Such apartments are referred to as the ‘bachelor’s’ ones: there are minimum furniture, cigarette ends in a peanut metal cans and the clothes scattered around the room. Four young people complement to the apartment’s classical picture. It resembles a banal men’s ‘gathering place’, but there is a large event poster in the corner, a pair of crutches resting against the wall, and one of the men, sitting in the middle of the room on a bended chair, bursts into hysterical laugher from time to time.
“No, no, not this way! Don’t do it so expressly,” one of his friends interrupts him. “And as you start telling it, please, don’t try to touch the spectator’ heart. It could be done easily, in principle. The facts from your life are quite enough. We should have a more profound influence on a spectator’s emotions. We should…either flatter the spectators or slap them by our words. Do you understand? Let’s do it once again.”
The final rehearsal of a newly-founded ‘Esa’ theatre is held in such ‘field’ conditions, at the art director’s place. They have the first night performance the day after tomorrow.
‘Esa’ experimental theatre was founded just two months ago. It is designed for the people with disabilities. In other words, its troupe comprises the disable people.
Almost none of the actors have either a special education or scenic experience, except for Nihad Qulamzade, ‘the founding father’ of the theatre and also its art director, who is a professional actor (and a novice stage director).
‘Esa’ Theatre is both, a creative and social experiment, because it aspires to give the disable people a chance to self-expression. It’s a great oddity for Azerbaijan, where most of the disable people are deprived of the opportunity to lead a social life. The reasons they are isolated from the community start from the lack of wheelchair ramps and end with the wheelchair prices. Therefore, the theatre has immediately attracted the attention of press and TV.
Though, it’s true that no one has so far volunteered to render financial assistance to it. According to Nihad Qulamzade, at present, Esa is financed from their own pockets: so, one can’t be on the loose too much. For example, the first night performance cost them AZN400 (approx. US$230). Nihad’s brother, Nijat Qulamzade, who is also the theatre’s managing director, has allocated those funds.
Therefrom comes their major problem- the newly established theatre is homeless so far. Khazar University ‘lent’ a stage for the premiere.
The debut performance entitled the ‘DUMB’ was held there, at the university events hall.
It’s easy to be impartial and critical, when there are healthy actors playing on the stage in front of you. However, when it comes to the disabled, a kind of self-censorship unintentionally steps in and, as a result, you begin to question the objectivity of your own opinion. Have you really enjoyed the performance or may be its just mercifulness, morals etc. that raises its voice? Indeed, it is customary to treat the disabled in a more condescending manner, making allowances on many things, so as not to feel oneself a real riffraff.
Having put aside the actors’ peculiarities, it’s safe to say that the performance was a success. By the way, it was not that difficult to take one’s mind off those peculiarities,either due to the director’s efforts or maybe because the plot was interesting. Anyway, in a couple of minutes you simply don’t notice a wheelchair and see an ordinary person on the stage, telling about the life in the insane asylum.
The whole play consists of 4 one-man shows, four stories about madness, love, attitude to parents and nightmares. Each of the monologues is taken out of context and voiced by a new actor. And just at the end of the performance it becomes clear that it was a reversely-told story of one and the same person.
According to Nihad Qulamzade, 80% of the story was taken from the real life. Part of it happened to the actors themselves, another part – to their friends and acquaintances. Each monologue was written by an actor himself/herself, thus, the play has as many as 4 authors. And there is only one character. No, actually there are two of them, because the hero’s madness is a rather independent character, embodied by a ballet dancer, who is rushing about the stage without uttering a single word.
The ‘DUMB’ is a story about a child’s psychological trauma, pursuing the character throughout his life, inducing him to some strange and terrible actions, ruining his and other people’s life and, in the end, resulting in a real tragedy. To put it short, if Dr. Freud had chanced to sit in the hall, he would have surely experience a sincere pleasure.
The performance premiere was a success, and what then?
The theatre’s most cherished dream is to have its own premises, since they don’t want to wear out Khazar University’s hospitality, and, besides, its hardly possible.
“Our key plan is just to ensure that the theatre lives,” said Nihad Qulamzade. ‘And for this purpose, we should, first of all, believe in its living capacity ourselves.”