Renata Zhigulina: The World Is Her Stage

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RENATA ZHIGULINA is an actress and performance artist from St Petersburg, Russia. After being introduced to the profession and craft of acting at the age 10, she’s been on a journey of intensive performance and art training in Russia, UK as well as the USA. Since 2010 Renata has performed in various physical theatre, movement, and immersive performance productions. Working with such companies as Dzieci Theatre Service & Art, Punchdrunk, Third Rail Projects & Global Performance Studios, The Poetry Brothel & The Poetry Society of New York, The Toledo Shows. Renata is also an Argentine tango dancer and a trilingual poet.

Hi, Renata. Tell us how it all started for you? You’ve been performing here in the US pretty much non stop for the last decade.

Yes, basically since I arrived in New York from London in 2010. The Immersive Theatre scene was blossoming and I was lucky enough to jump right in. The acclaimed show, “Sleep No More”, had just opened and was taking New York by storm. They became my introduction to Immersive Theatre. Performing with them was like living a dream I never knew I had.

What were some of your other inspirations at the time?

Seeing “Then She Fell” by Third Rail Projects definitely inspired me. It was an immersive show based on the life and works of Lewis Carol around the time he was writing “Alice in Wonderland”. It was a unique and different kind of immersive experience. So intimate and profound, it took my breath away. Little did I know at that point that my fascination with this work will lead to at least a few different international projects with this company.

Renata Zhigulina – Photo by: Victoria Bashilova

At what age did you start your career?

I started at the age of 10 by performing in theatre for children in St. Petersburg. 

You became a featured Collaborating Artist, co-directing as well as performing in a few works produced by Third Rail Projects and Global Performance Studios. Tell us more about that?

Yes, that was quite a journey. I closely collaborated with them from 2014 till 2019, both in the U S and Russia, working on several big projects.

Which ones?

Third Rail was commissioned to do a piece in an international performance art festival Art Prospect in my city, Saint Petersburg. I happened to be well qualified to do the job since I had been raised in the world of traditional Russian Theater. I had also trained extensively in British classical theater, and have explored the underground performance scene of New York well enough by that point. We collaborated on “Recess” in 2014, “As Time Goes By” in 2016  and “Libraría: The Night Garden” in 2018.

Who else did you work with during that time?

I was a part of the international cast of Dzieci Theatre Service and Art company that utilized techniques inspired by the work of Ezhi Grotowsky, Peter Brook and Eugenio Barba. It was a very movement-based, physically rigorous rehearsal process. The company used to do something called Paratheatrical Workshops. A rehearsal that lasted for 24 hours non-stop. 

Renata Zhigulina – Photo by: Nadya Balitskaya

So would you say that it prepared you to lead and inspire other performers later on?

Yes, I started co-directing on all those international projects with Third Rail Projects, and then because of my passion and knowledge of Argentine tango, as well as Immersive theater, I got to be a creative director of BLIND: STRENGTH IN VULNERABILITY with TANGO FOR ALL dance theater company.

Where did it play?

We premiered in BAM, which is one of my favorite theater venues in New York. It was another dream come true. I think we created something really special. Our composer and musical director Pedro Giraudo won Latin Grammy for the music that was an original score for that show. I feel blessed I got to work alongside such powerful artists, real masters of their craft.

Tell us about your work here on the West Coast?

I’ve been very lucky to have performed in some of the most prominent, extravagant, avant guard shows that Los Angeles has to offer. The Poetry Brothel, the Toledo shows. Both sold out very quickly and I got to perform my original poetry in three different languages.

Of all the people you’ve worked with over the years, who are the standouts?

I felt blessed to have been able to perform with many powerful artists. Toledo for instance. I keep learning and expanding my own craft every time I share performance space with him. He works with improvisation a lot which is honestly another level for me as a professional performer.


Renata Zhigulina in “Tropical Follies” at The El Cid in Los Angeles

Improvisation must be difficult.

It is. Imagine having to deliver an outstanding performance every night, but it’s not scripted, it’s made up on the spot. The stories are told through the language of poetry, music, and dance all improvised in the moment. 

Were there any characters you played that stand out for you?

Jean Paul from the Poetry Brothel is definitely one if my favorites, a gender-ambiguous trilingual poet that grew up on a pirate ship. The audience was always charmed by nostalgic tango tunes and the poignant lyrics of Jean Paul. 

What’s next for you, Renata?

Few exciting projects are coming up but I’m not allowed to talk about them at the moment.

Well, we wish you good luck, and keep up the good work.  

Thank you!