Ukraine’s National Academic Drama Ivan Franko Theatre celebrated its 100 year anniversary a month ago. Pushed back by COVID several times in 2020, the event marks a prominent phenomenon in the Ukrainian cultural life. Sharing the real life dramas and turmoil faced by the Ukrainian people and society during the centennial of its existence, the theatre has faithfully preserved and nurtured Ukrainian spirit, language and national identity.
The Franko Theatre, under the direction of Mykhailo Zakharevych since 1992, is today considered by many as the main theatrical stage of Ukraine. It can be found in the center of Kyiv, but that has not always been the case.
The birth of the Franko drama theatre was initiated by two cohorts of young Ukraine-zealous actors aged from 17 to 32 from Kyiv Young Theatre and New Lviv Theatre that in November 1919 united to create a pro-Ukrainian New Drama Theater aimed at “allowing Ukrainian society to get to know all best works of the Ukrainian and European theatrical arts by searching new forms of our national culture and building the theatre and actors of young Ukrainian generation,” as the theater’s original charter reads.
The official birth date of the Franko Theatre, January 28, 1920, is tied to its first ever performance in
Vinnytsia of a play authored by Volodymyr Vinnychenko, Ukrainian modernist writer and political activist, member of the revolutionary nationalistic Ukrainian Parliament, Central Rada. Surviving on pure enthusiasm amid the civil war between the young Ukrainian People’s Republic and Bolshevik Russia, the Franko Theatre troupe produced 23 plays in the first season alone and spent three years touring in Ukrainian towns and villages. Nationalized by the Soviet power established in Ukraine in 1921, the Theatre moved to Kharkiv and then returned to Kyiv where it finally settled in 1926.
The troupe, led by charismatic Hnat Yura, tried to promote Ukrainian culture and maintain a pro-Ukrainian stand. However the dangerous 1930s forced them to add propagandistic plays to the repertoire in order to survive years of Stalin’s bloating tyranny. Balancing between Soviet realism and Ukrainian, Russian and European classics, Hnat Yura dared to produce Friedrich Schiller’s Don Karlos and Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, both portraying tyrants. It was the start of the Second World War that saved the theatre director from following his many colleagues in exile to Siberian camps – or worse.
After the start of the “thaw” in the Soviet society in the 1970s, Franko Theater and its new
Serhiy Danchenko promoted humanistic themes and ideas opposing totalitarianism and highlighting the
value of an individual and ethical basis that gives sense to human life. The theater, having been raised to a world class level, matured, excelled while honing its Ukrainian national identity. In late 1980s, through a special emphasis on the Ukrainian classics and earlier-banned authors, the theatre troupe advanced and contributed to building up Ukrainian independence.
Under the directorship of genius Bohdan Stupka in 2001-2012, the theatre turned to modern theatrical methods and technologies, experimenting, expanding ties with prominent masters and other European theatres and touring in Europe, USA, Canada, China and elsewhere.
Nowadays, the Franko National Theatre actors, like during the Second World War, travel to perform and support the Ukrainian patriots and armed forces in the Eastern Ukraine, advance cultural diplomacy abroad through participation in international festivals and continue expanding its robust repertoire to “let people know best pieces” of prominent classical and modern works, thereby showcasing Ukraine’s arts to the world. The theatre’s near-future plans include launching an on-line service providing access to its splendid performances to spectators around the world. In the meantime, one can access Franko’s Ukrainian language YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6PLkJPkrioar9d_FUuNf3A .
The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation heartily congratulates the Ivan Franko National Academic Ukrainian Drama Theatre on its centennial of passion and devotion benefitting us all!