Assays in Non-adaptive Theatre
19 August 2019
Photo by Olympia Orlova

The Stanislavsky Electrotheatre will host showings in the Assays in Non-adaptive Theatre project that will run from September 10 to October 6, 2019. Over the course of nearly a month, graduates of the Studio of Individual Directing-5 will present their directorial works. Boris Yukhananov describes his understanding of non-adaptive theatre.

Boris Yukhananov:

What do I call non-adaptive theatre?

This concept involves my reflection on a theatre of limits. There is theatre-as-product, and there is some other form. I am interested in theatre-as-product, and the other type of theatre.

We often see on stage the so-called “theatron-spectator.”[1] In different guises. There is the "I can hear – I can't hear" type, or the "I can see – I can't see" type, or “I understand – I don't understand." These are fundamental, simple things. “It’s boring – it's not boring,” or “I'm willing to exert the energy to understand” – I'm not willing to exert the energy to understand,” and so on. The spectator is formed on the basis of these notions. That is, if spectators show up, that does not mean you are creating a product. It means that you have built a theatre. I suspect you have not yet built a theatre if there are no spectators. What I'm talking about comes into being when, in the territory where you are building a theatre, you simultaneously remove the adaptive mechanisms (that is, you remove the spectators from the stage for a moment, but you leave them in the theatre).

One person is accustomed to living, working and being creative loudly. Another may do it quietly. The theatre asks this person to speak louder, perform more clearly, do things differently. Or, on the contrary, I don’t need any feelings here, speak calmly. These are all signs of a style, for example, the director's style. But, one way or another, it is an artificial introduction into a person's natural peculiarities, that is, that special work with the qualities that occur on the stage.

This is a paradox involving the artificial and the natural. There are natural stages in the artificial, then there is the natural-artificial, then the artificial-artificial stage. These stages lead us to infinity.

But what if work takes place within limits? Not in the sense of limitation, but in the sense of the striving to be yourself. A tree strives to be itself both when it is straggly and when it is a mature baobab. A child strives to be itself every second of its existence. This occurs in the natural universe. From the point of view of talking about limits, everything happens the same way in the universe of the artificial.

The participants of this program occupy different stages and statuses with their works. First of all, naturally, they are not interested in spectators, but in the realization of ideas, of their own creative impulses, they are busy working on themselves. Although their maturation does not exclude everything else, it still dominates. We might call this learning or something else. Maybe there's no need to call it anything, but simply state that an individual, an artist and their work is being formed.

The paradox is that if you take, for example, an underground theatre, it is passionate about

itself, its own coming-into-being. At the same time, the true underground exists within a social environment. Thus it is not just passionate about itself, but asserts its enthusiasm before the social environment, it is engaged in a socio-cultural manifestation. It contemplates it, while preserving and knowing what is natural, what is artificial, and at the same time comes to the market, for the market is closer to contemporary art than to theatre. As such, today there can be no purely underground theatre.

Contemporary art is on the market a priori. The greatest contemporary artists withdraw from the market consciously – this is a sign of success or despair, for contemporary art is the market. This is neither bad nor good, it is just a given. I may see a theatre putting itself forth on the market as underground, calling itself or trying to be a theatre that is independent, or dirty, or joyous, or something else, but I have no interest in placing myself on the market in this way. This does not mean I am not fascinated by the market or by product. It just seems to me that putting oneself on the outer limits this way lags behind the market.

The participants of this program, graduates of the Studio of Individual Directing, are trees, fascinated by their own growth. Trees aren't all alike. The theatre of coming-into-being, the theatre of extremes, the non-adaptive theatre – arises in the tension of limits. Our program is connected with the experience of establishing such a theatrical universe.

What happens to the “theatron-spectator”? I don't know. If I am not in the market, I do not simulate them. I can't say this is not interesting to me, but I can't say it is an important factor for me either. Spectators are very talkative today, they are ready to teach everyone in the world how to live. Except themselves. Let them teach. By way of the means, which not for nothing, is called gadgets.

Theatre becomes a theatre of coming-into-being only when the reality of the process is fascinated with itself – though not in the name of manifestos such as “art is useless and should be aesthetic rather than social.” Only that type of theatre is capable of this difficult progression. Coming-into-being cannot be a manifesto. Neither social, ethical, aesthetic, or any other kind. But on the journey of this kind of process, an artist may sometimes feel great pain, or feel very strange, or may have a very difficult time.

One can distinguish theatre's many planes only when it is coming-into-being. On the market there already are a variety of brands, offers, and products. Thus, the market makes no statement about theatre, but rather about society, the audience, the consumer, the theatron. Moreover theatre cannot make any statement about theatre today because it is intrinsically and almost totally immersed in the market. That is, one way or another, it finds itself in a system of relations with the audience not in the form of a product, but in some other way. The only place where theatre can survive itself and exist in the form of coming-into-being is a place of learning, a school.

Just as there are different species of animals, there are also different types of human talents. One cannot silence one’s own nature. However, an individual's artistic nature naturally strives for its fullest expression.

By nature a miracle is a special kind of power, but the manifestation of a miracle is very fragile. Such is the character of our program. When I watch the students' directorial works during sessions of the Studio of Individual Directing, I naturally try to say something about them, although my words are not evaluative. I try to distinguish the degree of their identity in relation to themselves. My responses may be of different qualities and characters – I speak in a way that is natural to me. But I also encourage students to be themselves – and to respond to me – I am not the authority, I am not the director of the House of Culture, I am not the manager at the checkpoint. I am part of their group, or they are part of mine. This is the method, if you can call anything here a method. Here I say "market" in the sense of "the artist's destiny,” it can only be distinguished on the market. I do not speak of the market in the context of our “Assays in Non-adaptive Theatre” project. It is represented here only by its absence. But it's not easy to create the presence of the market or spectators, or consumers in the context of absence. This is the mutual function that we participants of the program fulfill. Their works already exist within their own limits.

When an artist, director, or actor is engaged in an artistic endeavor, nothing can happen if this individual's soul or essential entity is split. Such are the properties of the artistic act. Propaganda will inflict injury on the artist – precisely because it forces one to bifurcate, and it decreases the energy of creativity. This energy is generated only where one learns, where things are very open. In our Studio no one engages in propaganda or ideology. I believe this absence is the very nature of the artistic root. If you are concerned with the market, you may go bankrupt. But that can't happen on the artistic journey. Keep the ego in check, do not show off. All of us artists, in general, are the same. It's true. I've been watching TV serials, and I feel wonderful. Who thinks about themselves like that? A person of business thinks that to themself. And the artist thinks: “What have I become?” And so on. No big deal. This is neither bad nor good. At this moment you must understand that you are a tree. Certain processes take place in you all the same, don't ridicule yourself. This is life within limits. You are a tree, the processes are ongoing.

The artist in our understanding is a tree. It grows in extreme circumstances, it is a question of manifestation. But a director in many ways is the one who gives these trees opportunities (I continue to employ my clumsy imagery) to manifest themselves. The director cedes his place to them. He is like a woodsman. A gardener, if you like. This is the origin of the idea of the garden. Not in the standards of myth. The idea of the garden is to distinguish the nature of artistic processes. Even in the Aristotelian sense – the nature of life processes.

What if we imagine for a second that there are spectators in the world who are interested in the process of coming-into-being, art as something coming-into-being? Just as a child – who does not yet know what a good or bad product is, and who does not yet take part in the wars of criteria. Then, coming to this forest or garden, or to this orchard, or this desert, a person may encounter something that they need which art-as-such, not the market, can provide.

In reality, it is impossible to distinguish the theatre of coming-into-being from the market, and it is impossible to prevent it from entering the market. It is already on the market. We are already there, in the system of relations among products, because this is culture. We cannot get rid of it. However, having accepted the fact that we are already in the market, we must separate – and this is a paradox – theatre from the market, and for this we require training in the skill of discernment. The constant property of the “Assays in Non-adaptive Theatre” project is that it takes place in the state of coming-into-being.


[1] Often when creating a performance during rehearsals, the director and actors take the spectators and their “virtual” requirements into account (such as "I can hear / not hear," or "I can see / not see," while the more subtle ones might say, "it's clear / it's not clear," "it's boring / it's not boring"). One way or the other, the theatre is aware of the spectators and their expectations. In this project all thoughts that an audience might have about what theatre must be are removed from the equation. As such, spectators are metaphorically “removed from the stage,” to which they “came” with their demands. The “virtual” spectator is simulated in theatre and, for example, on television - spectators must be entertained, they must be able “to hear, to see, and to be comfortable.” The task of simulating spectators and in this sense, “bringing them to the stage,” is adaptive work. In this program, we leave spectators alone, they are not considered during the creation of the performance. This is what is called the “theatron-spectator,” the spectator of non-adaptive theatre.