Theatre founded by former student heads to Kiev to perform Molière

For the first time in its seven-year history, the Bulgakov International Art Festival in Kiev, Ukraine, has invited a North American theatre company to perform during the festival. That company, Talk is Free Theatre Inc. (TiFT) in Barrie, founded by former York student Arkady Spivak, will today perform portions of its 2005 production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1929 play Molière or League of Hypocrites.

Directed and adapted by Glendon drama studies course director Aleksandar Lukac (MFA ‘95) in 2005 at TiFT, Molière explores the dangerous and fragile relationship of the French playwright, Molière, and France’s King Louis XIV. It is said the play was inspired by Bulgakov’s own difficult relationship at the time with Joseph Stalin. Lukac has been with TiFT since its inception and has directed eight of its productions to date.

Spivak, whose title at TiFT is artistic producer, was invited to perform Molière at the three-day Bulgakov International Art Festival by its founder, Vitaly Malakhov, also the artistic director of Kiev Drama Theatre on Podil and one of Ukraine’s best known directors and actors. TiFT will be joined by theatre companies from the UK, Scandinavia, Georgia and Russia.

Above: Milosh Rodic (left), David Dodsley and Dusan Dukic in Talk is Free Theatre Inc.’s dramatization of Molière, adapted and directed by Aleksandar Lukac. Photo by Susan Benoit

It is a multi-disciplinary festival celebrating the life and art of the playwright and novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940). But because of his fraught relationship with Stalin, many of Bulgakov’s plays were performed only a handful of times during the playwright’s life. In addition to Molière, Bulgakov also wrote the play Days of the Turbins based on his novel The White Guard and is best known for the novel The Master and Margarita, called one of the greatest novels of the 20th century by the New York Times Book Review.

Left: Aleksandar Lukac

"I have gone through similar experiences as Bulgakov and many Eastern European political artists in terms of facing a scrutiny of communist censorship. Doing a play about that issue, which Molière is, posed certain problems as I was dealing with actors who have never experienced any censorship," says Lukac. "So in my adaptation we needed to bring this context closer to the Barrie audience. Bringing it back to the ‘original’ audience will be interesting as they recognize these issues only too well and will be examining our play from a different perspective. I hope we don’t betray their expectations and they will enjoy the comical aspects of the improvised portions of our version."

Although Lukac is unable to attend the Bulgakov festival, he held several rehearsals with the Molière cast and hopes to be able to perform a live Q & A following today’s performance.

First formed in 2002 in Toronto, TiFT’s goal over the years has been to choose work that would build an artistic ensemble. One of its first full-scale productions, an absurdist Russian comedy Christmas at the Ivanovs directed by Lukac, was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production in the independent theatre category. Later that same year, TiFT moved to Barrie where it remains today as a not-for-profit, charitable organization.

Right: Arkady Spivak. Photo courtesy of TiFT

Some of the 27 productions in Barrie included an environmental production of Oliver!, the world premieres of Canadian musicals Playground and Moving Day, and two productions of the Canadian musical Emily. The 2008/09 season of TiFT will open with Kiss Me Kate, based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew with music and lyrics by Cole Porter, followed by the comedy Variations on a Nervous Breakdown by Jonathon Monro.

Spivak studied theatre and business at York’s Glendon College. Lukac, who has directed over 50 professional productions in Canada since 1992 as well as productions in Yugoslavia, is a former teacher of Spivak’s.

Lukac is planning to direct Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita at York’s Glendon College in February.