Behind the HSE Theater Scenes

HSE Theater director and actors talk about their projects, experience, and why the Theatre can be called their home.

Behind the HSE Theater Scenes


On the maps of Moscow culture there is a theater with a controversial name. Grateful viewers write enthusiastic reviews of the productions, praise the high-class performances and intend to come more than once. The only contradiction is that this theater exists in the leading non-theatrical university and its actors are students. Its name is the HSE Theater.

However, it is at the HSE where a simple student theater has become so famous that the halls are filled with viewers, plays win the Grand Prix of many prestigious competitions, and students from diffefernt universities dream to become the theater team.  The curtain on the secrets of success was lifted by the head of the theater - actress Irina Sirotinskaya, and actors Artem, Lola, Alina, Anna, and Anastasia.

Irina, guys, hello! The theater is one of the oldest HSE organizations with a lot of history. It appeared almost a quarter of a century ago as a modest creative group, but has become a team of real professionals. Over the years, you have conquered more than one creative festival and many audience hearts. Please tell us how you have been working lately?

Irina: What we just don't do! We conduct master classes, class concerts, screenings of poems, monologues. A lot of everything! In 2018, we staged the play "Casting" based on the play by Alexander Galin. In the original it is called "Competition", but we have slightly updated it. In 2020, we experienced a pandemic in an online format. It was very difficult emotionally, but we coped: we also held "theatrical Saturdays", where we introduced the guests to acting skills, and participated in the project "HSE for children!". This year we have two premieres! In autumn, the season was opened with the play "Silver Age" about the relationship between different generations. In April, a production about Pushkin and Lermontov "Two Geniuses" was released. And we have also launched a completely new experimental project "Creative Laboratories".

Please tell us more about Creative Laboratories! What is this project about? Who is it foe and why you decided to launch it?

Irina: The fact is that students get to the HSE Theater through audition in several rounds. We try to stage performances at a certain level. Therefore, no matter how much we would like to, we cannot take everyone at once and pay attention to everyone. But we found a way to do it anyway. Participation in the Laboratory is an opportunity for all students to express themselves and their creativity. We asked the guys to send any of their ideas: whether it's some kind of performance, installation, their own poems or prose. We gave feedback on everything. We selected the best ones, and the guys performed with them at a special screening together with our junior group.

Was the first experience successful? Were there many applicants?

Irina: There were a lot of applications, but when we started inviting students to rehearsals, in fact, not all of them came: someone had more important things to do, a busy schedule. I think the experience was successful! For me, for example, economists are economists, not actors. However, I admired their ideas and, most importantly, their courage! The courage to go out in public right away, even in such a large hall … In our Theater, before you go on stage for the first time, you need to prepare a lot and for a long time. We do special exercises, prepare small sketches. Then we hold an open lesson and show them to the first small audience — parents and friends. And only then we go out on a large scene. These are the rules: to play one big sketch, you need to play two small ones; to go to the whole hall, you need to play for several people. Everything needs experience!

Where and how do you gain experience?

Irina: We have our own small hall on Myasnitskaya Street — that's where we always played. But now Myasnitskaya is undergoing repairs, so we moved to Pokrovka. As soon as the repair is over, we will return back. Although we still plan to continue playing on Pokrovka once a month. We really need the small scene on Myasnitskaya to gain the same height and experience, which we can then show on the big stage of our main building.

Speaking of repairs. In 2018, the founder of the Theater Andrey Vershinin spoke in an interview about the difficulties of interacting with the administration, which needed to constantly prove that there was something else besides lectures at the university. How are things now? Does HSE help or everything is up to your enthusiasm?

Irina: Locally. HSE has a complex system of financing student organizations. In addition, we have quite specific expenses. In a good way, we need a separate specially trained person who would deal with such issues, but, unfortunately, we do not have one yet. We do not have enough basic funding, but there are competitions for grants. We won one of them — we use this money to make repairs. HSE is fully engaged in the repair. We applied for the same competition again, but apparently it is impossible to win two years in a row. With props and decorations, too, in different ways. Sometimes we buy something at our own expense, sometimes we make something ourselves, sometimes HSE helps. But mostly all by ourselves! And here, I think, I will let to the guys speak, because the student theater is THEIR theater.

Guys, please tell us about yourself! Who are your team?

Lola: Our team is very extensive! Guys from a variety of faculties and courses — there are people even from the Faculty of Computer Sciences. There are also several graduates. But the team always changes, and it happens differently in different years.

And how did you get here?

Alina: I have known about the HSE Theater long before I got here, because initially I wanted to enter a theater university. But it didn't work out with the theater, and I entered HSE to study journalism. In the 1st year, I didn't dare to go to the Theater — there was a lot of study, and I was afraid of losing control over it. In my 2nd year, there was no admission to the Theater. And only when I became a third year student, I applied! I didn't count on anything, but I still remember how Lola (we study together) shouted at me from the back of the desk on a pair: "Alina! We passed the first round!". And then the second one passed. And here I am!

Alina! We passed the first round!

Lola: But it was not an easy process. That year, the pandemic began, and we applied for the first round online — recorded prose, poems, fables, songs on video. The second round was offline: we prepared small sketches, jokes and improvisations in groups. Out of more than a hundred people, only 19 were selected. That is, everything is like in a real theater university — seriously.

Artem: I came to the Theater in the 1st year of study. In 2020, HSE Day was online, and we watched some videos about student organizations. One of them was the Theater. Everything was as usual: guys played different sketches. But the last sketch was about how eggs are boiled in a saucepan. It seemed to me very unusual and funny, and I decided to find out more about the Theater. It turned out that there was going to be an audition soon, and I thought — why not try it? To record the fable on video for the first tour, I specially rented a room in the hotel. I planned to do it in an hour, but I didn't do it, and rented a room for another hour. As a result, after a million attempts and takes, I sent my record! I was not very pleased with it, but it happened. The audition results were published at night, and when I saw my last name on the list, I immediately started calling my mother and writing to all my friends: "I passed, hooray!". I was very worried before the first lesson. And then I met all the guys and realized that I was very happy and glad I got here! Because there are incredible people here, an amazing team, and every time I come here, I feel at home!

Anna: I have been connected with the theater since childhood — since kindergarten I love to participate in skits. I can not do anything without creativity, so the first 2 years of studying at the university were very difficult for me. In the 3rd year, I decided that it was no longer possible, and I urgently needed to do something creative. I found out about the Theater by chance on the last day of accepting applications. When I saw the audition announcement, it was already 9 pm. I ran home and recorded a video in a hurry. I was afraid that if I was late with the shipment, the application would not be accepted. That would be terrible for me. But I was taken away! In general, luck plays a big role in the first round. You don't know who else submitted and what he recorded. On the second, you already see your potential competitors live and at what level they are. But I went with the thought that even if the Theater don't take me, the main thing is that I will enjoy it! At first, of course, you get jitters, but then it passes, and the real fun begins! Because in creative tasks you can show all your charisma and yourself entirely! All the guys supported each other, said: "You are better!", "No, you are better!". I was very pleased to see myself in the final lists! Now the Theater is my second home.

Because there are incredible people here, an amazing team, and every time I come here, I feel at home!

How do you combine Theater and study? Do you have a schedule of classes and rehearsals?

Artem: Difficult, but possible. We usually meet 3-4 times a week. But, besides classes, there are still many administrative issues: preparation of announcements, advertising. They also take a lot of time. But somehow we still combine.

Lola: Besides, we always try to adapt to each other. Some combine Theater not only with their study, but also with work. Therefore, we usually gather in the evening — at 7 o'clock. And then we rehearse until victorious. In general, there is always time for the Theater, because you really want to come here. Then you can stay up until 3 am, finishing the work by the deadline, but you will still come to the Theater! Of course, sometimes you have to choose. Study is still in the first place, not the last. When someone has burning deadlines, this person just tells us: "Guys, I'm going into study now, don't reach me for a month, please." Or: "In the next couple of weeks I will only be able to come at such and such a time." Everything is mutual between us. On the one hand, we understand that someone has things to do, on the other - this someone sets priorities and calculates his time and effort.

Can't help but ask you, Irina. How do you integrate the HSE Theater into your life? What motivates you?

Irina: It's interesting, it's always a creative search, always the discovery of something new. One day is not like another. Groundhog Day is a priori impossible here! What could be better in life?

Anastasia: We are just cool, and you always want to find time for us! 

Irina: That's right! Looks at the root! One day in July, when the guys finished their session, we staged a performance in just a week. We rehearsed like in a real theater: morning and evening. Yes, it was a small production, for about 40 minutes. But we put it on! That is, with regular intensive work, a full-fledged performance can be staged in a month. Of course, we all have other things to do, but we want it! And if we want it, it turns out! That's the way things are!

How is it possible to join your team? How often does the audition take place?

Irina: Previously we provided audition once a year, but the load was growing, and we simply did not have time to train our new guys. Therefore, now we recruit every two years. The next set, by the way, will be just this year, in September. Sometimes the guys leave us because they can't cope with the workload of their studies. As a rule, this is the 1st or 4th course. Then we call those who did not pass the second round of audition to their places. Sometimes we take more people than we planned, with the expectation that some of them will leave in six months. But they still don't leave at all! Then we don't recruit new ones.

Do you take foreigners?

Artem: We have no restrictions! Recently, a foreign girl came to our master class. The only thing that can cause difficulties is tongue twisters (laughs). But in any case, we are glad to see absolutely everyone!

Talking to the guys, it is difficult not to feel the atmosphere prevailing in their team. The only words associated with them are admiration, incredible energy, warmth and openness. Although we did not ask them about it directly, during the interview they themselves gave an answer to the main unspoken question - a secret of popularity and success of the HSE Theater is; why there is such a response in the soul of all those involved? And no one can say it better than they themselves.

Lola: I remember my thoughts when I passed the audition. To be honest, I didn't really care in a good way whether I passed or not, because I already enjoyed the process tremendously back then.

Anna: There is no need to surprise anyone here on purpose. Although the audition is really serious, no one looks at you with the look of “Come on, show us something. We have already seen a million people like you,” as often happens in theater universities.

Alina: For this, many thanks to Irina Vyacheslavovna! Although we all came to the audition tense, somehow she managed to relax us. She described in great detail the state we needed to enter, we understood what she required of us. And it was much easier to liberate from this.

Anna: It is a great pride for us to be here. When you realize that you are in one fifth of all those who want to become a part of the Theater, you feel some kind of honor.

Alina: Sometimes you tell your friends that you are playing at the HSE Theater. And they reply: "HSE Theater? It's just a section at university. For example, GITIS, the Moscow Art Theater — this is serious ...". And it's incredibly insulting to hear this, because our Theater is not just some kind of section! This is a huge work of a lot of people: those who play on stage, who are responsible for sound, for light, for scenery, helps with the video … This is a great work of a large team united by common goals, ideas and values. This is a colossal work on yourself, mutual assistance. We practice every time for 3 hours. This is not at all the place where you run in for an hour after work, make a little face and forget. This is a serious matter in which you invest with all your heart and soul. And I feel how far we have come in 2 years and what progress we have made.

Lola: The Theater saves us in every sense. This is some other life, super-bright, warm, initiative, energetic people. This is some kind of place of power, where you are charged with this incredible energy, which penetrates into other areas of your life that are not related to the Theater. Thanks to it, sometimes you even find new resources inside yourself for something besides studying and work. For example, me and my classmate recently launched our own podcast about social and cultural trends in new media. For this I really love the Theater! This is without exaggeration a second home and a second family.

Anna: Not all the guys were able to return on the stage after the pandemic. Formally, they stayed in the Theater, but did not participate in the productions. However, when we moved to Pokrovka, they still came to help us. And it was very pleasant. We haven't seen them for six months, but even without playing anywhere, they felt responsible for everything that happens in the Theater. Because you become a part of it, and helping it for you is, if not a duty, then at least a very big desire.

Alina: Sometimes, after studying or working, you feel so tired that you just want to go home and go to bed. But when you come to the Theater, all the fatigue goes away somewhere, no matter how strong it is! You are immediately ready to do something, to work. This is our secret. It's like being transported to another space in which time is not felt.

Anyone can feel the magic of the HSE Theater! In the official VKontakte group you can find information on upcoming performances, master classes, and much more. If you want to become a part of it, remember that the Theater needs not only actors. Therefore, feel free to go ahead — the performance begins!

Interview by

Margarita Mayorova