And this is all about him

Interview with Igor Nicolaev, the director

My maxim is always the same: it needs to be interesting. I got up and went away once it ceased to be of interest.

– Igor Nikilaevitch, could you tell me, where did your dream about theatre come from?

– It’s the subjective world… Nothing beckoned me more than it. In childhood I could refuse everything – fishing, cinema, school – for the meeting with a new interesting man, for listening to his stories… He could be speaking, speaking, speaking… And me, a boy, wished to understand, what did this man has inside him, and why there was exactly that. What makes people different…

– And when did this wish turn into action for the first time?

– I was in my fifth grade, it was autumn. I came to the House of Pioneers to enroll into the drama club. I went in, looked around and saw that it was out of time yet. I remember the thought: it’s too early for me. And I postponed. I was drawing, making photos, whatever wasn’t there I was doing… I enrolled in the drama club in my seventh grade.
   I remember once my wrist was broken, and I was wearing a splint. At that very time I had to perform the role of an evil wizard, but I was locked up at home. We lived on the ground floor, and, surely, I escaped through the window. And what did I memorize: I was staying behind the scenes, the splint was taken off me – painfully. I darted to the stage – nothing ached, I popped out behind the curtains – “A-a-a-a!” The great power of art stroke me that time.

– And what have been going on later? Has the theatre remained your attraction all the time?

– Yes. It existed in parallel with sports, learning, work. When I was nearly 15 an invitation came to me to join the Folk Theater of the plant where I was working thereafter. That’s how Vladimir Fedorovitch Dolmatov, the amazing man, appeared in my life. He became my mentor. But before him there was Vladimir Ustinovitch, the leader of our drama club in Pioneer’s House. He gave me my first drama lessons. Whereas Vladimir Fedorovitch taught me not only acting but instilled in me some principles of life.
   I graduated from high school, and went to Moscow wishing to enroll in the Theater Institute, but didn’t succeed. Then I returned home, visited my grandma… My mother sold her watch, and I went away to Moscow again, this time to try my chance at the actors exchange. But I met the next significant person in my life instead – Vladimir Alexandrovitch Malankin. He had been recruiting additional students to his class in Minsk. And he accepted me. I found myself in Minsk, learning at the Dramatic Arts faculty… We were starving severely. Then some contacts were established, I launched drama club at one school, put on performances and was fed up in exchange.

– Your descriotion sounds like a challenging life. But despite the difficulties the dream hasn’t left you. Where there any other pursuits? Aspirations?

– Oh! I was quite renowned man. I was starring in Folks Theater, I worked at the plant earning more than my mother did. I was known enough sportsman. I read avidly, in large quantities, managed my time to attend Philharmonic, make work outs, play at stage and work.
   And then the day of exam had come. We were at the end of the first year at the Institute. I performed my etude well. All was great. Vladimir Alexandrovitch was resounding marks: fives (the highest mark) – no my name, fours – the same. Can you imagine my feelings? Three points – no my name. It seemed to me I had turned gray. Such an overthrow, the most crushing defeat of all I had experienced in my life. Probably I had never suffered such a crash. Two points – there was no my name either!
   Then Vladimir Alexandrovitch said: “Nikolaev, please, stay here. The others are free to go”. And he continued, I was listening to his words as if in a daze: “I can’t take upon the responsibility for your health. You would be squeezed out like a lemon and thrown away. You couldn’t stand for long being an actor. And I don’t want to be blamed. But I can tell you: you are a director by vocation. No offense, but that’s it”. I was crashed, and our admirable scenic speech coach, noble, intelligent by appearance, gray-haired handsome man gave me a tongue-lashing: “If you can broke so easily, that means there is no place for you in the theatre!”
   I woke from a stupor, went to the District Committee of Komsomol, pronounced short speech about aesthetic education of pupils, and got a mandate to create, neither more nor less, the theatre-studio “Vremya” under the roof of the Committee. After that I carried out entrance examinations in three rounds, because there appeared 120 candidates, 80 of them, surely, were girls. Thanks to this studio I got acquainted with m-r Lurie who was the director at Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuanian SSR! He told me: “I can’t help you, but why wouldn’t you try to enroll in our theatre as an actor?” I made a try. And I was accepted! With 55 rubles salary! As an actor! To the Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuanian SSR! I firstly appeared at professional stage on the 7th of November 1962. And I remember this entry very well, we performed “The Taming of the Shrew”. I played one of the four  Petrucchio’s servants, and we were singing a quartet: “Pour shalt pour, hei-la-la, hei-la-la”. That’s how I plunged into the theatre.
There was my life in studio going on in parallel… We were putting plays, practiced scenic skills and speech. And I played in Folk Theater as well from time to time. It was the Ukrainian dramatist Levada’s play, named “Faust and the Death”. My role was of a man who had to fly to the Mars, but his wife had left him (and I was 17 that time). Furthermore he was carrying on philosophical debates with his ideological opponent – defrocked monk, and all this was in lyrics. It was a tragedy. There was a scene in which I was walking around the study and saying goodbye to the books: “My friends, adieu, good bye, or probably, farewell to forever”. I still remember it. This performance had a great success, so had we – the three leading personas.
   I dreamt of being a director, rolled under to be taken as an assistant in order to start learning direction. The chief director gave me his promise, but after that the other man was appointed to be an assistant. I couldn’t bear such a deceit, therefore I submitted a letter of resignation.
   I daydreamed of playing three roles: Hamlet, King Lear and Karl Marx.
   Then the time came for me to join the army, it was mandatory military service. I was sent to Ussuri region, at the very Far East. I ruled the drama circle at the local school, participated in military trainings, played for the military district team in shot putting and discus. The next October revolution’s anniversary was just to celebrate, and I was reciting “Requiem” by Robert Rozhdestvensky in the city of Khabarovsk at the ceremonial concert. I even managed to play a role at the Garrison Folk Theater. Cut a long story short, after all these adventures I enlisted to extended army service, stayed in Khabarovsk and managed that same Garrison Folk Theater. But I made a condition that I would work at the theater if I would be allowed to enroll to Shchukin drama school. I was accepted there to learn distantly at the Directing Faculty. I made great success at the exams scoring 48 points from 50 possible.
   Then I got to the hospital, and was forced to take an academic leave in Shchukin’s school. Vladimir Fedorovitch Dolmatov yielded to me Folk Theater. So when I finished my army service, I became the director of Folk Theater, having only one year in Shchukin’s school completed.

– What was happening during these years that was of great importance?

– After the army I couldn’t find myself. It felt as if I was suspended between the sky and the earth. The life was vivid from the outside, but from the inside… I don’t know. I had got my theatre, all was fine, but still…
   I was looking for an answer. I read many psychology books… But something didn’t come off. Once I found out that a group of Moscow University sociologists came to the plant. I made acquaintance with them, and we started to work together; I launched the research on the theme: «The “master – worker” conflict subject to piecework wages». There I met Arkadiy Rovner. Once he invited me to his hotel room, I dropped in. The host handed over to me a stack of typewritten sheets and said: “Look, here is some information. It may occur to be the information only or it can change all your life”. I started to read right away, sitting in his room.
   Vivecananda, introduction… raja-yoga philosophy… I was appalled. When I had left the hotel I felt as if I entered the other city, the other world. All was the same, but in some way different. That’s how my first encounter with The Tradition happened. Then my more or less conscious life began. It took place in 1968.

– You elaborated your own psycho-emotional training technique for actors. Tell us about it, please. What is it needed for? How was it being made up?

– I received an offer to lead the theatre-studio in Daugavpils in order to revive Russian Theatre that once had been there. We started to live in Daugavpils as a commune, sharing one flat. It was the third year since I had met Arkadiy. Then I began to relate something. We held so-called Fridays: we were sitting and talking all the way through the night from Friday to Saturday. Somewhere at that time “The Flamy Flower” emerged.
   During the exam session at Shchukin school I got acquainted with Boris Tiraspolskiy, my first spiritual relative. We were contemplating together on how could we help actors to embody scenic images; what should we do to teach a man to control and manage his psychological condition, energy, body. We were studying in details various psychotechnics. As the result, the method emerged in 1971, that is known nowadays as DFC (Differentiated Functional Conditions), but at first it was named “The Flamy Flower”. It was generated for the sake of actors, with an eye to support total implementation of theirs acting capacity. It comes to an idea that special training and awareness allow us to create an instrumental setting by means of which we can make it clear what a person is capable of using his or her psychic energy. Does a man have some special “tools” in this sphere? It was the starting point, our initial approach. The idea belongs to Boris Tyraspolskiy.
   But we had to legalize all this somehow. Therefore the name DFC (Differentiated Functional Conditions) was invented when we were making up our first scientific paper having in mind that social recognition of the method was a must. We gained recognition at the “Big city’s ecology” conference, that was held under the leadership of academician Kaznatcheev, then at the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the USSR Ministry of Health Fourth office. After that I was invited to work with the “likvidators” of Chernobyl catastrophe. There I applied DFC method too. This technique proved to be helpful not only for actors. That’s how the DFC method arouse.

– Was there anybody who supported you on your director’s path or “was giving a push” to your interest to the man as he is?

– There were amazing people who had played the very important role in my life: Alexander Michailovitch Polamishev – my mentor at Shchukin school, and Vladimir Pavlovitch Efroimson, the founder of medical genetics, he was committed to prison before and after the war. I had an honor to edit his manuscript “The genius and genetics”. I can call to memory former actress of Maly Academic Art Theatre Elizaveta Ljudvugovna Maevskaya, who was a coach and consultant at the All-Union Theatrical Society, and the author of remarkable books: “The Acting Technology” and “Directing as a Practical Psychology”. Pavel Vasilevitch Simonov, the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity headmaster was another one significant to me person.

– You invested almost all in your dream of being a director. Why?

– I wanted to be the director, and I became the director. I caught Shchukin school at its peak. All stars of modern stage and screen were learning as full-time students in parallel with me, starting with Nastya Vertinskaya and finishing… I even don’t know who to name to finish… Mikhalkov, Kostya Raykin and so on. I saw a lot of interesting things during my life. I was always interested in people, it was engrossing to absorb them into myself. They represented various ways of living, discrepant styles of seeing and explaining the world, different methods of thinking and feeling. People were always more interesting to me than myself.
   According to the popular view I took my choice very early. Being 14 years old I knew, what I liked to learn and what I wanted to do. That’s why all I had been doing was closely connected with my final goal. I was making myself ready for work in the theatre that included knowledge of human psychology, human life. My being was integral, all-in-one, I would say. I had known exactly what I wished. I wanted to understand… I wanted to understand, why is that? Why people, being absolutely stunning creatures, do live such an imperfect life. It seemed humiliating for them, I had thought.

– Have you had to deprive yourself of many things to achieve your objectives?

– There were some cases in my life, when I had abandoned a good career, because it hadn’t fit to my senses. For example, once we performed “The Bug” (V. Mayakovskiy’s play) staged by Alexander Mikhailovitch Polamishev. Yuriy Mihailovitch Lyubimov was pleased with our work. They were friends with Polamishev, so Lyubimov said: “I’ll take two of your guys on the internship, choose yourself, who’ll make this twain”. Alexander Mikhailovitch made a proposal to me: “If you wish, there is such an occasion”. What did the internship with Lyubimov mean that time? It meant your carrier was ensured; one could spent a year there, and his future was assured. It was the perfect launch!
   I came home and thought: “O Lord, I can put on three plays in a year… It doesn’t matter if I won’t work in Moscow. Or I would dangle around Lyubimov and make a pretense I’m not like I am. He is not a teacher for me”. Then I phoned to Alexander Mikhailovitch and just pronounced his name… He immediately realized that I intended to refuse, and asked: “What’s up? Why?”. I thought up some reasons, but he didn’t believe me and even got slightly offended…

– Would you like to put something else on stage?

– Yes, I would. There are several plays I would like to stage, especially one of them. It would be one of my best performances. I wrote the script myself, based on Dostoevskiy’s “The Crime and The Punishment”. All is shown as if eyed by holy fools, actors would be playing holy fools. The name of the play is “The Prayer”. It consists of four parts, and each part ends with a prayer. The Orthodox church gave permission…

    [From 1970 till 1984 Igor Nikolaev worked as the director in various Theatres of Astrakhan, Ordzhonikidze, Minsk, Vilnius and other cities. His productions of I. Fridberg’s “The Arena” and G. Gorin’s “The Phenomenons” at the stage of the State Russian Drama Theatre in Vilnius became the most striking examples of successful combination of professional director’s and tutor’s searches with his own method.
   No matter how director Nikolaev valued the opportunities and advantages given by professional stage, as soon as the slightest chance had emerged, he returned to the idea of his own Theatre. That was how theatres-studios in Daugavpils, Kaluga, Vilnus, and Kiev emerged. Such a performances as “The Dragon” by Eugene Shwartz, “The Spanish Pleasantries” based on Tirso de Molino’s plays, “Why are we not in Vittenberg?” based on “Hamlet” by W. Shakespeare, and “Yurodiya” in the wake of Dostoevsky’s works, being put on by participants of these studios, can be dubbed Nikolaev author’s Theatre. That’s how both of the director’s aspirations were implemented: one of them – to establish his own theatre, the second – to elaborate his own actors training technique.]