Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Yekatrinburg, Russia

This is the third in a series of three blogs about my autumn trip to Vienna, Budapest and Yekatrinburg, Russia.

This was my fourth time to the city of Yekatrinburg and has it changed! I have not been to Russia in eight years, and seeing it again was an experience in itself. It would take many pages to describe the changes. I will just say it is now much like any other place in Europe in regards to technology, but still retains its Russian soul (for better and worse). But this is about my experiences at the Svedlovsk State Academic Theater of Musical Comedy, a major state theater in the third largest city in the Russian Republic.

I was one of 10 international judges at the Second Vladimir Kurochkin International Competition of Young Artists of Operetta and Musicals. The other judges were from Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.

The competitors, age 21 to 35, were professional performers from theaters all over Russia. They entered in one of three categories: Musical Theater, Operetta, Musical Theater Dance.

It was our job, as judges, to watch a first round of competition, where each of the contestants performed two pieces. Operetta was performed with live piano; musical theater with recorded accompaniment and dance with recorded music. We were asked to rate the performances on a scale of 0 to 25, and to judge overall performances; not just voices. Everything counted - presentation, choice of material, dancing, acting, singing etc.

We then had to eliminate about one-third of the contestants. Those remaining moved to a second round, where they again performed two pieces. Some had one new piece and repeated one from the first round; others had two new pieces. In this round the operetta contestants performed their selections with full orchestra. (Ah -- the glories of state funded theaters!)

The entire contest took place in the theater, with full tech -- lighting, sound, costumes (which the performers brought with them), etc. Each contestant received one rehearsal of each piece.

After this round we again rated the performers on the scale of 0 to 25. Following the tabulation, we discussed who should receive the grand prize; plus first, second and third prizes in each category, as well as honorable mentions.

Then all performers were invited to perform in the final Gala Concert. The judging was completed on Monday evening and the concert was on Wednesday evening.

The prizewinners knew they would receive a prize, but did not know what it would be -- maybe honorable mention, maybe grand prize. At the Gala Concert, members of the theater also performed, as well as several of the judges. There were other prizes awarded that did not come from the judges. The audience got to vote for an "Audience Favorite" and the family of Vladimir Kurochkin, the actor and director for whom the contest is named, was awarded a prize.

The entrance fee was 500 rubles. The prizes were pretty substantial -- $5,000 (yes, dollars) for the grand prize, $1,500 for each first prize, $1,000 for each second prize and $500 for each third prize. Honorable mentions received certificates. The special prizes got trophies.

In addition to the contest, the theater held a concurrent meeting of musical theater professors from 15 universities, who shared workshops and master classes on the teaching of musical theater. They also attended some of the competition rounds and the final Gala Concert.

I was able to attend several master classes in addition to the judging. The theater was not running their season yet; it started on October 3. It would have been interesting to see their new musical based on the life of Catherine the Great, but I had to get back for the opening of Side by Side by Sondheim at my theater, Light Opera Works.

I have never served on a jury before and it was a great experience. It was fascinating to hear the judges' widely divergent opinions of the performers, and wonderful to meet musical theater professionals from other nations. I have many fond memories of my week in Yekatrinburg.

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