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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Labor Market Where Stars May Be Born

Lana Turner, one of cinema's first great screen sirens, was discovered at a corner drugstore in Hollywood. Angelina Vasilyova, an aspiring actress from Chelyabinsk, came to Moscow hoping that she herself would be discovered -- and catapulted to stardom -- at the Theater Labor Market in the House of Culture on Ulitsa Pravdy.


"I came here to find my destiny," Vasilyova says with dramatic flair. "I love it. I have already met some directors."


The Theater Labor Market may not be a one-way ticket to celebrity, but it is an established thespian tradition. Each year Russian stage actors, directors and lighting engineers come from all over the country to try out for theater managers who need to stock their companies with talent. The most noteworthy participant this year is Vladimir Permyakov, made famous this summer as Lyonya Golubkov in MMM investment fund television commercials. Most of the aspirants, however, are young actors and actresses from the provinces who simply need a job.


According to Yury Kimlach, a Culture Ministry official who runs the 10-day event, about 60 theaters and 100 players have gathered for the market. He says that the bazaar was born at the end of the 19th century, when a rich philanthropist organized annual employment fairs for out-of-work actors. This practice continued into the Soviet era, and had its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1978, Soviet authorities suspended the actors' market because, Kimlach says, too many theaters were cheating performers and reneging on deals.


In 1986, the Theater Labor Market was reestablished, and Kimlach was put in charge of it. Since then, he says, the market has flourished.


"All year long, people look forward to coming," Kimlach says. "And not just people who are looking for work. This is also a good place to meet friends and make contacts for the future."


For those who are looking for work or for actors, the procedure works like this. Theaters register and pay a small fee; their managers then look through lists of performers or post notices on a bulletin board in the House of Culture. The lists of players can be found in folders marked "Men -- 20 to 30 years old," "Women -- 30 to 40 years old," "families," and so on. Actors appear on the list for free.


Some of the advertisements affixed to the bulletin board are humorous. One reads: "Theater in Veliki Luki (near the Ukrainian border) seeks one young family of actors. Pluses -- Our theater is located only 400 kilometers from Moscow, and the building is new. Minuses -- You will see them for yourself, or bring them with you."


Once theater managers and performers are brought together, the players have an interview or give readings in the auditorium at the House of Culture.


Modern technology has arrived at the fair, Kimlach says; some actors have started bringing videos of their work. One theater from Pskov needed a Romeo and Juliet for a fall production of the Shakespeare play. Kamlich says the manager found actors who already knew their lines because they had just finished doing "Romeo and Juliet" in another city.


Romeos and Juliets are one thing, but apparently there is a lack of behind-the-scenes workers as well.


Svetlana Saveleva, who organizes the lists of players and stage workers, explains that while there is a glut of aspiring actors in their 20s, lighting engineers and set designers are at a premium.


"There is a great deficit of technical people," she says. "There are many, many vacancies for them."


The actors and actresses who turned up for the market Wednesday were cheerful and treated it as a social event. The bearded Yatsyk twins, Vadim and Viktor, stood out on the lawn in front of the House of Culture mingling with other actors and directors. They say they came to simply to socialize, because they are already employed by the Pokrovsky Theater in Moscow.


"We came to meet friends," Viktor Yatsyk says. "We know a lot of people here because we come every year."


Not everyone thought the Theater Labor Market, which ends Aug. 27, has been a success. Vyacheslav Pinchuk, a stage director from Biysk in Altai, traveled to Moscow to find supporting actors for his troupe. He started coming to the market in 1986. This time around, he did not find anyone worth bringing back to Siberia.


"This year there is a rather poor selection," he says. "Maybe it is for economic reasons, but actors are not willing to leave home this year."


In some cases, maybe, but what about Angelina Vasilyova? Did she finally get her break?


"Of course," she says, with a broad smile. "I'm going to a theater in a small town on the Volga. I know the director. I love this theater."