How I Became an Actor …continues 5 July 2018

After the comments in social media following the posting of my story “How I Became an Actor”, I thought that the story actually continues. The second part is maybe even more interesting than the first one. Here is the continuation, though I have already shared it partly in different interviews.

The first part had a happy end that I got enrolled in the children theatrical school. There I started my first steps as an actor. Boncho Urumov was laying the foundations of acting, but mostly he educated a taste in us – something extremely important for people involved in art. We worked on texts by Shakespeare, Chekhov, he introduced us to the Russian classics, he helped us discover the Bulgarian authors in a way that we started loving them. Everything was times more interesting than literature classes at school, even without compare. I did not like literature, I even hated it, especially writing essays. I always cheated and I could never understand what was asked from me. I remember that Boncho stirred my enthusiasm for Yovkov. “C’mon, my boy, read this story, pay attention to this and this, and next Saturday you will tell me what you think”. And that’s how it happened with many stories, plays and poems. He did not make us like them, he just directed us and we built a taste ourselves. I really liked Yovkov. There was something reminding me of my grandparents. He knew I liked him and he chose for me to apply to NATFA with the dramatic monologue of Ivan Senebirski from “Albena”. The years in the children school of Boncho Urumov were very valuable. That is why I get mad when I understand that some actor has a school and teaches children. And when I know what an actor he is and that he will rather confuse the children in their most important years of building taste and goals, it really hurts me.

Everything was going well in the Culinary School. On my state exam, I had to make a chocolate roll. I had no idea how to make it, so I asked the pastry-cook ladies. I smiled at them and they said there is no way for them to refuse to help such a pretty boy. My diploma got “pastry art – excellent 6”. But there were still problems. I was left to school-leaving exam on literature. It was a huge problem, because if I did not pass this examination, I would not get a diploma and I could not apply to university. I would miss the class of Todor Kolev and Krikor Azaryan, and as an extra bonus, I would go to the army for a year and a half. Quite many troubles were waiting for me in the other alternative. Such troubles, that just thinking about them could make me cry. I started preparing cheat sheets. I think I was insured with theses for different literary works, from different authors. I did a research on the drawn topics from previous years, on their cyclic recurrence, and everything showed that this year was Hristo Botev’s turn. The Judgement Day came, I did not sleep, and I clearly remember everything before the exam, the night and the very day. I felt like at the slaughter. The worst thing was that I had to rely on myself. If I failed, it would be only my fault. I got off the Moskvitch, with which my father drove me to Bankya, I was wearing short trousers and my thighs were all covered in huge number of glued cheat sheets. Narrow long sheets of paper, as narrow as the little finger, rolled with a pencil, and glued in the upper end. My legs looked like a well-curled head with many curls. I had made them so they would be many and easy to use. I knew exactly where each thesis was in the sea of cheat sheets. If a topic that I had was drawn, I would just uncover my thigh and unroll the long cheat sheet, and copy the text. I risked a lot because if someone lifted my short trousers just an inch, the truth would shine and I would get caught and punished with immediate fail of the exam. But I had no other choice. I entered the exam room, I sat at the school desk, and the time to announce the topic came. So – Yovkov and his works. Horror, I had no such topic in my cheat sheets. I had nothing by Yovkov. I secretly cried a little, I said goodbye to NATFA, and I imagined the army oath. I was not meant for this, to march and kiss a flag. In a total despair, it flashed to me that I have read his stories, which Boncho had recommended, which we talked about and which I liked a lot. So far so good, but how do you write a thesis? I told myself that I would just write what had excited me in the story, in the works of Yovkov and the conversations with my teacher. I carefully unglued the cheat sheets from my legs, I did not need them, I pressed them into a ball and threw them to the corner of the room. Then I calmed down and started to write. Believe me, nothing is coincidence in life. I left the exam with mixed feelings. I wrote a lot and I hoped for a pass, at least because of all the pages filled.

After a week, I met my literature teacher in the corridor. He directly asked me, “Did you cheat on the school-leaving exam?”. I decided to tell him the truth and complained to him. At the end, I asked for a pass on the exam. I asked him with all my heart. He smiled. The day of the results came. While I write this, I am really excited, after so many years. I went to the score board and started checking the list of the failed people. Thank God, I was not there. I calmly moved to the passed with minimum, and I was sure I would see myself there. I did not find myself there either. I shyly looked up and saw my name first on the list, and against it – the only excellent score. I dropped down and cried. I realized many things, about education, big individuals in life, ambition and true desire, success, and the road I had before me. I will admit, I became a star in the Culinary School. This was the only excellent score on school-leaving exam since many years. My brother was a star with his talent in the pastry art, and I – because of the text I wrote.

Maybe after this difficulty and these nerves, from now on everything would happen easy. But it was not easy.

The NATFA exams came. They were long awaited, but I had the self-confidence that I would succeed. In the Academy they always take two classes of actors per year and one class of puppetry. “Acting” would be led by Prof. Krikor Azaryan and his assistants Todor Kolev and Atanas Atanassov, and the other class was led by Prof. Encho Halachev and his assistants. During the exams, the professors always had agreements between them about the students. Everyone wanted to make the better class. On the recommendation of Boncho Urumov, I had preliminary consultations with both professors and I sensed that Encho Halachev liked me more. Before the third final round that I reached, there was a written assignment again to develop an essay on a topic. I approached it with a self-confidence after the school-leaving exam, and I seemed to have achieved also a good result. Before the real decisive round, Encho Halachev convinced Krikor Azaryan that they should make a secret consultation with each candidate student at the final, with the question who wanted to study in which class. Everyone just wanted to study with Krikor and this was a test whether it was really so. We had to write on a sheet of paper the name of the professor, in whose class we would like to study. Then, Encho Halachev’s assistants started pulling the candidates he had chosen. They pulled me also and told me that I had to write down the name of Halachev, because he wanted me, and if I wrote the other name, they would fail me. It was unpleasant and very disturbing. The threat to fail me was huge. I also applied for the other specialty – “Puppetry”. The two exams were very similar and no special preparation was needed. I was moving very well there and it seemed that I would be admitted. I risked and I wrote down on the sheet of paper “Professor Krikor Azaryan”. Third round passed, the results were published, and I was failed at the last stage of the exam. I suffered very much for this class. My best friend from the theatrical school was admitted in it – Alexandra Vasileva, and we both felt sad that we would be separated. A few days later, the results of the exam for “Puppetry” also came, and I was third in the ranking and I won one of the five state contract positions. I started studying puppetry. Much different than my dream. But very quickly I realized that was a chance to learn something else too. I was not good with the puppets, but I was good in acting. It was all about me and I was a fury that did not stop inventing. But after the first term, my dream started bugging me. All the time I was thinking how to transfer to “Acting”. It was not easy to do, only few people had succeeded, even fewer – on state contract positions. Marius Kurkinski had done it, and he was an example for me. Fortunately for me, there was a girl in my class – Yana, who also wanted to transfer and who was also on state contract position. I found a companion in this complex adventure. I met secretly with Krikor Azaryan and told him what we wanted to do. He told us to prepare an excerpt from a play, to pass a qualifying exam, and if it happened, he would accept us in his class. We started rehearsing. The time of the qualifying exam came and for this we needed a letter from our current professor that he agreed to let us go and to lose his state contract positions. He explicitly said that he would not give us such letter. Weeks of great torments started. Our parents talked with him, we repeatedly tried to convince him, I swallowed my tongue from worrying, Yana started wearing a safety pin just in case. But eventually we did not receive such letter. We missed the time for the qualifying exam, the time for the new school year came, and me and Yana both did not know what to do. We were threatened with expulsion from the Academy without the right to re-apply, and the threat was real. We could not return to “Puppetry” because the professor was mad at us and did not want to hear about us. This would be the end. Again, in our despair, we thought of a last alternative. To ask Professor Nadejda Seikova, who just took a new class, to help us. And here, again, writing this – I cry, because this way I met the second very important person in my life. We found her phone number, we had 20 pennies (or “stotinka”, as is the Bulgarian coin), and we went to the nearest public phone. These were the last years of these phone booths working with 20 pennies. We thought who would talk and unanimously decided to be me. We did it with the logic that women teachers in NATFA always chose tall handsome boys. I do not know what I told her, but I almost cried from excitement while talking with her on the phone. She took what was happening very seriously, and told us to go to her to discuss it. We immediately headed to the home of the lady professor, we rang at the door, and there appeared our saviour, my teacher, the person because of whom I am an actor today. We told her everything and she did not agree that two young people could be refused the right to study just because they had a different desire on what exactly they wanted to study. Professor Nadejda Seikova had been a chancellor of the Academy for many years and she knew everything about the administration. She immediately made a plan. She told us to go right away to the Academy and file for suspension. This way we would keep the state contract positions and no one could throw us out. After we were suspended, she would take us illegally in her class and we would study everything equally with the other students without documents in the first year. At the end of the year during the state exam she would call a commission to give us a score on a qualifying exam and since the second year we would be regular students. If someone would tell us anything, we should say to talk to her and we should keep silent. She would deal with it. The first school day came and our professor presented us to our new class as Romeo and Juliet. Rejected from everywhere, but holding on each other. She told them everything about us, and though we did not have documents, we would be regular students in this class and would study equally with the others. During the first year, Yana and I did not feel for a moment that we were not students. We were equal and like everyone else in this class. What it cost the professor – I do not know and will never know. I just know that she broke up her colleague relationship with the “Puppetry” professor, with whom she was close before that, with the chancellor too, and maybe with many other people. She never said anything and she never bothered us with it. We were her students for whom she took care. I forgot about my dream and Todor Kolev. I continued to like him, but I did not regret that I was not in his class. I had found my place after many peripetias. I was in the right place and at the right time. Exactly here I met Zachary Baharov, Hristo Petkov and all my classmates, with whom I spent great years. On the state exam after the first year, Encho Halachev, the person who failed me, was giving me tasks before a full audience of viewers so I would fail, but I had a very strong support by Nadejda Seikova and no one could stop me. I passed the exam and since the second year I and Yana continued as regular students. Then came the years when I and Zachary made our NATFA achievements and successes. In the third year, we heard that the National Theatre had announced a casting for young actors. I and Zachary got approved. Before that, Marius had invited me for a small part in “King Stag” at the National Theatre. Then came “Romeo and Juliet” where I played Romeo, then a small part with the world famous director Robert Sturua. I performed in three productions at the National Theatre, and I was still a student. My professor did not stop me, not once. I could not even participate in the diploma productions of the class because of my engagements at the National Theatre. But she took the commission to watch me on the Chamber Stage and I graduated with a professional production of the National Theatre. On the day of my graduation, I got the award for excellence – an encyclopaedia. With it and the diploma, we went to the restaurant at the National Theatre for a drink. There I met the director Ivan Dobchev, a great authority in the Bulgarian theatre, who greeted me. This surprised me, because I did not dare to even look at him. There were rumours about him that he was the biggest tyrant, who dragged out of the actors unexpected things even for them. After a while he came to my table and said that he wanted to talk with me. We went to the balcony and he offered me the leading role in the play he was starting in September. My joy was enormous, really enormous, I asked him what the play was, and he said “Albena” by Yovkov, and I would play Ivan Senebirski. And here everything came to its place. Everything got arranged like a puzzle. I realized that everything was supposed to happen this way, I should have passed through all these difficulties, and that Fate cannot be managed. It just happens. Ivan continued and told me that he had spoken with the director, and since I had three productions in the theatre and this one would be the fourth, he would want me to join the company as a full-time actor. This is the highest step in the profession. I got a diploma and full-time contract in the same day. Someone up there made me quite suffer with the troubles so far, but then this someone also rewarded me for the persistence and for not giving up. I joined the theatre company among the greatest actors, I performed with them, and continue to perform to this day.

Now that I finished this text, I think it is the most important one for me. We forget our own achievements. I have forgotten this story and I keep thinking that years pass by and I have not achieved anything. Now I see that I have achieved something, maybe little and not significant, but I have achieved my dream from youth. For a person in this universe it might be not so little after all. It would be very good, if this story serves as an example for the young people. To show them that nothing good comes easy, that behind every success there are many peripetias and work, which remain hidden. In the next months, I will present five people who have achieved a lot in what they do. I will tell their stories, and I hope that more people will read them, people who have lost their hope and who think that big things happen only to the chosen ones. Actually, we are all chosen ones, just that some are fighting and not giving up until they succeed, and others despair and stop.

Dream, work and do not give up…

Text – Vladimir Karamazov

Photographer – Vladimir Karamazov for #Karamazovfoto

05.07.2018                                                                                    Vladimir Karamazov ®