By Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Viktoriya Papayani, originally from Ukraine, graduated with a Master’s degree in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with Nina Svetlanova. Ms. Papayani has received various honors and awards in many European countries, including Ukraine, France, and Italy and has performed in Europe, Canada and the United States. She was presented at the Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall in her New York recital debut by Artists International as a recipient of its Special Presentation Award. She has given numerous recitals in New York and Finland, where she was on a concert tour with her husband, Kalle Toivio, and his sister, cellist Seeli Toivio. Ms. Papayani is also an actress, having performed in numerous theatre productions. We chatted with Ms. Papayani to discuss her solo show, “Clara; Confessions,” a play about the legendary pianist, Clara Schumann. “Clara; Confessions” will be performed in the United Solo Theatre Festival on November 10, 2018.
Pat McAndrew: How did you end up discovering theater?
Viktoriya Papayani: I discovered theatre as a child, back in the Ukraine, in the music school I went to. I was lucky to have a solfege teacher, Ms. Turchanina, who was a very talented director. She was making theatre productions with her students. We had so much fun! Her approach was this: all the kids in the cast had to know all the parts and songs by heart (very practical, if someone suddenly drops out), so each one of us could do the whole play. I remember coming home from rehearsals and doing the whole play for my parents, switching from one character to another. I remember my parents laughing and how happy it made me feel. I think that’s how my love for solo theatre began. I am also a classical pianist, and piano is like a little orchestra. It doesn’t need an accompanist, like most other instruments, and playing solo is a part of my nature.
I love how you experienced the joy of an audience through your parents. What inspired you to create your solo piece?
The main inspiration was reading a wonderful book by Nancy B. Reich “Clara Schumann: The Artist And The Woman.” Clara’s life was so exciting. I was drawn into her world. I began reading “The Complete Correspondence of Clara and Robert Schumann, a three‑volume compilation of their letters. They wrote so beautifully! They expressed their feelings so openly and expressively. It was like reading a novel. It made me long for the days when people were able to use the language to express their feelings and not be afraid to be vulnerable and exposed. And I thought to myself, “This must be a play!” Besides, Clara was a friend or an acquaintance of every important composer of the time: Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Paganini, Berlioz, Wagner, the list goes on and on. She was the muse, love and wife of the great composer Robert Schumann, and later the muse of Johannes Brahms. What an incredible woman and artist she must have been to have inspired so many great composers. As a trained musician, I always felt close to Robert Schumann’s music, and now I began exploring Clara’s, and I fell in love with it. I had to tell their story, and their music is an inseparable part of their lives and their love.
Just the way you describe her life makes it sound incredible. How would you say “Clara; Confessions” is important for today’s audience?
This play is written from Clara’s point of view. It explores what it was like to be a female artist, the struggles that she had to face as a woman to continue her creative work. Clara was groundbreaking on many levels: she was a star performer, a brilliant pianist, a child protégé. She was also a composer – her works began to be published when she was still a child. We know of very few female composers, and they are hardly even mentioned in the music history books. It’s such a shame! It has to change. Attention must be paid. At the same time, one doesn’t need to be a musician to be able to relate to Clara’s life struggles. Clara’s struggle is every woman’s struggle. How do you balance family and your life’s work? Is a woman given any chance to realize her potential as a creative, thinking being when she has to take care of everyone with no time left for anything else? These questions are as important today as they were two centuries ago. It is pretty clear that with all the progress our society has made, women are still not treated equally. But this play is not a lecture – it is simply a story of one woman, a woman who happened to be a great artist.
I’m thrilled that there are people like you telling the stories of incredible women. What would you say is your favorite part about this show?
That’s a hard one. I love so many things about this show. I would say the music. The music gives wings to the words and makes them soar. I am not alone on that stage. I have a partner: the piano. The music picked for this show is biographically related to the words, and captures their emotional essence so beautifully. I also love the musical excerpts in the background, including the incidental music by Lyudmila German, who composed it specifically for this play. It gives me shivers.
What were some challenges that you faced in developing “Clara; Confessions”?
The main challenge was to begin. I’ve never written a play before and I was doubtful. I will be forever grateful to my dear friend, Schnele Wilson, and m husband, Kalle Toivio, who convinced me I could do it. They gave me courage. Another important challenge was condensing Clara’s eventful life with all the juicy details to a 90‑minute show. How do you decide what is important and what is not when there are so many important things I want to include? It was a painful process, but I am proud of the result. My wonderful team, Director Christopher Romero Wilson, AD Julia Morgantini, and Technical Director Melissa Farinelli helped me with the final cut. So as with any theatre piece, it is a group effort.
How does “Clara; Confessions” speak to other work you have done?
I am a trained classical pianist as well as an actress and I feel that this play is the culmination of all my life’s work. My mastery of piano playing, my mastery of acting, all this work led to telling this story, Clara’s story.
With that said, what do you hope the audience walks away with after seeing this piece?
I hope people walk away moved and curious about classical music, and, more specifically, Clara’s music, and that they would want to learn more about female composers. I also hope this play will inspire more women to create and reach their highest potential, just like Clara inspired me.
Written and Performed by Viktoriya Papayani
Photo credits: #1 by Schnele Wilson, #2 by Robert Kim
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
Author: Pat McAndrew, Editor-in-Chief, All About Solo
Pat McAndrew is a NYC-based actor, writer, and consultant. As an actor, he has performed Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, and in various locations throughout New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. His one-man show, REEL, was performed in the 2017 United Solo Theatre Festival and featured in the new documentary, Electronic Crack. Using his background as an actor as his foundation, Pat consults with individuals and organizations on how to communicate effectively and build deep, meaningful relationships in the digital age. He is the Founder of The Low Tech Trek, an organization devoted to discovering a better balance between human interaction and how we use technology. He is a member of Village Playback Theatre, Endless River Arts, and Svaha Theatre Collective. Pat holds an MA in Theatre from Villanova University. Check out patmcandrew.com for more information.