This month my friends and collaborators in Petrozavodsk present the city’s first-ever social theater project. The play, which premieres on November 27th and 28th, is a collaborative work, coauthored by children with disabilities in the city and knit together by theater professionals Oleg Lipovetsky and Lidiya Pobedinskaya.
The brain child of an open collaborative of enthusiastic young people, the idea for the project started as a spark to create something new in the city that would be both artistic and socially meaningful. In the fall of 2012, I was invited to join the loose-knit crew of volunteers, with the idea that it might be possible to do some project involving children with disabilities in the city.
By mid-winter, my friend Lyuda was running from school to school around town, recruiting teachers to participate in the project and collect stories from children who, based on their disability, were sent to particular institutions; meanwhile Zhanna was holding music classes at the rehabilitation center to gather and record original compositions; Nadya was looking for sponsors; and Oleg was rustling up support in the theater community.
With all the drawings and music and stories collected, Oleg and Lidiya sat down to spin these threads into a story. The result, Privokzalnaia Skazka, or, A Train Station Tale, is set in a busy train station hall. A mysterious stranger encourages passersby to look in his suitcase — and all come away with memories of the creative spirit and true selves of their own childhood selves — represented here with the texts composed by the children. But the dialogue that ties the children’s dreams together paints a different picture. The characters in the train station themselves are complex, the texture of their interactions rich, and darkly humorous, and the language of the play is both accessible and nearly ethnographic in its patterning on the cadences of every day life. A call for creativity, and pausing to appreciate the little things in a bustling world, the story appeals to children and adults alike.
Just before I left Petrozavodsk in May 2013 at the end of 10 months of dissertation fieldwork, we hosted a staged reading and Q&A for families whose children had participated as coauthors. It was the first time the play had been read aloud, and the families were the first to hear it.
I wish I could be there for the big premiere!