Kristian Smeds

The Karamazov actor is vital and arrogant, but aspires to beauty

Kristian Smeds' fake dreadlocks reveal that the Viljandi Karamazov is not a facsimile edition of the Dostojevski novel.
The Brothers Karamazov will bring the two 2011 Capitals of Culture, Turku and Tallinn, together

Kristian Smeds Looks at Dostojevski Through Young Estonian Eyes

Capturing the essence of Dostojevski’s ‘the Brothers Karamazov’, which runs in excess of a thousand pages, is not a simple task. However, despite having taken a more straightforward approach to literary classics in the past, Kristian Smeds is not afraid to try.

- God is love and death, summarises Smeds.

Dostojevski’s last novel has fascinated the internationally recognised theatre director for years. Now is the time to turn the inspirational and emotional text into a stage performance. Smeds’ production for the autumn of 2011 will certainly take a personal and unique approach. A part of the Turku Capital of Culture programme, the play will be performed in Estonian and will also be performed in Tallinn, the other Capital of Culture in 2011, during the autumn.

- The Brothers Karamazov is a book that I hold quite dear. It includes the sacred and the evil in the same package, says Smeds, who has been building theatrical links between Finland and Estonia for years.

The project involves a large-scale cooperation that was initiated by Peeter Jalakas, the director for the Von Krahl Theatre. The Tallinn-based theatre has its own title class at the Viljandi Culture Academy, the other theatre school in Tallinn. Jalakas requested that Smeds direct a suitable play for the students. Smeds had previously modified The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna and The Seagull by Anton Chekhov for the Von Krahl Theatre. 

Once the cooperation with the Smeds Ensemble was confirmed, the 2011 Capitals of Culture, Turku and Tallinn, were included in the project. Turku City Theatre is also involved through set designer Jani Uljas; and Ismo Laakso, who will conduct the music composed by the students.

- I concluded that the Brothers Karamazov would provide both a pedagogic and artistic challenge. The play includes the full gamut of theatrical techniques from dialog to music. It has extremes. I have not dramatised the novel, but the themes come from Dostojevski.

Smeds had a front row seat observing talented young students from our southerly neighbour who could master as many as three instruments. The students were equally keen to absorb information and experiences and Smeds found this highly energising and instructive.

The cooperation has already brought about an idea of the Karamazov actor who challenges traditional working methods.

- The Karamazov actor is vital, mentally strong and arrogant, but always aspiring to beauty and sanctity, says Smeds.

The director considers actors as artists that live their profession 24/7, and so he allocates enough time for them to prepare for the performances – something that is especially important for young actors. Mistakes are acceptable and even welcomed. The actors use the workshops to practice and to immerse themselves in the play’s world by very practical methods – by tinkering about with cardboard props for the stage set.

- Theatres which operate only in a corporate efficiency style produce trivial performances which undermine both the audiences and the production team. We will slowly build a solid foundation that will carry the art gracefully.

According to Smeds, readers of classic works such as the Brothers Karamazov should take their time. The novel deepens and expands only with time. The same goes for the theatrical interpretation.

When Smeds and the group met for the third workshop in Tampere during April, a Russian copy of the Brothers Karamazov was circulated in the room. Smeds thought that the novel was not familiar for all Viljandi students – after all, reading has declined among the young people of Estonia as well.

- The classic novel is not a familiar medium for the younger generation, but the themes remain important. The themes are scattered all over the fragmented Internet reality.

The shared journey for Kristian Smeds and the Viljandi students started during the spring of 2008 with the first workshop in Tallinn. The students had enrolled at the Viljandi Culture Academy during the previous autumn. Since the first meeting, the group has made huge progress toward the premiere.

- There is a clear change. The students are more daring in their approach toward artistic independence.

While Smeds has not directed Finnish theatre students, he is still able to see cultural differences that are also reflected in more seasoned actors. In Estonia, acting has a lighter style than in Finland, where portraying strong emotions is everyday work for actors – for better or worse.

The group will next meet during April-May 2011. The drama will be finalised in August-September 2011.

The group has used the workshops to prepare some scenes that have also been tried out on the public. The group has not decided whether to include these in the final performance.

- The results of the quick workshop performance are not that important; the time we spend together is what counts.

Text: Matti Wacklin