Aida Tagiyeva, 29, Actress
Aida Tagiyeva is one of just three female actresses who make up the Heydar Aliyev Azerbaijani State Dramatic Theater’s 11-person ensemble. Some people in Georgia’s ethnic Azerbaijani community, she says, believe that, as a woman, she shouldn’t be there at all.
“Society does not normally accept a woman actress who performs in the theaters,” she says of these individuals. “They accuse us of immorality because of our work.”
With that mentality in mind, the ensemble censors some of its performances, often leaving out love scenes. But the Tbilisi-born Tagiyeva, who has been acting with the Azerbaijani State Dramatic Theater since she was 16, sees no reason to go still further and retire from the stage.
Rather, she believes, the problem lies elsewhere. “There is no culture of theaters” among those Azerbaijani Georgians who adhere to conservative, patriarchal norms, she charges. “People don’t like plays which will make them think and enlighten them. It’s very hard to force a society which does not like reading to love theaters.”
Attendance at the theater’s performances is sparse, Tagiyeva claims – anywhere from five to 40 people. With their own building in disrepair, the ensemble, who create their own costumes to save money, must instead perform in various other Tbilisi theaters.
The theater, though, has not been this young woman’s only stage. With friends, Tagiyeva, who has a degree in broadcast journalism, co-founded in 2015 a website, Rennesans.ge, to cover Georgian politics and social issues. “This website gave a voice to the society we live in. We wanted somehow to change this society,” she says.
But backlash from the site’s publication of a cartoon that depicted young people with books walking out of an encaged mosque led to its closure after a year. Threatened by “radical Muslims,” Tagiyeva says she turned to the police. She ended the project after a year, but claims the cartoon was not the reason.
She has no plans to give up on the theater. Her identity is as an actress. Though the salaries are low (averaging between 250 and 300 laris, or $102-$122, per month), the ensemble puts their hearts into their performances, she says.
“In our theater, nobody works for money. The theater is our love. Despite the fact that it’s hard, we have to work hard in order to change our society.”