What is ARTEL?
1. An old Russian word that means a labor collective. Historically, artels were semi-formal associations for various enterprises: fishing, mining, commerce, collections of loaders, loggers, thieves, beggars, etc. 2. It also means a cooperative association, a commune of democratically-minded artists. 3. To us it stands for American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory.
One for all and all for one.
ARTEL is a collective for explorers on the ocean of theatre. Our ship is the ensemble, which changes shape, size and type depending on the needs of the expedition, and the questions each sailor is asking. No matter what type, the vessel is always powered by sluchai and serious fun. The Russian word sluchai means literally ‘leaning into the perhaps’ but equally means ‘chance’, ‘incident’ or ‘event’. We trust in sluchai to bring us to the most fantastic unknown lands. We equally rely on the power of festivity, or serious fun, to keep the ship afloat. Collective work takes a lot of collaboration. And collaboration requires the unlocking of individual potential. Serious fun hones our imaginations, greases our interpersonal skills, and develops the possibilities of collective action.
Our ensigns are Play, Joy and Revelation. Under these flags we aim to surprise, delight, shock, inspire, and transform. We hope our work evokes memories and associations, engulfs our audience in dreamscapes and offers the potential to discover new landscapes, both emotionally and visually.
A Touch of History
ARTEL was founded in Los Angeles in March 2006 by Olya Petrakova and Bryan Brown. Taking as a starting point models from European and Russian theater studios (such as those created by Stanislavsky, Meyerhold, Chekhov and Grotowski), ARTEL is dedicated to the responsibility and citizenship of the actor through engagement with the tradition of artistic practice and theatre craft. As a laboratory, we spend much of our process discovering connections between impulse, spirit and expression, investigating the roots of the performance tradition on which we stand while uncovering new ways of challenging and expanding the role of theater in society.
By focusing our lens on Russian culture and themes, Artel researches and re-imagines theatrically the histories and cultures of the USA and Russia in efforts to bring the audience and performers into a visceral and sensorial experience of innate human questions. Our devising is a quilt-like gathering of our physical based laboratory research, our cultural research and our literary research.
As we have recently found ourselves on British shores, we have exciting new puzzles to tackle, ones that reflect the nomadic condition of an increasingly globalized world.
A Touch of the Present
We are currently developing The Black Hen Society, a collaborative production with Animal Cracker Conspiracy. Inspired by the first Russian children’s book, The Black Hen Society is a darkly humorous hybrid puppet performance. Blending secret societies, alchemy, and ecological disaster the piece charts the moral journey towards acquiring knowledge. This project is and has been supported by the Henson Foundation, the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Network of Ensemble Theatres, and the University of Exeter.
Alongside our collaborative theatrical adventures, we are branching out into the world of internet art with our project "52 Weeks of Lenin". Since ARTEL began we have been envisioning a celebration of the Russian Revolution that reassesses and imagines with the thinkers and activists of that time a new conception of revolution as revelation. This project has its own tab on the website below.
"One of the most visceral, dangerous acts we’ve witnessed from the audience since the days of Jesus Lizard, redefining the boundaries of how live theater can engage us." - Hadley, LA Taco
ARTEL began with the intent of making a performance inspired by the life and times of Mikhail Bulgakov. We ended up with a number of them, including two full-length ones "Variation #50" and "The Legendary Times of Mikhail Bulgakov". You can read how they landed at the sites below.
"A gift not only to LA theater, but to the democratic process itself, celebrating and embodying individuals who creatively stand against tyranny." - LA Taco
"A nonlinear, imagistic, biographical and beautiful exercise dedicated to the proposition that one must continue the work because the work must be continued. [...] When artists reach an understanding by reaching for an understanding of what they’re doing, and why, the nature and purpose of doing theater in a city as absurd as Los Angeles begins to emerge. " - LA Weekly
"...a finely crafted creation of riveting visual theatricality, macabre symbolism and high-wire emotion." - LA Weekly
Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms
From Bulgakov we moved onto the absolutely unique universe of Daniil Kharms. We hope to reorbit the OBERIU world soon.
"...a vaudeville blend of Beckett, Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges by way of Kafka." - LA Weekly
"When you walk into a theatre and the first question they ask is, “Would you like vodka? Or better vodka?” you know either way you’re a winner... But when that introduction leads you through a worn-down circus, past a memorial service for two insects, between some dancing fops, and into a theatre with live music already underway, you can be assured you’re in for a night of equally delightful and unexpected treats." - LA Theatre Review
Gogol Mogol Tearoom Salons
Alongside constructing our ensemble and our Bulgakov, we wanted to quickly, craftily and seductively entice an audience into being a community fostered by Joy, Play & Revelation.
"The tales unfold as cryptically as our dreams, forcing the house to dig deeply into collective buried memories of folk tales, legends and myths that both excited and terrorized us as children." - LA Taco
Schkapf - an oasis
Home. A place to dream. A place to cultivate. A place away from the pace and values of daily urban existence. In Los Angeles we were committed to building community, come hell or high water. Eventually high water in the form of the new feudalism came. After a decade, we sailed for new lands.
A Manifesto - Stage Raw
Building an Ensemble in Egoville - LA Weekly
Crying Party - VICE magazine
Around the Teapot
Community. An often overused word, we've always known our strength lies within it. It is community that makes culture. And it is culture that supports growth. To support our community we began developing a type of gathering we call "Around the Teapot". It's an open-ended and simple frame, rooted in the basics of being a good host: opening your doors, offering warm food, holding space and singing songs. Above all we aim to make each Teapot a place to develop mutual generosity.
You can read and view about a three-day Teapot we orchestrated here.
We also co-created and hosted a Teapot on immersive performance in Los Angeles which was reviewed here.
Academe - tradition, archive, resource
We are scholars because we care about where we come from, where we are going, and what we might have to offer to those who come after.
"Birthdays Make the Best Training", a snapshot of ARTEL's ensemble processes in Encountering Ensemble, edited by John Britton (2013)
"The Emergence of Studiinost: the ethics and processes of ensemble in the Russian theatre studio" & "As Important as Blood and Shelter: extending studiinost into obshchnost", both in Encountering Ensemble, edited by John Britton (2013)
"In Search of the Idea - Scenography, Collective Composition, and Subjectivity in the Laboratory of Dmitry Krymov" in A History of Collective Creation, edited by Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva and Scottt Proudfit (2013) and downloadable here
One Hundred Years of Fortitude: A Long View Case for Laboratory in L.A. - Stage Raw
"Devising a Playground: ARTEL’s Strategies for Embodying Research and Text", videos and reflections on ARTEL's early training processes, theatre, dance and performance training blog
"Educating the Director: Meyerhold’s pedagogy for a theatre of conventions", forthcoming in The Great European Stage Directors volume 2: Meyerhold, Brecht, Piscator
A History of the Theatre Laboratory, forthcoming
52 Weeks of Lenin
"Today is doomed to die, because yesterday has died and because tomorrow shall be born." 2017 is the hundred year anniversary of the Russian Revolutions. Revolution, as Yevgeny Zamyatin famously stated, is infinite. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the avant-garde of Europe and Russia equated revolution with revelation. Everyday it seems new parallels are emerging between the world of 1917 and 2017 - the rise of authoritarianism, an elite that is hoarding the natural and capital resources, politicians that claim a people's mandate but act in their own self-interest, mounting confusion, fear, inequality and hatred leading to more bloodshed - and so we thought we better celebrate. Celebrate the spirit of revolution, of creativity, of resistance, of our better natures.