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International theatre project “Theatre with no limits” is taking part at All-Russian professional theatre festival “Arlekino”

International theatre project “Theatre with no limits”, which people with mental and physical disabilities from Switzerland and Russia are taking part at, is becoming a party to All-Russian professional theatre festival “Arlekino”. On the threshold of the event a correspondent of “Fontanka” has met with Elena Shiffers who founded the unusual drama school at the psychoneurological boarding school at Old Peterhof. Regardless of sceptics the project exists and prospers since 2007.

Among the ones who perform at the theatre – Russian actors and particular people with mental and physical disabilities - are people living at the psychoneurological boarding school no. 3 at Old Peterhof, wards of the Charitable organization “Perspektivy SPb”. At the “Theatre with no limits” there are three professional actors – two of them are Swiss and one is a citizen of Petersburg – Elena Shiffers who was the creator of the drama school at the psychoneurological boarding school.

 “I was convinced that it wouldn`t work, they would not be able to remember anything, but it resulted, on the contrary, in good performance, - told Elena. – They don`t remember stereotypes and don`t work with cliché, it`s ideal being of a professional actor – “here and now”. Every rehearsal – here and now, every play – the same”.

Members of the “Perspektivy” have parts in plays also, each time – different, including nurse, which must be in a distant trip to accompany particular people – final performances are coming at Switzerland. And the common play, working together on the performance helps different people to understand each other better, to feel each other.

Every time both theatres – Petersburg`s and Swiss, during summer meeting take with them plays, thoughts, which they`ve been performed at home. And thereafter favorite fragments are included in a final play.

What it will be about? For the seven years three plays were created: all of them around one idea – the value of life itself. “It is very important for people who have serious problems with health – they live each day as the last day and they appreciate this life a lot, - told Elena. – We`re talking together about the values of life and death, as my father used to say: “Every day is an exercise in death”.

Elena`s father – who was a theatre director and a religious philosopher Eugeniy Shiffers –  in a long while, at 1980s, was maturing an idea of Memorial theatre of Dostoevsky, which assumed working with actors thus they could get free of stereotypes “written on our glasses”, as Eugeniy L`vovich used to say.

It was at psychoneurological boarding school where Elena, starting drama school, saw what Eugeniy Shiffers had dreamed about: “beggarly aesthetics” of the Memorial theatre of Dostoevsky and absolute lack of stereotypes.

 “Paradoxical but true: thanks to these people I understood that father would like to say. I understood what it means: an actor playing dolls. We made our first play by the poems of Harms and Oleg Grigoryev. It lasled for 45 minutes. Why we choose Harms is understandable. Absolutely the same person as our lads – “with violations”: the same attitude to word, mistakes. Harms wan`t afraid of doing wrong. They are constantly making mistakes, they could not make anything correct in terms of the usual stereotypes. But who knows what is right?” – Elena was ruminating in one of her last interviews.

How a play of “Theatre with no limits” is maturing. All rehearsals are recorded on to a video and in the end of the 2-weeks grand creative workshop its participants are watching all the fragments and thinking of a name to an action which should form just about.

The first play was named “Stroll” and was shown at small stages of Petersburg`s T`UZ (theatre of young audience) and Baltic Home. The second – “Time without words” was performed at Tsar Village at “Hall on Island” and at Drama Theatre on Liteyniy prospect. The third was named “Lullaby of wind”. Thus it became a trilogy of the value and fragility of life. Participation of the “Theatre with no limits” at the professional theatre festival for Elena Shiffers is an ability to awake professional community`s interest in such theatres, actors and projects. “Professionals should come into this work because they can tell about it to audience – by their plays such as projects of Yana Tumina and Karolina Jernite”.

 “Our wards – they become different when they start to perform because the stage has striking magical power, - said Elena. – This is classic: “Rumble subsided, I went out on stage…”. The light is directed at you, between you and spectator – fourth invisible wall and there – only breath of the hall. And if the person on stage has problems with consciousness, problems with elementary connection of events – one by one.. And here`s he`s at stage, starting to play and building a common canvas of narration with others, - and he`s feeling better in all senses, and he`s feeling better the world, people around”. Some hardly talking children`s speech is improving, some has it for the first time. It really is like a miracle.”

They, who live all their life in a closed system of the boarding school, have a way outside the walls. And not just literal – trips to Europe every summer as it`s cheaper to create such common plays there – but also the way out to other life, another side of freedom.

The column by Galina Artemenko at the web-page of Petersburg`s internet-newspaper “Fontanka”: