Varoņdarbi (Heroica) counts as my very first play and my debut as a director. I say ‘counts as’ because before then, even as a teenager, I ran a diaspora theatre company called pēdējie āksti. But Varoņdarbi was the first time I was in charge of everything, and that ‘everything’ became a turning point..
I was invited to write the musical with composer Dace Aperāne for the Latvian Youth Song Festival at Place des Arts, Montreal in 1979. I was 23 years old. We had a cast of 18, and a complete orchestra, all performed by amateurs who flew in from across the globe. A phalanx of volunteers sewed costumes and built the inventive set. My entire family was involved, onstage and off.
Designer Uģis Nīgals made glorious costumes gleefully skewering sacred cows. Those costumes turned the musical into a scandal of staggering proportions, pitting one generation against the other. Full page ads were printed in Latvian diaspora newspapers saying that I, Baņuta Rubess, was detrimental to the moral fibre of Latvian youth. I'd become an enfant terrible. It was my first, but not last, brush with upsetting the apple cart: the moral of my musical is 'question authority', after all.
My ensemble loved the show and banded together for a repeat production to spite the public outcry. We performed at the Ryerson Theatre, Toronto and the Fashion Institute, New York.
Both productions were completely sold out, thanks to the scandal.
For my fans, one song in particular became their anthem. Called Bailes un drosme / Fear and Courage, this is the final verse:
Staigājot atklāsies pareizie ceļi,
Strādājot radīsies darbi,
Pārmainīt esošo, veidot kas būs,
Aklo durkļus nesajust,
Degošos kūleņos cīnies un mīli – kas par dzīvi !
Kad vienīgā rūpe – modināt prātus,
Tad bailes un drosme ir draugi.
Walking, you’ll find the right paths,
Working, you’ll find what to do,
To change what is, to shape what will be,
Not to feel the jabs of the unseeing,
Struggle and love in flaming somersaults – what a life!
When all you want to do is to awaken minds
Then fear and courage are friends.