It was a truly remarkable and delightful experience. Originally, I had not intended to put my thoughts into writing, as one cannot possibly capture everything seen, heard, or experienced. However, the impressions left on me were so profound that I cannot resist the urge to share them.

So, a performance of Nikolai Gogol’s comedy featuring UNITEC acting graduates proved to be a resounding success. The play graced the stage six times, each performance drawing a full house at the Herald Theatre, and each time achieving tremendous acclaim. The young actors demonstrated a level of professionalism that permeated every aspect of their craft—expressed through their gestures, facial expressions, movements, stage demeanor, and, most significantly, in the vivid portrayal of classic characters. This particular play holds a special place in our cultural and historical narrative, remaining relevant to this day. I was questioning myself how these young New Zealand actors not only grasped a foreign culture but also immerse themselves in the characters, delivering authentic and, at times, even grotesque portrayals. The answer lies in the involvement of Elena Stejko, a renowned director and actress in the creative world of New Zealand. Given a mere six weeks to prepare the play from inception to premiere, Elena and her students achieved a theatrical miracle.

There were two sets of actors, each performing three shows. This wasn’t just a nod to theatrical tradition but a mandatory component of the graduation performance to involve all graduates. Consequently, one day you could play Khlestakov or Governor, and the next, assume the role of one of the numerous servants. Witnessing Dobchinsky and Bobchinsky or the Postmaster portrayed by a female actor was truly delightful!

Allow me to share Elena’s sentiments following the concluding performance: “I worked tirelessly, much like a bee, imparting the acting skills of our theatre school, refining voices and choreography, and sculpting the characters. Then, the intricate task of integrating everything with music and lighting unfolded. In the final week, during rehearsals on stage, we worked on creating an atmosphere in the auditorium. The students’ fervour infused me with strength. With such enthusiasm, could there be any doubt that the performance would be nothing short of wonderful?” 

Certainly, Elena had a team of dedicated helpers. She asked me to convey her gratitude to Ivan Essin for conducting the stunt class for the artists, Sacha Stejko for creating the splendid play posters, and Natalya Galvin for her unwavering support. 

One final note. During the concluding performance, the students, now regarded as accomplished actors, astounded both the audience and their director, Elena Stejko. True to tradition, they invited her to the stage, presenting her with flowers. And then… unexpectedly, they shifted their attention to Elena and, as a token of appreciation, performed the Haka for her! What a spectacle it was! The audience was ecstatic while Elena stood there with tears in her eyes… It was such an unexpected and touching moment.

In the photo: stage rehearsals 

Rimma Shkrabina, Auckland

(translated by Lena Naumova)