Tatiana Jennings is a Russian born and trained actor, director, dancer and choreographer. She studied theatre and film at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts and was a star of the Moscow experimental theatre scene. Her solo performance Madame Marguerite played to sold-out Moscow audiences for three years. Since coming to Canada, Tatiana has taught theatre at York University and Humber College. In 2005 Tatiana, with a group of Humber College Graduates, formed an experimental theatre company “Kadozüké Kollektif” to develop and produce multidisciplinary original work, which explores subjects of consciousness, mind-body interactions and perceptions of reality.
With the company (as their artistic director) she directed and produced The Gulliver Project Figaro, his Marriage and the Fine Art of Dressmaking, The Sandman and Codex Nocturno.
Tatiana and Kadozüké Kollektif have been developing Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence since 2012, an original production inspired by Richard III to open September 10th in partnership with Bad New Days performing arts. This intimate performance combines Kadozüké’s signature visual aesthetic with a stunning set designed by renowned Russian stage designer Vladimir Kovalchuk in collaboration with Tatiana Jennings along with cutting edge 3D projection mapping designed by Montgomery Martin. They are still fundraising.
On the occasion of The Kadozüké Kollektif’s 10th Anniversary, and the opening next week of Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence (their most ambitious project to date), I ask Tatiana Jennings 10 questions: five about herself and five more about the show.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
I think I inherited certain traits from both of my parents but I am also quite unlike them. At least that’s what I think they often felt when I was growing up or would’ve thought if they would know me now. My parents were absolutely lovely people and I was very close to them. My mother passed away when I was quite young and it had been more than 10 years since my father died. I often catch myself having a facial expression, which is very much like my father’s. I also think a lot about my mother. I am actually older now than she was when she died, which I find disturbing.
I am an only child. I grew up in downtown Moscow, across the Moscow zoo. My parents were busy working and I was mostly left to my own devices, being looked after by the various neighbours and friends of the family. As a child I had no real interests or passions except for reading. I started reading very early and spent most of my childhood and adolescence going through full editions of classics one after another. I probably read something like 20 toms of Balzac by the age of 14. My parents had an extensive library and nobody paid any attention to what my reading choices were. I read it all, novels, letters, essays. Dickens, Zola, Galsworthy, Chekov, Tolstoy. Whatever I could find. My parents didn’t really have any children’s books. I was obsessed with the Forsyte Saga. I used to read it when I felt sad or aggravated.
At some point I joined zoological society and worked at the zoo. My mother was a geneticist so it felt somehow appropriate, as well as us living so close to the Moscow zoo. I don’t think I was really interested in biology but I liked animals and socially it was a lot of fun. A kind of a social alternative to the high school.
I was a disinterested and lazy student. I don’t think I ever did any homework and I had problems with authority. However, thanks to the ability to read very fast and think on my feet I always managed to squeeze by. I never was considered to be artistic. I don’t think I ever read anything aloud in public. By the end of high school I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself. Then, just a couple of month before graduation I went along with a friend of mine to a private audition with a professor of GITIS, which is our Theatre Academy. My grandmother helped to arrange it and I was there for moral support. In Russia acting is a most coveted profession and it is almost impossible to get into it. There are thousands of people auditioning every year and the competition is quite ridiculous. The professor was very old and frail and she knew my great-grandmother. She also used to be a student of Stanislavski when she was young. After my friend left, I stayed and had tea with her and she asked me if I know anything by heart. I only managed to remember a part of a poem, which to my own surprise I agreed to read to her. When I left she called my grandmother and offered to coach me for the entrance exams. My parents thought it was a joke. It took 3 attempts to get accepted. I never looked back. It was like I was asleep and then I woke up.
2) What is the best thing or worst thing about being artistic director of a company such as Kadozuke Kollectif?
For me theatre is a family business. So my company is an extension of my family. I am very Russian in this respect. We are not really raised in individualistic western tradition. We are collective beings. Being a part of the company is a big part and attraction of working in the theatre. When I came to Canada I left back home my company, which was very much my family. So with Kadozuke I tried to recreate that model. The Canadian system is very different from the way we were brought up (theatrically). People rarely can afford to keep working together with the same people over long periods of time. The time it takes to produce a show depends on the amount of grant money, which is usually not much. So independent shows often have a small cast and not very long rehearsal time.
We work as long as we consider necessary and choose any material or subject matter we happen to be interested in. At a cost of course. We are not paid. Although all of us are professionals and our shows are very ambitious we treat our work as a collective artistic pursuit rather than a job. We meet 3 times a week for 10 years and we improvise, train, invent, rehearse, talk. It’s a life choice and a community as much as a professional pursuit.
We were supported by Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils a few times but we don’t rely on it. Our shows are too off the wall to be picked up for grants. We do make an effort and apply of course. It’s a lot of work. We always first start working on a project and then start applying for money. But we don’t stop working to wait if we got it. So by the end of all this grant applying and waiting we usually will have the show. In the 2,5 years we spent rehearsing Richard we applied for grants 9 times (if you count all the applications) But we were not able to get any support. So we did it anyway. We always end up doing it anyway. But, to tell you the truth, it would be fantastic to get some support. And actually have the money to do things on the scale we want.
[here’s the indiegogo link, fundraising for this project]
3) Who do you like to listen to or watch?
I almost never listen to music in my free time. I use a lot of music in my work and I like it to be quiet in my off time. I listen to a lot of radio. It became my favourite medium lately.
I listen to NPR, CBC and all kinds of other things. I listen to programs about politics, technology, science and interviews with writers.
4) What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
I would like to be able to draw and sing opera.
5) When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I don’t really have any hobbies or interests outside of my work. I read, I watch tv sometimes. In fact usually, after I finish the show I binge watch tv.
1-Please talk about the challenges of Richard III, the Pleasures of Violence in the context of the growing body of work created by Kadozuke Kollectif.
Usually I choose projects randomly. I have a stable of random or not so random subjects, which are stored somewhere in my head for the future use. Literary material, which had some impact on me, design ideas, images,.
When I have to choose a subject for a new work I go over the bits and pieces I have in my head and wait till something resonates. However, if I am honest with myself I am always exploring the same subject. Or a couple of subjects. The material is just a vehicle. I drive different cars along the same road, sort of speak.
But it doesn’t matter how many times I drive along this road – I still know nothing about it. And it looks different every time. I am not sure driving is a right metaphor – wondering on foot, with a bunch of friends will be more appropriate.
The subjects I gravitate to are loss, fate, death, beauty, and the invisible connections in-between everything.
I look for invisible and unsolvable. Things we feel but can’t express.
Choosing Richard as a subject of exploration was somehow different. Or may be not that different, as it seems. I was thinking about attempting a Shakespeare play for a while. Mostly because I find myself completely untouched by the productions of Shakespeare I have seen over the years. May be because I’m Russian. We are quite fond of Shakespeare, but we work with contemporary translations done by well known contemporary poets. So it’s not really Shakespeare. As much as Chekov translated into English is not quite Chekov. The plot is there but the language is gone. It’s a different thing.
So for me to attempt an interpretation of Shakespeare in English was a challenge. And I like challengers. It is interesting to work with material where the audience has a feeling that they are familiar with the story. And then it will probably end up being a very different story from the one they expect. Mostly because of the approach we take. Which, I guess is unorthodox.
When I started my search for the right Shakespearian play I anticipated that it would be one of the magical comedies, like Midsummer night dream or may be something like the Tempest, since much of my work with my company had to do with the subjects of dream, transcendent and absurd, odd.
So my actors and me started reading the plays. We went through a few and nothing felt right. We almost dropped that whole idea all together but than I decided as a last effort to try something different. a historical play. Richard was somewhere on the back of my mind, probably because of the scene with Lady Anne, which I always found very sexually provocative. So we started reading it and Bingo! It felt perfect right away.
The play is almost comically violent; it’s a propaganda play. All historical events are distorted; there is hardly a word of truth in it.
Shakespeare plays with the reality and the meaning of violence and we play with his play.
We add layers of meanings, scenes, which are not there but could’ve been there, we reinterpret relationships and events. But we don’t change the text, just the context. We add life between the lines. It worked out to be quite funny
2-What do you love about Kadozuke Kollectif?
I love my actors unconditionally. They bring their amazing talents and passion to our work, they are true collaborators. We work on our projects in two distinctive stages. First one, which might last for months, is centered on actors improvising collectively within a set of established rules. Each improvisation can last for a couple of hours and has it’s own theme, story and visual aesthetics. Nothing is discussed ahead of time. Each improvisation evolves from nothing into a complex layered piece.
At the end I, as an outside observer respond to what I have seen. We talk about what worked and what didn’t and try again. With Richard we had Shakespeare’s text running on a large tv monitor throughout the improvisations allowing actors to use it outside the context of a play. They would invent their own set of events and use the text of Richard in a totally different set of circumstances. The lines will acquire a different meaning and quality. The text opens up and begins to breathe and to shine. It is quite amazing to see.
During this period I only watch and take part in conversations. I wait till my sense of the project becomes strong enough that I am able to see the shapes and feel an emotional pull of the material. My actors inspire me. I don’t invent the shows in my head – I create them with actors and for actors. Without this first period I’m unable to work in an organic way.
When I am ready to step in and do my part of the work, actors are completely free within our chosen subject, so they can easily accommodate whatever I come up with. My choices are not based on the improvisations I’ve seen, they are inspired by the actors whom I have been watching. When I direct – it’s my time to improvise and to create.
3-Do you have a favourite moment in Richard III, the Pleasures of Violence?
…But it’s tech week, and Tatiana did not answer this question (yet) so we’ll leave that one up to those of us who go see the show. I’ll get back to you.
4-As a teacher who has been helping in the development of talented artists, please talk about the relevance of Kadozuke Kollectif in today’s world.
I don’t try to change my audience or to propagate my views through my work. I, myself exist in a permanent state of change and I explore the world through my artistic practice. The audience is invited to watch.
I can’t tell what kind of mentor and teacher I am. I don’t have any answers or any special knowledge. All I have are questions.
5-Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
I have quite a few people who inspired me. Anatoly Vasiliev, a Russian director with his forward thinking and innovative theatre practice. Bill Viola, an American video artist and Vladimir Kovalchuk, my designer and long time collaborator both of whom know a secret or two about how to turn visual into visceral; My friend, colleague and my director Klim who knows how to play in the space between human and transcendent. My parents with their sense of humour and kindness.
Richard III, The Pleasures of Violence opens at Zuke Studios / Imagefoundry, 1581 Dupont St. Toronto, and will be running September 10 – 14, 18-21, 25 – 28. Tickets are available at www.zuke.ca.