November 3-10, 2012
Synetic Theater artistic company travels to the Republic of Georgia to perform at The Rustaveli Theater in Tbilisi.
Download full press release here.
In the Fall of 2012, Synetic Theater, with the support of the US Department of State, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Fund, and the Rustaveli Theater, took two of it’s most successful shows, Host and Guest and King Lear, to the Republic of Georgia to perform them in Tbilisi at the Rustaveli State Theater. For Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, the company founders, this was the first time they had returned to Georgia since leaving in the early 1990′s, and was the first introduction of almost all of the American actors, creative team, and production crew to the culture of the country whose emigres had led them through years of artistic work. This blog attempts to capture some sense of that amazing experience. The following is the story of Synetic’s Georgian adventure, as told by Ben Cunis, Artistic Associate.
My name is Ben Cunis, I’m an Artistic Associate with Synetic Theater. I’ve worked with the company for almost 7 years now in various capacities — as an actor, fight choreographer, writer, and director, to name a few — and I was one of the lucky gang of 20 Syneticons that got to pack up and fly halfway around the world to see the Republic of Georgia, the homeland of our founders, Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, as well as our own Irakli Kavsadze, Irinka Kavsadze, and Konstantine Lortkipanidze.
It was an amazing journey, from rehearsing two shows at once all through October, to biting our nails as Sandy approached the East Coast at the same time as our flight date, to finally stepping onto the stage of the Rustaveli State Theater for the first time and realizing that, yes, we were here, to the last performances, the final farewells, and the long journey home.
Describing the entirety of our great adventure to Georgia is no easy task. I’ve been asked to provide some insight into the trip, so over the next few weeks I’ll provide some stories and thoughts to go along with the images of this amazing trip that, for many of us, was a life-changing experience. We hope that through the performances and experiences from this trip, we have been able to forge a new connection between the US and Georgia through artists and artworks.
So. On to the trip.
First, there was a journey.
Actually, that’s a misstatement. Even before the journey began, we were beset with challenges. We had only three weeks, all through October, to rehearse two very difficult shows, King Lear and Host and Guest. They represent some of the oldest and newest work that the company has done.
Our journey to Georgia was scheduled to leave on Monday night the 29th of October. That was the same night that Hurricane Sandy was at her worst — we ended up getting delayed two days and flying out on the 31st. We landed in Georgia, after a 20 hour journey that included a 7 hour layover in Istanbul, at about 4:30 in the morning. We were bused to our hotel, where we grabbed a few hours of sleep before rising and heading over to the Rustaveli State Theater, an absolutely amazing space where would perform two performances each of both shows — we had two days to prepare for our performances of Host and Guest on the 3rd and 4th of November. We would then have four days to change over the set, rehearse King Lear, and perform it on the 8th and 9th.
Performing at the Rustaveli — the State Theater of Georgia, was an amazing experience. Every performance was full, and the audience was made up of an enthusiastic mixture of young, old, professionals, students, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and everything in between. The reception we had was incredible, and none of us will forget the feeling of seeing the lights go up on that audience after every show.
Feasting in Georgia — The night we opened Host and Guest was a night of some great exhilaration. We had done what felt pretty impossible — despite hurricanes and international conflicts (our layover was in Istanbul, you may recall, and the conflict with Syria resulted in a determination that none of us would lay over for an extended period in Istanbul like we had previously planned).
We went out that night the Garden Circle restaurant, a quick cab ride away from the theater. The Rustaveli folks treated us to some wine and food and we were able to breathe and celebrate together for a bit. It was a great time (and great wine).
A note on Georgian cab drivers — we generally had to get cabs to get back from certain parts of the city (like this garden restaurant place, for example). Georgian cab drivers do not ascribe to “rules” of the road as such, using them merely as guidelines, with the thought process that “rules are for other people.” One ride we had was 15 minutes to get to where we were going…and the other cabbie that took us back took about 5 minutes. He was a very competent stock car driver, he seemed to have died on the racetrack and reincarnated as our cab driver. Adventure.
The next day we had time to explore the city a little bit before the show that evening. Tbilisi is an amazing place, a city in transition — it is an ancient place, but it is very lived-in place that has seen revolution after change after revolution. Very old places that are well preserved are right next to crumbling soviet-era architecture as well as ancient buildings that have not been preserved…just lived in over and over. Getting down to the Old Town, however, you see some of the best and most beautiful of the old city that has been preserved and curated. I walked down there for Khatchapouri with a gang of friends, and after eating Khatchapouri we took a gondola ride up to the hilltop with the lady to look over the city.
If you’re wondering what Khatchapouri is, or how it’s actually spelled (I don’t think the English alphabet has the letters for it), it is best described as a bowl of bread filled with dough, cheese, and, in the version we got, egg.
Looking over the city, we found ourselves up next to the statue of Kartlis Deda. As Irina described it to me, this statue is a symbol of the Georgian woman. She stands looking over the city with a cup of wine in one hand and a sword in the other. It is an apt symbol. Since, in Georgian history, the men were away at war so often, the women had to keep the home and maintain the rules of hospitality as such — hospitality is sacred to the Georgians. Host and Guest is about that very idea. She carries the sword as the “other option.” Come in peace, you will be welcomed with wine, come with war, and you will get the sword.
We had another performance that night, and a new adventure out into the Georgian countryside, which I’ll address in a later post.