Mongolian theatre must embrace a new style of “theatricality”

By AMY REDING

Mongolian drama was molded by the Russian influence over the country following the 1921 people’s revolution, and although the political system has changed, mindsets have not.

“We were cut off from our ancient traditions, and Mongols started to adopt the European style of acting, through Russian acting,” said Maijargal Borjigonand, a juror of the 2013 Gegeen Muza festival. Borjigonand has her PHD in arts, and studied the history of Mongolian theatre at school.

“We should have taken a new influence, but mentality changes very slowly,” she added.

Borjigonand was excited to see a total of six countries participating in the drama festival this year, Russia, Canada, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Moldavia all contributed. She has high hopes that the international influences will begin to change the mindset regarding traditional acting style in Mongolia.

“We are not acting at the international standard now, but we are trying,” said Borjigonand.

Mongolian actors, directors, and theatre schools were trained under the Stanislavski system by Russian teachers, a method developed by Konstantin Stanislavski in 1911. The idea is that the acting is “naturalistic,” requiring actors to draw from emotional memories in order to portray a character on stage.

“Politically, Mongolia has changed. But in the arts the main theory remains Stanislavski, which is very backwards,” commented Borjigonand.

If a character is supposed to cry in the play, the actor must genuinely cry so as to base it off of “true feelings.” Performers are encouraged to achieve this by recalling unhappy memories.

“It was considered the best acting, but it is not,” said Borjigonand. “I would say that its 100 years behind from the world theatrical process.”

Stanislavski system was bought to America, and taught by many famous teachers, one of the most noted being Michael Chekhov. The system was broken down by teachers such as Chekhov and picked apart, creating a new branch of the system known as The Method, which trained Hollywood actors and actresses.

“Americans are very practical, very pragmatic people. They took lessons from Stanislavski system and they broke it into The Method.”

Haley McGee, a Canadian who was nominated at the Gegeen Muza for best actress in the monodrama category, brought something that Mongolia is not used to seeing to the stage, The Method. McGee’s play “Oh My Irma” may not have won any awards in Mongolia, but it has become internationally and critically acclaimed and taken the actress all across the globe.

“She used maybe half of the energy of the Mongolian actors to show much more,” said Borjigonand. “She played 5 heroes at the same time. That is her level of skill.”

During parts of her performance, McGee would passionately scream without uttering a sound. Mongolian actors would scream using “all the strength of their lungs.” Borjigonand noted that when an actor physically screams it leaves an impact only the first time, but McGee managed to draw the audience in and maintain their interest for her entire performance.

“Theatre should be theatrical. Not only naturalistically true, but we need to pay more attention to entertainment.”

Borjigonand spent time after the festival talking to young Mongolian actors and actresses about McGee’s performance, and found that they were very interested in her acting because it was quite different from anything they have been taught at university.

Following conversations with the students, it has been decided that the university will now offer time to explore other styles of acting.

In addition to the style that is taught in Mongolian schools, the entire management is in need of a facelift, according to Borjigonand. The National Academic Drama theatre is financially supported by government and the Ministry of Culture, an old system that she does not believe will suffice for much longer. Hamlet was recently performed in Mongolia, and the production costs of 150 million MNT were completely subsidized by the government.

“They should learn how to live by their own strengths, how to earn their own money.”

That being said, the traditional style of acting, portrayed so beautifully by Mongolian actors, must not be forgotten. Other countries have lost the classic style, as they have focused so exclusively on the evolution of acting.

“But you see, our backwardness is our advancement,” joked Borjigonand. Mongolia is one of the few countries in the world where the Stanislavski method has not been tainted or altered.

Historically, the west has gathered inspiration for the arts from the east, such as Impressionism. Now it is time for Mongolia to look to the west.

“This is the beginning of a very interesting experience, the synthesis of east and west,” declared Borjigonand.

A subtle shift in dramatic style is occurring, and Mongolians are becoming increasingly open to western ideas of acting as they are exposed more and more to the fierce international competition.

Saturday, April 6, the Mongolian State University of Arts and Culture will perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for the first time ever entirely in English.

“Mongolian actors are very talented, they are strong in Stanislavski,” said Borjigonand. “But if they will adopt The Method, which is so well practiced in America, in Europe, and in Canada, they will reach international standard.”