Telavi Drama Theater

The Telavi Theater with its legacy, dramatic past and rich history is the most ancient theater centers in the Caucasus Region.

Among the permanent professional theaters in the Caucasus Region and of course in Georgia, it is the oldest one that dates back the second half of the XVIII century, based on references in ancient sources.

In the XVIII century, Telavi became one of the most important political, social, economic, educational and cultural centers in Georgia.

Establishment and development of professional theatre in Telavi was facilitated by the political-economic factors along with the rich theatre tradition (Improvised masqueraded folk theatre in Georgia – Berikaoba and Keenoba) under the rule of King Erekle II. The first attempt to establish professional theatre performances occurred under the reign of King Erekle II.

The process of establishing the professional theater was quite prolonged and consistent. King Erekle sent not few promising young Georgians to Russia to further their education. Among them were: David Batonishvili, Erasti Turkestanashvili, Ivane Orbeliani, Giorgi Avalishvili, Gabriel Areshashvili, later granted a title of Major (The King bestowed him the surname Areshashvili shortly after his return to his homeland). After their arrival to Georgia, they set foundation for various types of professional theaters in Telavi.

In 1758, Erekle II established a theological-philosophical academy. Teaching methods, content and techniques were similar to Russian theological educational institutions. As reported, students used to learn rhetoric same as “Art of Words” and declamation. The curriculum was designed to study the rules of dramatic theory, resulting in a creation of a new, original play. The students of a theological-philosophical academy used to perform wide range of plays with their own resources and performed it on the stage of the academy. The first such performance was dedicated to the 3rd year anniversary of the academy in 1761. It is the period when the history of so called “school theatre” started. This date is considered as the year of the first professional performance in Telavi.

Since 1761, the process has become irreversible and the theatre life adopted more diverse style with the time in Telavi. Obviously, the political factors supported and influenced the formation of different theatre styles and forms. Back then, under the reign of King Erekle II Telavi turned into a prosperous political, economic and cultural center. Opening of Philosophical Seminary in Telavi in 1782 (based on traditions of academy built in 1758) was of high importance since it reinforced development of “School Theatre”. The rector of the seminary was David Alexi-Meskhishvili (1745-1824). The following original plays were performed in this period: "Praise of King Erekle II", "Giorgi III". Mystery "Useli" by David Meskhishvili, "Conversation of Elder and Young Scribes", etc. The list of these plays are mentioned not only in Georgian written sources but also in Russian.

One of the most distinguished figures of school drama was the rector of Telavi Seminary, David Alexi-Meskhishvili. His contemporaries wrote the following about him:"Intelligent person, a poet, a noble artist - author of not few philosophical and theological books".Written sources and story-tellingapprove that he took part in performances and was highly acclaimed for his "artistic nature".

At the end of the 80s and early 90s of the XVIII century in Telavi, there were located two theatre venues of Giorgi Avalishvili and Gabriel Major.

In those days, the repertoire of the theatre mainly consisted of plays translated from foreign languages. Giorgi Avalishvili translates Russian dramatist A.P. Sumarokov's comedy: "Horn Bearers","Mother of ragged Woman", "Argument" and "Conversation of the Dead"- satire in a dialogue style. He writes and presents an original play "King Teimuraz".

In the 90s of the XVIII century, at Giorgi Avalishvili's theatre there were staged not few plays written or translated by Aleksandre Amilakhvari, Goderzi Piranashvili, Teimuraz Batonishvili. These facts demonstrate that the Russian culture was not a sole source for Georgian drama or theatre tradition. Yet, there was a direct way to experience European theatre traditions and legacy.

During the same period when Giorgi Avalishvili's theatre was formulating, soon another theatre center was established by the former member of the very theatre company, Major Gabriel who served as a playwright and entrepreneur of the theatre.

Name of Artillery Major Gabriel is also connected to the Georgian theatre of  the King Erekle II. Documented information is preserved at Telavi Historical Museum. In the 60s, writer Aleksandre Orbeliani had preserved a ticket of Major Gabriel's theater. It was printed on a small blue paper.

Major Gabriel was an entrepreneur and director at the theatre.His theatre was a "joy" for the King and "only affordable by the elite". Accordingly, repertoire based on classic plays was very delicately selected. King Erekle II granted him a title of Areshashvili. 

Another distinguished figure of the Erekle King Theatre Era is "Head of the theatre Company"- Machabela, whose name is mentioned differently in diverse sources: Tamaz, Levan or David. As reported, he was an extremely talented Georgian actor, coming from low class family background. David Machabeli is presented as an interesting individual by Teimuraz Batonishvili. In 1795, during the invasion of the invasion of Agha-Mohammad Khan, David Machabeli led the army of actors in the battlefield. With his comrades, he heroically passed away in an unequal battle. Major Gabriel "fearlessly died on his war cannon". Lord Ioane Abashidze was killed in the battle as well. As King Erekle's right hand historician Oman Kherkheulidze reports, Major Gabriel died along with Machabeli in Krtsanisi Battle in 1795. Major Gabriel was artillerist and he had a title of Major. His contribution in Krtsanisi battle was immense. He was extremely courageous and fearless figure.

In 1795, "Krtsanisi tragedy ended the history of the first Georgian professional theater" - outlines Vasil Kiknadze (a theatre critic from King Erekle's era) in his book "History of Georgian Theatre Drama".

Establishment and development of public professional theatre in King Erekle era was a significant phenomenon not only for the city Telavi but also for the Georgian Theatre history in general. Hence, this epoch delivered Georgian original classicism in the theatre drama and classicism in professional theatre.

After heroic death of King Erekle's Theatre Company in the battle, theatre life stopped functioning not only in Telavi but throughout Georgia. Only 55 years later, theatre community started to produce performances in a systematic and stable way in a city full of such rich and diverse theatre traditions.

The first reports about theatre renovation after the Krtsanisi tragedy dates back to 1866. In newspaper "Droeba" (#7., 1867) chronicler Z. Tsinamdzghvrishvili states: "Georgian Theatre in Telavi has presented two performances in 1866. "Separation" by Giorgi Eristavi and "The Sun Eclipse in Georgia" by Zurab Antonov. Performances were highly acclaimed by the audience and the total income has been donated to the theatre". The same news reports state: "The royal palace of our former kings have been used as the theatre venue and the project has been completed for a long time but today we have finally seen the design of the building. Today, on July 11 we are celebrating a fascinating event - a rare occasion in a city of Telavi. On this day, the palace of our kings was selected and named after St. Nino. After the ceremony, artists performed outstanding scenes from the various plays".

Newspaper "Droeba"(#119. 1875) under pseudonym "Tsinamkhreli" reports: "Performance in Telavi was cancelled due to the fact that all actresses, including Barbare Jorjadze refused to perform right before the performance started. The next day, the performance was highly acclaimed by the audience and Barbara Jorjadze seemed extremely satisfied with her decision. She perfectly performed her role."

In the following years, theatre life strives in Telavi and a permanent theatre company is created in 1880. This fact was profoundly influenced by establishment of the "Permanent Stage Area" in 1879, the late 70s of the XIX century. This process encouraged prosperity of theatre life in the regions of the country. The establishment of a permanent theatre company was the most crucial factors for development of the stable theatre formation. In newspaper "Droeba" a profound journalist Romanoz Dzamsashvili-Tsamtsiev reports about establishment of the permanent theatre company in Telavi, highlights initiation of theatre club and theatre society in Telavi. (Newspaper "Droeba", March 17, 1880). In 1880, there were two premieres and both were a tremendous success.

The 80s of the 19th century is a period of immense movement and awakening. The situation is gradually changing in Telavi as well. The cultural background is also transforming. Local professionals such as V. Makarov, U. Kipiani, N. Rusieva and others are supported by theatre figures from the capital. Barbare Jorjadze, Nato Gabunia, Lado Meskhishvili, Vaso Abashidze, Davit Atskureli (Gamkrelidze), Aleksandre Kazbegi and others used to perform at the Telavi Theatre stage. Mako Saparova was a frequent guest of her hometown as well.

Theatre life became particularly diverse in the beginning of the XX century. On the one hand, a vigorous theatre tempo was encouraged by active and prosperous theatre life-style in the capital and the regions while on the other hand, in 1915 a railway station was constructed in Telavi. It reinforced intensive intercultural (and not only) relations to the capital.

From the beginning of the XX century, the plays of the Telavi Theater were performed in Georgian, Russian and Armenian languages. Along with Georgian authors, masterpieces by world classic writer were also performed: Shakespeare's "Othello","The Taming of the Shew", J. London's "Wolves", Lope de Vega's "La Vida es Sueño", Dumas "Marguerite Gautier", F. Schiller's "In Tiranos" and so forth. Orchestra of amateur musicians was founded as well. Theatre group was also formed for beginner artists (1916) who performed minor roles along with professional artists.

In the beginning of the XX century, there was a prominent and extremely popular local actress of The Telavi Theatre Company, Ana Markarov. Local residents used to call her Dumbatsaant Anichka. She didn't belong to the elite society and actress with poor social background had to go through some harsh times. She debuted in Sundukiants's play and her professionalism was highly acclaimed. The performance premiered in May, 1905.

Grigol and Ketevan Kevlishvili joined the theatre and developed their artistic career here in 1926-27 along with Vakhtang Bakuradze, Marcos Lekishvili, Ketevan Machavariani and Aleksi Kupatadze. In 1927, The Telavi Theatre was named after Sergo Orjonikidze. Theatre season started slightly later in 1926-27. D. Kasradze's "King Arlekin" was premiered on January 28. Leading director of the theatre was a freshman of Russian Theatre Studio in Moscow, young director Galaktion Robakidze. "King Arlekin" was his university degree work and set designer was R. Gogniashvili. The press highly acclaimed the show. Special appreciation was expressed towards director and set designer of the show, including artists Grigol Kldiashvili and Vladimer Markozashvili. It is pivotal to mention that the abovementioned play was performed at The Telavi Theatre for the very first time.

In 1931, the former Government of the Soviet Union granted the Telavi Theatre a status of state institution. A well-known and highly acclaimed theatre director, intellectual theatre figure Vakhtang Garik was appointed as a head of the theatre. Numerous successful artistic work is connected to his name. His prosperous involvement determined and shaped artistic quality of The Telavi Theatre.

During World War II, none of Georgian theatres stopped functioning including The Telavi Theatre. During war times, the theatre premiered 26 performances that echoed war and patriotism motives. In 1939-1940 theatre premiered Akaki Tsereteli's play "Little Kakhi". Historical-patriotic theme was the factor that determined the repertoire policy of the Telavi Theater in this period.

In the end of 1940, theatre premiered Vazha-Pshavela's "Expelled" (directed by G. Roseba) for the first time at The Telavi Theatre. Essentially, the scenic history of the play begins here. It is of vital importance to note that, in war times when the theatre repertoire was inspired by patriotic and wartime themes, the theatre managed to focus on the younger audience members and proposed comedies as well. The Soviet government encouraged the theatre top management for remarkable results. On February 21, 1941, at the presidium of the Supreme Council of the Georgian USSR, Roseba was awarded honorary rank of Georgian USSR Merit of the Art.

New interpretations of the Georgian plays appear in a repertoire of The Telavi Theatre in 1960-1965. N. Dumbadze's "I See The Sun", G. Berdzenishvili's "Weeping of the Vine", O. Mamporia's "In the Shadow of Metekhi", R. Japaridze's "Widow of a Soldier". Outstanding Georgian and foreign classic drama plays were staged in this period: I. Chavchavadze's "Is He a Human, This Man?!", "A. Tsereteli's "Little Kakhi", Mayne Reid's "The Headless Horseman", M. Lermontov's "Mascarade", V. Hugo's "Marie Tudor", E. Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin", Molière’s "Scapin the Schemer".

Nugzar Lortkipanidze was appointed as the leading director at the theatre in 1975-76. Meeting with his artistic legacy was unforgettable experience for the audience in Telavi and obviously, interest to meet him again was immense. With Nugzar Lortkipanidze's dedication and commitment the following artists joined The Telavi Theatre company: Nino Mamulaishvili, Zurab Antelava and Vano Iantbelidze. These artists became the leading force of the theatre through years. In the 70s of the 20th century, Nugzar Lortkipanidze's performances were innovative and different phenomenon in the history of Telavi Theater. His style shaped the stylistics and function of artistic life at the theatre. He shared numerous success with the well-known artists: Vakhtang Chiltispireli, Tina Burbutashvili, Venera Peikrishvili, Zurab Antilava in a role of Dervish and many others. Nugzar Lortkipanidze has also staged: G. Khukhashvili's "Uphill, Downhill", performed in Tbilisi at the showcase of republic theatres. Discussion of the performance was held. Dimitri Aleksidze, the Chairman of the Georgian Theater Society positively evaluated the performance, but the discussion about the staging technique was held between theatre critics, G.Gogoladze and K. Ninikashvili.

In 1981, a new building of The Telavi Theatre was opened which met all the technical standards of modern theatre venue. The new theatre building where The Telavi Theatre is currently located accommodated 800 audience members. Project belongs to Grigol Jabua. The spectacular image of the theater building is created by luxurious interior, a vast foyer with a historic monument (the ruins of the King of Erekle flag construction), a priceless panorama and ceramic bas reliefs. Theater is decorated with an exquisite artistic taste of marvelous artist E. Kopadze, G. Klibadze, J. Rukhadze and an architect G. Tskhakaia. The façade of the building is decorated with stained glass windows looking through the theater foyer, the vestibule and the foyer organically combine with each other. The façade of the theatre was incredibly original and new to the Georgia since Soviet theatre architecture was inspired ancient theatre aspects. The Telavi Theatre is still considered to be as an original theatre venue in Georgia (except the Meskheti theatre and later XX century Poti Drama Theatre where the principle of stained glass is used).

Nugar Lortkipanidze staged a new and extraordinary version of Vazha-Pshavela’s “The Expelled” at the new venue of the theatre. Limitless potential of whole company was vivid in the show. The theatre presented it at the 1st Republic Classic Drama Festival held in Telavi. The company was adapting to the new environment of the building with lots of excitement and anxiety too, although the audience gave standing ovation to the performance. Young artist Eldino Tukhashvili was awarded by honorary prize for his prominent role of Gulkani. Nino Mamulaishvili was awarded by jury of the contest “Modernity and Theatre”, carried out by Georgian Theatre Society artist for her outstanding role of Nastenka in the performance “Live and Remember” during theatre season 1980-1981. It was recognition of the success of the theatre.

In 1982, a young director Aleksandre (Nukri) Kantaria was appointed as the head of The Telavi Theatre and from this very moment, a new and prominent era of the theatre has started. This young director with a minor experience attracted attention of theatre society straightaway. His visions, ideas and motives were outstanding. Due to his professionalism, The Telavi Theatre was listed among the most successful theatres in the country.

During 1982-1983 theatre season, The Telavi Theatre toured to Tallinn, Estonia with the two outstanding performances: Revaz Inanishvili’s “Sounds of My Watery-Glen” and Lasha Tabukashvili’s “Taming of a Falcon”. It was the first international tour in the history of The Telavi Theatre and a great responsibility for the company as well. Performances were held at Academic Theatre in Tallinn. The name of The Telavi Theatre was unknown till now for the Estonian audience.

1988 was an important year for The Telavi Theatre as a world-known British director Peter Brook visited Georgia. The Telavi Theatre welcomed him in Kakheti region. Peter Brook visited historical places in Kakheti and of course, The Telavi Theatre. Peter Brook attended a performance "Alale". Artists were extremely nervous since the world known legendary director attended the show. At the end of the performance, Peter Brook congratulated the company on their successful performance. "It is a good performance, very interesting in a way that it is refreshing. I see that this theatre is a part of Georgian theatre, you performed in a most natural way possible. I felt the reaction of the audience and sensed that everything that was going on the stage was dear to them. It echoed their lives. Audience felt that artists fully enjoyed their contribution". Peter Brooks visit was an encouragement for The Telavi Theatre. It noted that the company was recognized as one of the most excellent ones among Georgian theatres. This recognition boosted motivation of the company for the future.

In the 80s of the 20th century, the Telavi Theater actors became true celebrities of the Georgian theatre. In this period and later as well, the most popular artists were: Vano Iantbelidze, Nazi Araviashvili, Mariam Ghaghashvili, Zaza Kolelishvili, Venera Peikrishvili, Gela Chotalashvili, Natia Rostomashvili, Nona Khumarashvili, Maia Bichelashvili, Nino Kurtanidze, Zurab Antelava, Zurab Lomidze, Eter Babilashvili, Shota Bezhashvili, Davit Ghaghanidze, Temur Khunashvili, Giorgi Mamuchishvili, Eldar Tavdishvili, Avtandil Guliashvili, Karlo Kartvelishvili, Maia Lonzhanidze, Shota Bezhanishvili, Tamar Maisuradze, Tsitsino Papiashvili, Manana Zautashvili, Kakhi Rostomashvili, Liana Aslamazishvili, Davit Mghebrishvili, Khvicha Iremadze and many others.

Leading The Telavi Theatre was not an easy task for such an outstanding professional as Gogi Chakvetadze. The theatre company accepted new head of the theatre with high expectations and the director had full understanding of this new post. He became so attached to Telavi that he decided to move there from the capital. It is not surprising since Telavi with its charm, culture and society attracts everyone to settle down there. In this regard, Gogi Chakvetadze was no exception.

Interpretation of Tamaz Chiladze's "Attendance Day", directed by Gogi Chakvetadze was a great success for The Telavi Theatre. It is a ‘fantasmagory’ and this genre was innovative for the theatre company. Accordingly, for The Telavi Theatre it was a highly responsible task to present accurate sense of the genre and also transfer spirit of theatre through extraordinary characters of the performance. 

In 1989, The Telavi Theatre tours to Biberach, Germany. Friendship and partnership throve between Telavi and Biberach and this tour was help to celebrate this friendship. The following two performances took place in Germany: Aleksandre Kantaria) and "Attendance Day" (directed by Gogi Chakvetadze). The shows were great success. Both performances were held with simultaneous translation. During performance "Alale" some audience member watched the show without earphones since the show was explicit with its expressive means.

In 2003, The Telavi Theatre obtained a title of academic theatre institution. The following directors used to work at the theatre in 2003-2012: Davit Mghebrishvili, Kote Abashidze, Gogi Chakvetadze and many others.

In 2012, Paata Guliashvili was appointed as a head of The Telavi Theatre. He was familiar with the institution and years back, his professional débute occurred on the theatre stage in a performance "Waters of my Floods", directed by Nukri Kantaria. Long before that Paata Guliashvili spent a great amount of time at The Telavi Theatre since his father, Avtandil Guliashvili was one of the leading artists at the theatre.

Numerous interesting and original performances were staged during Paata Guliashvili's professional career. As an artistic director of the theatre he encouraged and supported young directors to explore and express their professionalism.  Levan Khivichia who graduated Master degree and specialized in drama directing under guidance of Robert Sturua, has carried out not few experimental projects at The Telavi Theatre. His outstanding works are "Espresso" by R. Smorodinov, "Christmas Adventure of Alice" by Giorgi Baidauri and "Horatio".

Debutant director Tata Popiashvili, former student in Temur Chkheidze's group stage Neil Simon's "An Odd Couple" and also a popular comedy "Funny Money"by Ray Cooney. In collaboration with a talented set designer Shota Bagalishvili, an experimental performance "4:48 Psychosis" by Sarah Kane was staged by young director K. Rokva. Young Georgian director Jaba Papuashvili staged a contemporary drama "Ketato" by Georgian playwright Lasha Bughadze.

Leading director of The Telavi Theatre, Giorgi Chakvetadze enriched repertoire of the theatre with numerous interpretations of classic drama. He worked on the following performances: renewed version of Nodar Dumbadze's "The White Flags". Gogi Chakvetadze also restored Kita Buachidze's performance "There's a Wicked Dog in the Yard". Director persued multiple esthetics in Tamaz Chiladze's drama world and staged the following plays: "I am a Tiny Swallow" and "Funeral Funded by the Government". He worked on the N. Ramishvili's "Georgian Chritmas Dream" and "Adventure of Mashiko" for young audiences. Gogi Chakvetadze staged Lasha Tabukashvili's outstanding play "Spring Beyondthe Shutters".

 

For the first time in the history of the Telavi Theatre, the star public monuments were embedded in honor of highly acclaimed, legendary artists and public figures of the Telavi Theatre: Venera Peikrishvili, Temo Khunashvili and Vano Iantbelidze. All three honorable artists were awarded by the special price of "Theatre Intercessor" by Georgian Theatre Society.

Among all the professional  theatres in Georgia, a 258 year old Telavi Theatre has been the first theatre (approved by the documented sources) that has been in service of Georgian national interests for more than two centuries and a half and creates an intangible cultural heritage - a true treasure of Georgian art.

The Telavi Theatre still respectfully continues to honor traditions and be the epicenter of Georgian Theatre Avant-garde.

From the book "Telavi Theatre 258"