Issue 5, 2013. October-November

   

MY CITY, TBILISI: REVIVING THE GEORGIAN STAGE

For the past year, Investor.ge has brought you a series of six guides about Tbilisi, from what to do with children to a tour of the city's 1930s architecture. For the next six issues, Investor.ge will speak with locals about different neighborhoods and events in the city in a six-part series to bring Tbilisi's grand history, graceful streets, and great cultural life alive for all readers, whether local, expat, or visitor. Investor.ge welcomes readers' input; if you have any ideas or suggestions for the series, please contact the editor.

Once the star of the region, Georgian theater struggled for survival after the collapse of the Soviet Union: it lost some of its biggest talent as actors, actresses, directors and others left for opportunities abroad.

But today, the Georgian theater world is enjoying a comeback, with young actors and experienced directors receiving accolades in international festivals and with audiences at home.

Georgian theater is thought to date back to at least the middle ages; remnants of a stage were found at the Uplitskhe ruins near Gori. But the roots of modern Georgian theater are clearer, noted director GiorgiSalitashvili.

Salitashvili, a prize winning director and lecturer at the ShotaRustaveliTheatre& Film State University in Tbilisi, noted that modern Georgian theater can be traced back to the days of the Russian Empire, when Georgia - as a part of the empire - was in danger of losing its language and culture.

"In the middle of the 19th century, the Georgian language was not the state language. And everywhere, even in churches for instance, the mass was in Russian - all newspapers, everything was in Russian language. At that time a Georgian playwright decided to make theater to save the Georgian language," he said.

"The most important meaning of Georgian theaters and the beginning of professional theater was to save the Georgian language."

That playwright, GiorgiEristavi, was killed by the Tsar's government not long after he helped produce a Georgian language production in 1851, at what is now the First School on Rustavali Avenue, Salitashvili said.

Eristavi's idea, however, took root. Other Georgian intellectuals like IlyaChavchavadze also saw the potential of the stage to help Georgians preserve their language, history and culture.

"It is very important that theater for Georgians was instrument and a weapon to fight against the Empire, to save your own national face and ideas, of course," Salitashvili stressed.

Just three years after Georgia declared its independence in 1917, the new government created the theater institute, where legendary Georgian directors like KoteMarjanishvili and SandroAkhmeteli helped influence the Georgian school of acting and stage. The traditions crafted by Marjanishvili, Akhmeteli and their students created a basis that produced some of the most famous actors and directors - in film and theater- in the Soviet Union. Salitashvili noted that the Georgian method for acting takes the best of the legendary Russian school and improves on it by adding Georgians' ability to evoke strong and sincere emotions.

Today, theater critics from around the world are beginning to appreciate the skills and craftsmanship of Georgian actors and directors on an international scale. Last year, Salitashvili's staged version of "Our Town" was honored as one of the best shows in the London National Student Drama Festival.

Salitashvili said that more contacts with foreign universities and festivals will help the university and Georgian theater continue its comeback. For the audience, he said, watching a Georgian play is a bit like peeking into a window the nation's culture.
"I think that first of all theater is the type of art where you can see the face of the nation, you can see there the emotion of this nation, and the artistry of this nation - the painting and the musical tradition together," he said.

"[Despite the wars and conflict]we did not lose the spirit of art. War has been our history, really it has been. But we were [creating] all the time..."