Secrets About the "Svoy Variant" from the Person Who Knows It Best

Interview with Margarita Pavlova, the head of theatre studio "Svoy variant".

HSE Illuminated: When was the studio created? Who was the first leader? Why does it have such a name?

Margarita Pavlova: The theatre studio was created in 2001 by two students of the Faculty of Economics and Management – Maria Sharova and Maria Rudneva. The name of the studio symbolizes that everything that is created in the “Svoy variant” is not someone's text or a finished script; these are original ideas of each member of the studio.

HI: How long have you been in the theatre studio?

MP: I am in the theatre studio since October 2015, respectively, almost three and a half years.  

HI: How did you find out about it?

MP: I learned about it even before entering HSE Saint Petersburg. I knew that I would attend the University and, accordingly, I was looking for some activity, as I was a very socially active freshman. I found out that there were two theatre studios at the HSE. During my year at the "Neverland" (another theatre studio) they had some problems with recruitment, selection, and they did not devote enough time to it. The “Svoy variant”, I thought, was a theatre studio specificaly for the economists... and I'm studying Economics, and so, you know, this kind of involvement in my programme to some extent, and, of course, there were posters everywhere. Among our curators was a girl who was enrolled in the theatre studio and she studied with us. She advertised recruitment and performances. This was how I found the way to the studio.

HI: Who was the head at that time? Could you please say some words about your previous him or her?

MP: At that time Tanya Savelyeva was the head (formally 5 people, but there is always some leader). She was in her 4th year of study and, in fact, when I came, I was very afraid of her... I just thought that she was very strict, had very responsible attitude... that is why I was afraid.

HI: How did you get in charge?

MP: I became the head after the previous leaders left (the management headed by Tanya). It was the beginning of my 3rd year, I mean they left at the end of my 2nd year and next year I took the shift.

HI: Is it difficult to be the head of the studio, to watch after everything, to think up occupations?

MP: It is complicated, I should say. It is not so much complicated to prepare classes as to hear and organize everyone, because there is a lot of creative people and it is always a problem to unite and motivate them. And I do it all the time.  No, it's not easy. Sometimes I get so tired emotionally. On the one hand, I do understand the motives of our members, because I was once in their shoes. On the other hand, as a leader, I understand that they do not behave very well and there is a constant misunderstanding of how it should be done.

HI: How can one get enrolled to the theatre studio? Is it open to any student?

MP: Anyone can join our theatre studio. We have a rule that the most important thing is your desire to perform. We know that if there is a desire, then you can do absolutely everything, and it is the desire to develop, the desire to grow with us. We are very much supportive.

HI: How are the classes going?

MP: Classes are held according to a standard scheme. It first begins with “zachin”, a sketch to start a class, that is followed by the exercises. There are basic exercises and the exercises aimed at the development of some specific skills, such as voice, flexibility, improvisation, etc. At the end there are sketches, the theme of which is set up by the presenter of the class (not necessarily a topic, it can be a word, phrase, quote or something to think about) and then we all discuss them.

HI: Are there any unusual activities?

MP: Of course, there are some. Unusual classes are held because we cannot always use the rooms at Kantemirovskaya building as there are always many other events. We have off-site classes in the city – they can be held in the subway, for example. Such trainings are aimed at emancipation, because doing something in front of other people is not exactly the same as doing something in front of our team, to whom we are already accustomed. We also watch silent movies as they help us to develop and expand our own internal horizons.

HI: Could you please say some words about the studio traditions, old and new?

MP: We have a lot of traditions. They are mostly connected with our meetings. But we do celebrate Halloween and the New Year. Actually, these are two completely different events – the celebration of the New Year is always held where we have classes, and the celebration of Halloween is usually held at someone's place. But be sure all of these events include sketches, not very serious studies with elements of comedy and different games. We do it every year. Recently, we started a new tradition of meeting with old members of the studio every 29th day of each month who thus pass their legacy to us. We do some funny things, which can be called little traditions, such as washing the floor before each class, which always start at 12. Well, this is just a small part of what we do.

HI: How do you manage to maintain the integrity of the team?

MP: We definitely have one lesson devoted to trust and spend the whole day for training rapprochement. For example, we have a training called a “mirror” which is directed on supervision, attention development, which of course brings people closer to each other. We have a tea party after class, talk, and just play games, communicate and thus we are networking. We are friends and we love spending time together, we love visiting theatres and cinema. We, of course, have a “Grimerka” at Kantemirovskaya, and those who come to Kantemirovskaya can always spend there some time, drink tea with cookies, and feel at home.

HI: What is a “Grimerka”?

MP: “Grimerka” is a dressing room – our holy and sacred place where we store our props. We never know what we can find there as we discover something new every year while cleaning it. There are things brought by the studio members – some odds and ends as anything can be useful. We have our kettle with our cups (because each member has its own cup) and some sweets. Our dressing room is full of photos and posters from our recruitments. The purpose of a dressing room is to store our props, change before, during and after the class, and to speak. In general, it is like home at the University, and we just love to stay there to chat, play and drink tea.

HI: Do you welcome people who no longer belong to your studio?

MP: All theatre-goers are unique people and they are the most creative and always achieve everything. We had several people who later on became teachers at the HSE, I can name at least three of them. For example, a girl who used to visit our theatre studio conducted one of the open day lectures. It is difficult to leave the studio as we are all like family here.

HI: Thanks for the talk. What would you suggest to those who would like to join your studio?

MP: If you want to join us, do not be afraid of anything, because you are capable of many things. People are unique and amazing; the main thing is just to reveal it in yourself, to find your zest. Be confident, add a little creativity to your life and let your life be warm and cozy.

Text by
Anastasia Yurko