“Writing a play is like carving a piece for a machine called Life. At the same time, there is a craftsperson in every artist. A real artist who invents something must have a base part. And then compose. Using the basic skill, they formalise the idea. Make it into candy.”

MYKHAILO KRUPNIK is our international UNESCO playwright-in-residence for 2022. A renowned playwright, lyricist and creator of musical theatre for children, Mykhailo hails from Odessa in Ukraine and is in residence with MWT for the month of November. We asked him about his creative practice, his culture, his city, his country, and what drives him to write.

Q. Children’s theatre is respected and treasured right across Ukraine, but particularly in Odessa, your city of birth. How do you explain the importance of this genre in Odessa? Is it cultural, historic, or driven by a demand from the children themselves?

A. Odessa is famous for its literary schools. Many Odessan writers have written works for children. And I had good teachers: Yuri Olesha, Valentin Kataev, Korney Chukovsky and many others. Brought up in such a rich literary culture, Odessan families have a tradition of attending performances for children. I can say that a special cultural sphere for children has been created in Odessa, which includes creative education in music and theater schools and studios. As well as the participation of children in professional performances of Odessa theaters. Today all children are on the Internet. And it’s hard to surprise them. But in my plays I try to show that in addition to fights, chases and a glamorous carefree life, there are real human relationships. Of course, we understand that miracles do not happen. But I’m trying, within the short period of time that the performance takes, to give hope to the child that if they behaves like a human being, then a miracle will happen! The sooner the child understands that before you get something, you have to give, the happier they will be.

Q. Odessa has a large Jewish population and has historically been considered a ‘Jewish city’ How does your own Jewish identity influence the content of your plays for children, and the richness and perspectives you bring to your storytelling?

A. After Odessa appeared on the world map, the Odessa nationality appeared, which unites 130 nationalities. And each takes its equal place. For a Jew, peace and well-being in the family is always the main thing in life. And this is possible only in peace and friendship and mutual understanding with the people who surround you. Well, of course, without forgetting about yourself. Odessa has become our home. Everyone has always got along in Odessa, taken care of each other, helped in extreme situations. During the Great Patriotic War, our Ukrainian families hid Jews so that they would not be destroyed by the Nazis. In Odessa, from its very foundation, there was Jewish wisdom, which took shape over the centuries and helped the inhabitants of Odessa to survive. My grandmother used to recite a famous Jewish proverb in difficult times, “Don’t worry about what happened yesterday, fix what will happen tomorrow.” In my family, after any holiday, all guests were given “shelahmunes” to take with them – a bag of food for the road, so that they could refresh themselves on the way. Because a hungry person cannot be kind. First you need to feed the person, and then talk to them. And you can feed with physical and spiritual food. Which is what am I doing .. I use the phrases and traditions of the Jewish people in my writings. I always have a wise rebbe in the play who will advise and help find a solution to the problem.

Q. From 25th December 2019 – 10th January 2020, the premier of the musical The Secret of Alakrez was programmed for presentation at The Ukrainian Theater. This was based on the fairytale “Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors”, written by Vitaly Gubarev. Using this as inspiration for The Secret of Alakrez, you managed to create your own world of crooked mirrors, where ‘the evil of lies opposes the good of truth’. You developed this musical with director/producer Anna Chernobrodskaya. Could you give us an insight into your collaboration with Anna, and how you develop musicals together?

A. For 25 years now I have been working in the team of director-producer Anna Chernobrodskaya, in the project of creating musical fairy tales for children in the concert and exhibition hall of the Odessa Marine Station, which, alas, is now mothballed due to the war. Our repertoire includes fairy tales based on other works. And there are copyrights with an individually developed plot. The performance The Mystery of ALAKREZ was created based on Vitaly Gubarev’s work “The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors”. The name of the performance already carries a riddle – if you read the word ALAKREZ from right to left, you get the Mystery of the MIRROR. Like all previous performances, I wrote it in verse. Plus 15 musical numbers. According to the Department of Culture and Tourism of the Odessa City Council, this was the best production in Odessa. Therefore, the department provided funds for children from low-income families to attend several performances. Journalists were also invited to write articles about our performance.

Q. BIG question – Can you describe your writing process?

A. My work on the play begins with the ability to create. Society requires new spiritual food. I have never written to the table. Serious creativity requires interest. Sometimes, when I need to write something for relatives, acquaintances, I give myself an internal order. And I start working. The main thing is to catch the mood. And then catch different meanings and reprises. The reprise gives volume, 4 lines and they contain all life. What is the difference between a pessimist and an optimist? A pessimist cries (complains) in a vest, an optimist in a decollete!” Writing a play is like carving a piece for a machine called lLfe. At the same time, there is a craftsperson in every artist. A real artist who invents something must have a base part. And then compose. Using the basic skill, they formalise the idea. Make it into candy.

At the same time, it is important to be objective in the creative process. A bad author is always let down by subjective thinking. Don’t forget that there are people around you. Therefore, we need points of contact with the opinion, the mentality of the viewer. You need to have feedback. You delivered a phrase, but it was not understood. Because you worded it wrongly. To write, one must be able to know and understand. And collect all this into an energy fist, and make a common understanding of the plot.

Any work speaks of universal human relationships. I write on the feelings of humanity. And I think that even in an inhuman person there is still a person. And I find it in all of my stories.

–  Interview by Clare Mendes