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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

The Way It Is

Don’t tell me, show me
Ruth Crome
Photos by Demian Fot

I’m an actor and I work as an actor. Being an actor is easy: all you have to do is pretend to be other people—other people who can afford to buy shoes.”

This is Martin Cooke, talking about his new project, The Queen’s English Theatre Studio, which was officially launched on March 26th at the Culture Centre on Tverskaya (and as seen on TV!)

Has anybody seen my motorbike?

I was first introduced to Martin in the summer of 2005 as a film-maker and performance poet from London. He was a man who had fallen out of love with the degrading “English Art Council culture way of life” and in love with the idea of Russia: “Its wildness, its Metro stops named after anarchists.” I was there when he gave up his flat in Hackney and packed as many books as he could into a trunk bound for Moscow.

It seemed a hard first few months in Moscow for Martin, the Rimbaud of Romford, who barely knew a word of Russian and appeared to be facing his first Russian winter alone in a flat with a terrible dose of Maldorian darkness about to descend on his psyche.

But then, slowly but surely, I’d get updates about a play he was putting on here, or a reading he was doing there, and somehow I knew Martin’s tenacity was bearing some artistic fruit for him.

Martin Cooke

When the Anglo-Russian Theatre was started by Martin two years ago, he made some invaluable contacts from the world of Russian theatre. His efforts to form a truly multi-cultural theatre company have now come to fruition in the formation of Russia’s first English Theatre Studio, dedicated to the teaching of theatre skills through cultural exchange, with working actors and offering LAMDA’s world renowned qualification; (LAMDA is the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art).

“The Studio is practically on Red Square… near the Mayor’s residence. It’s in the middle of everything! We’ve also got a theatre in Rublyovka, which we use for so called corporate team-building. Western HR managers applaud our efforts to give intelligent employees an experience beyond paint-balling and picnicking. It’s not about presentation skills, it’s about sanity and balance and the skills of emotional intelligence. We introduce people to themselves and to their colleagues who work in the same office, who seem to barely know or trust one another.

“More people go to the theatre in Russia than in England, but there seems to be no practical education available for interested artists among the mass of people, yearning to burst out of their conventional boxes, other than the propaganda afforded by the Saint Stanislavski apologists.” Sssshhh…

“We work with people who have a passion for drama. We work in corporate environments, schools and in the backwoods; which is how those who have missed out on any dramatic training and who love the theatre are now being offered the opportunity to take part in English-speaking improvisation classes by trained actors rather than English tutors who simply use drama as an additional teaching aid.

“What do people do outside work?” Martin asks rhetorically, “For some, life in front of a TV screen is too passive. What the Drama Studio can offer is a bespoke and genuine journey into a whole new world...”

Martin’s passion for Drama and the fact that he’s been stubborn enough to stay and turn his dream into a tangible reality can be seen in his own enigmatic and unique stage performances. He has been called the English Peter Mamonov. He now has a son, Arthur Tikhon Cooke, who’ll be three in August this year, and a Russian wife, Natasha, who he married four years ago.

So what hopes does he have for the Studio?

I get a definitive answer, “To create an eclectic company with different flavours, who’ll combine to cook up a new taste and style. Productions of Keats’ Lamia in a strip club are planned, as well as De Fillipo’s obscure masterpiece, The Inheritor, and we will then take the Made in Moscow productions on tour.”

The English Theatre Studio’s Company took part in a benefit concert on April 21st to raise money for the relief effort in Japan. Keats was on offer and the lost art of “Melodeclamation”. It means a lot to Martin to be involved in serving the community through his art. He’s taken Russia and its people to his heart. He’d like to offer Russians the dramatic art they were not offered at school, while at the same time he means to enhance the experience of living in Russia for visitors from all countries.

Irene Flaming - vocal coach

“We aren’t teachers; we’re actors, interested in developing a company who actually do create productions—film as well as theatre. We’re sharing what we know, not teaching but doing!”

“We’re authentic and inviolate. Not Corporate but bespoke and genuine.”

And bespoke also means that the Studio will be offering e-learning for interested ‘pArticipants’ outside the catchment area of Moscow as well as touring to the regions.

The Company are looking for funding from sympathetic sponsors. “We have brilliant supporters like Tri-co Cashmere and the venues we use, such as Shooters and Stariki Bar and the Library for Foreign Literature”.

Children’s drama sessions will be on offer too. The Salyut Children’s Cinema group, have started to host such sessions and this is something Martin hopes to develop further, even offering free performances for children all over Moscow.

I wonder whether Martin can pin point the moment of inspiration for the School?

“I had a vision in McDonald’s! It was this young student, Masha, who took part in a musical project I was involved with. I bumped into her in McDonald’s months later and asked whether she’d taken her experience further. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, ‘But there are no such drama schools in Moscow’. The heavens opened and I saw the footlight!”

Martin is actively encouraging actor contacts he has in the UK to join the company and add their experience to the mix, as well as grab an amazing chance to work with students of all ages to create new theatre. I recently visited the Harold Pinter Drama Studio at the University of East Anglia, which is renowned for its creative writing courses and drama students (including alumni such as Ian McEwan and the current Dr Who, Matt Smith). I was putting a poster up for Martin and bumped into his old tutor. He remembered Martin fondly and wished him well. As he took the poster from me I felt proud to be part of Martin’s vision and hoped that, like the Terminator, he’d be back. In case not, I’m looking at flights now and checking out my visa. I can’t wait to see what’s going on.

In May, Queen’s English Theatre Studio will be appearing at:

  • Shooters: Novoslobodskaya - Tuesdays
  • Stariki Bar: Lubyanka - Sundays
  • Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare will be touring various schools and the Salyut cinema.
  • LAMIA, undress rehearsal in secret locations…

If you wish to arrange a free music and poetry concert for children or enquire about enrolling on summer school courses at Queen’s English Theatre Studio.

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