Backstage: Crystal City’s Synetic Theater has Georgia trip on its mind


Natalie Berk, Irakli Kavsadze and Alex Mills in Synetic Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” (Graeme B. Shaw)
October 30, 2012

Just in case Synetic Theater’s home in Crystal City wasn’t far enough from the center of the city for you, it is about to take a field trip to a truly faraway place: The troupe says it will be the first American theater company to tour in the Republic of Georgia.

It’s a long-time-coming homecoming for Irina and Paata Tsikurishvili, Synetic’s founders. Irina hasn’t been back to Georgia, where she was born, in 17 years. For her husband and fellow Georgia native, Paata, it’s been 22 years. “Once we started to create theater, we never had time,” Irina explained.

“It was a long process,” she said. “We really wanted to go to Georgia, but financially it was so difficult.” The tour has been made possible by funding from the State Department, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the Trust for Mutual Understanding.

“I remember when I started at Synetic, seven years ago, there were whispers of taking shows to Georgia,” said Ben Cunis, Synetic’s resident fight choreographer. “It’s a really exciting thing. It’s amazing that it’s happening now.”

Synetic is taking two shows on the road: “Host and Guest” and “King Lear.”

“Host and Guest” is a “traditional [show] about the Georgians’ roots,” said Irina. “I know [the Georgian audience] is going to be so emotional to see Americans performing something Georgian, with Georgian blood. And it’s a huge responsibility in front of my people for me. . . . It’s kind of nerve-racking!”

“I have to say, there’s this great feeling of, ‘Yes! It’s about time,’ ” Cunis said. “Because the Georgian culture and the traditions that go with that are such a part of what makes Synetic what it is. We’re an American theater built by Georgian immigrants. . . . I think it means a lot to folks in Georgia that more than one of their own . . . have come over to the U.S. and made something remarkable.”

The space at the Rustaveli National Theatre in Tbilisi, where Synetic will perform Saturday to Nov. 10, is much larger than Synetic’s theater here — the audience capacity is about twice as great. Both sets will be constructed in Georgia, so the cast rehearsed without one; the actors will have two days of rehearsal in Georgia before their first performance.

“I’m so happy and also sad,” said Irina of her travel plans. “Somewhere, I know everything has changed, and the Georgia I remember isn’t the same anymore. It’s different. And so many people — my grandfather, my uncle — they’ve passed away.”

The American-born Cunis has never been to Georgia. “Georgian is a tough language. It sits in the back of your throat,” he said, admitting that his Georgian “is not great.” However, he has clearly done the most important pre-trip research. “It’s supposed to [have] some of the best wine in the world.”

Synetic will have an almost-Odyssean trek to get to its destination: It’s almost 10 hours to Istanbul, plus “a layover there for some ungodly amount of time,” said Cunis, and then a quick flight to Georgia. The following day, Cunis said, “we are jumping into tech. It’s going to be intense. And we like it that way.”

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