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World Theater Day. How Ukrainian theaters act during the war

World Theater Day. How Ukrainian theaters act during the war

World Theater Day is a professional holiday for all theater workers. It is celebrated every year on March 27. World Theater Day was established by UNESCO on the initiative of the delegates of the IX Congress of the International Institute of Theater in 1961. Various national and international theater events are organized to mark this occasion. 

Today, in Ukraine, it is celebrated in unprecedented circumstances. The conditions of the war have affected the cultural life in the country. But despite the war, cultural life does not stop, and even theaters continue their work, presenting new premieres, inspiring society, and transforming social pain into public movements and perceptions.

During the first weeks of the full-scale invasion, theaters in many Ukrainian cities became volunteer centers. They used to collect and store humanitarian aid for displaced people; volunteers were coming here to make camouflage nets, and internally displaced people found shelter in the walls of theaters.

Today, many theaters have resumed their work, although some of them were forced to move to another city. In spite of various difficulties, theaters continue their work during the war and bring positive emotions to Ukrainians who are surviving, worrying about their country, waiting for their relatives to return from war, or losing someone close.

We have collected some stories telling about the life of theaters today.

Behind the people: Mykolaiv Academic Art Drama Theater

Since the full-scale war started, the Mykolaiv Academic Art Drama Theater has given performances and concerts for soldiers and volunteers, residents of Mykolaiv and forced migrants. At first, most actors have been performing in the underground shelter of the theater, on a small stage with minimalist decorations; now, they continue at the grand hall of the theater in a stage-on-stage format and a chamber format. And today, on March 27, on World Theater Day, the interactive theater museum will resume work in the Mykolaiv Theater.

“The mission of the theater is to console a little, give emotions to the residents of Mykolaiv. There are also many immigrants from Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, so Mykolaiv is a kind of creative outpost,” declares Artem Svystun, artistic director of the theater. 

Coming back to life:  Mariupol Theater work in Uzhhorod 

Uzhhorod became a place of protection and refuge for many internally displaced persons and also, the representatives of creative professions and culture, including refugees from Mariupol.

In the spring, the Transcarpathian Academic Regional Ukrainian Music and Drama Theater named after the brothers Yuriy-Augustyn and Yevhen Sheregiiv hosted a group of artists from Mariupol and shared the stage with them.

Today, 14 actors and a director of the Mariupol Theater work in Uzhhorod and create art as a small team. They have already presented two premieres. One of them — “Mariupol Drama” — is about the personal pain of everyone who speaks on the stage.

Discovering Ukrainian: Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater 

The southern city of Odesa has been under pressure since the beginning of the war due to its geographic location near the occupied territories. It was an endangered area from the first days of the invasion, so the Odesa Opera and Ballet Theater was closed. There were no performances or rehearsals. During martial law, the theater’s creative team held online concerts. On June 17, 2022, the Odesa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater resumed performances 

Since the beginning of the full-scale war on February 24, 2022, the theater was closed and only in April, we were able to start rehearsals, restoring our professional form. Before the war, the ballet troupe consisted of 100 artists, now there are 50 of us, work has become more difficult, but we are coping. Step by step, we restored our repertoire and created new concert programs. In the process of work, the war makes its own adjustments — during the announcement of an air alert, the performance is interrupted, or canceled altogether, if the duration of the alert exceeds 60 minutes, tells ballet artist Roman Lobkin.

The new program also appears in the theater program, including works by Ukrainian artists. The grand premiere of the opera “Kateryna,” based on the poem of Taras Shevchenko and set to the music of the modern Ukrainian composer Alexander Rodin, took place in September 2022. At the end of the season, a new children’s ballet, “The Nutcracker,” is expected to premiere, set to music by Ukrainian composer Yurii Shevchenko.  

Reflecting on the war: Lviv’s theater reality 

The city, which has become the largest in accepting immigrants and turned into a hub for foreign journalists and volunteers, looks full of life at first glance. But, at the same time, Lviv feels the inevitable consequences of war, especially from the viewpoint of inner feelings. And after restarting their work, Lviv theaters were among the first to stage experimental performances reflecting on the war.

After the declaration of martial law, Lviv Opera was closed to visitors until April 2022. Instead, the theater management established cooperation regarding humanitarian aid and conducted an information campaign with the world art community. The Lviv National Opera opened its doors to the audience on April 1, 2022, starting the cycle of concerts “With faith in victory! Art inspires to live.” 

Another performance reflection at the end of March was the premiere of “The First Day of War by the Varta Theater” and, in June, the Lesia Ukrainka Lviv Academic Drama Theater premiered Dmytro Zakhozhenko’s performance concert “Imperium Delendum Est.”

Heart of theater life: Kyiv

As in most cities, the capital’s theaters were closed in the first months of the war. 

In April 2022, after the occupation forces left the Kyiv region, an announcement was made about opening theaters and cultural institutions. State representatives emphasized the importance of supporting cultural workers, restoring the functioning of institutions, and supporting people’s emotional states. At the same time, of course, reopening such institutions meant changing security standards, arranging bomb shelters, changing work schedules, and many other aspects.

“The Kyiv National Academic Drama Theater named after Lesia Ukrainka started working the first, as it is the only theater that had a bomb shelter (it is located next to the Teatralna metro station). It hosted other theaters on its stage,” said Ksenia Fedorova, voice acting actress. In the summer, everything began to recover gradually. 

Today, Kyiv has an active schedule of theater events, and almost all theaters are open; their programs contain patriotic and Ukrainian performances.

Cultural life in Ukraine continues, despite the war, and provides Ukrainians with emotions, support, as well as some solace and distraction in these difficult times. 

Today’s challenges have become an impetus for actors and directors to look for compelling works for productions and theatrical experiments. And the theme of war and heroism of Ukrainians, the stories of many defenders, and individual people will become the future scenarios. 

Prepared by Natalia Vlasenko

Designed by Anastasiia Dorofeieva 

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