Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine
In 1607 Captain John Smith founded Jameston, the first English settlement in America,
but in 1603 he was in Eastren Europe
created and performed by
Bob Holman, Susan Hwang and Julian Kytasty
conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz
with projections by Volodymyr Klyuzko & Mikhail Shraga
set & lights in New York by Watoku Ueno
set & lights in Ukraine by Yevhen Kopiyov
costumes by Keiko Obremski
Ukrainian translations: Kateryna Babkina
assistant director: Nadia Sokolenko
photos & graphics: Volodymyr Klyuzko
Sept 2013 in Ukraine:
Dzyga, for 20th Lviv Book Fair
GogolFest, Kyiv photos
Kyiv's Les Kurbas National Theatre Center photos
Feb 27- March 9, 2014 La MaMa ETC, New York
Excerpts from Press in New York:
John Smith is someone who every American schoolchild feels he or she knows. We all saw the Disney film "Pocahontas" and know the stories of the Jamestown settlement. What Yara Arts Group accomplishes in "Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine" is to shed light on a lesser-known aspect of Smith's adventuring career: how he became a captain and his travels to Ukraine, before he ever helped found the Virginia colony. This at times extremely delightful musical-experimental work of theater gives its history lessons a much-needed makeover with fun, liveliness, and an accordion.
Although the play is based on specific historical events recorded in Smith's autobiography, those facts are not told as a linear narrative. Instead, the piece is constructed like a mosaic, collaging together traditional Ukrainian music, projections, humorous scenes and multi-lingual poetry. The effect this layering creates is like that of an artistic combine construct; meaning is made by how the elements are juxtaposed, not just the bits themselves. This structure is compelling and smart and makes what could be a dry history class into an entertaining romp.
All three performers are wonderful. Susan Hwang is particularly enjoyable to watch, with her fabulous characterizations and impressive accordion playing. Julian Kytasty adds gravity to each scene with his brilliant playing and singing, while Bob Holman engages the audience for the play's entire hour, making John Smith into a relatable, human individual.
The best scenes of this work use music and imagination along with clever projections to show something of the emotional effect of Smith's adventure. Yet, the play does not shy away from the political possibility of doing a play about Ukraine at this particular historical moment. Rather, they bring current events right into the world of this play, showing how what we know of what happened can help us understand that which is happening now.
Overall, "Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine" is a fun theatrical experience. The ending, in particular, is worth the price of admission. So set sail with Captain John Smith at La MaMa; he and this production will take you to a brand new world, one you'll be glad to have visited.
"A New World" by Kelly Aliano, New York Theatre Wire, March 4, 2014
PRESS in Ukraine
This theatre director with Ukrainian roots creates something larger than Ukrainian theatre. Actors of all races and ethic heritages perform in various languages in her productions, at times introducing Kyrgyz and Buryat rituals. Virlana Tkacz’s performances are attempts at multi-directional discourse between various forms of art: that feature music, video installations, photography, literature, and movement by the actors. Yara Arts Group’s new show “Capt. John Smith” is as multilayered as always, with a distinctly Ukrainian line to it.
“Theatre is New York’s largest industry. Our city now understands that all other industries can disappear, but culture is going to remain in town,” Tkacz says. “In experimental theatre you start each project from ground zero. Each time the possibilities of the world open before your eyes!... Language should not be an obstacle, because there is also the language of eyes, hands, shoulders, feet – and people of all nationalities understand these. New art always has to fight for new spaces: be it on Facebook or in abandoned factory buildings like the organizers of GogolFest do.
“As a director I am most interested in how tradition and history are passed on between generations. For Ukrainian and also for Kyrgyz, Buryat and African cultures in which I am most interested, the question of what to preserve from their tradition is essential. The more I research this in other cultures, the more I understand it in Ukraine. These cultures are not alike, they do not share either religion or history, but they share this attempt not merely to preserve, but to further develop and create the culture… I am most interested in how new culture is created on the base of tradition. … traditional art is not static, but evolves.”
“Ukrainian culture will develop if there is dialogue between tradition and new art. … I am not interesting in just putting up a show, but to be part of the creative atmosphere in which Ukrainian culture is born. … We come together and make good projects when our dreams intersect.”
“Tradition a la New Style” interview with Virlana Tkacz by Tetiana Teren in
Ukrainskyi tyzhden, (Ukrainian weekly magazine affiliated with The Economist), Sept 27, 2013
origial article in Ukrainian
Her name reflects her character – free and flying, found by her grandfather in some old texts. Virlia – is a young eagle. And Virlana is a bird who soars over her projects and her protégés.
Virlana says: “I don’t do it for effect, I simply chose the best actor for the part. I have staged “Forest Song” three times, and in the most recent version (the show was called Fire Water Night) Sylph was played by Jenny Leona, of Italian heritage, and Luke was African-America. They were the best actors at the moment, and they were a wonderful pair on stage. Actors of different heritages react well to Ukrainian material, and “Forest Song” has such universal themes that have resonance. It is very important to open Ukrainian culture to the world, so that we become a part of world culture… Why do I do what I do? Because I want to share this very interesting material to which I have a unique access – be it to Zhadan, or Babkina or Lysheha…I am interested in people who can create something, most of our shows are not written, we create them together.”
“Under Virlana’s Wing” by Natalia Dmytrenko, Ukraina Moloda Sept 24, 2013
origial article in Ukrainian
Although the production is based on historical documents, the story is told with a contemporary ironic stance towards the past. The blend of Julian Kytasty's traditional Ukrainian artistry, Bob Holman's hip-hop poetry and Susan Hwang cabaret motifs creates a unique edge. I am convinced that anyone who hears this trio's renditions "Three Heads is Love" and "Crossroads of the World" will immediately become an obsessed fan. Yara Arts Group projects are known for being multicultural and multilingual; they take a deep look at history and spice it up with contemporary commentary and context. Sometimes the inspiration for a show is a single song or a poem (by Oleh Lysheha or Oksana Zabuzhko or some other poet) sometimes it is a historical fact or document. We can assume that for Smith his "Ukrainian" experiences were a ray of light, because he writes in his book "In all his life he seldome met with more respect, mirth, content and entertainment…." than in these places destroyed by the wars.
"An American Legend in Ukraine" by Nadia Soklenko, Kultura i zhyttia, Sept 27, 2013
What is most fascinating to watch is how Virlana Tkacz combines elements of different cultures (three languages are used in the show) and how she interprets history. "I am interested in what role history plays today. We know so little about it," says the director. "Once someone wrote that the structure of my shows is that of a vertep [a traditional Nativity Puppet Play which was staged on two levels: the sacred and the profane.] When I thought about this I realized how true this was. Here we are – contemporary living people, and we are somewhat comedic. And there is the past, to which we have some kind of sacred connection."
So, "Captain John Smith Goes to Ukraine" is a non-epic story about an epic journey, told with an English sense of humor intertwined with Ukrainian folklore. Its heroes have stepped out of the dusty pages of rare books and now live before our eyes – right next to us.
"Capt. John Smith Goes to Ukraine"by Zhenia Oliynyk -- teatr.ua -- the theatre portal
origial article in Ukrainian
The first performance created by Virlana Tkacz at New-York's La MaMa Theatre was called "Light from the East." As Virlana tells it, the title appeared spontaneously, but after twenty years, it is obvious that it couldn't have been called anything else. The creative life of this delicate and bright Ukrainian-American from New York is marked with humor and optimism, with an interest in ethnic sources, a love of the national traditions of various nations, and the capacity to overcome borders easily.…
"I think an actor's greatest talent is to be present onstage without showing off his or her skills. With a live audience you feel at once what works and what doesn't. Every theatre has to find its own role. I think to a certain extent I am really interested in the creation of a community. It's the community that is your audience. For festivals, or performances you can create your own community which will see everything, understand your material and you hope it will continue to be so. … I think people in this country and in America are interested in the same questions. But the questions are asked differently, not in the same tone."
"Tradition has to live and change. Even the most authentic things have their own sense of fashion. If we compared a photo of my mom, my grandma and me in Ukrainian costumes when we were approximately the same age, it's clearly visible how fashion has influenced tradition. Tradition should be preserved when it's in danger. When it's not – it supposed to live and develop; to become more diverse, to migrate to Facebook or GogolFest – and into many, many new ways and spaces. When we think about tradition we tend to only remember what it was like in the forties – somehow today that is considered traditional. But one hundred or three hundred years before what was "traditional" was something totally different"
"Solutions are not obvious. Everyone has to search for them alone. This is the task of the art".
"Presence of Light" by Katrya Kot, Ukrainska kultura, no.9-10, 2013
origial article in Ukrainian
TVI Interview with Virlana Tkacz
TVI on "Capt John Smith" in Lviv
ZIK TV Interview in Lviv with Virlana Tkacz & Julian Kytasty
Susan Hwang, Julian Kytasty & Bob Holman perform "Crossroads of the World"
Les Kurbas Theatre Center in Kyiv