Polina Kalinina has only just joined the Actors Touring Company as Trainee Associate Director, though you wouldn’t know it. She is already completely absorbed in their forthcoming production of The Events, a new play by David Greig that explores how a community responds to a tragic shooting that threatens to tear it apart. Books on trauma poke from her bag, and she talks excitedly about a week of meetings with psychologists and urban choirs, Norwegian actors and Austrian dramaturgs. Over a glass of wine at the Young Vic Bar, she takes a small break from rehearsals to tell us her own story.
Polina’s career began in Oxford at 18 with a production of The Crucible in the Corpus Christi College Chapel. With the atmosphere provided by the tiny medieval nave and Rubens altarpiece, she was able to give all her concentration to placing the actors. The production was a success and after graduating she took MA courses at Edinburgh and LAMDA. She then won an assistant directorship at London’s Orange Tree Theatre with legendary director Sam Walters. Her biggest lesson from him was the importance of patience. Sam will not flinch over difficulties with the script or technical hitches. In this, he is supported by a ‘core team that knows the venue, loves the venue and understands the venue’. Together, they operate with total dedication to producing great work.
Polina first encountered the Actors Touring Company after seeing their production of Ivan Viripaev’s Illusions. She knew the play well, and the potential pitfalls of bringing Russian dark humour to the English stage, but was amazed by the ‘internationalism’ of Ramin Gray’s production: ‘If there is such a thing as the Russian soul, then it was in that piece’.
The company’s new show, The Events, is no less challenging. It follows the story of Claire, a choir leader whose community is torn apart after a violent tragedy. Crafting the play has transformed Polina’s understanding of trauma. ‘Before I always thought of (it) as a medical condition, but now I understand that it’s not a condition it’s a process. You’re not going back to the person you were, you’re trying to find the person you will become’. Having workshopped the play with writer David Greig for a week, Polina admits that now that they are left alone with these characters they are ‘getting to the deep end of the swamp’.
Rehearsals will get bigger and bigger until the play opens at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh on 31 July. Ramin Gray operates a famously porous rehearsal room, and inspiration is coming from all sides: ‘You really feel like you can offer up what you think’. In the coming weeks, choir members will pass through, actors and directors will drop in to share their thoughts, and artists will come to capture the process. Polina sees a ‘collaboratively arduous but exciting’ time ahead.
Already making the Associate Director role her own, Polina is influenced by theatre practitioners with determination and a similarly daring style. Amongst these are Lyndsey Turner, the director of Laura Wade’s Posh and the hugely successful production of Brian Friel’s ‘Philadelphia, Here I Come’ at the Donmar Warehouse. Polina assisted Lyndsey by directing short scenes from the history of the Royal Court for a fundraiser, and she recalls Lyndsey being a ‘tour de force’ throughout. Similarly pioneering, both within the rehearsal room and without, is Sean Holmes, Artistic Director of the Lyric Theatre; the man who brought Edward Bond’s Saved back to the London stage after 27 years, and who has just launched their ‘Secret Theatre’ season. Polina is Russian, and she also introduces me to Sergei Zhenovach, Artistic Director of the Theatre Art Studio in Moscow. Zhenovach brought a ‘breathtakingly epic’ production of Bulgakov’s The White Guard to the Moscow Stage, and has now created his own studio using an ensemble cast drawn from students at his drama school. All of these directors are driven to improve the theatres and the communities they work with, and it is no surprise that Polina is so enthusiastic to be working on The Events, a play that will see nearly 80 community choirs across the country participate in a story of terror and trauma, hope and recovery.
When rehearsals are finally over and the show moves to the Traverse Theatre in Edinbrugh, the company will have a chance to enjoy the Fringe. Unsurprisingly, Polina already knows the shows she wants to see. A joint production between the Pleasance and Invertigo Theatre will see Cheek By Jowl associate Own Horsley direct Wolfgang Borchert’s grotesque tale of escape from a German prison camp, Outside on the Street. Like The Events this show promises dark humour, as it finds light amidst human tragedy. With a little brother to entertain, Polina also has her eye on Tucked In Productions’ children’s puppet show, Sam Rose In The Shadows, a lighter tale of superheroes and dragons.
With so much still to look forward to, flights arriving from Austria and a choir about to turn up at the rehearsal space, Polina returns to The Events.
The Events is at the Traverse Theatre from 31st July – 25th August, then touring the UK.
Digital Intern, ATC