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| wherefore base? |

Wherefore Base?
The Use ofFlooring inRussian Theater
Jenna Clark Embrey

Russian theater ismade from the ground up. Inseveral productions currently inrepertory onMoscow stages, floor treatment factors inheavily tothe design aesthetic.
Dmitri KrymovsOpus 7 begins with the floor covered inathick vinyl tarp, taped down atthe corners with apatchwork ofduct tape. For the first few minutes ofthe show, the space iscompletely still and silent, except for ayoung woman rapidly pushing adry mop across the ground. The resulting sound isalow-humming screech offriction, and itbounces off the high ceiling ofthe theater. InKing Lear at the Satirikon Theater, director Yuri Butusov blankets asection ofstage inwarped wooden planks that rattle and clang together asthe royal court stampedes over them. The noise produced bysuch floor treatments may seem secondary tothe physical action onstage, but the sounds are subtle, organic additions tothe aural world ofthe productions. The flooring works with the actorsmovement toadd another layer tothe audiencessensory experience.
When the floor isanintegrated part ofthe set design, actors movement has the chance toconnect tothe ground inavisceral way, and therefore the characters become literally rooted inthe world ofthe play. InRussian theaters, directors and actors treat the floor asaconstantly viable playing space. InLear, Reagan crawls across large jigsaw pieces ofasphalt; inButusovsRichard III, tow young men prance and roll across anexpanse ofmuslin asfour others hold the corners ofthe fabric and billow waves through the material. Inthese instances, movement isnot confined tovariations onwalking. All forms oflocomotion are possible expressions ofmovement onstage, and the actors relationship with the floor changes with the nature ofwhat isunder them.
The use ofcreative flooring not only expands the movement vocabulary ofactors, but italso allows flexibility for the directors. Byexchanging one sheath offabric for one ofadifferent color and texture, the stage iselegantly transformed from one locale toanother. Afabric floor treatment also allows for aplaying space that iseasy toconfine, and thus, clear. When Edmund and Edgar inKing Lear cover themselves hastily inwhite paint, their mess issimply cleaned off the stage along with the fabric onwhich they sat. The stage isleft clean for the next scene, and nothing has been disrupted.
Insuch Russian productions asOpus 7, King Lear, and Richard III, the floor ofthe stage creates the expectation ofcreative movement, infinite settings, amyriad ofsounds and endless gestures. With the flexibility ofeasily foldable fabrics and easily moveable pallets, the director isnot limited bythe practicalities ofasingle floor. The result are production that fully integrate action with all elements ofthe space inasimple, subtle, and organic manner.