Russian director addresses theater and politics in a post-Cold War world

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Russian film director Yury Urnov says American and Russian cinema differ but are not disparate from each other.
Photo Credit: Sarah Alerasoul | Reporter

At a talk Monday, Russian film director Yury Urnov said post-Cold War Russian theater differs from American theater in several key ways — and said Americans are much more likely to experiment with their source material.

At the talk, which the Center for Russian hosted, East European and Eurasian Studies, Urnov said there are five categories in which theaters in Russia and the U.S. differ. According to Urnov, the main differences are the relationship between money and power, the society’s attitude toward art and how power operates in the respective cultures.

“Since the Cold War, the theater can answer a lot of our differences,” Urnov said. “Some of it is the geographical and historical attitude.” 

Urnov said in the U.S., unlike in Russia, there are collaborations on plays, and actors understand their characters. He said more emphasis is placed on the director, and scripts have to be interpreted from their original text.  

Over the next three weeks, Urnov will be presenting a spin-off of “Three Sisters,” a play originally created by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, at the Salvage Vanguard Theater in Austin.

“Jenny Larson, an artistic director at Woolly Mammoth, had a student who wrote a different version of the play,” Graham Schmidt said, one of the play’s directors. “It takes the zombie film genre and meshes it with the plot of ‘Three Sisters’ and then steps back and criticizes the play from a feminist standpoint.”

Katya Cotey, assistant instructor in the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, said he is looking forward to the production of “Three Sisters.”

“I am excited to see the addition of zombies to the play and seeing the new interpretation that is attracting a younger audience,” Cotey said. 

Urnov graduated from the Russian Academy of Theater Art in 2000. He has directed plays in the United States, Russia, England and Germany. Urnov has taught in the Master of Fine Arts program at Towson University for five years and works with an experimental theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, in Washington, D.C.

According to Urnov, Russian theater is still evolving, in a way Urnov said he hopes audiences will find compelling.