Kazakhstan: Making Culture Pay
Almaty’s arts scene has acquired an innovative new theater that aims to promote experimental drama and also prove that theater can be a profitable business.Theatre BT launched in March as “an open, experimental platform,” director Aigul Sultanbekova said. BT stands for “business theater,” and the idea is to harness the corporate world to make an economic success out of the project -- a rarity in Kazakhstan, where few theaters turn a profit.Theatre BT is offering five-day corporate training programs based on improvisational acting techniques, which should help finance its drama productions.The training, conducted by psychologist Valeriy Bochkarev (who is the theater’s deputy director and also acts in its productions), in tandem with an actor, is targeted at business people and covers areas such as effective communication and conflict management.“The main value driver is the business theater, for the time being, but in the long run we want to come to the point where the place would be self-sustainable,” Sultanbekova told EurasiaNet.org.“My idea is that theater could be profitable; it could be economically viable, but of course you need to get to that point. [...] The market should be ready." Most theaters in Kazakhstan receive heavy state subsidies and continue the Soviet tradition of charging low prices for tickets to make culture accessible for the masses. Theatre BT’s prices won’t break the bank: It charges 2,000 tenge (around $13) for tickets. The repertoire includes Amerika, based on the novel by Franz Kafka, and O.k.no, based on the play Jean et Béatrice by Canadian playwright Carole Fréchette.The theater does not have its own troupe and will stage each production with different performers and directors contracted specially for that show.In April Theatre BT premiered a cutting-edge project that encapsulates its ideas of involving the corporate world: Called New Orleans and taking its inspiration from Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, the result was a jazz-infused show staged in partnership with Almaty boutique Angela Moda. It performed to a packed house in the 63-seat theater, located in a smart shopping mall. As Zlatko Johanson, one of the show’s actors, put it after the performance: “It’s something new; it’s a breath of fresh air in the theater business.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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