The 90th anniversary of the State Academic Drama Theatre (SADT) was celebrated on November 12. State Honored Artist B.Mushka was one of the dignified guest spectators of a special concert dedicated to the theater’s anniversary.
His parents named him Mushgia at birth, but due to misspelling, he was registered as Mushka in the civil registry. He connected his life with theatrical art from the age of 20. Before retiring, he worked in the theater for more than 50 years, starting off as an assistant director to general director of the State Youth and Children’s Theater.
The 95-year-old director has directed more than 70 plays and dozens of concerts at provincial theaters and cultural centers. Explore more about this artist who made a great contribution to the theatrical art of Mongolia in the interview below.
SADT is marking its 90th anniversary this month. How did you get into theatrical art?
The 90 years of SADT were years of enlightenment, new ideas, courage and inspiration for the Mongolian people. I would like to brag that I have seen the benefits of living.
When I was in primary and middle schools, I became very interested in music and poetry. I used to hide behind the curtain of my provincial club to watch concerts. But one day, Director of the Pink Theater Amaasuren complained to the school administration that I had been secretly watching plays. The school administration was angry with me for not doing my lesson and threatened to expel me. I begged them not to expel me and promised it wouldn’t happen again, and the school gave me another chance. However, I couldn’t control my desire to see plays. Then, Director Amaasuren took me into his room and said, “What kind of a child are you? If you like art so much, read this book and memorize it.” He gave me a book by writer L.Tsend-Ochir, so I memorized the verses of that book. I got the nickname “Poet Green Boy.” I was probably 12 or 13 years old at that time.
Around 1945, recruiters for the newly established Art School in Ulaanbaatar visited Norovlin soum of Khentii Province, and B.Javzan, D.Lkhasuren and I were selected. This is how my life became connected with dramatic art.
Who helped you become a director/ actor? Can you tell us about your teachers?
The Art School was located behind the old central circus (now called Zuun Ail). When I came to Ulaanbaatar to study, I first studied under teacher E.Oyun. Teachers D.Tserendulam and D.Chimid-Osor brought me to the beginning of my career. At that time, the two teachers used to act in the theater. We used to take our “red cards” and run to the Bumbugur Nogoon Theater. Watching my teachers act was kind of a lesson, so I watched them often. Teacher D.Chimed-Osor said, “The essence of art is life. Study it well. There is nothing as eloquent and subtle as life.”
I am also proud to say that N.Tsegmid is my teacher. I followed him to many plays. He was a man who studied things very well to find its root. When I graduated in 1947, I received a gift from Marshal Kh.Choibalsan (leader of Mongolian People’s Republic and general chief commander of the Mongolian People’s Army). “B.Mushka, a drama class student of D.Chimed-Osor, a teacher of the Art School,” he said. My teacher was very happy about that.
Were you able to study life as your teacher instructed?
I lived a life that most people would not believe. My mother gave birth to me when she was 17 years old. But when I was born, a local monk said, “This child cannot become a human being. You can’t keep this child at home.” That’s how my mother gave me to my grandmother and left me in a small, round dwelling. I was rejected and stayed unnamed for several months. My mother died early, my grandmother passed away, and I grew up with my stepfather. I don’t like to call him stepfather though. He was the one who raised me and taught me what a father should be like. The boy who was told he couldn’t become a human is now 95 years old. L.Tsogzolmaa, People’s Artist and Hero of Labor, calls me “a man who has seen the ups and downs”. During this time, I saw and experienced the nature of life.
Which play did you start your career with?
While studying at the Art School, I acted in and worked as an assistant director of the children’s play “Ulaan Buch,” directed by E.Oyun. After graduating in 1947, I worked at the Bumbugur Nogoon Theater and learned a lot from the most famous artists of the “Golden Age of Mongolia”.
My teachers D.Chimed-Osor and D.Tserendulam used to act in the play “Tsogiin Ider Nas”. I really enjoyed watching it. After graduating from high school, I had the opportunity to play a supporting role, Tumur, in this play. In the same year, I was appointed as assistant director of the theater by the decision of the Arts Committee. At that time, I didn’t know anything, but N.Dugarsanjaa guided me. Teacher E.Oyun helped me the most. People don’t like the job of an assistant director. But not everyone can handle this work. Assistant directors have a real responsibility to work hand in hand with actors and ensure that a director’s original setting is not compromised. Thanks to the help of many teachers and friends, I worked as an assistant director for more than 10 years. But I think I wasn’t a good director back then. I was just doing what my teachers told me to do.
Your teacher E.Oyun introduced you to D.Namdag, a playwright and one of the pioneers of Mongolian modern theater. How did you meet him and get to perform in his play?
There was a theater apartment called “Smart Yellow”. There were several gers next to it. I vividly remember meeting him there. At the time, I had been working at the theater for two or three years. One evening, teacher E.Oyun told me to go D.Namdag’s home. I remember that there were a few books on the floor of his new little white ger. That’s how I met him and got to play the role of a jealous, evil boy named Dendev in his play “Young Generation”. After I played that role, kids didn’t like me very much and threw stones at me.
You also played the role of Vladimir Lenin (former Premier of the Soviet Union), right?
In 1951, People’s Artist S.Genden directed the play “Lenin’s Family” and I was chosen to take on the role of Lenin as a child. During rehearsals, People’s Artist Ts.Tsegmid always looked at me from behind the curtain. I was terrified of him. When I asked him why he was looking at me, he said, “I’m going to play as Lenin during his youth, so how I act will depend on how you act. I have to connect them well.” I am always grateful that I was chosen by director S.Genden and acted with People’s Artist D.Ichinkhorloo in this play.
Lovers of theatrical art know that you were one of the first artists to bring the “Romeo and Juliet” play by William Shakespeare to the Mongolian audience. How did the process of staging this play go?
At the initiative of writer L.Vangan, a national director’s class for the development of theatrical art was established at the National University of Mongolia and enrolled students from 1957 to 1961. I got into that class too. When I graduated, I was appointed to Khentii Province. It was originally a three-month appointment, but it was extended to three years. While in Khentii, then-leader of the Mongolian People’s Republic Yu.Tsedenbal watched a performance by our theater, and soon an article appeared on the front page of Unen newspaper.
Shortly thereafter, I was appointed as general director of SADT. During my three years as general director, I directed “The Song of the Chimney,” “The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish,” and “The Cherry Orchard.” Around that time, the Children and Youth Theater was established under SADT, and I served as its director. In 1966, I was commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to co-direct the “Romeo and Juliet” play with director S.Genden. That’s how I got the opportunity to “greet” the Mongolian audience with this great novel.
You worked in many local theaters and cultural centers. Why didn’t you stay at the central theater in Ulaanbaatar?
At the time, there were no provinces with theaters other than Khovd and Dornod. There was a policy of turning local cultural centers into theaters. At my own request, I transferred from the State Youth and Children’s Theater to the countryside. I worked in Khentii, Sukhbaatar, Dundgovi and Bulgan provinces for over 30 years.
What was the last play you watched in the theater? How do you feel when you see young artists perform?
Young artists invite me to every new production, but I cannot go every time due to my physical condition even if I wanted to. For the last few days, I have been very excited about the 90th anniversary of SADT.
It is good to see that our theater’s artists are getting younger and more talented. Art is very challenging, subjective and not something that everyone can do. It is a work that enriches the mind and heart with talent. Only someone who truly respects and loves art, especially theatrical art, can work in this field.