Close up. Stas Namin Theatre

Close up. Stas Namin Theatre
World-famous performances, theatre hall looking like a planetarium, and one of the most famous musicians of Russia as the theatre's founder.

This year, Stas Namin Theatre celebrates its 20th anniversary. The founder of Tsvety (Flowers) and Gorky Park bands Stas Namin was not only the first person to promote rock-music in the USSR, as in 1999 he brought to Russia an unfamiliar musical genre. Read in article, how the theatre occupied Gorky Park and about its life today.

It all started with Tsvety band

Stas Namin got fond of music at the age of 13, listening to the records of his favourite bands — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And five years later, impressed by Woodstock music festival and the culture of 'flower children', hippies, he created his own band called Tsvety (Flowers) (''Цветы" in Russian). It was the time he assumed a pseudonym. The real musician’s name is Anastas Mikoyan, he is the grandson of the Anastas Mikoyan (one of the most prominent Soviet officials). Surname 'Namin' owes to his mother's name — art critic and writer Nami Mikoyan.

Tsvety band were the first in the USSR to introduce drive rock. This band was extremely popular, with seven million copies of their first record sold, which they released in 1973 as a student band.  The whole country sang their My Bright Star, Honestly, Lullaby songs, with several generations of musicians taking them as an example. Pretty soon, Tsvety faced with the censorship of the Soviet 'artistic councils', resulting in band's broke-up and banning of its name. Only in 1977, the band returned on the stage renamed Stas Namin's Band.

After the 1980 Olympics, when the band released their album 'Hymn to the Sun', Stas Namin arranged a rock festival in Yerevan, highly appreciated even abroad. It would seem that after the worldwide recognition, Namin's career associated with music had to get rolling, but in reality it was quite the opposite. The conflict with the authorities was escalating. After the performance at the World Festival of Youth and Students in 1985, the band was accused of 'anti-Soviet activities'. Despite the fact that Stas Namin's Band was extremely popular, the musicians even had no place to hold rehearsals.

Then Namin decided to change his profession and enlisted for the director's training courses, with the best directors as his teachers: Alexander Mitta, Lev Gumilyov, Paola Volkova, Anatoly Vasiliev and others.

Stas Namin, David Gilmore and Nick Mason in Stas Namin Centre

Stas Namin's Production Centre

With the beginning of Perestroika, Namin resumed his music career. In 1986, he accidentally met his old friend Pavel Kiselyov. In the 1970s, Kiselyov was Director of the Culture Centre of the Bauman Institute, one of the few places in Moscow where concerts of underground Soviet musicians, including Vysotsky, were held.

Kiselyov was Gorky Park’s Director. After learning that the talented band had no premises to rehearse, he decided to help and offered the musicians a small room in the Green Theatre.

Over time, a recording studio, design studio and even a rock cafe had been arranged on site. About a year later, taking advantage of  equipment and instruments of Tsvety band, Stas Namin organised a production centre, which brought together banned young rock bands and other creative people. Stas Namin centre rented the entire building of the Green Theatre. At the same time, their first foreign tour started.

On the basis of Tsvety, Namin created a new band — Gorky Park. And as for Tsvety, they had disappeared for 20 years. Once again, the band took the stage only in 2009, in the year of its 40th anniversary. Over the years, Tsvety recorded in London two albums — 'Back in the USSR' and 'Open the Window to Freedom' — in the studio the Beatles and Pink Floyd collaborated with. In addition, Tsvety released three live albums — 'Tsvety-40', 'Reasonable Man' and 'Flower Power'. The concert in honour of their 50th anniversary is scheduled for 19 November in the Kremlin.

The production centre brought together talented musicians, progressive poets, artists and designers. It is the place were famous Russian bands Moralny Kodeks, Kalinov Most, Brigada S, Spleen and many others started. It was one of the most trendy Moscow locations where young poets arranged their literary evenings, Alexander Kholodenko managed his design studio (together with the writer Viktor Pelevin they created the design of 'Generation P' book).

Some compared Stas Namin Centre to Andy Warhol's Studio in New York. And surely it welcomed the most famous guests. Stas Namin befriended with Pink Floyd, U-2, Quincy Jones, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox, Robert de Niro and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is a very long list indeed, and the photo collage that hangs on one of the theatre walls does not feature all of the celebrities.

In 1989, Stas Namin arranged the international music festival in Luzhniki Stadium with Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Gorky Park, Brigada S and others participating. By the way, Scorpions' leader Klaus Meine wrote his famous Wind of Change song under the impression of the atmosphere of creative freedom filling the Stas Namin Centre in Gorky Park.

Music and Drama Theatre

Speaking about the theatre, the artistic director emphasises that this is a theatre of music and drama, with these two concepts equally important. The theatre's history dates back to September 1999, when Namin staged the world-famous rock musical 'Hair' and rock opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar' for the first time in Russia. For him it was extremely important to stage both performances in the same style and spirit originally conceived by their authors.

'Hair' and 'Jesus Christ Superstar' staged on Broadway at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, revealed to the world another direction of musical theatre. Not anyone is allowed to make their own version today, since it is difficult to get permission even for American theatres. How did the new Moscow theatre manage to stage these performances?

In August 1999, Stas Namin visited Los Angeles, and his friend Michael Butler, producer of the legendary Broadway production of 'Hair' musical and the same name film by Miloš Forman, invited him to attend the opening night of one of the Hollywood theatres. It was 'Hair' musical. The guest from Russia was very much impressed, as it was a completely different theatrical world, a different culture. He never saw such things in Russia. It was about many things: director's work, choreography, acting. Namin came up with the idea to stage something similar in Moscow. Butler got very interested in the proposal, and together they decided that the producer and several actors of the American theatre team would come to Moscow and help stage the performance.

Scene out of 'Hair' rock musical. Фото: Stas Namin Theatre Stas Namin Theatre's group. 2019

On his return to Moscow, Namin began to gather his own troupe. Actors had to primarily be able to sing and dance. Rehearsal of 'Hair' started in October, with its premiere taking place already in November. Later, this performance was presented during the United States tour. Moreover, the rightholders called the Stas Namin Theatre’s company one of the five best companies in the world that had staged this musical.

The basic production themes are freedom and youth. The action takes place in the late 1960s — at a time when the United States were at war with Vietnam. The protagonist Claude, who came from a small town to New York, falls in love with the rich heiress Sheila. His hippie friends help him to reciprocate this feeling. Suddenly Claude receives a military subpoena, he must go to war.

Popularity of Russian 'Hair' production helped to obtain the rights to stage the second legendary musical performance. Rock opera 'Jesus Christ Superstar' by Stas Namin was the first version of the Broadway performance, allowed by the authorities of Jerusalem to be staged in the biblical city.

For the first 15 years, the theatre was producing performances in all genres. Therefore, the troupe is universally skilled, with all its actors equally professional in acting, singing and dancing. The best performances are 'Beatlemania', avant-garde 'Victory over the Sun', 'Highlander', ‘S-Quark’, classical musicals 'Penelope' by Gennady Gladkov, 'Portrait of Dorian Grey' by Randy Bowser and musical comedy 'Soldier Ivan Chonkin'.

State-of-the-art multifunctional complex

Actors have been working in the Green Theatre for more than 30 years. Stas Namin Centre had signed a lease agreement for 49 years, but when the theatre opened, the centre refused to rent it in its favour.

Initially, there had been only one large open-air stage designed for summer events, but it did not work. All communication lines, floors and walls were dilapidated. Since its construction in 1957, the facility had seen no overhaul. For the first 15 years, the centre has repaired and restored the Green Theatre at its own expense, with pipes, wiring, communication lines replaced, facades restored and the roof repaired. After the building's reconstruction, we gave a thought to the transformation of the Green Theatre into an up-to-date multifunctional complex. In 2000, a comfortable theatre hall was built and equipped in one of side open stages.

In 2013, Stas Namin Theatre transferred under the management of the Moscow Department of Culture, and since then, Moscow authorities have been providing their aid to the theatre. Now the building is still under renovation, with its theatre hall and big scene structures being repaired. Lightweight temporary roof is expected to be mounted over an outdoor amphitheatre.

A year ago, AtmaSfera 360 opened in the theatre, an experimental hall that looks like a planetarium. It allows to watch performances all year round due to its warm floor and insulated walls. Key theatre performances have been upgraded thanks to the introduction of advanced technology: actors play now in the space of the dome video projection.

With Gorky Park, the theatre has developed creative good-neighbourly relations.

"Today's Park management has been deeply and informally involved in our theatre's life. In particular, a separate entrance to our theatre has been arranged so that cars do not drive through the walking alleys. Also, we have some great joint projects, including international festivals, representing the culture of different countries. Knowing the internal life of the Park for more than 30 years, I am pleased to see our relationship becoming more transparent. The theatre, all creative people of our centre and guests feel comfortable here," says Stas Namin.

What to watch

While the stages are being repaired with equipment being installed, the theatre stages some performances at other venues. The renovated hall is expected to open at the end of 2019.

Among the must-see performances, we would highlight 'Hair' musical, the very first theatre's spectacle. It is worth viewing 'Victory over the Sun' production as well, created in 2015 in honour of the centenary of the Kazimir Malevich's 'Black Square'. Famous painting first appeared as an element of scenery in the 'Victory over the Sun' by Mikhail Matyushin and Alexei Kruchenykh, staged in 1915. Stas Namin theatre showed its performance at the 'Art Basel' exhibition of contemporary art in Switzerland, Moscow International Biennale of Contemporary Art, FIAC Paris Exhibition and Fair, Havana Festival of Theatrical Art and the International Theatre Festival in Ravenna (Italy). European experts on Russian avant-garde and futurism called the production not a reconstruction, but a world premiere of the performance once created by Matyushin, Kruchenykh and Malevich.

Vocal and choreographic jazz-rock  performance 'Highlander' by Stas Namin is based on poems by Velimir Khlebnikov and music by Alexei Khvostenko and Auktsyon band.

Young spectators will like 'The Little Prince' by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Stas Namin Theatre has turned this kind and moving story to a musical.

Коллектив Театра Стаса Намина. 2019 год

Children's Studio

The theatre has a Children's Studio where over a thousand children have studied. Before enrollment, young entrants must pass an audition. The main goal is not to teach children acting. We help them come out of shell, open their minds. The best theatre actors and GITIS (Russian University of Theatre Arts) professionals teach them stage movements, speech, vocals and choreography. Children aged 3 to 17 are welcome to sign up for classes.

We invited some of the students to participate in our productions. So, a Studio's student plays the major character in 'The Little Prince'.