Friday, June 3, 2011

Ya Chaika

The title of this blog post should be written: "Я чайка."  And that just means, "I’m the seagull."  But we’ll get to that. Today was another day of hitting the ground running.  Got up fairly early so I had plenty of time to laze about before class at 11:00.  This morning we had our first singing class with Марина Смырнова (Marina Smirnova).  This woman is a powerhouse!  She had each person come up and sing a few bars of a song – any song we could come up with – and she started messing with us.  She tested our range, tapped our noses, mimed punching us in the stomach, tugged on our shirts, snarled at us… all with the help of her trusty interpreter.  I’ve been a singer for years, but it has also been a number of years since I’ve sung in front of anyone, and even longer since I’ve had a voice lesson, so I found myself oddly nervous when I sang.  But as she got me higher in my range, I sank into my comfort zone and had a lot of fun with her.  And sure, it was really fun listening to the people in the group with fantastic voices, but I learned a lot more from watching the people who didn’t consider themselves singers – even the people who seemed pretty tone deaf.  She really stuck with them in a way that said, “I’m going to prove to you that you can do this, so stop pussy-footing around and sing, damnit!”  It was really amazing to see the steps that each of them took in just the few minutes she spent with them.  When next we meet with Marina, she’ll be assigning us each songs that we’ll be working on for the rest of the month.  I love this woman. Lunch was, as lunches often are, fairly uneventful.  It was our second day eating at the MXAT cafeteria, and though my order may become repetitive, it sure is delicious.  And I do know that it’s vegetarian, so that’s two checks in my book!  (One of the other vegetarians got a little adventurous today, and we’re pretty sure she ate some chicken… but I’m doing my best to avoid such shenanigans.) After lunch came our first Stanislavsky acting class taught by Сэргэй Зэмтсов (Sergei Zemtsov).  He isn’t quite as effusive as the other two teachers have been – there’s a little more of a “get down to business” feel about him, but this does not make him any less fascinating.  He took us through a series of exercises that focused on attention and creating a sort of group mind.  Some I had done before, some were totally new.  And, as he told us repeatedly with a glint in his eye, any time we were successful at an exercise, we would just have to add something to make it more difficult.  These are definitely exercises that my acting students are going to get a piece of this fall!  Over and over he repeated the Stanislavsky credo, which comes out to something along the lines of "easier, lighter, simpler, merrier."  If there’s one thing we keep hearing from these teachers it’s how tense we are.  They are doing their best to loosen us up!  For the second half of class he went around the circle of the 20 of us students asking our names and our first impressions of Moscow – both positive and negative.  This proved to be a difficult task, as we played the polite Americans who didn’t want to say anything to offend.  But in the course of the hour we spent doing this, we learned a lot about Moscow and its history, so while I found it a little nerve wracking, I think it was time well spent. After class we had a couple of different sets of instructions.  Some people went back to the dorms where they claimed their new rooms on the 3rd floor, where apparently the collapsed ceiling from the night of our arrival had been fixed.  Since I was one of the people seeing the production of The Seagull this evening, I didn’t go back, which turned out to be a big pain in the ass.  But more on that later.  I hung around Kamergersky street for a while, had a delicious блин (Russian Crepe) for dinner, and headed to the theatre.  Despite the Soviet insistence on simple décor, the theatre really is pretty spectacular.  And is made even more so by knowing the kind of people who have performed on this stage.  The production itself was fairly interesting.  It’s a slightly experimental version of The Seagull, and it’s been pretty clear from the careful comments of the MXAT faculty that they don’t like it very much, but I have to say that I enjoyed it.  Certainly there were things that worked better than others for me, but overall I felt like it was an energetic production that made some compelling choices about the characters.  It was pretty surreal watching the whole thing in Russian.  I know the story, of course, but it was a lot of work to keep up with what was happening.  The curtain call at the end of the show was one of the first moments I’ve had here of real cultural difference.  The clapping began as the curtain closed, then it fell into a rhythm with the music playing as the curtain reopened.  The cast strode confidently downstage – but in no sort of hurry.  At the front of the stage they were met by people lined up in the middle aisle with large bouquets of flowers for their favorite actors.  Once the flowers were distributed, the actors exited upstage.  By this time the whole house was standing and had fallen into a rhythm together again with the claps – this time in rhythm with each other rather than any music, since the music had long since stopped.  But after the actors left, the clapping continued.  They came back on, stood at the front of the stage, brought three people on from the wings, clapped for them, bowed almost individually and haphazardly, and exited again.  The clapping continued through a third curtain call – it was interesting to see who tried to hang around to be the last person to walk away from the applause.  Apparently the third time was a charm, and the clapping died out as the cast disappeared for the third time.  It was really quite something.  We keep being told that we need to see the production of the Seagull happening at the Satiricon theater, so perhaps I will have more seagull-related goodness at a later date.  I also plan on keeping a count of how many curtain calls each show receives throughout the course of this month. Once the show was over we booked it back to the dorms where I discovered that there were no more rooms available on the third floor… so what the heck was I supposed to do?  This led to about 20 minutes of angst until one of the Canadian students told me that he had collected the key to what they thought was a spare room, and would I like it.  You bet I would!  It was the final single available, which was extremely necessary, as the other four people who weren’t quite sure about rooming at that point were all boys.  There ended up being enough doubles to take care of them (one extremely begrudgingly, but tough tacos, I’m the PhD student and the chick.  I win.), so we all managed to be housed.  Once that madness was put to rest, I finally sat down, took a breath, and got ready for bed.  Whew.

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