“Randevu” magazine
Author: Natalia Novinskaya

Circulation: 5'500 copies

A Broadway Story

Our hero: Artem Lyskov. How he surprised us: he defied the stereotype that a young Russian actor can’t be successful on Broadway. Interesting fact: he was cast straight away to the popular Maxim Leonidov musical “Embezzlers” where he now plays one of the main parts.

Who said that a guy from Vologda can’t act on Broadway and that it’s impossible to become the star of a metropolitan musical? There have never been such rules in Artem Lyskov’s world! Today he plays the main character in the musical “Embezzlers” on the same stage with Maxim Leonidov and Alexei Kortnev. Behind him there are two years of education in New York and several Broadway shows. And it’s just the beginning!

“Merry beginnings”

Artem decided quite early in his life that he would become an actor even though there was no similar background in his family: his father is a businessman, his mother helps him out. None of his relatives were involved in arts even indirectly. But the main family rule Artem learned from his parents was the principal “You should know what you want!”. That rule was the starting ground for the future success of the young talented actor.

- I’ve got my aim and that’s always helped me, - says Artem. – To tell the truth, I’m very lucky in that sense: I’ve known what I wanted to do since high school, so I understood what I would need to do for it. Me and my dad had a serious talk about my entering a theatre University: everyone knows that being an actor is unstable, to put it mildly, in other words, it’s very dependent. Unfortunately, it depends on a lot of factos and most of the time you can’t do anything about them. Of course, one can hope to become popular and earn a lot of money straight away, but it’s best to be sensible about it.

Surprisingly, my parents accepted my ambition calmly and supported me and that’s what I needed most. I guess they understood that it’s better if I do what I love than aimlessly waste me time doing the job I’m not interested in. But it was a difficult decision for me to talk to them about my future profession because I was sure my parents would be against it.

In response to my desire to enter a theatre University, my parents set two conditions: first - that it would be a Moscow University, and second – that I would have another option in case I don’t get in. I wasn’t ready to sit around and wait for the opportunity for a year either. That’s why, besides preparing for theatre University auditions I also did programming which I was also doing happily while studying in a mathematical class. So these two seemingly incompatible parallels, an actor and a programmer, lived peacefully side-by-side in me! Moreover, I later realized that these professions are very much alike: logics are the base for both of them!

- Could you tell us about the details of entering a theatre University? Many people know about it only from the old Soviet movies like “Carnival”.

- Entering a theatre University is a long process, to say nothing of the stress. Usually, the process lasts from March until the middle of July, there are creative stages and if you pass them then you proceed to the next ones. But sometimes you are asked to change the reading program and it makes it twice as difficult when you have to travel from another city. It would’ve been fine if not for the last days of school, state exams, and the Graduation which I was also responsible for because I was working on the creative aspect of the celebration…

I submitted my documents to three Moscow Universities and I passed through to the third stage in all of them. But apparently, that’s when I relaxed a little and started failing everywhere! It scared me a lot, but I got myself together and finished what I started. I chose my dream University – the Shchukin University – and I was right!

- How did theatre come into your life? Considering your parents were not theatre people at all.

- My theatre start was very common. Many actors tell stories of how they started studying theatre because they had grown up behind the curtain and had known the theatre from the inside since their childhoods. My story goes the opposite way. At first, I fell in love with theatre as a viewer. When I was around 10 I started attending all the shows. Literally all of them. It felt like everyone knew me at the Children and youth theatre, starting with the cloakroom attendants and audience services and ending with all the actors. It truly was love at first sight – a real one, for many years to come. Even these days when I come to Vologda I go to the theatre first thing. I’ve still got those childhood memories about the old shows, the magic that used to captivate me from the first moments after the curtain went up… It’s extremely interesting to remember the childhood impressions of the “adult” shows: I still remember being impressed by shows like “King Lear”, “Stranger’s candles” and my favorite “Thirteenth star”. Those are complex shows for kids, but I understood them. It was interesting and exciting.

Since 1996 I haven’t missed a single show at the Moscow Youth Theatre, I saw all of them – literally all of them, multiple times. According to the playbills I’ve collected, I saw “Mowgli” 19 times! And that’s not the limit!

And then studio “PodRostok” came into my life, I joined it by one of my school teachers’ recommendations. She told me: “Artem, this is what you need”. “PodRostok” is a whole separate stage of my teenage life! We would spend a lot of time there: it brought us the first victories and disappointments, the first love and first parts! I am forever grateful to my teachers who had taught me the basics of the profession that I perfected at the Shchukin University later. But I can safely say: I wouldn’t have gotten into the University without the help of that studio and those teachers.

As for my choice of profession… It’s just that one time when I came to the theatre I realized I wasn’t watching the show as a viewer, I was watching it as a professional. The only thing I can say for sure is that I still haven’t lost that feeling of theatre magic, even though I’ve been behind the scenes for a long time now. I was afraid that once I started doing it professionally I would lose this excitement. But I was wrong – it only grew stronger.

This profession, like probably many other, loves individuality. I think it’s very interesting and it’s the secret of successful actors – being different from each other! And I would like to be an actor with my own characteristics.

American dream

An unusual twist in Artem Lyskov’s story is his New York education. They sayif you want to jump over the chair – hump to the ceiling! You can’t have low standards when you dream big. Learning to work in the musical genre has been Artem’s dream for a long time. Where else can you learn about musicals but on the famous Broadway? He didn’t take into account any excuses about Vologda being too far away from Broadway. What is said must be done!

- My trip to America was a spontaneous adventure in the good sense, - says Artem. – At least for the reason that I practically hadn’t been able to speak English before that trip. It all happened very casually, but I learned a lot from that.

My friend convinced me it would be great to study in the US and we submitted our documents for the educational grant together. I won the grant and went to Broadway to study musicals. This is the short version.

Musicals, in general, are a combination of theatre, choreography, and singing, it's been my old dream ever since my Shchukin days. Even then I already knew I was interested in it and wanted to do it in the future. When I got the chance to study abroad, I took it. That is how I found myself in the center of New York, on Broadway.

It was hard, primarily because of the language. I had a big psychological barrier, I was afraid to say something wrong or make a mistake, I was embarrassed by it until I realized I would never be able to speak if I don’t overcome it. So eventually I started speaking, singing, acting, and dancing – all in English. It’s a very good feeling – successfully overcoming seemingly impossible things: that is what makes me move on and on.

In terms of everyday life, New York is one of the few cities I can call mine! It accepted me from the first minute and to tell the truth this love is mutual. There are few places where I feel this good! This is the city with unimaginable energy, the creative energy that every actor needs. It’s the city where you want to think about new projects, bring them to life and just live and enjoy it greatly. I found a huge amount of new friends and confederates, met professionals that were ready to dedicate themselves to doing what they love and achieving their goals. This is what I was learning during my two years in the USA. This and other things don’t get enough attention in Russia.

- What are the differences between the American education system and musical production and the Russian ones? How does the American musical theatre differ from the Russian one? What strikes you the most?

- We can compare the shows and the education system as a whole. A very interesting fact, by the way! In America, the actors are taught with the focus on the fact that any show, musical or drama, is a commercial project. It is commercial in terms of the high professionalism of the show that needs to sell and withstand the competition on Broadway. It is no secret that no producer ever starts a project he doesn’t see having worldwide success in the future! Everyone wants to make the legendary “Phantom of the opera” or Bob Fosse’s “Chicago”: they want the project to be talked about everywhere in the world and be critically acclaimed.

But, apart from the big-budget, the show needs the actors to be professional as well! How can you achieve such professionalism among them? Only by putting them in the environment of competitive struggle! This is exactly what they do on Broadway. There is an endless casting process going on, and if the actors are not ready to go through it professionally, it only means one thing – those actors are going to be unemployed, selling doughnuts in a nearby café for the duration of the next season. Is it cruel? Yes! But it’s one of the few options to make actors constantly fit! That’s why they start teaching it in the University to make them understand there will always be someone behind them who is more talented, stronger, tougher, more cunning if you wish, and so on.

To survive in such conditions, besides the perfect professional training (singing, dancing, acting) you also need to have a set of qualities that you pick up during your education process. There are plenty of interesting subjects that are nonexistent in Russia. The most interesting one is, of course, “Audition”: the subject where you are taught to go through castings, starting from opening the door and ending with the colors of the shirt that suit you and how you shouldn’t smile… Special attention is paid to marketing and branding in the acting profession. At first it seems like a strange combination, but when you attend the first class you realize it’s an essential part of what Americans call “an actor”. Another secret of a successful career is knowing how to sell yourself. How else can you succeed? The business of acting is one of the most competitive ones. The amount of actors grows each year. And there are not just the New York Universities graduates among them, there are people from all over the world who chase their “American dream” in Hollywood and on Broadway…

But if you’re hoping it’s easier in Russia – you’re wrong. Our Moscow theatre Universities let out 2-3 courses of actors annually. The actors’ market is in a difficult condition, so the competition keeps growing. That’s why seeing the acting profession as a business is other key Russian actors need. By the way, I often get invited to talk about this subject with advertisers and PR agents in Moscow. I think I might start charging them for these lectures, - Artem smiles.

- In your interview on Channel “Kultura” you said that “your mind changed” after living in America: what does it mean? How did America change you?

- Those were more personal changes. Being away from Russia helped me look at some things aside. It’s very useful, especially for actors. Besides, I’m still learning about the beautiful feeling of believing in myself from Americans. It’s very important! They are very good at this, for without that feeling you can’t have big victories. The only thing is, “believing in yourself” is not the same as superiority, it’s more like believing in what you want to achieve and the possibility of even the boldest desires and dreams becoming true and real. It’s probably part of the American mindset: not putting up limits where they are not necessary. They are very free and confident and that’s amazing! They are not shy when it comes to singing, dancing, and laughing when they feel like doing it. The absence of insecurities is something worth learning!

- Do you dream of going back to America? Does a Russian actor have any chances there?

- I am convinced that what is supposed to happen cannot be avoided. If I need to be there, it will definitely happen. I try not to limit myself in this aspect. It’s not space, it’s just another country I can visit for work and then come back and work here as well. I love Russia dearly and I have to make it clear that I don’t plan to immigrate. There are many options to stay in America but I ruled them all out since I really want to work in Russia as well: act in movies and theatres. It’s my native language and I speak it anyway, and what’s important is I feel it much better. I had a wonderful experience working in the US: I did several shows and played the main character in a real American musical “The Threepenny Opera”. Everybody was saying it’s impossible, a Russian actor would never be cast, but from my own experience I can tell you they were wrong: I was cast! There is nothing impossible, the most important thing is to want it very much and believe in yourself. Nobody helped or supported me. The casting system for the shows is perfect in this aspect: you can be promoted as much as possible, but once you come to the casting everything clicks into place. I’ve got a big musical project in Russia at the moment and it’s my own decision and ambition. I came back from America to do it and I never regretted it. Sure, it’s hard for me, knowing I left there so many friends, work, and the lifestyle I had gotten used to in New York, but it’s easy to fix with a 10-hour flight from Moscow to JFK International Airport in New York.

Maxim Leonidov & company

The new musical “Embezzlers” by Maxim Leonidov based on the story by Valentin Kataev is the bomb of the current theatre season in the capital. Famous for his work in the quartet “Secret” Maxim Leonidov wrote the music and played one of the main characters in the project. Along with him the main characters in “Embezzlers” are played by musician Alexei Kortnev and… our fellow Artem Lyskov who plays sentimental cashier Vanechka!

- When I was coming back from America I gave myself a strict condition: if I don’t find a suitable job in the first few months I’ll go back to America, - recalls Artem. – That’s why, as soon as I heard about the casting for a new musical, I ran there practically straight from the airport. I felt instinctive I was going to get that part, right at the first stages of auditions, and my intuition didn’t let me down.

What I also love about my profession is that you never know whom you are going to meet. Could I possibly imagine as a child, climbing to a chair to reach the record player and listen to the “Secret” record with songs like “Hello”, “Sara-Barabu” and “A thousand records”, that one day I would be sharing the stage with the frontman of “Secret”, acting in his show and telling him how much I respect him? That is worth a lot! I can say the same about Alexei Kortnev: I keep seeing proof that the more talented and significant a person is the more easy-going and open for communication he is. Our characters are always together and they practically never leave the stage during the 3-hour show. I get along really well with both Maxim and Alexei and I value it a lot! Working on the same stage with them is a joy and a true reward for me.

- How are you financially managing to live in Moscow? How much do actors get for working in your musical and how does it compare to American salaries?

- I’ve got my own accommodation in Moscow, so in this regard, all is set and done. I make my own living by working in theatre, movies, doing voice acting, and other projects. Of course, it is silly to compare Russian salary to the US one: the scales of the projects are different, so are the financial investments. So it’s easier to compare Russian salaries. It is no secret that actors, obviously, earn money by doing films, and mostly the money you get depends on your popularity. Of course, I strive to achieve that, but, once again, it is worth mentioning that I am driven more by the ambition to be financially independent than vanity. That’s why when I’m asked whether I want to be more popular I reply: of course, I do, and I try to do everything in my power to achieve it. If you compare drama theatre to musical theatre then the musical theatre salaries are slightly higher than the ones in repertoire theatres. If you are ready to do the same show every day, that is.

- What about your personal life? Do you have a significant other? What do you think about a family, your future, prospects?

My personal life is calm: I am convinced I get enough passion at work. And I am quite happy with this option right now. I am not planning to get married yet, I think I need to sort out my career first since a stable good income is a better base for a family than a rash desire to get married as soon as possible. As for a family in general, I really want to have it one day and I know I will, but all in good time. You need to carefully allocate your priorities for the future, which is what I am doing right now. I see the prospects quite clearly: undoubtedly, I will not limit myself to acting, even though I want to do it even more after returning from America, that’s how much it’s expanded the boundaries of theatre and opportunities for me. But I also want to develop and try something new. I’ve got a few ideas to try and produce a couple of projects. I will probably give teaching a go, I think it’s also very promising. I’m trying to broaden my views and not be scared of new ideas – this is my key.

But the best lifestyle for me has always been the change between occupations and places. That’s why I enjoy traveling, discovering new places, and, most importantly, I am not afraid of adventures. It just so happens that what seems crazy at first might help me discover something new and see new prospects. And that is what matters to me most!