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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Municipal theaters in today’s Kyiv: a new dimension

13 February, 2007 - 00:00

How many theaters does a city need? And a capital? For instance, there are more than five hundred of them in Paris — of different forms of ownership, organization, artistic profiles and genres, of a different artistic level and geographic location. What about Kyiv? The theater situation in the capital of Ukraine was discussed at a City Hall briefing presided over by V. Zhuravsky, Deputy Mayor for Culture, and participated by S. Zorina, chief of the city’s General Directorate of Culture; her deputy V. Linovytska; V. Zabolotna, chief of the Civic Art Board; and B. Kuritsyn, chairman of the Advisory Board.

There are 22 municipal theaters and concert halls in Kyiv now, as well as three national theaters: the Opera, the Ivan Franko Ukrainian Drama, and the Lesia Ukrainka Russian Drama. Besides, there are several private theaters, non-residential troupes, limited liability companies, educational art centers, studios, etc. Yet, public opinion polls say that the multimillion city lacks at least ten full-fledged theatrical institutions, especially in “dormitory uptowns” each of which is as large as a medium-sized regional center. One is not exactly bursting to go downtown, where most theaters are concentrated, and then have to go home at night “to the back of beyond.” It is a proven fact that out of several thousand of juvenile delinquents, not a single one (!) has ever been to a theater and does not have a faintest idea of what it is. As a proverb says, he who does not build theaters will have to build prisons.


The Civic Art Board of the General Directorate of Culture (GDC) recently discussed requests of the municipal theaters to fund their new productions. Before this, a task force composed of independent leading theater researchers, managers and economists, who are not related to any art company, had analyzed the state of theaters in the capital. This analysis resulted in proposals which the Art Board took into account when drawing up recommendations.

The new criteria for the evaluation of a theater’s artistic achievements are as follows: a highly characteristic “face” and a public success that materializes in the number of productions and sold tickets and, accordingly, financial results.

In other words, if a theater plays to packed audiences and its productions receive rave reviews of professional critics, it means that the city and its residents need this production and this theater. If not, the question is whether it is worthwhile to further keep up the theater at taxpayers’ expense.

And the new GDC leadership proposed a new principle of funding municipal theaters: to support and encourage successful theaters that are popular among Kyivans rather than save those lagging behind. For it is a Soviet-style managerial principle to rescue the backward ones. This principle was still good in the years of persestroika and the first years of Ukrainian independence, when the number of theaters was quickly increased in the interests of society and it was not yet clear which of the newly-established companies will be artistically viable. More than 50 studio theaters emerged in Kyiv in the early 1990s, but only about ten of them have survived, although the city financed all of them.


Times have changed now. One must get used to other forms and ways of management based on the principle of competition. Competitiveness is the guarantee and the derivative of a theater’s artistic health. Whoever has achieved more artistic gains and is leading in an artistic “long-distance race” will finish first and receive a prize in the shape of additional funding. The one who fails to get “second wind” will, naturally, stand down.

The current situation looks cruel but fair and natural. We have all descended from Soviet socialism and got used to state gratuities, so we continue to beg. We lack initiative and drive, we are unable to shift in the new conditions. On the other hand, these conditions are quite unfavorable, unlawful, and suppressed by big-time capital. Still, one can find inner reserves in them, which the GDC financial comptroller N. Khrapilova knows only too well. She is prepared to consult theater managers on this matter.

Kyiv’s theaters can be roughly divided into groups, the most important of them being children’s and youth theaters and experimental companies. There are four of these entities funded on a top-priority basis: the Ukrainian Theater of Opera and Ballet for Children and Youth, the City and Ukrainian Puppet Theaters, the Ukrainian Theater of the Young Spectator on Lypky, and the Marionettes Theater. The Ukrainian Puppet Theater has opted for putting on shows for family audiences in the right opinion that a child is brought up, above all, in the family and all the rest, including the theater, should only actively help this process. The unique Marionettes Theater under the guidance of M. Yaremchuk has brought Ukraine worldwide fame. So it has been advised to turn this theater into an art studio.

The Vilna Stsena (“Free Stage”) experimental theater under the guidance of D. Bohomazov is searching for a new theatrical language and has to works in big barely furnished room on Oles Honchar St., while the permanent premises are still under construction in Troieshchyna.

Besides, the GDC has reserved funds to be paid to the young producer who will win a competition of production projects.


There is a group of steadily successful theaters, including the Ukrainian Theater of Drama and Comedy on the Dnipro’s Left Bank, the Ukrainian Young Theater, the artistically rejuvenated Operetta Theater, now going to celebrate the centenary of the establishment of M. Sadovsky’s stationary Ukrainian theater in its current premises (formerly, Trinity People’s House), the Theater in Podil, Koleso (“Wheel”), and Suzirya (“Constellation”).

There were theaters of ethnic minorities in Kyiv before World War II — not only Russian but also Jewish and Polish. Now there is only a Gypsy theater called Romance. The GDC also funded its latest production.


There are also three problem theaters. They were accused of some artistic flaws, vague programs, unstable performance, and misuse of funds. These theaters are not going to be closed and are still being partially funded, but they were denied money for new productions. Recommending to finance a certain title proposed by a theater, Art Board members and skilled experts try to shape the artistic face of Kyiv, address its problems and increase its cultural level. Therefore, from this year onwards, theaters are not allowed to change the funded title for another one, i.e., to misuse the allotted money, which was common practice in the previous years. Besides, the Art Board refused to satisfy the artistic requests of the Zoloti Vorota (“Golden gate”) theater, the Ukrainian Little Drama Theater, and the Kyiv Municipal Theater.

The situation with the latter raises the question whether this limited liability company, which for some reasons calls itself “municipal,” although the General Directorate of Culture at the Kyiv City Administration did not found it, should be funded at the expense of the directorate, i.e., in fact at the expense of other theaters. All the more so that the only production of this theater, “Faction,” has received extremely negative reviews. The problem is still to be solved.

There are many other problems connected with Kyiv’s theatrical life. The Kyiv Lesser Opera is still in the making. There is an acute shortage of young high-skilled producers in music and drama theaters. Also in shortage are good theater managers capable of helping an artist, usually absorbed in creative day-dreaming, to organize his and his company’s work. The city needs a multifunctional art center which could carry out, among other things, stage projects and artistic experiments. It is perhaps worthwhile to have a single, centralized, directory of the city’s theater festivals. Each “dormitory uptown” should have a stage to host the productions of local, as well as central, theaters. In general, the location, equipment, maintenance and upkeep of theatrical premises remains one of the main and hottest problems of the city. Add to this transport, rental, and remuneration for artistic work...

There is a need to revise the existing “Provision on Kyiv’s Municipal Theaters,” so that the new one could adhere to the modern principals of theater organization and to the updated law of Ukraine. Besides, artists are looking forward to a law on sponsorship. Problems and problems... And how many still undiscussed problems and productions, unnoticed talents, and unsupported artistic destinies?

The still-to-be-approved city budget comprises 142 million hryvnias for culture, including 35 million for theaters. This is on the last year’s level. Kyiv’s theaters employ 20,000 people, 60 percent of whom are actors and producers. It is these “fanatics” of their cause who arouse sweet feelings in us, the spectators. Maybe, not always sweet, but we do admit that an artist has the right to a failure and a mistake. So let us forgive them tense nerves and ambitions within the limits of common sense. Let us forgive them if only for readiness to please us. Let’s go to the theater!

By Valentyna ALIOSHYNA, special to The Day