Janka Kupała Theatre in Tomsk
The Janka Kupała company in Tomsk, 1941
The war found the theatre touring in Odessa. The company had to move to Siberia instead of Minsk. Hospitable Tomsk gave shelter to the theatre and gave an opportunity to work in the building of the town theatre, where now Young People's Theatre is located. Relatives and former workers of the theatre, who had managed to escape Belarus, started to arrive to Tomsk from all over the Soviet Union.
The artists performed variety shows to the Siberians who would be sent to the battlefront, to the wounded ones, to those who had been sent to the home front, or worked at plants and collective farms. The theatre restored the best performances of those that had been played in Minsk, relearning them in Russian, helping to create scenery, costumes, and props.
"They have been taking Belarusian partisans to Tomsk from the heart of Paliesse. The partisans deeply moved us with their tales of the war and human suffering, about battles in Belarus. We gathered warm clothing for them, performed our shows in the day-offs, raised money for an airplane Belarusian State Theatre. In a word, we lived for the victory, we believed in it," remembered the Honoured artist of the BSSR Jaŭhien Ramanovič. "When the war came close to Belarus after the Stalingrad and Kursk battles, the theatre organized two front-line brigades with a specially arranged programme and sent the first one, under the direction of Hliebaŭ, to the Kalinin front, and the other, under the direction of Uladzimirski, to liberated Homel. We ourselves toured in Tomsk region and Narym krai. We had to play in unusual conditions: on rafts, in the meadows, in schools, sometimes in the night or in the morning, adapting to fisherman conditions. We all worked paying no attention to hard conditions of life, we lived with faith that one day we will return to Minsk, will take care of its recovery and prosperity. All our old quarrels and controversy had been abandoned, patriotic spirit united us all."
The Janka Kupała theatre restored 11 performances and directed 14 new ones while staying in Tomsk in 1941-1944. One of these show was Paŭlinka directed by Leŭ Litvinaŭ, that has been on the stage of Janka Kupała theatre for 70 years.
The company played 870 performances for more than 747 thousand spectators in Tomsk itself. The theatre also visited Novosibirsk and toured in districts in 1943. The front-line actor brigade played 65 performances and 71 concert in the frontline army.
"After the liberation of Minsk, the evacuated drama theatre moved to the motherland. The theatre was entitled to take everything that they could convey by train," Tomsk newspaper Red Banner read on May 10th. "All the theatre wardrobe, stage equipment, furniture, doorways, tin roof... All of that was taken away."
In 1980 Barys Burjan wrote in the magazine Art how he remembered the meeting with the theatre after the war:
"Summer of 1944. The glaringly bright sun throws mercilessly and generously its light on the smoking ruins of Minsk squares and streets. Playbills with so familiar letters BDT-1 are being fastened to the burnt bricks. The premiere is Paŭlinka by Janka Kupała. First Belarusian State Theatre came back to its native city liberated from Nazi occupants."
Janka Kupała Theatre company in Tomsk. 1985 year
Janka Kupała Theatre went on the first Siberian tour only in 40 years after returning to Minsk.
"I don't quite remember whose idea it was, but we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the victory exchanging tours with Minsk theatre," tells Maria Smirnova, the head of the Literature and Drama Department of the Tomsk Regional Drama Theatre. "We have been waiting for the Belarusians. I myself have not seen the plays because I was in Belarus, but my colleagues told me, that the showings were successful. A lot of the spectators came, who knew the theatre since the war: "Our theatre has come!"
The theatre performed most of its repertoire in Tomsk on August 1st to 30th 1985: Paulinka, The Privates, Monsieur Amilcar, Characters, Marry and Never Pine, Burnt House, Evening, There and Here, Tribunal, Veračka.
"It was unforgettable!", smiles Zoja Biełachvościk, the Honoured Artist of the Republic of Belarus. "When we came to Tomsk you could still find there the house where the hall of residence for our artists had been during the evacuation. I was standing in front of it and all of it looked familiar. I have heard the stories from my mother since my childhood about Tomsk, about theatre, performances, front-line brigade on Kalinin front, the staging of The Evening of Comedies".
"We have been received very warmly, we even had to play additional performances," remembers Mikałaj Pinihin, the art director of the theatre, the first travel to Tomsk. "I can see now the queue for three kilometres long standing in the Obrub street by the only store where you could buy some alcohol. It was the dry law back then. But the Tomsk people asked us after the arrival if needed any alcohol. Maybe someone had his birthday during the spell? We didn't hesitate for an instant to answer that the whole company had their birthdays in August. So we got a whole truck loaded with cases of vodka.
The company performed not only in Tomsk Drama Theatre but also in numerous settlements along the Ob.
"I was working in Department of Culture, and I was charged to accompany the Belarusian theatre," says Emma Strashkova, who is 77 this year. "Three weeks we had been going down the Ob on board of the boat Kultrabotnik. While the artists were playing I was looking for food. Local dwellers shared enthusiastically things they had, gave us hints where to go for the sour-cream. During the tour, we made good friends with the artists and kept correspondence later. Stefanija Staniuta made me bone beads. Siaroža Kraučanka cut a wooden pipe for my daughter: "To Olia from Wolf".
Janka Kupała Theatre in Tomsk. 2000 year
Next time our theatre was invited to Tomsk to the celebrate the 150 anniversary of the local theatre. 2 to 19 of October they carried out a "New=Old" Theatre Festival. The Janka Kupała Theatre performed Paŭlinka and Forest. They have been met in the railway station with a round loaf and round dances. Janka Kupała Theatre was joined also by companies from Novosibirsk, Omsk, Irkutsk and Novokuznetsk.
"Tomsk amazed me at once," says Julia Špileŭskaja. "You can feel how are the history and traditions of this land, nature and people. I still can see high wooden houses, I have never seen anything like this here. that was a hugely emotional moment. Tomsk is actually the place where our theatre was reborn, it is an important part of its history. I have been only starting to play Paŭlinka. Lots of directors who come from abroad and watch Paŭlinka recommend us to save it. It has become an intellectual monument by now. It is what we are proud of. And it appeared in Tomsk."
Janka Kupala Theatre company in Tomsk. 2014
"Was it you who played Vera?" a strange man is asking Alena Sidarava, an Honoured Artist of the Republic of Belarus, by the entrance of the Tomsk Drama Theatre. He knew his favourite actress in 30 years.
Sure, the spectators who watched the performances in the 1940th are long gone. But the local dwellers who take interest in theatre, know that the plaque on the Young Spectator Theatre hides the story that links Tomsk to Minsk.
"Thank you that you have found time to come to our city this day, when Tomsk region celebrates its 70 year anniversary, the province is 210 years old, and the city is 410 years old,' said Andrei Knorr, the deputy governor of Tomsk region, before Paŭlinka.
“The play has undoubtedly changed, but is still a folk comedy”, notes Maria Smirnova, the head of Literature Department of the theatre. ”It seems that the stars were aligned in 1944, that both a good company was formed and the circumstances were good, so Paŭlinka was created in our city. We remember about it. And the audience takes still takes the interest in the play: the full 700 seat house proves it.”
When The Night Before Christmas followed Paŭlinka, all the tickets were sold out again. One can see the queue for the tickets for Office. The spectators are whispering to each other "What a beautiful theatre!", and are ready again to meet the Belarusian company again.