Section: Arts

On the Record: Sofiia Shyroka ’25 on play Green Corridors

On the Record: Sofiia Shyroka ’25 on play Green Corridors

Shyroka wanted to stage a play about Ukraine, and she immediately connected with Green Corridors after reading the script. | AMANDA KUO

Last weekend, Sofiia Shyroka ’25 captivated the audience in the Harlene Marley Black Box Theater with her translation and direction of Ukrainian playwright Natalya Vorozhbit’s play Green Corridors. The play followed the hardships and small moments of reprieve of four women as they fled war-torn Ukraine in hopes of finding a haven in a different part of Europe. The four refugees were played by Tatum Shargel ’27, Sophia Procops ’26, Logan Furlonge ’27 and Roisin O’Byrne ’25. Carissa Kieger ’24, Gideon Malherbe ’24, Kenna McBean ’27, Drew Sutherland ’25 and Owen Wills ’27 rounded out the cast as they seamlessly switched between portraying government officials, fellow refugees, a movie director and more. Vorozhbit set out to tell the story of these four women — strangers — as they attempt to leave Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24, 2022. Vorozhbit artfully balances the absolute despair faced by the refugees with moments of humor and human kindness that keep the audience from becoming numb to the horrors of the war. Green Corridors shifts between flashbacks depicting the women’s past experiences and scenes portraying their current shared journey to safety, filled with overcrowded refugee camps and uncertainty.

Shyroka’s translation feels effortless and authentic to the narrative. She manages to convey the full emotion of the original without making a largely American audience feel they are missing the context to appreciate the narrative. In a written interview with the Collegian, Shyroka expounded on the motivations, challenges and joys of bringing Green Corridors to the Black Box.

How did you find Green Corridors, and what made you choose it for translation?

Shyroka: I’m a Drama major in my junior year of studies, meaning that next year, I will be working on a senior thesis project, which I am hoping to complete in Directing. I decided to look for options for my senior thesis early, and as a Ukrainian, I knew right away that I wanted it to be a Ukrainian play. So, at the beginning of this past summer, I contacted a number of Ukrainian playwrights and asked them to read their work. Most of the Ukrainian drama right now exists on websites and Google Drive, and not that many new plays are getting published, at least not right away. I knew that I wanted a play about Ukraine today, Ukraine at war, so I was looking for a new play. When I finished reading Green Corridors, I knew it was a winner. There is this stage direction at the end of the script that goes:

Christmas. Somewhere on the border between Ukraine and Europe, our beloved women stand in a line, this time facing the opposite direction — Ukraine. It’s cold and gray, but the mood is joyously festive.

HOMEMAKER stands with an empty casket. To bury.

MANICURIST stands all round and pregnant. To give birth.

CATLADY stands with empty pet carriers. To rescue.

ACTRESS stands in the costume of Milla Jovovich from the 5th Element, holding a MANPAD (Man-portable air-defense system) in her hands. To protect.

Other weirdos are also standing in line to return to Ukraine.

When I read it, I thought, God, one of those weirdos was literally me a year ago. When I went home for the first time during wartime, I brought with me these four enormous bags of humanitarian aid — two oversized, overweight suitcases per hand. I don’t even know how I managed to carry them to the other half of the planet, from Ohio to Kyiv. And when I read that stage direction, I remembered the insanity that was driving me to bring 80 kilos of medical aid at any cost, on my own, to a war-torn country. I think that Green Corridors captures the souls of Ukrainians who live away from home today. I think we all experience that constant push-and-pull between the need to stay alive and the need to have some place that we can call home. For all of the refugees in Green Corridors, that place proved to be Ukraine. The play is about their journey in search of safety and comfort, and there is something heartbreaking and uniquely human in the fact that, of all places in Europe, these Ukrainians chose to return to their homes. So, I chose this play because it spoke to my soul and my experiences as a Ukrainian living away from home. And then, it’s honest, it’s tough, it’s funny and last but not least, it was originally written for a German theater (and first performed in German in Berlin), meaning that it was intended for an international audience and unlike many other new Ukrainian plays, it requires much less cultural fluency to understand the story and plot. I knew I wanted to stage a Ukrainian play, but I also knew that I wanted to work on a text that students at Kenyon in Gambier, Ohio, who most likely had never been to Ukraine before, would still understand and respond to. There’s a whole other story about why Green Corridors ended up staged this year instead of the next, but it’s not that interesting.

What was the process of translating and then directing Green Corridors like?

Shyroka: The translation process was quiet and lonely, but it made me analyze the play line by line and note any nuances that could have been lost in a skim-through read. I’m happy that I got to translate it myself because the work I did pre-auditions definitely helped me plan for the next steps. Directing this play was an incredibly fulfilling experience for me. I love theater because I get to make art with other people, and while I honor research and would not risk directing anything without it, the rehearsal part of the process is definitely my favorite. I am very happy that in this rehearsal process, all of our actors got to create an ensemble rooted in friendship, trust and mutual respect, and it was their collaboration that made the Black Box our safe space and allowed us to tell the stories of Green Corridors with vulnerability and kindness. It could also be interesting to share that green corridors, in Ukrainian, mean safe passages for refugees to leave occupied territories and reach peaceful ground. Green corridors operate on a mutual agreement of the sides to cease fire while civilians are escaping the war zone; however, in the case of Ukraine, green corridors don’t always work. There have been numerous instances when Russia targeted buses and trains with civilians, even in green corridors.

What do you hope audiences take away from this production of Green Corridors?

Shyroka: When the fully-fledged invasion of Ukraine started on Feb. 24, 2022, some of the people at Kenyon stopped talking to me. Not because they were bad people or pro-Russian, I could tell they were just scared. They didn’t know what to say. They didn’t want to know the truth. And sometimes, I don’t want to know the truth either, but it’s important to talk about it because when we name something, it becomes familiar and less scary, even if we are talking about something as terrifying as war. This play, I hope, provides some context about the war in Ukraine that may or may not allow people to think about these difficult topics and maybe even start a conversation.

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