FILIPP IS FINISHING his final year in Dmitry Krymov’s Laboratory. The Laboratory is a specialist drama school, devised by celebrated Russian theatre artist, Dmitry Krymov and theatre director and designer, Evgeniy Kamenkovich. The pair aimed to create an ‘independent, experimental, creative collective’ where directors, actors and artists could all study together. With encouragement from another figure from the Russian theatre landscape, their friend and director, Anatoly Vasiliev, the pair opened the group as a part of the stage-design course at the State Institute of Dramatic Art (GITIS).
The course causes some controversy in Russia, going against most traditional curriculums for Drama institutions. Dmitry Krymov wanted more freedom of expression, and for the students to be able to practice stage-design in an environment much nearer to those they will find in a professional drama industry.
It is ‘like experiencing the ocean after swimming only in a pool or a beautiful lake or a river’. Dmitry, it seems, wanted to create something more in tune with post-soviet Russian students, evolving from the theory and technical focus of the current curriculum, which is still the foundation in most Russian education institutions.
As Filipp took me through this space that Dmitry had created, it was clear that the Laboratory was starting to do its work on the students it housed. I was able to catch a few answers from the incredibly shy Filipp:
How would you describe this type of theatre?
It’s an emotional image with an interesting idea, and using unconventional means to express it.
Why is it important to you to work in this way?
It's so interesting for me, there is so much space for discovering.
What do people think of this work in Moscow?
In Moscow, our type of theatre can only grow, so people are watching us with interest.
Where do you hope to go with this work in the future?
We have plans, of course, but it feels too early to talk about them.
These snatched questions were answered as I was taken up to the top floor of the old building Filipp studies in. The space feels incredibly special, as only seven people are accepted for the whole five-year period of the course. The current incumbents are nearly finished, and next year, Dmitry will again accept another seven, basing his choice not only on your interest and ideas, but also whether you click with Dmitry Krymov’s and the other attendees.
For Filipp, one of the reasons he loves the course is the variety it offers, “It makes it more interesting to do all areas – not just stage-design.” When asked if he had a favourite, Filipp tells me “I think, I like every part of creation.., however, there is one thing – it's imagination.”
The top floor is filled with character, tall ceilings, elaborately designed window frames, ceiling structures and odd little mezzanines that currently store costumes and old set-designs. Light pours in on the table where Filipp and his study partner, Alexey Razmakhov work. This room is where they discuss ideas, talk through projects and refine completed works. It’s here that he works when he is not performing.
When it’s time for a break, he takes me to what they call the Smoking Room – though the rather large ‘No Smoking’ sign would suggest otherwise. It is clear when we walk in that it is the view that draws them to this room for their illicit cigarette breaks, as they blithely ignore the sign and light up, looking out over Moscow.
The set design rooms feel different again – piled high with cuttings and scraps, among which the little stages and sets they have designed can be found. By the end of summer, this place will be back to where it began, empty and clear of all their work and scraps. But for now, it shows five years of ideas and hard work.
When we head down to the theatre rooms, there is a real sense of how privileged Filipp feels to be a part of this group. Entering the Anatoly Vasiliev Theatre Room, he speaks with reverence of this room as it contains Vasiliev’s “spirit”, and as such is used only rarely. Filipp explains that only drama enthusiasts really understand this, before mentioning that the place is also “damned”, as it was stolen from Vasiliec by the “municipality”.
We move through yet more small corridors to a room full of rooms. These are the actors dressing rooms. Almost maze like, the whole place feels very theatrical. We then move through to another drama room – this one, where they do most of their shows in (The first picture in this post).
As we are walking around, I get a glimpse of film crew and actors. Filipp tells me they are filming a show about Stalin’s son in the building. I wondered aloud if that was why we passed a guy dressed in a military-style outfit earlier. ‘No,’ Filipp tells me, ‘He was real’.
In the basement the air is a little musty and slightly damp, and as you pass through the tiny door, you are met with floors and walls, curving in all directions and a store of yet more props and items acquired over the last five years.
It took a year of a Graphic Design course, before Filipp realized that the structure imposed was not for him. His parents wholly support his choice and it seems that ironically, the shy set-design and drama student is more than happy where he sees his future going.
As we are leaving this place that Filipp loves so well, a security lady runs out after us. Filipp and the security talk seriously for a while in Russian, before he turns back around towards me and casually lights a cigarette. ‘Everything OK?’ I ask. ‘Yes, they just wondered why we were taking photos and wanted to make sure we had permission, which I said we did, but they just like to make it a problem. Don’t worry, it’s OK’.
Edited by: Angharad Jones