The Summer Before Everything

  • June 28, 2016
The Summer Before Everything

Scholar co-writes verbatim play about the war in Ukraine, based on interviews with people across the country.

It was important for me to explore my own country and to try to understand what was actually going on in people's lives during the aftermath of Maidan. I was in Ukraine for the whole duration of the Revolution of Dignity, and when I left to study abroad I was acutely aware of the distance between my immediate experience and the experience of those people who have been living through a truly challenging historic time in Ukraine.

Bohdan Tokarskyi

A Gates Cambridge Scholar has co-written a unique and thought-provoking verbatim play about the war in Ukraine which will debut in Cambridge in July.

The Summer Before Everything is co-written by Bohdan Tokarskyi [2015], a Gates Scholar doing a PhD in Slavonic Studies. 

It is based on interviews with over 100 people across Ukraine. The aim is to comprehend what happened in Ukraine following the Maidan protests and how that has changed the country and the people in it. It focuses on three main characters who are trying to make sense of their lives after revolution and the breakout of war in Ukraine: Taras, a doctor who is used to seeing death on a daily basis, but for whom death on the frontline acquires a completely different meaning; Ksenia, a single mother who has no choice but to leave Donetsk, her hometown and start her life anew; and Larysa, a teacher and an amateur ice-hockey commentator, who becomes a soldier. 

Bohdan says: "From the outset, I was envisioning the play to be both informative and deeply human. I really want our audiences to get beyond the popular buzzwords in the news and to see Ukraine in a more immediate and less abstract way. The genre of our play, it seems to me, serves this purpose perfectly. It is a verbatim play, which means that it is one hundred percent based on real words of real people – those (extra)ordinary people from all walks of life whom we met during our three-month journey around Ukraine."

He adds that another goal of the play is to question what he calls "the intellectually lazy idea of Ukraine as a place in the middle of nowhere, the eternal Other of Europe". 

The original concept for the play comes from his co-author Maria Montague. Bohdan became involved because he felt the need to stay in touch with what was going on in his country while he was studying abroad and to share that with people in the UK and beyond. He says: "It was important for me to explore my own country and to try to understand what was actually going on in people's lives during the aftermath of Maidan. I was in Ukraine for the whole duration of the Revolution of Dignity, and when I left to study abroad I was acutely aware of the distance between my immediate experience and the experience of those people who have been living through a truly challenging, historic time in Ukraine. I was also extremely intrigued to get engaged in the theatre in a practical way. Travelling around Ukraine, recording interviews with so many different people with the aim of bringing their voices to the stage in Britain and beyond was absolutely thrilling and motivating for me."

He spoke to a wide variety of people for the project, from soldiers, journalists, internally displaced people and volunteers to artists and students. They all offered different perspectives, but Bohdan says the one thing they had in common was an understanding that they are living through a historically significant time. Bohdan adds: "To a large extent this understanding has been propelled by the experience of Maidan, where people realised that they have power and that everyone can partake in shaping their own history."

He has never worked on a project like this before, although he has always loved writing and the theatre. But he says the play has been more than a writing experience. "Having this privilege of access to people's poignant memories and intimate thoughts was no less important for me than the actual writing. But then again, the writing itself has been a really unusual process for me, given the verbatim nature of the play. Rather than just writing a play, it felt as if we were composing it from the choir of voices that we had recorded."

*The Summer Before Everything will be performed at The Cambridge Junction on 9th July. For more information on tickets, click here.

Bohdan Tokarskyi

Bohdan Tokarskyi

  • Alumni
  • Ukraine
  • 2015 PhD Slavonic Studies
  • St John's College

As far back as I can remember, I have been captivated by poetry. As a child, I was enthralled by its otherworldly images and charming prosody. This passion, which is the ultimate definition of freedom for me, has been with me ever since. I was born and raised in Kyiv where I studied international law at Kyiv Institute of International Relations. Studying and practising law proved to be a unique experience that has significantly broadened my intellectual horizons, enabled me to develop my reasoning skills and made me aware of the possibility to directly improve the lives of others. Having gained this invaluable experience, I made up my mind to pursue my innermost passion for poetry and, more broadly, for culture and its potential to change society in the long run. The Revolution of Dignity has further ignited my determination to work on Ukrainian literature and culture. For my MPhil in European Literature and Culture at Cambridge, I have been working on twentieth century Ukrainian poetry. I am truly honoured to continue my research at Cambridge as a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Rory Finnin. In my PhD dissertation, I intend to explore the questions of selfhood and nationhood in the works of Ukrainian modernist authors, and Vasyl Stus, whose exceptional poetical self-introspection has been largely undiscovered. I also believe that my research will offer important insight into European literary Modernism, and the exploration of subjectivity and the new poetic language in twentieth century poetry.

Previous Education

National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv
University of Cambridge

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