Lithuanian Culture Institute
Lithuanian Culture Guide, Theatre

Gintaras Varnas

“Sombras”. Photo by D. Stankevičiaus

Director and educator Gintaras Varnas (b. 1961) belongs to the first generation of directors of independent Lithuania. He received his BA, MA and PhD in directing from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. Before studying theatre, he worked as part of the stage crew, as well as an assistant director at the Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania and Kaunas State Drama Theatre (currently the National Kaunas Drama Theatre).

In 1988, Varnas established Shepa Theatre in Lithuania, a political puppet theatre with a distinctive language of the grotesque, which was unprecedented on the Lithuanian scene, and which he ran for four years. He has been working as a freelance director in Lithuania and abroad since 1989. Between 2004 and 2007, Varnas was artistic director of the Kaunas State Drama Theatre, following which he established the independent theatre Utopia in Vilnius in 2007, which he is still heading. Varnas is an associate professor at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and teaches acting and directing.

Varnas has created five dozen drama and opera productions. His style was formed by his memorable and often eccentric interpretations of works by Federico Garcia Lorca, Pedro Calderon de la Barca and Albert Camus. The Baroque style is probably the closest to his aesthetic sensibility, connecting refined visual expression with metaphysical layers of stage reality. The urge to analyse the dark side of man through poetic collages avoiding brutality is characteristic of this director’s interpretations of contemporary theatre writing (Jean-Luc Lagarce, Marina Carr, Dea Loher, Martin McDonagh).

Varnas’ productions have been shown in Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Russia, France, Norway, Canada and the USA. The director has received numerous prizes and awards for his creative output, including the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art (2005), and as many as four Golden Cross of the Stage awards (2004, 2005, 2009 and 2015).

One of Varnas’ latest performances is Sombras (Shadows, 2019, co-production with Utopia Theatre) created at the National Kaunas Drama Theatre. The dramaturgical collage of the performance is composed of texts by García Lorca, excerpts from the play “Six Characters Looking for an Author” by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, and fragments of ideas and notes by Antoine Artaud and Salvador Dali. This performance is a journey into the world of theatre, where magic and everyday life, reality and mysticism, materiality and illusion, lies and truth, life and death intertwine. In this production filled with self-referencing (viewers can recognise certain details of scenography and costumes, puppets, texts, music and even characters created for Varnas’ previous performances), the director rethinks the purpose and nature of theatre, looking at the development of modern theatre with a critical eye, but not forgetting its magic.