The Babur Uzbek Academic Theater in Osh launched its 94th season early November. The administration and troupe are planning to stage several pieces known (probably only) in Central Asia.
This is the first time the Babur Theater is opening its doors for theatergoers in three years following the violent ethnic clashes in June 2010 in Osh. According to official data, the event left over 400 people dead; the majority of both victims and consequent convicts are ethnic Uzbeks. Any mentioning of the Uzbek language or its role in Kyrgyzstan stirred controversy since then. Several Uzbek-language schools in Southern Kyrgyzstan have reportedly voluntarily chosen to conduct studies in the Kyrgyz language. Uzbek-owned TV companies were reported, at least by one former owner’s account, to have been forcibly overtaken, newspapers shut down, and businesses raided. A huge number of ethnic Uzbeks left Kyrgyzstan immediately after and since the events. So the numbers of potential theatergoers, already steeply declining since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been further diminishing for the last three years.
Decreasing interest in arts, largely due to economic reasons, does not necessarily mean an absolute absence of theatergoers. However, the unheated halls of the theater will probably discourage even that limited number of spectators. On the other hand, Internet access is becoming more and more affordable, which allows spectators watch Turkish and Latin American soap operas or poorly produced love-and-betrayal movies produced in Uzbekistan online via YouTube, for example. Besides, returning home on unlit and slippery winter roads/sidewalks would certainly cause any higher emotions, having watched an impressive piece, evaporate into the cold Osh evenings.
Another trouble the theater is facing is the aging troupe. With the majority of younger generation of men and women seeking employment abroad, there is a very limited, if any, interest among youngsters to join the ranks of actors and actresses. Moreover, the father-and-son generations no longer share the same art values. Even if there were a young aspiring actor/actress, they would face the difficulty of obtaining a formal education in the field. During the thriving years of the theater, Soviet times that is, young actors would travel to Tashkent or Moscow to graduate from schools of fine arts. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, closed borders and raging economic difficulties that opportunity is no longer feasible.
Presumably the theater administration is well aware of all this. Perhaps they are aiming at yielding some income (forget about profit) on the New Year’s Eve. It has become a tradition that schools and kindergartens bring groups of children to watch Qor-Bobo (Father Frost) and other fairytale characters’ adventures during their winter breaks. (Watch in winter coats, gloves and warm hats, of course.) Another source of income the theater has been enjoying was concerts of singers and stand-up comedians from Uzbekistan. However, that, too, has become somewhat of a challenge following June 2010.
Thus, very sadly, there are only two types of “spectators” on whose presence Babur Theater can confidently count on: empty seats and lamps staring from up high.