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Hutsul Theater of Hnat Khotkevych

Volodymyr Sinitovych - actor, artistic director of the Hnat Khotkevych Hutsul Theater.
Living (by) art
Living (by) art
Gnat Khotkevych Theater: over 100 years of play


The old floor is creaking underfoot. Mr. Volodymyr is slowly approaching the small stage. He is going behind the screen and turning on the light in the hall. With both hands, he’s removing from the back of a wooden chair a Hutsul serdak (jacket) embroidered with colored threads. The man is putting it on. He’s wearing a hat decorated with peacock and rooster feathers with round corners. He is taking a Hutsul hatchet with one hand at the same time holding a pipe with the other. He is sitting down.

When you stand in the valley, when the river rolls over the rocks, it seems to you that there are only mountains, only forest, overgrown on the side. And when you get a little higher - right here, from one mountain grows another. Third, fourth. And the tenth…

He is speaking slowly, clearly, without any rush. The son Roman is joining the dialogue during the cinema. Together, they show a piece of play by Polish writer and playwright Józef Kozienowski.

«Perhaps he will be an actor»

Volodymyr Sinitovych is the artistic director and actor of the Hutsul Theater of Hnat Khotkevych in the village of Krasnoillya, Verkhovyna district, Ivano-Frankivsk region. His son Roman Sinitovych takes care of the museum of Hnat Khotkevych, and also plays in the theater together with his father. After a short mise-en-scène, Mr. Volodymyr is going to the hall. Now he is changing into the usual gray suit, from which a white sweater can be seen, and on top of it an embroidered shirt with navy and blue ornaments. He is leaning on the rounded facade of the stage and laying foot on foot.

I was three. Grandpa kept me on his lap far away in that room, – he is showing with his hand somewhere in front of him. - And then there was a correspondent who said that he could be an actor,- he is smiling. - Some of what was written in that interview came true.

Mr. Volodymyr has been playing and leading the Hutsul Theater of Hnat Khotkevych for many years. Together with like-minded people, he helps to popularize Hutsul theatrical art. Because he himself is a descendant of a deep, ancient Hutsul culture. Volodymyr Sinitovych’s grandfather, Mykhailo Sinitovych, was also a well-known actor of the First Hutsul Theater and many times played on the stage next to the legendary Hnat Khotkevych. Most of them were the stories “Speculator”, “Colocation” by the Polish writer Józef Kozienowski, which Volodymyr has already mentioned. Józef Kozienowski occupies a prominent place in Polish and world literature.

I was 28 years old when I started playing in our theater. And then I played the oldest role. It was just an honor for me to play the roles, performed by my grandfather, Mykhailo Sinitovych, -the man is continuing.

In the past

Today, in the village of Krasnoillya, the small wooden house of the Hutsul Theater of Hnat Khotkevych is first and foremost a unique center for capturing the customs, folklore and ancient traditions of the Ukrainian Hutsuls. Everything is based on the enthusiasm of local actors and co-creators, for whom the promotion of their culture is a matter of the whole lifetime. The theater troupe consists of 26 adults and 11 children. Volodymyr Sinitovych says that the senior actors of the theater, in addition to their favorite occupation, have a lot of household chores, especially in spring and autumn. Therefore, it is not always possible to get together, to create a new performance. The last big performance in the full force of the third generation of actors took place on Christmas Eve, January 13, 2007. There also performed those actors who are no longer alive.

Going back to its history, it was in this building in 1908 that the Hutsul Theater, headed by the Ukrainian writer, playwright, and intellectual Hnat Khotkevych, first operated. The premises of the inconspicuous house were then built at the expense of the villagers primarily as a house of culture. There was also a reading room. And Hnat Khotkevych himself managed to turn a small center into a unique theatrical phenomenon, which was later admired not only in Ukraine but also in Poland and Russia. He united and gathered around him the progressive youth of that time, united them and taught them new theatrical practices. Today, the Hutsul Theater of Hnat Khotkevych in Krasnoillia also has a public museum, and since 2004 the museum has been awarded the title of “people`s”.

Forbidden caroling and gypsy nativity scenes

Mr. Volodymyr said that the theater building also operates in the village as a platform where anyone can gather to discuss some issues together, but first to consider the continuation of the preservation of the Hutsul Theater in Krasnoilli.

Once upon a time, gypsies from Zakarpattia came to us for the Christmas holidays. Then they changed into costumes and showed the nativity scene,- the man remembers.

That was the time when caroling was forbidden. As Mr. Volodymyr says, “everything was designed for another time.” And the carolers themselves were often persecuted in the village at that time. Therefore, they gathered secretly in the theater. They created small theatrical troupes behind the closed doors and caroled only among their own people. And the Roma created a sense of celebration for the local Hutsuls. And after the holidays, their whole camp returned home to Zakarpattia.

After myself

The light in the theater hall is a little diffused. Beam with thin rays. There are many details and archival documents around. Photographs, newspaper clippings, books, Hutsul household items, utensils, the museum’s passport, preserved yellowed train tickets, which the theater’s actors once went on tour to Kharkiv and Lviv. Notes of the participants of the First Hutsul Theater, preserved letters of Hnat Khotkevych and his associates. In general, everything that can tell you about the history of the whole village and its ancient theatrical past. At the same time, there are many objects of applied Hutsul art. It is as if the whole register of colors, shapes and ancient customs of our ancestors is gathered here.

Hutsul used to live here, where he was born, and work to leave something for future generations.

Author of the text Eva Raiska
Photo author Serhii Havryliuk

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