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On test days

Honored artist of the RSFSR A. Volny associated his life with the Manege in the early 30s. Together with his wife A. Pravdina, he performed in a conversational satirical Duo, created the attraction “No miracles”, and worked as a clown.
A. Volny staged many circus pantomimes, led the team, and was the chief Director of the Tashkent, Saratov, Omsk, and Tula circuses. In Tula, he created the circus Museum, which he still manages. Recently, A. Volny finished working on his memoirs, which he called “Manege near”. We publish a Chapter about the life of artists during the harsh war years.

On June 21, 1941, on Saturday, our band began a sold-out tour in Zaporozhye. And the next day the radio said: war.

And everything went wrong.

The city is darkened. At night Zaporozhye and Dneproges are bombed. The circus is empty. We’re trying to save the day with daytime performances in the Park. But people don’t go there anymore.

Zaporozhye enterprises are being dismantled and left. We don’t have the money to evacuate. By phone, I ask for help from Moscow. But Glaucus replies: we can’t help you, just keep your bearings. And there are more than seventy people in the team, including fourteen children. In addition, horses, bears…

And just a few kilometers away, in old Zaporozhye, life flows more calmly. The zoo Center’s menagerie is still on the market. I make an agreement with its Director, and soon we set up our own little tent next door, with a hundred and fifty seats. Our musical ensemble invites the audience to Raus. The performance begins, and the musicians become artists.

Performances are accompanied by a Bayan and accordion. We work with “bitwise” sessions. All, including the air number of E. Sinkovskaya and V. Lisin, perform 16 times a day. Everyone gets 5 rubles for food. The rest of the money is set aside for evacuation. The Bank has already left, and all reports and cash amounts are stored with the accountant of the team E. Schwartz.

My wife and I live in the courtyard of the menagerie in a large cage for lions — there is no other room. In those days, mandatory round-the-clock duty was introduced at all enterprises and institutions. This order applies to us as well. But the Director of the menagerie also leaves his growling household to me. At night-bombing. Fragments of bombs clink on the bars of cells. The elephant breaks from its chains. There’s no time for sleep. And at six in the morning — the first session.

Meanwhile, the Hitlerites are approaching the right Bank of the Dnieper. We can’t delay any longer. We are going to “Zaporozh-Stal”, explain the situation. And we, o joy, are allocated one heatwave for women and children and several gondola cars for people, animals and property.

On the way to Moscow, the train stops every now and then: bombing. The occupants of the cars roll down on both sides of the embankment.

You always think well on the road. From somewhere in the recesses of memory, completely forgotten images of the past are selected, probably because the hustle and bustle of everyday life does not leave room for thoughts that do not relate to today.

I remember the Ryazan town of Mikhailov, where, in fact, as a boy, I became the head of the theater section.

Then I remember the First all-Russian Congress on the workers ‘and peasants’ theater in 1919. I was very lucky to be a delegate. After all, few of my contemporaries have ever heard Lunacharsky. Anatoly Vasilyevich sometimes came into the room where we lived, and with pleasure ate with us hot tortillas, baked right there, on the “bourgeoisie”. This was in the days when Moscow did not have time to bake bread and issued rations with flour.

The meeting with Mayakovsky in his apartment on Lubyanka is particularly vividly remembered. I had the audacity to go to the poet for the “Mystery-buff”. I was going to stage this play in Ryazan, but I couldn’t get it anywhere. Vladimir Vladimirovich gave me almost his last copy, printed on tissue paper. But there was no beginning or end. Mayakovsky began to read the missing pieces from memory — I was hastily writing them down with a pencil, because the ink in the room was frozen. The owner, like me, was wearing an overcoat. Saying goodbye, the poet wrote on the first page: “I Allow the Director Alexander Rishkevich to stage my” Mystery-buff ” in the Ryazan provincial theater. V. Mayakovsky…”I was still a Ryszkiewicz then. The alias Volny took later.

But through my memories, I kept thinking: how are we going to work?

In Tula, trains were no longer allowed to pass to Moscow. We are standing on the sidings. Along the way, we give performances in the railway workers ‘ club. And finally, through Ryazhsk, Penza, Gorky, we go further.

…In Sverdlovsk-deep autumn. It rains. It is damp and uncomfortable in the drenched hat. There are no fees, although the program has three sections to which the audience would have to go in a wave-the attraction of E. T. Kio, the performance of our team and the wrestling championship, which gathered all the wrestling “cream”, including Jan Tsygan.

And now winter begins to remind itself more and more often. In the capital of the Urals, “white flies” begin to fly. Attendance at the circus is close to zero. We make trips to Uralmash, but this does not save the situation. In addition, eleven artists are leaving for the front.

After hard thinking, I come to the Deputy chief of the glavka A. Menzheritsky, who came to Sverdlovsk, and offer to sell shoes and costumes of our pantomime “Viy”. “Viy” is still not a topic for harsh military days. And the performers went to the front. And with the money raised from the sale, you can send people to active circuses.

I must say that before the war, the situation of circus performers was different from today, as the sky from the earth. Many of them did not have a stake or a yard in the literal sense of the word — they rented corners in private apartments or stayed in hotels where they were taken by the circus conveyor. Their passports were swollen from innumerable inserts with temporary residence permits. Almost no one thought of getting any clothes or a large wardrobe. There is still a joke about this in the circus.

A group of acrobats presented their leader with a roomy leather suitcase on his birthday. “Thank you —” the birthday boy said.— But why should I?””—”What for? You will move with him from city to city. Fold your jacket and trousers so they don’t crease. In this Department — shorts and t-shirts. And here are the shoes.” “A very good suitcase —” the old acrobat agreed. — But what am I going to wear?”»

I remember how late in the evening in Sverdlovsk we unpacked the boxes of “Viya”. The contents were divided into two parts: all white, not embroidered with sequins — for the hospital, colored bright suits — for sale.

On November 5, together with my wife Anna Kravchenko, I went to Krasnoyarsk, where her parents lived. A. Menzheritsky provided me with the powers of attorney of the chief Executive for the organization of the “Circus on the stage” bases.

Krasnoyarsk was filled to the limit with evacuees and equipment taken from factories in the Western regions of the country. The machines and machines were standing right in the open air, under the rain and already beginning to snow. It seemed that it was simply impossible to put this chaos in order. But everything changed before our eyes-not in months, but in weeks. People worked to the point of exhaustion, regardless of anything. The red army soldier from the posters sternly asked everyone: “What did you do today for the front?»

I didn’t have to look for a venue to perform. Next to the market there was a good winter show from the Novosibirsk collective farm branch of the Hutz, where there was a small program for half an hour. It contained such numbers as the human calculating machine, mnemonics, illusion, and dancing. The level, of course, left much to be desired.

The Director of this company — a former organizer and referee of French wrestling matches, an experienced administrator-V. Salvini offered me to work with him. I put a prologue, reprises, clowning “the Fuhrer and the Duce in the garbage heap”, and start preparing a musical and conversational number. In the room – my wife and I, Anna Volnaya, and Mikhail and Lydia Bolotinsky. Mikhail Bolotinsky-a reasoner and piano accompanist-later became my regular partner in clowning.

The main difficulties were with the repertoire. The solution was surprisingly simple.

We had almost daily trips to hospitals to treat the wounded. Each trip had to be performed 10-15 times, if necessary, even in single wards where the most seriously injured lay. But I wasn’t tired. Rather, we got moral satisfaction from doing our duty. We were glad of the makhorka, which the wounded treated us to, and the hospital dinner.

In hospitals, I got acquainted with the front-line press, in which I found both songs and stories for reprises. And then in our issue appeared works by professional authors.

The audience expected us to be heroic and lyrical. They were particularly impressed by the song of M. Tabachnikov on the words of I. Fink “Mistress”. The soldiers at the front and millions of people who were torn away by the war from their places longed for their native home. And this song was especially close to them. We performed it, slightly staged, in the faces.

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