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"He used to tell us fairy tales". Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about "two or three weeks," the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

Nataliia Sumska

Nataliia Sumska is the prima donna of the Ivan Franko National Academic Drama Theater, where she has served for 47 years. For all these decades, many viewers have been coming to the theater to see Sumska.

In an interview with OBOZ.UA, the leading Ukrainian actress spoke about the theater during the war, the Ukrainian record set by one of her characters on stage, and her collaborations with her husband and son. She also shared where you can meet the People's Artist on the street in Kyiv.

– Ms. Natalia, how do you live in the war?

– In the second year of the full-scale war, I think people have become more vulnerable - I can see it. But they try to occupy themselves outside of the suffering - with work, books, and farming. The same theater. And it has already happened-not only our generation experienced the war. My mother, Hanna Opanasenko-Sumska, left us a few days after the start of the full-scale offensive. She sometimes recalled certain episodes of the previous war: my family survived the occupation.

However, I think today's war is more terrible because the enemy, a ruthless barbarian, is our closest neighbor, who has been hiding for several decades and now has launched his mercenaries on our land. It is also cruel, unexpected, and unbearable that we are now experiencing up to a thousand missile attacks, the destruction of entire cities, and the greatest loss - the loss of our defenders.

Let's imagine what is happening on the front line! We need to pray sincerely, to help the soldiers as much as we can. I believe that prayer helps, and I know that sometimes not everything is in people's hands. Although much depends on us in the rear. In the last war, for example, people could not help with money because there were no modern opportunities for this. The volunteer movement is a unique phenomenon that is saving Ukraine before our eyes.

It is a shame that corruption is so rampant. The thefts are talked about everywhere. And at the same time, people are giving their last. This is internal grief, and unfortunately, there is a lot of it. And why are we so destined in life? And yet, the people continue to resist and bravely endure these extremely difficult trials.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– When did you realize that this confrontation is not "for two or three weeks" but for a long time?

– Today we already know for sure that the war will not end in a week or two. I remember that people listened to those speakers who predicted a quick victory, but they had little faith in it. And they did their job. In the morning, you have to get up and work to support your loved ones and those who are going to war. And for the sake of the memory of those who are no longer with us. This is a terrible grief, and we will mourn them for a long time. And there is no point in blaming those who told us fairy tales. We rely, as always, on time to put everything in its place – I believe in it. As well as in the fact that the truth will prevail. And the army will stop the terrible invasion.

– Is there a place for actors on the front line?

– In addition to purely military people, there are artists, poets, musicians, and actors at war. Unfortunately, we have already lost many of them. You know, sometimes I think: there is such a terrible war going on, and life is going on around us. Entertainment venues are working - it's so strange. Or maybe it's a good thing? I don't have an answer. But I know for sure that for all the good things that are happening now, we have to thank one person - the military. They come to our theater. It is such a joy for me to see them in the auditorium. Sometimes I peek behind the curtain and immediately recognize our dear guests, the audience in uniform. It's a pleasure to be able to hug them.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– Talking about yourself in an interview, you said: "My territory is the theater." How many times have you played your Kaidashyha in The Kaidashy Family, which garners the most applause?

– At the moment we are talking to you, we have already played 370 performances. Our administrators said that this is a record for Ukraine. In 16 years, the play has appeared on our stage so many times. But no one is going to do it now, as long as there is a war going on, which is understandable. The main thing is that the play is alive, Ukrainian classics are on stage, and the theater is full. People thank us for the truth that we bring from the stage. Nowadays there are a lot of "Kaidashi" - avant-garde, with a kind of director's vision. This one is a pure classic. We will try to keep it that way.

– Has anything changed in your Kaidash family over the years?

– Globally, nothing. The play is done. Improvising is only to the detriment. The cast is changing: the second generation of performers – sons and daughters-in-law – has already entered. Everyone plays the roles in their way, and the main thing is to preserve the intonation of the Ukrainian classical work described by Nechuy-Levytsky.

– When you see something going wrong on stage: someone didn't finish a phrase, didn't look at their partner as eloquently as they should, can you talk about it later?

– Usually, I experience it in my heart. Teaching someone is a thankless task. And sometimes they may not take your comments seriously. Though it would be nice if the actors obeyed(laughs).

– You seem to live in your Kaidashyha.

– Absolutely! I have said more than once: I'm not going to play there, I'm going to live there, in the village of Semyhory.

– What do you think of the movie "To Catch Kaidash," which is also based on Nechuy-Levytsky's play, but modernized?

– Good! The series is very well-modernized. Where there is truth, the movie will take attention, the viewer will not be fooled. What usually happens? You watch something passable, talk about it, and forget about it. But here is a truthful performance. People even endured the commercials, they couldn't put it down! The acting is convincing. I liked Motria the most - she was just incredible. And Kaidashykha. The actresses who played these roles made a very good tandem.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– Why has it become so difficult to get to the performances of the Franko Theater - tickets are sold out in two months for almost all productions?

– The audience needs live, direct stage art, real, and sincere. After all, in times of war, it is spiritual help. People love the Franko Theater. There are many new actors and new performances. And I must say that our theater has never been deprived of the audience's attention. People came to some performances with my husband and me three or more times. The play "King IV" (starring Anatolii Khostikoiev) ran in the theater for exactly 20 years. "Pygmalion - 12 years, and the play Schweik - more than 25 years. People came with their children, and they grew up and later brought their children.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– Do you feel resentful towards the audience who sometimes don't turn off their phones during performances?

– I've already worked with such people on stage in The Kaidashev Family. Then I say right from the stage: "Do you hear that, Karp, they're ringing in the church?" The audience laughs, and the one who hasn't turned off the sound goes quiet. But this is acceptable when the comedy scene allows for improvisation. Otherwise, you have to ignore it, and pretend you don't hear it.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– When I was preparing to talk to you, I noticed that when you give joint interviews with your husband, you never interrupt each other, as happens with other creative people, because you are all emotional. You smoothly complement each other: he talks, you continue, or vice versa. How do you achieve such harmony?

– Firstly, Anatolii is an emotional person when he talks, it's very interesting to listen to him, but there is nothing to add. Secondly, I'm used to listening to him because he is not only an actor but also a director of the performances I take part in.

When we create a play, we talk about it at home, because it's a round-the-clock process, a natural state for a creative person. The sweetest moment is when fantasy comes, this muse is magical, and it's as if you've caught a firebird by the tail, which leads you and speeds up the creation of a role or a performance.

– Is the world of cinema close to you? Do you readily accept offers from film directors?

– Oh, it's cinema... This world is interesting primarily because of its radical difference from the theater. These are completely different ways of entering the work process. In any movie, I'm attracted to acting more than film effects and directorial techniques. I am interested in watching the actor's performance. I love it when a movie has an interesting plot. I like classic movies, the kind that captures you and doesn't let you get distracted.

– I really liked your tandem with your husband in the TV series "One Million Dollar Village" - it's very warm.

– I am pleased that you mentioned "One Million Dollar Village". We are often reminded of this work by our fans: "Oh, we remember you from those roles". Or they mention a phrase that Anatoly himself coined: "Well, how am I going to help you now when I'm wearing a jacket?" People quote and remember. We are very grateful to the director Batia Nedych. He has principles of work: to support the actor, to trust him - I like this, because then you open up in front of the camera.

– Would you agree to play in The Servant of the People again, given that your role – the protagonist's mother – is quite small?

- It's already been filmed, it can't be changed, so why think about it? Besides, I'm the kind of artist who doesn't send herself back in time. I live in the present. Another Ukrainian cinema is already being born today. In the spring, a four-episode film directed by Zaza Buadze for 1+1 is due to be released. The atmosphere on the set was wonderful - this is how they used to shoot back in the day. The topic is military, about young people who rushed to defend Ukraine.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– You spent seven years in television, working as a host of the Kliuchovyi Moment TV program. How do you remember that work?

– There are many programs of this kind now, but we were the first. The program was very positive - we didn't dig into people's lives, and didn't provoke anyone to settle their differences. We just helped the heroes to find common ground and bring their families back into their lives. And somehow it turned out that they filled the plot of the program with their sincerity and a great desire to remove the wall of silence that had been between them for many years. It's amazing that people still remember the Key Moment program.

– What secrets did you use to get people to open up to you?

– You won't believe it - I didn't do anything, but the trust from people was incredible. And our heroes are wonderful. For some reason, I remember one girl, who was very young herself (she was beautiful, and her speech was wonderful and organic), and she was raising five brothers and sisters alone. She came to us because she wanted to find her mother. And during the meeting in the studio, she did not reproach her mother with a single word - there was so much nobility in this child. Recently, I saw on TV a story of a displaced boy who is taking care of his younger brothers and sisters. His parents died after the shelling. These are not isolated stories. Children grow up quickly in war.

– Did these stories affect you as a mother of two?

– The schedule was very tight - sometimes we would shoot more than a dozen stories in a day. The next day, we had a rehearsal at the theater, and in the evening, a performance. But with the help of my husband, I managed to do everything. By the way, the last program was a meeting of his classmates. Teachers and his first teacher, who is still alive and is over 90 years old, also participated.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– Your son Viacheslav also became an actor. How is his creative life going now?

– He does a lot of dubbing, which is one of his favorite hobbies. Right now, the movie "Wonka" is showing in theaters - the main character speaks in his voice in Ukrainian. And "Dune" is also about him. We act together in the plays The Incomparable One, Suite for Foreigners, and The Kaydashev Family. Separately, my son plays in The Witch of Konotop, The Talentless, and the production of Martin Borulia. We like to discuss how the audience perceived the next performance. In general, we love to meet up. We got together on New Year's Eve and spent time together. I enjoy such moments: we reminisce, joke, communicate, parody. It's inherent in our family to bring acting into everyday life. Slava is a joker, it's in him by nature, since he was young. He organizes whole concerts for us. He's a great guy! He has a comedic talent, it's a very rare gift.

– I'm curious: with whom do you share your dressing room in the theater?

– I haven't changed my dressing room in decades. Who are the people next to you? Nastechka Rula, Mariia Rudynska, Kateryna Artemenko, Nastia Chumachenko, and Liudmyla Smorodyna and I are the two luminaries. Somewhere we have a photo together from the dressing room, where we are preparing for Aeneid - it's the 80s, and now I have a picture of us with the girls in our dressing room at The Kaidashev Family. After the performance, we can stay to talk and dream. Someone will bring some fruit, cakes, and we'll drink tea.

''He used to tell us fairy tales''. Nataliia Sumska on her aversion to speeches about ''two or three weeks,'' the theater boom during the war, and her love for public transportation

– Is it possible to meet Nataliia Sumska on the street?

– I am an artist who loves to ride a trolleybus. Especially when there are few passengers. This atmosphere reminds me of my younger years when I used to go to my parents' theater, where they worked in Zaporizhzhia. I like public transportation, the subway less so, although now it is a protection for Kyiv residents from missiles. I also walk - I set aside time to walk on purpose. When people recognize me, I get unexpected reactions, sometimes even funny ones. I remember one summer, before the war, we were vacationing on the beach, swimming in the Desna River. I put on my glasses and a handkerchief so that the sun wouldn't bake me. And the people swimming nearby said to me: "You can't hide. We recognized you by your voice."

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