By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2
‘Very Important Russian Literature’
Writing for Russia Behind the Headlines, Alexandra Guzeva reports that, Google, the Mosfilm studio, and the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum are partnering on an effort to highlight two events: the 125th anniversary of Russian author and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov’s birth (1891) and the 50th anniversary of the release of his novel, The Master and Margarita.
Now, Russian speakers can audition to be online narrators for part of the novel.
The Master and Margarita is a Soviet satire involving a visit by Satan to the Soviet Union. The book was written between 1928 and 1940, and published posthumously, Guzeva writes, in the November 1966 issue of Moskva magazine.
On August 30, Google launched Master and Margarita: I Was There, a Web site at which users can “chat” in Russian with two of the novel’s major characters: the cat Behemoth and Koroviev. After a brief conversation (in which you’re asked to affirm the nobility of the cat as an “ancient and inviolable animal), the characters decide which of the book’s locations suits you—Margarita’s mansion, a mental hospital, the Variety Theater, an apartment. You’ll be invited then to audition by making a short video, reading an excerpt of the novel.
The deadline to apply is October 5.
Google representative Alla Zabrovskaya tells Guzeva for her report, “We expect that about 500 people will participate in the readings; 350 of them will be ordinary Internet users and the rest will be well-known public figures from theater, cinema, politics, and sports.”
This isn’t the first such project. In 2014, a record-breaking online reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina was live-streamed nonstop for three days as the Karenina: Live Edition.
“Our goal was to create a project that will brush the dust off the classics and give the young generation a fresh look at very important Russian literature,” Fyokla Tolstaya, the Bulgakov’s descendent and the project’s curator, tells Guzeva.
In a similar vein, last year Google hosted Chekhov Live, short stories read online in a project organized in collaboration with the Moscow Art Theater.
Since 2016 is the “Year of Cinema” in Russia, organizers have decided to pay “special attention to the visual part of the readings,” Guzeva writes, using Mosfilm as the project’s main production platform.
As Guzeva writes:
“The online reading of The Master and Margarita will be live streamed on YouTube using the latest technology. Google’s new 360° format will be used for the first time on such a large scale in Russia. It allows the viewer to change the camera angle and see what is around the narrator. With the help of chroma key (green screen), directors will surround the narrators with Bulgakov’s virtual dream world…
“Theater director Natalia Anastasieva will oversee casting and will train the narrators. Andrei Boltenko and Anton Nenashev, who produced broadcasts of the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony and Eurovision in Moscow, will be in charge of the project’s visuals. They admit that they are nervous about this production more than any other, as they have a tremendous challenge: not to distract from the primary focus, Bulgakov’s text.
The director of the Bulgakov Museum, Pyotr Mansilla-Cruz tells Guzeva that he was not surprised that the novel was chosen, even though, according to surveys, “almost the same number of people name this novel as their most loved and most hated.”
The project’s organizers—asserting that people need not be afraid of “Bulgakov’s mystery”—invite the world to follow the reading live on YouTube on November 11 and 12. It will be streamed from eight Russian cities, including Moscow and Vladivostok, as well as from Tel Aviv, since an essential portion of the novel is set in Israel.
The program, like the novel, will be divided into two sections, and plans are for the narration to take around 20 hours total.