This year saw the third iteration of Class Act, bringing together ten teens from Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine and ten teens from Chop on Ukraine's western border to organise a joint exhibition addressing social issues. As the teens interacted they began to identify common interests and linguistic and geographical stereotypes fell away resulting in this cooperative art project.
What is Class Act?
The essence of the project: 10 teens from the town of Avdiivka and 10 from Chop, brought together for twelve days, composing dramas to be staged afterward by a team of professional directors, actors, scenographers, composers and video artists.
The Class Act format was developed in the United Kingdom in 1997 at one of Scotland's largest theatres — the Traverse. Nicola McCartney, Scottish playwright, director and instructor at Edinburgh University designed the approach. Now for the third consecutive year she has travelled to Ukraine to hold master classes for teens as part of the Class Act project.
A Four-Stage Project
The Initial Stage
In spring, two groups of Class Act organizers made work trips to Chop and Avdiivka. There the Class Act instructors held classes on acting, directing, drama and scenography for 8th-10th graders from area schools.
Following the completion of the master class sessions, aspiring student-authors were free to write about topics that interested them. Project organisers then evaluated the writing and selected 10 students from each town for further project training.
The Activity Stage
The two groups from east and west then travelled to Kyiv, staying together in a youth hostel in the city – an important step in helping them become acquainted in the hope of establishing a good working relationship.
We invited the students to form working pairs, encouraging them to identify a partner from the other city. For the third consecutive year, student choices have followed the same rough pattern: 80% choose a partner from a different city, while the remaining 20% either form groups of three or choose a participant from their own town. We encourage, but don't insist, that students work with a partner not from their town. They are then tasked with working together to decide what they'll write about, what language they'll write in, and how they'll develop their project.
The Playwriting Stage
A Ukrainian and British team then held a writing master class following the British project model of instruction. Nicola McCartney headed up the sessions with the contributions of writers and directors Natalia Vorozhbit from Kyiv, Olga Matsiupa from Lviv, Pavlo Arie from Lviv/Berlin, Marina Smilianets from Kyiv and Jack Clover from London.
The Performance Stage
This stage includes rehearsals, set creation, costuming, props, video content development and score composition, as well as the formulation artistic and scenic direction for the performance. On 3 July, a public audience numbering 650 was treated to the final product — a 3-hour performance of ten separate stage plays in the main hall of Kyiv's Tchaikovsky National Music Academy.
In Class Act's first year in Ukraine, half the plays were performed in the Ukrainian language and half in Russian, but with each successive year, the percentage of Ukrainian language plays has increased.
What Difficulties Were Encountered?
Oleksandr Fomenko, Project coordinator, Class Act: East — West 2018
One of the most difficult factors I'd call attention to is the necessity for directors and actors to be ready to work at a high professional level with work produced by children. The final result and the premiere are professionally produced and quite valuable when we consider themes that the teens are addressing, themes that quite possibly have yet to be addressed by mature playwrights. In the three years of this project we've had both actors and directors who come back each year, already knowing how the project works, and who support this initiative. They've even begun to ask us if we'll be doing this again so they can set aside the time to take part.
This project puts a halt to the war in peoples' minds. It also lays a foundation for a society in which conflict arising from regional differences is impossible. I dream of having the opportunity to carry out this project with every school in Ukraine." — Oleksandr Fomenko.
How Will You Develop the Project further?
We're prepared to share our experience with others because we need to scale up the project significantly. We've been thinking how to make that happen, because we simply can't take on more kids because of the cost. At maximum, we're looking at adding another Class Act in Kyiv during the winter. So, twice a year – summer and winter sessions.
We are ready to show everything to anyone who wants to conduct a similar project: documentation, work experience, tools, methods – a complete how-to.
For example, following this year's project, the director Vlada Bilozorenko chose five texts from the previous two years' Class Act sessions and developed a production from them. The play was called "East-West" and was the premiere at the Actor Theatre this September for its 2018-2019 season.
This is the first instance of our experience being shared more widely.
We've also been thinking about creating a camp shortly following the production, for the teens who took part and also, perhaps, an additional 20 teens from east and west, establishing channels for them to communicate their experience further.
I see the camp programme being connected to the plays the kids wrote. Possibly giving them a chance to produce their own work, like a next step in the process. Early they were just writing, watching while professionals finished the production. But now the whole thing would be up to them — a complete new experience. Teens taking on the role of director, actor and the rest and performing the texts they wrote. Of course, it won't result in a final big public production, but this will be something we have just for ourselves, part of our project history.
Photo Credits: Oleksiy Tovpiha, Artem Halkin, Arseniy Pilipenko