika undoubtedly chooses the logic of Moses, as has been done so many times in the past in this country.


Farewell to the postmodern. The postmodern, in its terminal tension, gives rise to a new imperial style.

An interlude overwhelms the stage. Thematic allocation - when tissue devours tissue. The play of an imperial era emerges as a play of its own demise.

Nero chooses fire to convey to everyone the idea of love that he professes. The construction of the play may be described as such: the city is destroyed by fire, is rebuilt again, and at that moment when it is once again rebuilt, it is again destroyed by fire.

The space of tragedy is the realm of tragic absurdity, the bringing together of the incompatible. Two oppositional logicians Moses and Joseph permeate the whole space of analysis, creating that gap in which the present must fit. Our goal is to bring the impending massacre to the stage and to empower it with real magical action.

If early Christian texts were not known in the times of Seneca, then history undoubtedly manifested the powers of intuition at the time of the birth of Christian civilization, and manifests it again even now as the Apocalypse and third millennium draw near.

There comes another, also imperial, consciousness, but it is already disintegrating. I am doomed to replace the myth at that very instant when I accept a catastrophic consciousness.

The space of fate. Seneca imbeds himself as a character in the text of the tragedy. Although the words of the play itself are his, the play and he himself belong to fate. This play by genre can hardly be called journalistic.

The idea of the constructor. The introduction of interludes into the Roman theater revives the original Greek idea.

The hopelessness of the space of tragedy everything that happens has already happened, while what will be and what can happen have also already happened. Therefore, in regards to the ship, the image of which appears in the beginning: in the end it is reported that it has just begun its voyage.

After the fire Nero is banished from Rome and ends his life on the periphery of the empire (where the Christian plot now begins to develop), having been transformed into the ghost of a tramp. Agrippina in her monologue declines revenge, for Nero shall be avenged in a world where fate exists. Describing in her monologue the entire range of transformations of the spirit, Agrippina removes herself from the stage. This is how Hamlet’s "To Be or Not To Be" monologue is constructed also.

On the notion of fate. When loved by the gods a person is given piety. But the Fates, weaving the thread of destiny, are located above the space of the gods. At times they must stretch their spirit so that, despite their harmonious balance, their thread shall be broken. 

The dialogue of Seneca and Nero. Unlike that of the Nurse–Octavia pair, this dialogue is structured as the collision of two aphoristic systems. Each aphoristic phrase contains the extreme tension of opposing forces.

It begins as Nero reassigns the gods. The escaping of karma leads to a change in mythology. You must burn an empire in order to own it. It’s the model of the Bickford safety fuse.

Introduction of the notions of “Caesar” and “destruction.”

The notions of “Caesar” and “father of the fatherland” collide. 

 Seneca: Nero confuses gods and passions.

The concept of “doing” – the world is what I call it.

“The more you are capable of, the more you fear.” A post-Nietzschean consciousness prior to Nietzsche.

Nero’s self-humiliation – he dares not do what he should because of the humanistic ideals Seneca had instilled in him.

Complication by physical connection.

Saying the opposite Seneca ultimately moves Nero to act.

Chorus death in first person. The people have already committed suicide. This chorus will move on the palace. The evolution of revolution and the logic of its origin.

Seneca joins the chorus. Everyone joins the chorus and leaves it. From the kitchen to the street. The choir is ahead of history. Seneca is ahead of the chorus. Swell of events: she becomes a corpse before becoming a wife. The whole thing rolls like a snowball of fire. Acceleration. The history of developed Rome was written at the time of his death. The empire is never ahead, but always behind and ahead at the same time.

How to do without destroying.

Two zones: a zone of people who sense catastrophe and a zone of people involved in catastrophe.

Leaving the territory of humanism. Power before the territory of humanism; Nero must break with Seneca. Motivated absolutely – Rome must be burned to save the empire.

Seneca’s monologue is attached not to Nero but to the Chorus.

The play develops like a bonfire.

The nature of play-performance contradicts the empire.

Everything happens openly for all. There are no back streets in the empire. What occurs in Octavia’s bedroom is heard immediately by the chorus. The relay of the torch. Octavia tries to speak to fire ("I, the suffering sister, shall sail away"). Everyone participates in a single, unified movement, but the chorus appears the instant that Octavia tries to stop even for a second the wedding has already taken place and Rome has already been burned.

The story of Nero’s murder of his mother emerges (by way of the chorus) as one of those moments that establishes an age. The presence of an age.

Accepting a rite as the living thing.

Nero: doing violence to others gives me power.

Seneca: doing violence to yourself gives freedom to society.

Suicide is what happens when a change of ideas occurs.

Seneca accelerates the pace of things.

Interludes of the story line and interludes in resistance to the story line. 

There is, in the first chorus, a mechanism for the formation of mutiny and a story with the mother the story of feeding rebellion. A son kills his mother - the mutiny feeds on the details. The mutiny itself becomes what it feeds on. The metaphor of killing a mother is a detail of the mutiny. The sword, soaked in the blood of the mother's vagina, is Rome, the key to the empire.

A refrain of “if only but if only” arises among the chorus in the finale of the Octavia-Nurse scene.

Poppaea-the-Nurse is a mirror image of the Octavia-Nurse tandem.

Equalize everyone by running everyone through everything (all roles and all interludes). The concepts of “each” and “all.” A conflagration that touches everyone. In this sense, it gives us all opportunities, as does an earthquake. Post-imperial humor. Octavia begins at this point.

Octavia is doomed to participate in a story she not only never wanted to participate in, but in which she has never before been involved. She appeals to a mother who was never a mother to her. Octavia, in this sense, is the image of the crowd, her generation. Octavia accepts the crowd to the same degree as Nero. We are bound up in the tales of our fathers and mothers and our Homeland; although we never participated in its life, we participate in its death. Here is a theme. If we think of fate as a hand raised over an ant, then we are those who have gone out into a meadow which is already being approached from below by an earthquake. We can save ourselves from catastrophe; if we understand the entire stream of rehearsals as a journey then we must live through the entire catastrophe.

Employing and attacking hard a lofty topic that brings us social validity, how do we achieve that swing between affirmation and denial, that ephemeral quality that is a sign of real art?

We come from empire, but we acquire it too. Thus is the structure of Dante, who doles out hell with the purpose of achieving heaven. True hell remains in commentaries about culture while heaven remains in the work itself.

Nero is jealous of Sulla’s and Plautus’ relationship with the people. His love extends to the people. He brought the ideas of Seneca to fruition in action. His reason for trampling on sociality and Roman law is profoundly sensual.


Nero’s Monologue

 “Houses shall fall, engulfed in leaping flames” – that is, flames are interconnected with his nerves. Zeus.

“Мy warriors come forth sо slowly” – that is, in comparison to the speed of his thought process. Speed up the doing of deeds. An emperor’s thoughts are the equivalents of action – symmetry.

Fire engulfs objects in various ways, but the result is the same: ashes.

To exchange “eternal fear” for fate.



No fate is more hidden than a fate that is hidden. It is a matter of a personal relationship with fate.


On the Interludes with Trotsky

The scene at table – a cooling arena. An anti-world from sotsart [socialist art]. The ascension of Nikita [Mikhailovsky as Lenin] is the genesis of a style. Further, figures are acquired beyond the horizontal - a classic mise-en-scene. Related to Meyerhold’s “horizontal” or is a little hint enough?




Octavia leaves, essentially implementing the theme of emigration which is picked up by the chorus. Octavia leaves, imploring Rome not to mourn for her, otherwise she will become a source of misfortune. Her phrase, “Take me to my death!” relates to the future when she will be in self-inflicted exile.

Two places of action: a palace in Rome. If at first she appeals to Rome from the palace, later it is from Rome to the palace, and later still she escapes both. She does not depart harboring hope, but hopelessness. She weeps and asks Rome to hold its tears. The mechanism of rebellion is provided with the lament. A structure not of silence but of tears.



Perspective turns to the choir itself.

There is no difference between the chorus and play-performance. Each concept and theme permeates everything, so the fact of distribution is necessarily annihilated.

The first chorus exists in a direct, linear fashion, the second - in reverse, from end to beginning. Fire meets object on the territory of the second chorus. The chorus begins as Nero takes down the gods. The God of love emerges as the god of destruction. The first chorus starts the fire, the second applies it to itself. The gesture of the chorus is the handing over of the relay torch in order to apply it to itself. We revel in suicide.



Tartarus must be assigned as a function. Prior to the moment of proclamation. Agrippina deprived of feelings – a shadow from Tartarus.


Seneca. Monologue

“Destiny almighty” gives rise to the possibility of play because Seneca is located in the territory of seduction; seduction is destiny/fate. Fear and the Fall. One could consider that they are in his territory, but the opposite is possible too.

“Rocky Corsica” is a world given to Seneca by nature, without a palace and without politics.  

Faust is an analogy. Nero takes on Faust. You pay in so far as you don’t change your stoic positions.

Cyclical composition.

The Golden Age and its destruction in three stages. Seneca is now in the final stage, but he already knows the cycle. A person possessing the tranquility of knowing the cycle must make a huge transformation when coming out into the world.

Seneca’s duality. Being merciful as a tactic. Don’t hurry the Apocalypse, you must slow it down. The only thing granted to a person gripped by fate is to not hurry fate, but rather to resist it; but if you possess power, then minimize the number of victims. The Apocalypse minimized.

There is also pride, the temptation to educate the emperor, to manipulate the emperor with the help of the community.

Nero is a pure option. A man crushed by the need to make a decision that contradicts his upbringing.

It is necessary to accept Nero's image now, in the present moment, and immediately to fall under the authority of that image and the concrete actions dictated by it.

The non-severing of heads is delayed.

Before this all spheres of thought are connected with Seneca. But now one must exchange oneself for an anti-self. To be enslaved to your future is a matter of tactics. The beginning of the deed - two heads of friends; the final is a wedding. And the finale must be done against the background of one’s previous self. To send your own self after yourself. Attacking one’s philosophy in the guise of another person, and thereby gaining the ability to commit certain acts. This is complicated by the fact that in the life of the plot you have no one to talk to even.

Both clearly understand this is a check of the model. The paradox is that it immediately leads to action. The concept of the unity of the word and the actions of the emperor.

An anti-psychodrama. The future is played out, not the past. The model gradually becomes reality. Running through the variations you become convinced you have no variations and you find you are in the territory of reality. Though he is free of deeds, he is not free on the level of the model of the Prefect. As such, rational logic constantly turns out to be a real deed. Nero abandons his logic and moves into the territory of one that opposes him. Seneca submits. Nero would like Seneca to win, but logic leads to defeat, and the Prefect goes off to execute his orders.

Impending history cannot be stopped by words.

You yourself are the empire. Furthermore, there is no accounting for the fact that you cannot remake yourself and the choice you must make has no power over your makeup. God is not over you, but inside of you. The logic of absolutism: freedom leads to a permanent cataclysm; it’s insane to wait or to lean on the law.

An idea: the need to replace blood – this is the idea of the evolution of revolution. Taking on all logic, you find yourself at a dead-end. The impasse proves to be a victory for Seneca.


Octavia’s Monologue

The duality of dreams: the "devastating torch" is a vulgar sociologism, and at the same time, "a sword in the belly."

“The hope for salvation” means to avoid situations that are posited by proverb-dreams.

Accepting catastrophic logic is a way of attacking it.



Fate is truly sensible for all: the living, the dead and ghosts. Even death cannot change what has happened. I remain a ghost, even having overcome the attraction of the kingdom of the dead. I take prophecy upon myself. This is what expels me from the realm of the dead, forcing me to do the improbable - to pass through the earthly firmament.

The mechanism of sorting out atrocities is revealed.

The paradox of history her love is her crime and she is doomed to this paradox.

He who prepares irreversibly shall turn against him who is prepared.

Analogy: Lenin luxuriates in Smolny and sees the ghost of the Empress Romanova telling a story about the shooting of children. The horror of execution is put back on him who executes. In anticipation of this horror, the Empress pities him like a mother. Logic in reverse.



Texts are scribbled on the floor during Seneca’s monologue.

“Better yet to do all that is worthy of us.” That is, virtue is in accordance with its nature. To be what you consider yourself to be. To go not where things lead, but where one should go.

August as the image not of a real leader, but as one created by opinion.  

Nero: if you follow the myth of August, you shall find yourself in the territory of defeat.

How must the world be structured in order to be preserved?

The idea of the world is as follows...

The idea of August is as follows...

The idea of love is as follows....

To hold the whole world in the fetters of ideas.

The main contradiction of the Roman consciousness lies between the structure of the world and the idea of it.


Daily work on Nero’s consciousness.

Conscious tyranny over Caesar’s brain.

Awareness of immutability and the need to restrain catastrophe.


Seneca in monologue is Greek; in dialogue he is Roman.

Nero is a boy playing with matches; all you can do is cast a spell on the fire.




On Octavia


...If we commence with a classical beginning, then we can blur this story.

Order audio-visual material about Rome. Steep it in Soviet reality. Roman music. [Lev] Losev’s texts from Ancient Aesthetics. Revise language based on Latin. Set up rehearsal hall in Roman empirical images.

The basic tactical principle is to build Rome – the times are such that they will demolish us on their own.

The Golden Ass and the baroque shepherdess. The finale - hope. From the wolf’s muzzle comes the naked body of the mother. Monologue. “I came out the abyss of Tartarus.”

...The finale of a film – paper burns, leaving behind the carcass of a she-wolf. The finale of a theatre production – turn the audience to the street. All kinds of possible actions.

The she-wolf and the city. A she-wolf over the city. A she-wolf in a canal. A she-wolf in the sea. A she-wolf’s journey through the underground.

When the paper burns away - rain.

Flowers bloom in the carcass.

...An act of sacrifice. Theatre sacrifices itself to performance. Play is a mystery.  

The principle of the structure of Octavia.  Turn the play into interludes, turn interludes into a play.