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Director Interview: Dunay Yespaev, Stanislavsky Theatre

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on Apr 01, 2022 at 05:58 PM in Project News

Recently, Cymbeline in the Anthropocene project leader Randall Martin caught up with our collaborating director Dunay Yespaev, who will be directing a Russian-language adaptation of Cymbeline at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. While the pandemic and Kazakhstan’s recent civil unrest and struggles over large-scale inequality have delayed the Stanislavsky’s eco-Cymbeline production, Dunay and his company are beginning to prepare for a projected late-spring performance run. Today, we present excerpts from Randall’s and Dunay’s conversations, with thanks to Dunay’s interpreter, Togzhan Amandykov.

Director Interview: Dunay Yespaev, Stanislavsky Theatre

First, Dunay and Togzhan told Randall about the Stanislavsky Theatre’s company, and a recent production featuring a familiar director:

DY/TA: The theatre is a Russian drama theatre named after the famous practitioner, Stanislavsky. They play in the Russian language, mainly, but always try to invite foreign directors to work not just in the Stanislavsky system but with other theatrical techniques and different cultures.

For example, John [Blondell, of California’s Lit Moon Company] came to Karaganda to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it was about one and a half months we worked together. It was something unfamiliar, unusual—not because he’s from another country and another culture, but because the methods were mixed. [The company] are trained in the Stanislavsky method, and while they have also trained in other theatrical method, for example, from Azerbaijan. When they worked with John, it was something completely different. 

Honestly, everyone was happy, it was delightful, and the audience had different reactions to this play. The older generations were a little confused at first, but the youngest and middle generations were especially receptive to it. After the final scene, all the actors came to the hall, and John too, and all the audience were taking photos—it was like a red carpet! —there were autographs, and all. This was something new for them.


Next, Randall asked Dunay to discuss the current circumstances of his Cymbeline production, and about the artistic choices he is making while adapting the play in Russian:

DY/TA: Dunay originally had the idea to work with Kazakh theatre, which is an academic theatre as opposed to a governmental one like we are—it’s cooler than ours, if I can say that! He wanted to work with them and mix the two theatre companies for the cast. But, with the covid situation, we will be sticking with the Stanislavsky’s theatre company.

First, when Dunay was thinking about the plot, when he wanted to work with two theatres, he wanted to take the situation with Cymbeline being against Imogen’s marriage to a man from another nationality [and explore that through casting from both companies]. But now, since the situation with the company has changed, he is rethinking how to approach this.

Now, because of all the consequences of the situation—not only in Kazakhstan, but the covid problems in every country—now he wants to touch on the topic of human ecology. What does ecology mean? It means the relationship with other people, animals, plants, and between all of these and their environments. He wants to touch the topic of human ecology as, for example, with the use of authority serving greed and corruption. He wants to talk about these problems and calls this a human ecology.

During the show there will be a screen showing the audience clips from ecological crisis zones: deserts, disasters, and similar, that represent Cymbeline’s abuse of authority and what he has caused. At the same time there is a human problem in parallel: Cymbeline’s relationship with Imogen and parallel abuses of power in their relationship.


One part of the staging is especially curious: the framing narrative or conceit Dunay is adding to his show.

DY/TA: The idea is Dunay wants to start the show like a late-night show. There will be a host, and the main thing they will talk about will be the plot about Imogen’s bracelet. It starts and the host coming to the stage and talking about the bracelet which come back to their masters, what the heroes had to go through to reach these things. So, the stage setup will be sofas where the heroes and the host will talk about the history of this object.

This host will be the main character, a stand-in for the author narrating the story. All the show will be with the help of this host. [Meanwhile,] some other scenes from the play will be shown on the screen, to connect with the scenes being played onstage. For example, the battle scene will begin on stage, and then move to the screens, which will show footage of what happened here in January [the civilian protests that took place all over Kazakhstan]. In Cymbeline, the heroes fight for something, and here, too—there was fighting for something meaningful.


The main ecological drive of this production is driven by Dunay’s concept of human ecology, which relates to the ecological issues currently unfolding in Kazakhstan. Karaganda’s main industry is in fact a coal mine, which has radically altered the land and its inhabitants both.

DY/TA: There will be two narrative lines [in our production]. The first line is thanks to these people who are on the top and who abuse their authority—what happens because of their greed. Deserts are caused, there is air pollution from their factories, and we see technical evolution’s dark sides. Because of all these things, people are suffering. The second line is the plot with the bracelet.

When we were in Santa Barbara [for Cymbeline in the Anthropocene's first meeting, in early 2020], for us, it was kind of difficult to find ecological problems in this play. That’s why we decided to mention again human ecology—that focus on relationships with the environment—which is everything, is people and plants and microbes.

When there is no harmony between nature and people, or between people and one another, that is an ecological problem too.

If human beings will love each other and treat each other with respect, everything will be fine. Environmentally, those relations will follow too.

RM: “Yes! Human ecology is the door into environmental ecology. Ecological problems are always human problems.”


With the situation in Kazakhstan calming just as new conflict arises with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, much of Randall and Dunay’s conversation touched on war, and what Shakespeare’s plays can teach us about it. 

DY/TA: Generally, all wars are caused by conflicts over territory, women, or money. Here, [in Kazakhstan,] the same situation has played out. Our citizens are making extremely low wages, and that conflict combined with a territorial dispute to create a pinching moment. The situation really parallels what happens in the play.

RM: I love the way that you’re really contemporizing the play. You’re making it really just now, Cymbeline now. It’s up to date, not back in the past. It’s now, it’s human ecologies and environmental ecologies now. 

DY/TA: The plays that Shakespeare wrote, especially Kazakh actors, can play directly or reliably because the emotions are the same. For example, Dunay recently played Macbeth in Russian, and in Russian theatre so he could convey the problem and emotions and move his acting. 

It’s like a fantasy. If you want you can stage it on Mars, or in 2029, or now. But the problems will be the same that we talk about. The problems are the same. Maybe that’s why Shakespeare is forever. He is topical.

RM: And that’s why Shakespeare is Shakespeare, because he writes plays that people can translate not only into their own language but into their own topical situations. The stories are human stories, they’re about people and conflicts and emotions and feelings but the stories speak to topical situations now. You know, the values, the ideas, many of the conflicts they’re easily adaptable. And that’s what makes Shakespeare a global playwright because he’s adapted, which is what you’re doing and that’s wonderful. 


While the exact timeline for Dunay’s production is still uncertain, the director and his company are determined to perform Cymbeline later this spring.

DY/TA: The company will be making a trailer for Cymbeline as an advertisement, and will start rehearsing in early- to mid-April, if we are not closed again. [Things are delayed] because in January, Dunay was meant to start directing Princess Turandot, but because of all these things that happened it’s moved, and he started to do another show. He says, “I am ready, but sometimes situations lead us.”

RM: I’m very happy to hear that, that it’s going to be topical, that it’s going to be contemporary to Kazakhstan, to your experiences recently and I’m so glad to hear, Dunay, that it’s close to your heart now. And thank you for persisting despite all the interruptions. That must have been very difficult.

DY/TA: He says “any way, I am in this project, I am in the process, and I will do it ‘til the end. If I have an aim, I will reach it.” 


Keep an eye on this blog for more updates from Dunay and Togzhan, as they embark into rehearsals for Cymbeline. While these two years have shown the difficulties faced by theatre artists all over the world—and the additional difficulties faced by artists in politically unstable countries—they have also shown the resilience of theatre as a form, and the artists’ ability to transmute struggle into the stories that most need telling.