Saturday, June 29, 2013

Going out with a BANG

Today was a hot hot hot hot day.  We started out with a little trip to Novodevichy Cemetery where Stanislavsky, Nemirovich-Danchenko, Chekhov, and Olga Knipper Chekhova are buried, among other Russian luminaries.  I always make sure to buy a flower for good ol’ Olga too – I feel like she gets forgotten.  I probably should have grabbed a flower for Lilina – Stanislavsky’s wife – too, but I think I already made the woman at the flower shop crazy paying for the flowers with the tiniest change.  But I used up almost all of my change!

After that, we jumped back on the metro and headed to Ismaelovo Park – the giant market where one can find every Russian souvenir that has ever souvenired in the history of souvenirs.  I wasn’t able to find a ring to replace the ring I bought last year (it broke… sadness), so I actually spent no money at this giant flea market.  It felt wrong… and also a little liberating.

After the park we metroed it back to the dorm for a little bit of time to ourselves before heading out to an earth shattering final performance of the month – an invited audience preview of Dmitry Krymov’s new piece based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters.  Yes... we were seeing this in its "not quite ready for primetime" state - a new work by one of the most exciting directors working in Russia (possibly the world) today.  It was a devastating, fascinating, hilarious, amazing evening of theatre.  When we walked into the space there were chairs in a pile in the middle, and it wasn’t until all those chairs had been un-stacked and placed in the round around that space that the show was ready to begin.  And boy did it begin!  They started out with a procession carrying a dead body (which they quickly chucked offstage), and just took off from there.  All of the actors were grotesque in some way – with fake noses, fake fingers, hunched backs, weird hair…it was a bizarre world of Three Sisters, and it was immediately fascinating.  Chebutykin’s entrance was positively terrifying – he was a huge, spherical beast of a man, and he was covered in blood.  I can’t even begin to describe all the astounding images they used in this production.  Whether it was three-armed Chekhov, or pregnant Andrei and constantly breast-feeding Natasha, or magical moving teacups, or magical teacups that burst into flames or crazy family tree projections, or Protopopov creepily watching over everyone, or Marlene Dietrich, or a brilliant cameo by a live rooster, or Tuzenbach engaging Masha in a chicken dance, or Chebutykin obliterating their mother’s clock, or a very strange number of dead birds for this not being a production of The Seagull…there was just too much happening...and in the most amazing, inspiring, soul-crushing way possible.  It was all too brilliant and too beautiful.  And then, when the actors all sat in a circle removing their grotesque makeup but somehow still being the characters too, I started to cry.  And I kept crying for the last 20 minutes of the show.  And when Tuzenbach entered with his coffee, I thought everything was going to be okay… but it wasn’t… and I wept as Irina danced with his lifeless body… and then when the cast held him over their heads and walked him offstage just as they had walked the body on at the top of the show, I lost my frickin’ mind!  It was such an intimate and artistically expansive production… I couldn’t even contain myself.  And after the show, Dmitry Krymov came out, greeted us, signed the giraffe patterned scarf of a student who has a grant to study his work, and took a group picture with us.  It was maybe a perfect evening. 
Blurry but still awesome photo of the group with Dmitry Krymov - contemporary effin' GENIUS
After we all stumbled home – completely intoxicated from the theatre we had just witnessed, we had our final pot luck, then disbursed for some poster distribution, beer drinking and general bonding and frivolity.  The group even presented me with a little gift they had gotten me – a set of CCCP shot glasses.  I was already so emotionally frail at that point, I’m surprised I didn’t just burst into tears right then and there.  It was just really sweet.  I love this group!  (And if any members of my prior groups happen to be among the seven and a half people who read this blog, I love you too… well… most of you anyway…)

Friday, June 28, 2013

The End is Here

Well… as of today, the formal elements of our association with the MXAT are at an end.  We started off with our final film history class wherein we followed Russian film up to what is happening today.  We grabbed a photo and a quick lunch – the PhDs spent lunch with JT talking about what we’ve learned this week – and then we met back up for our acting class conferences.  This is an opportunity for each of us to sit individually with Sergei and Ilja and hear about what they observed over the course of the month.  It’s a really lovely little tradition where we have the chance to “look each other in the eye once more,” as Sergei says and just check in on the whirlwind that has been our month in Moscow. 
After my conference, I hoofed it back to the dorm in the sweltering heat, picked up some bags of bizarrely flavored Lay’s chips for my friend Peter, took a shower, and did a little work on my paper.  Unfortunately, the internet has been down since late last night, so I’m not able to do a lot of things that I would like to do – like post to my blog, for example – but it was not to be.  So I typed a little anyway, worked on my script a bit, made some dinner, and got ready for our penultimate night at the theatre!  This time around it was Носорог (Rhinoceros) at the Fomenko.  It’s an imaginative, funny, exciting production… though the second act does get bogged down in French philosophy… a lot.

On the way out of the theatre we encountered a giant rainstorm, so we ran for the metro, got soaked, made our way home, and I had some late night pasta and ice cream.  Then I squatted in the second floor stairwell… which is where I had to go in order to get any damn internet.  But still, overall, it was a pretty good day.  

Vanya and Juliet and Coriolanus, oh my!

Well… I let this week get away from me blog wise!  Yeesh!  So the seven and a half of you who read this, go ahead and buckle up for another long one!

Tuesday was a strange day because, in the midst of all these lasts, we had a first – our first stage combat class.  I would tell you our teacher’s name, but it was the first thing he said to us and we hadn’t yet adjusted to his accent, so none of us caught it.  It’s maybe Vladislav or Slava or Stanislas… or possibly Jim.  Who knows.  Whatever the case, he is a bear of a man who took us through a master class.  It might be both a good and bad thing that we get to the end the month punching each other.  But either way, it sure is a fun thing.

After combat we grabbed lunch and headed back for acting…sort of.  We did the group etudes (I had a little cameo as one of our acting teachers.  Once he realized that I was being him he could hardly contain himself…and then apparently he made fun of my accent.).  But after the etudes, the PhDs went off to meet with Sergei to talk about teaching acting while the rest of the group continued working with Ilja.  Then we all came together at the end of the class for more Chekhov etudes.  I think mine was pretty successful… so that was a nice way to sort of end that part of the month for myself.

After class we headed back to the Satirikon for a little-known play called Romeo and Juliet which just opened this month.  It was featuring a lot of students from the MXAT, so it was cool to see them again.  And the production was very interesting.  First of all, it was set in a half pipe/skate park/amusement park that may well have been on the moon… so that was a little strange.  But in general, it provided a great setting for the onslaught of young and dumb that was to be the three hours’ traffic of their stage.  The actors who played Romeo and Juliet were positively delightful – the energy of their experiences of each other was so manic – it really made them feel like crazy, hormone driven kids rather than the high-minded lovers that so many productions try to transform them into.  They were positively acrobatic in their expression of love for each other, and as one of the MFAs pointed out, Friar Lawrence had a hard time keeping them from making out long enough to marry them.  I really liked that interpretation.  Now, I wasn’t as keen on the giant clown face projections or the roller coaster on which Capulet came and went (and that Mercutio rode into oblivion after his 4 hour death scene), but the death scene at the end was well worth the price of admission.  It was really lovely.  And aside from the giant bolt of lightning that struck to end the fighting over their bodies (it was all my row could do not to laugh out loud at the clichéd moment), it had a really nice ending.  I learned a lot about the play from this production and really actually cared about these dumbass kids for one of the first times ever.

Wednesday started out with our final morning of Russian Folk Dance… but our translator didn’t show up.  So poor Irina was on her own with our uncoordinated selves.  I did manage to translate some of her instructions to help with the flow of the class, so I was feeling pretty useful from a language perspective if not from a getting my feet to do what they’re told perspective.  Then it was off to singing for our final “recital” for each other.  I always love this class, since we’re pretty much separate for the whole month of singing, so it’s a cool chance to get to see what everyone else has been working on.

After lunch we met up for our final acting class, presented our etudes, talked about the month, and a few people stood up and taught some exercises, which were mostly a lot of fun and great for the ensemble.  Then we did our last few Chekhov etudes and headed out – half home, and half of us to the Arbat where we grabbed Blinis for dinner (oh, Teremok, how I’ve missed you!) and saw Uncle Vanya at the Vakhtangov Theatre.  It is a very artistic and important production that has won lots of awards, but it’s not a very joyful production.  That’s one thing I find over here – even in the most dire of plays, you still feel the joy of the performances.  Not in this one, quite so much though.  Still, there are some beautiful images in the show, and it caps off our collection of all of the four major Chekhov plays.  Go team!

Thursday morning started off with our second and final stage combat class wherein we did a good deal of punching and kicking each other in the face, with a few head butts thrown in for good measure.  Then we gathered for our last theatre history lecture before a little reception to celebrate the month.  The afternoon was pretty much ours, so several people went out touristing, though I went back to the dorm with every intention of getting some work done.  Of course, Moscow is in the midst of a heat wave the last couple of days, so the walk home was unendurable, so I just took a shower and fell asleep until it was time to get ready for the theatre.  So the group met up and headed off to the Satirikon for King Lear, but since I’ve seen it twice, I decided to go to the School of Dramatic Arts for a production of Coriolanus.  And let me tell you who had a better night at the theatre: the rest of my group did.  This Coriolanus was amazingly unskilled and choppy.  All the lightness and grace I’ve become so accustomed to in the actors here was utterly lacking.  There were some creative moments of staging, but by and large it was a play about people yelling, uncoordinated interpretive dance, and more doors than a French farce.  Coriolanus flew around, hanging five stories up only by his arm - no harness.  The body stockings flattered no one.  The two minutes devoted to getting one of the conspirators into his scrubs was painful...and watching the two of them crawl  out of the pit...well... I wasn't sure either was actually fit enough to make it.  Oh... and there was the actress who looked like Samantha Bee... but seemed like Samantha Bee putting on the act of being in a really earnest but thoroughly sub-par production.  And boy, did they abuse the elevator in the space.  I was sitting there through the second act begging them to kill Coriolanus already.  I’m glad I saw it so that I don’t have to wonder… but damn… it was rough.  

Then it was back to the dorm for some sleep… in the hot hot hot hot dorms.  I think Moscow is getting hot to try to make it easier for us to leave this land of so little air conditioning.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Final Countdown

Our last full Monday in Moscow!  Already!  Finally!  Time moves so strangely here, this whole final week is so full of mixed feelings of “How can I ever leave?!” and “It’s really time to go.”  Today had those moments in spades. 

I woke up exhausted after our excitement with urgent care last night, and headed down for singing.  We had a substitute translator… and let me tell you, translating for Marina is not the easiest gig for a translator.  Poor Boris looked like a deer in headlights.  Most of the time I understand Marina and don’t need translating, so he sort of dropped out as we were working my song (I managed to go first), and once I was done, I headed out to pick up a prescription for Susie (ah… clever pseudonym) and brought it back to her at the dorm (she had decided to stay off the leg for most of today).  Then I headed back down to the MXAT where there was a lot of grouchiness about a weird situation that is definitely not blogworthy, but is absolutely frustration worthy.  I guess I’ll just say I wish people would stop trying to draw lines in the sand between theatrical disciplines.

Then it was time for acting class, which had its ups and its downs.  We did some really good work, and some really frustrating work.  We got some really good instructions, and some really opaque instructions.  Then we participated in this weird staged photo shoot for a brochure or something, and did a few Chekhov etudes before calling it a day.  At that point I turned over the tickets for tonight’s show (the ballet Giselle at the Stanislavsky/Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre) to one of my PhD cohorts, gave her directions to the theatre, and booked it back to the dorm to see if Susie was up for making the trek to the ballet.  She met me in the kitchen all dressed and ready to go, so I escorted her down to the theatre, met up with the group, and left them there.  This was a show for which I was only able to get 13 reasonably priced tickets, so one person took a bullet and bought a more expensive ticket, and one student and I opted out of the show altogether.  Now, this is a beautiful theatre, and the show is performed by one of the best ballet companies in Russia... which is to say one of the best ballet companies in the world... but I have to admit, while there are a lot of ways that I like to be told a story, it turns out that ballet is not really one of them.  So I was pretty much fine with bowing out of this one in favor of a night to myself.

I had all these grand plans about working on my paper and my script… but I ended up taking a shower, making a sandwich, having ice cream and beer (my Moscow comfort foods) and taking a nap.  I continue to feel like I’m in a very deep hole, and I’m not sure when I’m going to manage to find a way out… but it had better be soon!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

When I Say Adventures in Russia...

...I mean it.

This picture would be much better if I were holding a beer.
Well… today turned out to be more of an adventure than I usually go for.  It started out pretty slowly, with some skyping (oh my gosh… as I type this, I am starting to realize that this morning feels like it was about a week ago) and then the group met up to head out for a leisurely cruise down the Moscow River.  This is always one of our favorite activities of the month, but there was a slight pall cast over the day by the fact that we managed to get the one boat in the fleet that didn’t have a concessions stand – which meant no beer or ice cream!  And the boat had this crazy sulfur smell that was a little much.  But other than that, we had a lovely time, it was very relaxing, and I highly recommend it!

After that the group split up to go to different destinations around Moscow.  I went with some folks to the Arbat street – a cute little pedestrian street with shops and artists and whatnot.  I did end up getting my beer and ice cream there… so I didn’t have to suffer too long.
See... I look good with a beer.
The evening was another low impact one with only four graduate students strolling down to a theatre to see a really delightful production of Женитьба (Marriage).  The energy was wonderful in the show, and there were some truly genius bits.  The theatre where this was performed, however, is a shared space that different companies rent for their productions, and I’m not sure what was up with their lights, but they were extremely clunky.  Still, even with the not-so-great lighting design, it was a super fun evening of theatre.

After the show we hurried back to the dorm for the weekly potluck… and this is where things got interesting.  I stopped into the grocery store to buy snacks to contribute to the potluck and heard that one of the students (we’re going to call her Susie, because she hasn’t had the chance to tell her parents yet, and the remote chance that they might google her name and Moscow and find this entry before she has a chance to tell them the story leads me to create this super original pseudonym) had fallen on the stairs and hurt her knee, but no one seemed to be making a big deal of it.  Fine.  Then I got to the dorm, and it turns out there was, indeed, sort of something about which to be making a big deal.  Susie had gashed her knee pretty substantially.  So, we found a first aid kit to do some preliminary cleaning, but pretty much decided that she needed to go to a doctor.  So, I got directions from JT (who has a pretty nasty cold of his own), bandaged up her knee, then David (one of the MFA actors on the trip) created a makeshift splint out of ace bandages, pot handles and a loofa handle, and we trundled her out the door.  Now, it was about 11:30 by the time we left the dorm, but we opted to take the metro rather than try to figure out how to call a cab and such… so David carried our injured little bird up and down all the stairs on his back, and supported her as she walked on the flat surfaces, while I managed to guide us to the clinic.  Now let me tell you a few things about this clinic: first, the journey to this place involves a LOT of sketchy side streets; and second, it might well be the best doctor’s office ever.  NEVER – even with an appointment – have I been seen that quickly by a doctor.  And I’m including when I was brought to the ER strapped to a board with a head wound (I was left to wait there, strapped down, for what seemed like 40 minutes…but that was a long time ago… I’m totally over it…totally).  I mean, as soon as the paperwork was filled out, we were in the elevator and with the doctor (a delightful young man named Andrei).  He irrigated and disinfected the wound – and had a great bedside manner as he went along, as all this was clearly fairly painful for Susie.  And he finally ended up giving her that liquid bandage stuff and a prescription for antibiotics before sending us on our way.  I think he wanted to give her stitches, but ended up opting for the liquid stitches after he felt bad about hurting her while he rinsed the wound.  Once the worst of the pain was past and it was clear that Susie was going to be okay, the fact that I had been staring at an open wound for the last couple of hours suddenly caught up to me and I got super hot and dizzy and felt like there was a distinct possibility that I wasn’t going to be conscious much longer… so I chugged some water and sat down while Andrei finished up the appointment.  (Andrei was amused with me because I understood his accent and even some of his Russian better than the other two.  Seriously – super nice guy.  We were really glad to have him.)  And he let us take his picture.  So Andrei is totally two thumbs up in my book.

The front desk got us signed out and called us a cab (the metro doesn’t run after 1:00am) and we made it back to the dorm around 1:30 (half an hour after the dorm is supposed to lock for the night… which would have left us out in the cold Moscow world until it opens again at 6:00am… but the babushka was kind enough to stay up late to make sure we could get in.  Then, once we got home, David and I sat in the kitchen trying to wind down from the excitement; laughing our asses off at completely in appropriate jokes seemed to be the right way to do that.

But here’s the moral of the story: this is my third time on this trip, and I’ve repeated a lot of experiences.  But tonight reminded me that there are always new experiences to be had.

That said… if the next experience could involve less blood and more chocolate or money being thrown in my direction, that would be awesome.

Another Stanislavsky Saturday

Oh, Saturday.  It was a big day of much Russia-ness.  We started out the day with another session of Russian dance – our teacher is delightful, but boy howdy, I have never felt more uncoordinated in my life... and I frequently feel uncoordinated.  Then, at the end of class we were whisked off to Stanislavksy’s apartment for a quick tour.  The museum there has been expanded since my last visit, so it was cool to see some of their new display pieces.  
On the tiny stage in Stanislavsky's apartment where he ran performances from his opera studio
Then we hurried back for a quick lunch and some acting class – featuring probably the best group etude we’ve done in the last three summers.  David (one of the MFA actors) was a mime, and we were a bunch of annoying tourists who were harassing him, which led him to fight back as only a mime can.  There were lassos and boxes and boats and bullets and wind and defibrillators… it was pretty damn epic.  Then we played a game that I’m pretty sure was just burning up time rather than really building our acting skills, but it was still a fun afternoon.
Then came the big event for the day – a trip out to the Фоменко (Fomenko) Theatre for a production of Три Сестры (Three Sisters).  I was nervous about it because I hadn’t seen this production before, the tickets were sort of expensive by Russian standards (about $40) and it was going to be a long show, but it ended up being really wonderful.  The actors were energetic and delightful, the story was so clear, the set was dynamic and picturesque, and the conceit of the play was really cool too.  The production was played realistically and was, by and large, a straightforward production… except for the fact that Chekhov was on stage with the characters.  He sometimes stayed off to the side, sometimes ordered them to pause, sometimes described things to the audience, sometimes fell victim to the frustration of the characters… it was a really cool device. I really wish I could have understood more of what he was saying, since obviously he was not always speaking lines from the script.  There was a moment, for example, when he mentioned Stanislavsky, and I believe he was probably speaking from a letter from Chekhov to Stanislavsky.  It really was a wonderful way to give insight into the structure of the play.  And when, at the end of act two, Irina stood center stage crying out for Moscow and beating Chekhov with the pages of the script, it was a perfect little capsule of the play.  And oh boy… the last act was so gorgeous!  The pieces of the set that served to make the very open space interior were flown out to reveal a sort of open garden lane with autumn leaves strewn about… and man was it pretty!  And the scene between Irina and Tuzenbach before the duel was so truthful and raw and painful – because we could see their friendship and we could see that she just couldn’t lie to him about loving him because of their friendship – and they really could have had a fairly happy life together… it was so sad and wonderful!  I really enjoyed this one.  Of all the “straightforward” productions I’ve seen here, I think this one is my favorite. 

Then it was back to the dorm for a little ice cream and BED.  Ah… sleep.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Night Off!

This morning began with a trip to Starbucks, because sometimes it doesn’t matter how interesting a class is – if the lights are off, I’m going to be asleep.  So after sucking down a venti  Mocha Frappuccino for which I paid what must be the price of a small child in some countries, I was ready for film history.  And today we watched the fantastic, but oh-so-Soviet film The Cranes are Flying.  The cinematography and the acting are so damn good… and the ending is so damn Soviet!  And overall, it’s a really great learning experience to watch it.
We had a quick lunch today and then headed off to acting class in which our group etudes were again a lot of fun.  Where yesterday we had the apocalypse and statues coming to life and critiquing art students, today we had a newly painted wall that is magically sticky if people touch it in the wrong place, and a wine that makes everyone only able to sing (in this case it was Bohemian Rhapsody and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life).  It started off class with a really fun energy.  And then getting to rhapsodize to Sergei about Master and Margarita also got our juices going, so much of our warming up was really good today.  Our Chekhov etudes are still hovering in this “good idea, incomplete execution” place, but hopefully we’re fumbling in the right direction.
Then, after class, something magical happened: I went back to the dorm.  We had a few tickets to the MXAT’s production of Marriage, which I have already seen, so I opted to let other people take the tickets, and I just went the hell home.  I stopped at a couple stores on the way back to the dorm, I got groceries – including a couple beers.  It was downright civilized! 

I had every intention of spending the evening working on my conference paper (the level of writer’s block I’m dealing with on this thing is EPIC), but I managed to be distracted by conversations with people both here and back home… so I didn’t get much done, but I did get caught up on my journal… and I did get some much needed mellow.  I have Monday night off too... but I'm going to make myself work on something other than my paper... because I really do deserve to do that.  I have been dying to work on my script for Dead Man's Cell Phone, which I'll be directing in September.  I feel like working on my prep work while I'm soaking in all these awesome Russia juices would be very good for me!  So Monday... I've got a date with Sarah Ruhl (and, let's be honest... probably another beer). 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Master, Margarita, and ME!

This morning started out with our last movement class… always such a sad day!  We did so much today and pushed ourselves even farther in the work than we have.  I’m really proud of the progress this group has made together in that class (and in all of our work – but it might be most tangible in that class I guess.  The class was concluded with us presenting Vladimir with a framed photo of us, and then subjecting him to an endless stream of pictures.From there, it was time for another installment of theatre history with Anatoly.  Today he sort of just let us fire questions at him about the documentary we had watched, but unfortunately, sometimes our questions are not worded super clearly, and the language gap is palpable as he assumes we entirely misunderstood the documentary, and then gallops off down some random – albeit fascinating – road.At lunch I did my very last run-around-getting-tickets day.  And it was a good one.  This time I was getting tickets for Женитьба (Marriage) at a separate theatre run by ОлегТабаков (Oleg Tabakov) – who is also the artistic director of the MXAT.  The thing is, his box office is sort of off the beaten path, and his shows are performed at different theatres all over town, which complicates matters even further.  Now, I had been emailing and talking on the phone (in Russian, remember?) with a delightful woman in the box office for a few days, but I had never been to this theatre, so I got a little lost on the way there, but eventually found where I was going – and Гелена (Helena) was probably the single most delightful box office person I have dealt with in all my time in Moscow… and possibly in all my time going to the theatre period.  She was super friendly and super helpful, she even came out of the box office and around to the lobby to mark the location of the theatre on the map in my guidebook.  And when we finished our conversation, we both were so proud of ourselves and each other for our success that we had a sort of shared moment of celebration in which I think we may actually have cheered for each other.  I love this woman… so much so that I’m planning on writing a letter to the theatre about her epic awesomeness!Acting class proved to be more successful than yesterday in a lot of ways.  Our group etudes were really fun and right up the alley of what Sergei was looking for.  Our group training went pretty well (except for the un-awesome moment when, during a game that I hate which involves everyone running around and flailing at each other in order to get a tennis ball, a group of about four people all fell on me, bruising and floor burning me into next Tuesday), and we were on track.  Our Seagull etudes were interesting – not nearly as detailed as they should be, but all asking cool questions about the play.  So we’ve got that going for us.Then, after an uneventful dinner break, we met up to see The Master and Margarita at the MXAT.  I saw the previews of this show two years ago when I had just read the novel for the first time… and was totally blown away.  Seeing the show today… it was even more astounding.  The production is wildly technologically advanced, using every bell and whistle available on one of the most advanced stages in the world.  Every element is so carefully constructed and choreographed… there is live video, recorded video, sets that move in every possible direction… from the Metro to the moon to an asylum and even The Last Supper… everything everything everything is just a feast for the senses… and it all builds the narrative too!  Imagine that!So, with some of the bitchin’-est stage pictures we will probably ever see dancing through my head… I will now attempt to think of a brilliant etude for tomorrow…and maybe I’ll get some sleep too.  Maybe…

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Playing Catch-Up

Well… the internet has been entirely unreliable, and I have been completely exhausted, so I am WAY behind in the whole blogging thing.  There are so many things that have happened since our big adventure with all the Russian visitors! So buckle up... this is a long one!
Sunday we were planning on taking a boat ride on the Moscow River, but the forecast called for heavy thunderstorms all day, so we decided to take the day off instead.  This left time for morning skyping, late morning writing and early afternoon PhD meeting.  Then in the evening, we headed down to the MXAT to watch the fourth year students perform Мы Карамазовы (We Karamazov), an evening of etudes based on The Brothers Karamazov.  I haven’t read the book, but I have read a Wikipedia synopsis, so I had a very general framework from which to approach the piece, and it was super cool.  It was in a tiny, intimate little space that was actually a reproduction of their main studio classroom, and it was just over an hour of some really interesting, creative, funny and moving studies on the characters and situations in this famous novel.  At the end, as the actor playing Алеша went around from person to person asking forgiveness, I couldn’t stop crying – it was a palpable moment of their realization that their time together was coming to an end, and it was so moving!  It was a really gorgeous, personal moment that we got to share.  Way cool.
Monday we were back to class, but only half of us had singing, so I – surprise surprise – went around to get tickets for shows. I am so close to being done doing that… I really can’t wait.  Acting class was interesting on Monday, as we had to perform our etudes of each other.  By and large they were fun, but not super advanced etudes.  Mostly we would fixate on one trait or one specific event, rather than really living the inner life of the person.  But there were some good laughs at any rate.
Monday night brought be back to my Russian boyfriend, Константин Хабенский (Konstantin Khabensky) in the MXAT’s performance of Трехгрошовая Опера (Threepenny Opera).  I have seen this show three times now, and it never disappoints.  I will say, however, that since my last visit, the actress who played Mrs. Peacham was killed in a car accident, and though the new actress was lovely, she really couldn’t hold a candle to her predecessor. 
Tuesday was our penultimate day of movement class, which is always the hardest goodbye for us.  First of all, Vladimir is a ball of amazing Russian sunshine.  Second, this is the training that is the most different from what we tend to get in the US – it’s the sort of thing that we’re less likely to encounter again.  And he pushed us pretty hard today – particularly in the partner work we’re doing – lots of balance and lifts and standing on people and stuff.  It’s not work that I’m super comfortable with, but it’s pretty fun to take pictures of… which is what I’m mostly doing, since most of the work takes place in groups of three… with 16 people, I’m the odd man out.  That’s fine though… that’s the job. <shrug>
Tuesday afternoon was an abbreviated acting class in which we finished our etudes of each other and launched into our etudes about The Seagull.  It is always so amazing listening to Sergey talk about Chekhov plays…the way he understands them is so deep and personal and applicable and amazing.  I learn so much from these discussions!  Then we ended class a bit early so that we could watch a series of documentaries on the last 20 or so years of Stanislavsky’s life by the one and only Anatoly Smeliansky (the dean of the MXAT theatre school and our theatre history teacher, in case you’re having a hard time keeping track of the absurd number of incredible people over here)!   Then, it was a super quick dinner for us before taking our seats for On Kamergersky Lane – a show of etudes that the fourth years students have been working on for two years.  This was their final performance of their MXAT student careers.  And it was amazing!  There was a panda, an encounter between a cat and an iguana, a body building fantasy, a heartbreaking clown act, a series of etudes built around famous paintings, raucous musical numbers (including one featuring the Beatles… until Yoko showed up and ruined everything).  I can’t even begin to outline all the great, creative and energetic work they presented, but it was so much fun to watch.  Our one big moment of “wow… we are not in Kansas anymore” came when they did a recreation of the final song from the movie Sister Act… with one of the actresses in blackface.  Now, blackface does not have the historical baggage here that it does at home… but boy howdy… you could feel the air get sucked out of the first row where we were sitting.  It was really uncomfortable.  Still, aside from that, it was an utterly phenomenal evening – one that I hope the Wayne State showcases can learn from!
And all this brings us to today!  Phew!  Today started out with our new dance teacher, Irina, who is this beautiful, delicate Russian flower of a woman, and she took us through the paces big time in our new Russian Folk Dance class.  It’s a completely different way to think about moving your body after all the ballet of the last two weeks, and it’s a very cool opportunity.  We covered a lot of ground today… and I’m pretty sure I remember none of it.  But it’s still pretty damn cool!
Next up was singing, during which Marina is trying desperately to get me to keep my nostrils open.  It’s such a great time.  I really do miss voice lessons.
Our acting class was sort of a rough one today.  We were told to get more fantastical with our etudes, which really didn’t work out super well, and we were all tired and crabby and had a very hard time focusing today.  And we discovered that our translator (along with some of the people in our group) does not know how to spell beggar.  That led to a particularly frustrating moment.  Still, even after all that, our Chekhov etudes were very interesting today.  There was a lot of stylized dancy stuff, which Sergey is now trying to steer us away from, but it was pretty cool to watch today anyway.  And though it didn’t really have an ending, I did feel pretty good about my Polina etude… so go me!

After acting class we headed back to the Tanganka theatre one last time to see – of all things – Калека с Инишмана (The Cripple of Inishmaan).  This was a tough one to get through for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s such a text-driven show, not speaking the language really mattered for this one.  Second, they didn’t really seem all that interested in the comedy of the piece and really seemed to focus in more on the melodrama and the tragedy of it.  But our biggest issue was this: Cripple Billy was played as mentally handicapped in addition to his very extreme physical handicap.  It was really unsettling in terms of the action of the play, and also in terms of watching a guy playing at mental disability all evening.  Maybe as Americans we’re too culturally sensitive or whatever, but the fact is, mental disability is not borne out by the script, and I found his portrayal downright disrespectful.  I’m glad we saw it, because I was definitely curious about how they would handle such a regional script.  And they had a very cool lighting and fog effect at the beginning of each act that made the fog and the footlights look like the white caps of waves on the ocean.  Plus, it’s nice to get a reminder each summer that Russian theatre is not the Utopia we make it out to be – they can make mistakes too.  But most of all, I’m also glad that it was only 200 rubles.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Up All Night

Today served up some weirdness.  My cold hit me really hard this morning in the middle of ballet class when, as I found myself fumbling through barre combinations and sweating harder than I ever remember sweating, I started to feel the room close in around me.  So, I decided to sit down and watch the rest of class – which was an interesting experience.  Then, at the end of the class, Renat announced that it would be our last class together, and that we would be doing Russian folk dance with someone else for the rest of the month.  This was a complete surprise, and though I had no way of knowing this would be our last day with him, I felt terrible that we had nothing to give him.  So, we forced him to take some photos with us, and we scuttled on our merry way.  I ate something so that I could try to convince myself to function again, and then I went hunting for some extra tickets to Giselle…unsuccessfully for the moment… but we shall see.

Acting class was a lot of fun today.  We did some good work, played some charades (in a fairly brilliant etude, if I do say so myself), discovered who among us can and cannot spell, and learned that some of us are particularly bad at Tag.  Our etudes today were partner etudes and they were intended to be situations in which it made emotional sense for us to be silent.  I was very proud of the etude Annie and I came up with – it was mucho fun.
Now – I’m going to sidetrack from describing my day to note that, as a foreign relations endeavor, these acting classes, and other classes like them, seem to be painting a strange picture of American life.  They are fascinated by all the etudes that inevitably pop up about cow tipping.  We had an etude the other day in which kids dared each other to stand on the porch of the scary old man’s house.  And today, I’m pretty sure that one of the etudes gave our teacher the impression that it’s an American pastime to race to see who can eat the most apples the fastest.  So yeah… Russian theatre teachers have got to think that America is the weirdest place ever.
At any rate, after class the group split up for the night – half going to see Синее Чудовище (Blue Monster) at the Satirikon, and the other half of us going to see Смерть Жирафа (Death of Giraffe) – another piece by Dmitry Krymov.  I was in the Giraffe portion of the group, so I let the eight little birds fly on their own to the Satirikon – a big step for me!  And the rest of us headed off for a very strange, but still amazing evening at the theatre.  It’s almost impossible to describe, but even as little of the text as we understood, it was so much fun.  And the two Russian ladies sitting next to me were so nice – it was really delightful!
Once the group reunited, there was much revelry, and as the Russian students are currently celebrating their end of classes, it was a late, loud, multi-cultural night.*  There was a very strange moment when, at 1:00 in the morning, a brief firework show erupted from the park across the street.  It looked like a wedding party or something.  So… that was an unexpected treat. 
But now that the Russians and Americans have retreated to their respective territories, it is time for me to quietly post my blog and hit the hay… I’ve got a couple of skype dates in the morning!

*Another note – there are these lovely women who run the dorm here, and they are referred to as the бабушки (BAbooshki) – which means grandmothers or old ladies.  No one would call them this to their faces, of course, but it’s just the affectionate nickname the students use to refer to them.  So, while the Russians were hanging out in the hall, and I was trying to keep order (no... you can't smoke there... stuff like that), my darling undergrads – who have a limited Russian vocabulary – explained to the Russians that I am their бабушка (BAbooshka).  I was the target of a lot of “she’s older than dirt” type comments tonight.  They weren’t intended to be so, and these students are delightful kids… but boy… did I feel like an old lady tonight!

Two... Two... Two Days in One!

Thursday was another awesome morning of movement with Vladimir.  Of all the training we get here, his is by far the most unique – the stuff we’re least likely to be able to find back state-side.  And probably the hardest to replicate on our own.  There’s just something about having a giant Russian man yelling at you that makes all these crazy things possible.  We’re getting pretty far into a bunch of acrobatic stuff this time – lots of different lifts and partner stands and stuff.  Pretty bitchin’. 
At lunch, I was off as usual to score tickets to – of all things – Калека с Инишмана (The Cripple of Inishmaan).  The guy who played Cripple Billy at Wayne State a season ago is on the trip with us, so he’s pretty jazzed to see the show.  I’m personally fascinated to see how they approach this play.  First of all, it’s at the same place where we saw Marat/Sade and The Good Person of Setzuan, so I’m interested in seeing something that is more based in psychological realism.  Second – McDonaugh’s plays are so distinctly Irish in tone, I’m very curious to see how that will transfer.
After lunch we headed to acting class where our first day of observation etudes didn’t go super great.  We had sort of lost our sense of “the event” in favor of an accurate depiction of the person we had observed.  I had a pretty cool personal moment that taught me some things about me, but the etude itself needed much more.  I think this was actually pretty good for us as a group, since we’ve been trucking along pretty well – it’s good to be reminded of the basics and how much attention to detail is really necessary.
We had a nice long dinner break on Thursday, because we were seeing a student show at the MXAT – so no Metro for us!  The show itself was На дне(The Lower Depths).  Literally translated as “At the bottom,” It’s a famous Russian play about a bunch of people who live really hard lives, and then this guy Luka makes them think that life can get better… and then it doesn’t.  It was a project performed by the 3rd year acting students (who are students of our acting teacher Sergei), and it was pretty impressive.  The language barrier remains a frustration, but the quality of the acting was undeniable.  There were certainly people who were better than others, but the overall sense of emotional truth on stage was pretty impressive.
Friday was another day of film history.  This time we watched The Man with the Movie Camera – which is basically a montage of images of modern life as of 1928.  It was an interesting little film. 
For lunch, it was back on the road to pick up tickets to the ballet.  Thanks to the very helpful young woman in line behind me who spoke some English and was able to translate for me with the surly box office woman, we will be seeing Жизель (Giselle) at the Stanislavsky/Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre.  It’s not the Bolshoi, but it’s absolutely on par with the Bolshoi. 
Then it was back for acting class during which our etudes went much much better.  There were some very cool portraits today.  I performed as my niece Anya and was told that it was a “delicate portrait.”  Hell yeah!  Go me!

Our show for Friday was another student production – this time by the 4th years – of Трамвай <<Желание>> (A Streetcar Named Desire).  It was pretty fascinating to see them treat such an American classic.  It was a highly stylized production with a lot of dance/movement pieces strung throughout.  I liked a lot of things about it, but overall I found the production a little uneven, and the music included so many different styles and languages and nationalities, I wasn’t quite sure what it was trying to do.  There was one guy who put on a weird voice that I assume was his “jackass American” voice.  And poor Blanche suffered from the same problems that all 20-something Blanches do.  But it was still pretty damn impressive to see students doing that kind of work.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I should blog... I should write my paper... I should work on my job... I should do a lot of things... but I'm going to go become a puddle in bed and hope that a good night's sleep will turn things around for me.  So in the meanwhile, here's a picture of a giraffe made out of teacups.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

O, Russia Day!

Today was a new experience for me, as it was the first time that I actually left the dorm on Russia Day.  Generally they cancel classes, and the city is just crowded with people celebrating what is essentially Russian Independence Day, but last year we were actually admonished to stay in our dorm and away from Red Square where there were likely to be anti-government demonstrations.  This year, however, we had classes – which meant leaving the cocoon.  On the way to school in the morning, they were in the process of setting up the floats for the Russia Day parade – so there were half-assembled floats in the middle of the street, and bus after bus of costumed performers waiting to be loaded on.  My personal favorites were a busload of Soviet-era soldiers, and two buses full of 18th century royalty.  The royalty was great – all decked out in the fancy costumes and wigs, just slumped up against bus windows and such.  Very amusing.
Then we had our second ballet class… which was painful, but probably mostly in a good way… I think… This was followed by singing class, which got a little out of hand time-wise, so the last two of us to work with Marina didn’t really get much time, but even in the ten minutes we got with her, it was wonderful.  Each summer I remember how happy it makes me to sing… and each summer I come home and the reality hits me of who has time and money for voice lessons?  <sigh>  One of these days, I’ll get back to them.
Then it was a quick lunch before our theatre history lecture from Anatoly – always a delight! The magical Russian theatre history elf dropped more awesome knowledge on us!
From there, things got pretty bitchin’, when we were led down the street to an exhibition hall where Dmitry Krymov – the director who created Auction and As You Like It, as well as a number of other amazing shows that I’ve seen in past years, and a number of others that I haven’t seen – has worked with his students to create an installation inspired by about sixteen of his performance pieces.  The title of the exhibit is “Камень. Ножницы. Бумага” (Rock. Scissors. Paper.), and the whole thing is conceived to feel like the inside of a workshop – the floors are layered with unfinished wood, there are toolboxes around, but there are also these amazing art pieces.  None of them cry out “look at this artifact from this play they made.”  The exhibits are standalone artworks in and of themselves…they just happen to share a sort of soulful connection with the shows they represent.  And they were all interactive and tactile and auditory and amazing... It was so freakin’ cool!  We were originally supposed to be escorted around by Krymov himself, but he got stuck in rehearsal, so instead his right-hand lady – Vera – showed us around.  She was so excited about and attached to the work, it was wonderful to hear her perspectives on this director about whom I have heard so much (since my professor is the foremost American researcher on his work). 
In the foreground, this exhibit depicts a moment from one of the performances in which a character cuts a banquet table in half - food flying everywhere!  Amazing!  In the background, you can just make out the legs of a giraffe built out of teacups.   
From there, it was a brisk walk home through a much more crowded street than usual.  Though the barricades from the parade had all been cleared, there were definitely still extra people around.  Way too many for my taste! 

And now… as is my daily refrain… I will try to go work on my @&%*(@&%)!&$*&@(& conference paper…because there are so many things I would rather work on that I’m not allowed to touch until I finish this @%(**$)!%&@ paper!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Zizi the Chicken Saves the Day

Today was kind of a weird day from the get-go.  We started out with a shortened movement class because the entire staff of the MXAT school was having a giant meeting today.  And even though we had 30 minutes less than usual, we rocked big time!  Vladimir is taking us to very cool places in our partner work – we’re climbing all over each other and doing all kinds of crazy balancing!  It’s pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself… and I do.

Then, because of the giant meeting, we had a three hour lunch…which for some people meant lounging or sightseeing or whatever.  For me, it meant booking it over to the Фоменко (Fomenko) Theatre to pick up tickets for productions of Носорог (Rhinoceros) and Три Сеcтри (Three Sisters) later in the month.  There were some hiccups, but I got to meet the woman I’ve been emailing, and I ended up with the right tickets for the right price, so I felt pretty good about the whole thing.  Then I headed back for the end of our lunch break and then our good ol’ acting class, which was really strong today.  Ilja pushed us hard on the concentration games… and we discovered that none of us knows any athletes’ names.  We also did a few more animal etudes – the highlight of which for me was Annie’s hen, who was both hilarious and tragic.  Delightful.
From there, things got complicated again.  Five of our group had tickets to see The Cherry Orchard at the MXAT for tonight at 7:00, so they had time to hang around, eat, do whatever the heck they did.  The other eleven of us, however, had to book it to the puppet theatre to see the 6:00 showing of Необыкновенный Концерт (Extraordinary Concert).  This is a show that opened in 1946… which is kind of mind-boggling.  It was charming, but I have to admit, it was a little boring.  There was a little poorly translated English in the program, so I could follow things from act to act, but it was basically a puppet variety show… the first act in particular was pretty boring.  The second act picked up with trained animals and magic and lion tamers and such.  Zizi the Chicken – who sang “pizzicato” along with her trainer’s accordion – was definitely the highlight for many of us.  And the lion named either Snickers or Sneakers was pretty awesome too.  The puppets were lovely, but the show was very much a product of another time.  I’m glad I saw it, but I’m also glad I didn’t pay any more for it than I did (400 rubles – or about $12).
In the lobby of the puppet theatre - super cool!

After that, we just headed home, and that was that.  The rest of the evening was mostly spent with a lot of laughing with the group – it’s nice that, about a week and a half in, we still seem to find each other amusing.  

A Light Day?

Today was sort of a low-key day with no show in the evening, and only half of the group having singing class, so I had the morning to myself… which meant that, instead of doing something like sleeping in or working on my paper, I ran around in circles getting tickets for the rest of the group.  I was able to pick up 11 tickets for a puppet show for Tuesday (5 folks will be seeing Вишневый Сад [The Cherry Orchard] at the MXAT, so I wanted to find something else for the group.  The lady at the counter was adorable – I was very effective in communicating what I wanted – the number of tickets, the price, etc.  But I think that I may have been too agreeable, and she was worried that I was just saying “yes” to everything, so before she printed the tickets, she wrote down the number and the price and held them up to me – yes… it was exactly what I had asked for.  We’re communicating, adorable box office lady, don’t be afraid!  Then I headed over to a different theatre to get 8 tickets to Смерть Жирафа (Death of Giraffe) on Saturday – another piece by Dmitry Krymov – the director who did Auction and As You Like It that we’ve already seen.  It’s a weird little piece that I saw two years ago…I’m looking forward to seeing if I understand any more of it this time around!  On Saturday the other half of the group will be attending Синее Чудовище (Blue Monster) at the Satirikon, so we’re all pretty busy!  I also grabbed myself a ticket to a new production of Кориолан (Coriolanus) which is playing on a night when everyone else is seeing something I've already seen twice.  I do like the show they're seeing, but I'm really curious about this production, so I figure I will deliver them to the theatre that night, and then head off to my own weird little Russian theatre experience.  I'm really looking forward to that little treat for myself!
Then we had acting class wherein we spent a good thirty minutes gushing to Sergei about the Seagull we had seen the night before, before getting into training and etudes.  There were some pretty good ones today.  A koala and a peacock made particularly good showings today!
Then we headed back to the dorm for our potluck/group meeting/me taking everyone’s money to go get more tickets tomorrow.  I’m definitely earning my keep this time around!

The evening culminated in chatting instead of working (oops) and then sitting in the stairwell so I could get enough internet to send an email to a theatre with which I have been corresponding entirely in Russian (GO ME!).  Apparently this was the time that all the Russian students were coming home, so it was a little awkward… but whatcha gonna do?  Our internets are behaving badly… I will do what must be done!

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Today started out with a little skype back to home base in Ypsi… for which I am so very homesick!  But I got to skype with both Brian and Chloe, so it was a pretty good call.  Then the rest of the day was fairly low impact with a little headway being made on my conference paper (ever so little, but I’ll take what I can get).  Then… the big finish to our Chekhov-palooza weekend.  Yes, tonight we got to go see my favorite thing in the entire world – The Сатирикон’s production of Чайка (The Seagull).  It is four and a half hours (including the three intermissions), and it is the most exciting, breathtaking, inventive, heart-wrenching thing I have ever experienced ever.  I was enraptured the whole time, leaning forward in my seat, scribbling notes, weeping openly… I can’t believe how lucky I am to have seen this show at all, let alone THREE TIMES!  There were things that had changed, things that had been refined, things that had grown deeper… it was such a rewarding evening at the theatre!  I could hardly stop crying at the end of the show – and I think I started to see more glimpses of Dead Man’s Cell Phone (the show I’ll be directing in the fall) in this play, which gets me really excited to work on my script.  I do have my script with me, and I will work on it, but part of me feels like I’m not allowed to until I do my conference paper.  But still… I am starting to really feel the creative atmosphere of Moscow seep into me, and I can’t wait to unleash it on this script!

From our deliciously devastating evening we headed back to the dorm where I was able to do a quick skype with my parents before another etude meeting and some work for class tomorrow.  Really, all I want to do is to stay up all night writing my thoughts about the play… but that would be a little irresponsible.  So for now, I will post a photo… and I will think happy thoughts… and look through youtube for an idea for my second animal etude.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

All the Chekhov

Today was a very Chekhov sort of day.  And I don’t mean that we sat around drinking vodka and pondering our unrealized dreams.  Nope.  Today at 10:00 we boarded a little bus out to the country town of Мелихово (Melikhovo) where Chekhov had a little country estate.  In the seven years he lived there, he kept himself busy with 1) being the doctor for 25 towns, 4 factories and a monastery; 2) taking care of his large extended family; 3) taking the census for an island of mostly prisoners that had never been counted before; and 4) writing little trifles like The Seagull and Uncle Vanya.  It was a lovely day, and really did a lot to put his plays in their proper context, but I think most of us would have enjoyed ourselves more had it not been for the extreme volume of mosquitos following us and ravaging us at every opportunity.

After the tour, we hopped back on the bus and Annie and I strolled down to the Ленком (Lenkom) Theatre to see if I could get a few tickets for tonight’s production of Вишнёвый Сад (The Cherry Orchard).  Turns out I could… so ten of us headed back down to the theatre later on to see the production.  It’s certainly not the best production I’ve seen, nor the best production of this particular show, but it was very interesting stylistically, and left me with a lot of questions about their approach to the text.  The play was heavily underscored, and sometimes we weren’t sure where specific music choices had come from (I dubbed the recurrence of some strangely electronic, pounding music “Chechno”).  But regardless of the specific acting and directing choices, the set was a force to be reckoned with.  It was highly mechanized – the glass walls moved all over the stage and rearranged themselves throughout, there was a sort of broken cyc created along the back with what seemed like reeds or metal poles or something to that effect… and in the end… well… the set earned its paycheck in a big way when, after Firs is left alone in the house, the house (in the words of Kassy) “ate him, fell over, and exploded.”  The spectacle of it was pretty impressive.  Really… there were more than a few times when we audibly reacted to the set alone.

After that, aside from a quick detour into the grocery store to get some ice cream, the night was pretty much over, and I sat down to try to convince myself to get some work done.  So we’ll see how that goes.  Tomorrow we will continue the Chekhov-palooza with a trip to the Satirikon for my favorite thing in the world… their production of The Seagull.  Be still, my heart!

Friday, June 7, 2013

I am the Goldfish, Goo Goo ga Joob.

This morning , about half way to class, we got a pretty substantial downpour going... so most of us were pretty drenched by the time we got to film history.  I was particularly grateful for my umbrella today, since I had to stand outside the building to usher people in, since this class is not in our usual building.  As we wound our way into the classroom, we passed dozens of nervous young Russian actors who are here for their callbacks to the Moscow Art Theatre School.  

Галина (Galina) is as delightful as ever, and it was a lot of fun to get a refresher on Russian history, and to watch some of these little film snippets again, with an even deeper understanding of their place in history.  I can’t remember if I posted this link last year, but who cares… I’m posting it now/again: The Cameraman’s Revenge is so much awesome, I can’t even begin to explain it! 

After our lecture we had lunch before hitting acting class with some successful etudes and intense training games.  Each day we’re working harder and harder, gaining a lot of headway, I think.  We’re on animals already, so we had a bird and a slug and a swan and a giraffe… and I was a goldfish.  There are always so many details that we think through, and then so many details that we have the “I should have thought of that” moment during our feedback… and then the delicious moments of “wow, I never would have thought of that.  The level of feedback on our exercises is so in-depth and insightful… every little encounter teaches us so much!

UPDATE: We had a little moment of excitement when an announcement began playing in Russian over the PA system in the dorms this evening - then it was repeated in English: there is a fire emergency, please proceed to the nearest exit.  This kept going over and over, so we put on shoes and headed down the stairs, where we met a few Russian students who insisted everything was okay.  It turns out that there was some small puff of smoke that set the system off... and the woman working the door - who is new this year - didn't know how to turn it off.  It went on way too long, but eventually we returned to our regularly scheduled chilling.  It was exciting for about 30 seconds though.

After class we had another non-show night, so the PhDs had a little conference in the park with JT.  On our way to find a park bench, JT insisted that we meander, walk slowly, take it all in – this was, of course, explicitly for my power-walking benefit.  He kept slowing us down and pulling is back and urging us to just appreciate where we are.  We had a very nice scholarly conversation about the shows we’ve seen and the work we’ve been doing in class – all over some beer, chips, salted fish (for those who like that kind of thing), and it was topped off with a few mini Cuban cigars that JT had bought for us.  It was pretty cute, the five of us sitting in the park with our beer and cigars and heady discourse.

And from there, I decided it was time to get some work done.  So naturally… I decided to blog.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hitting the Ground Running

Well... as my lack of blogging might suggest... we have been busy little bears here in Moscow (no unicycles yet... sorry Dennis).

Monday we started classes with a brief theatre history lecture from the incomparable Анатолий Смелянский (Anatoly Smeliansky) – the dean of the Moscow Art Theatre School.  He always makes this first lecture in the lobby/photo gallery of the Moscow Art Theatre. Surrounded by images of some of the greatest actors and other theatre artists in modern history is a pretty inspiring and humbling way to kick off the month.

From there we jumped straight into singing class with Марина (Marina) – the utterly lovable voice teacher with more energy than any single human should probably have.

At lunch, I showed the group to the cafeteria and left them on their own as I started my month as cruise director by running out to the Театр на Таганке(Taganka Theatre) to get us tickets for shows for the next two nights. For Monday night I got Марат и маркиз де Сад (Marat/Sade) and for Tuesday, Добрый человек из Сезуана (Good Person of Szechwan). Aside from asking for 60 tickets instead of 16 (the words are very similar), I think my partner in the box office and I did very well getting it all sorted out, all things considered.

So after booking it back, we had our first acting class of the month with Сергей and Илья (Sergei and Ilya), in which this group made it clear that they were here to do some serious work and to have a really good time together. In general, I’m seeing pretty great ensemble already, and I have high hopes for the rest of the month.

The schedule on Monday was a little unusual, so we got out of class at 6:00 and needed to leave for the theatre at 6:15. It was a mad dash with the whole group through the subway at rush hour to the theatre, where we arrived with minutes to spare. After a little confusion with a woman who had bogarted a couple of our seats, we settled in for the show…which was spectacular. It is an energetic, inventive, exciting production of what can be a very talky, idea-laden play. There are acrobatics, hard core tap dancing, whips, tandem violins, upside-down clarinet playing, other amazing music… it’s a pretty impressive show.

Tuesday morning was our first day of movement with darling darling Владимир (Vladimir) – the giant Russian dude who makes us contort our bodies, and makes us love him all in one fell swoop.  He ran us hard through the beginning of training, and I find that I have still retained the ability to become a Russian Dumpling. That’s right, 20-year-olds! This old lady has a few tricks up her sleeve!

In acting class we started our object etudes already – and I would say that they were generally pretty impressive.  From purses to ragdolls to paper towels to umbrellas and all points in between… there was a lot of very cool work going on!

Then, because we were back on a normal schedule, we had a nice leisurely hour for dinner, took a nice, civilized (though still rush hour) subway ride to the theatre, and even had time for a little mini-lecture on Brecht before the play began from me and one of my fellow PhDs. This production was first staged in 1964 and has been the flagship production of this theatre ever since.  There are a lot of wonderful things about it – the Brecht-ness of it is very clear and understandable, the acting is great, the set is cool, the lighting is gorgeous – but it’s a very talky play, and it was hot, and we were in the top of the balcony, and it was 3 hours long… so it was a battle sometimes to stay awake. But overall, it was a very cool production, I was conscious for about 90% of it, and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.  The Good Person of Szechwan is one of my favorite Brecht plays, so it was cool to get to see it here.  I would venture to say I learned a thing or two about Brecht by watching it! 

Wednesday saw our first dance class, led by a seemingly transformed Ренат (Renat) – our resident dance master. Historically, he has been a little stern and frustrated with us, and he tends to push too hard too fast without quite enough instruction. But Wednesday morning he came in with a smile and a great attitude and patience and we had a great time. He was actually the teacher I expected not to remember me… but what do you know… he did!  AND… he even complimented me on my form on one of the exercises… at which point I died from sheer happiness and shock.

After Dance we came back together for singing where we were assigned our songs for the month.  I have “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. It’s something I’ve done before, but it is going to be a hoot to work on with her – as is everything! And, of course, it was another strong day in acting, as we already started through our second set of object etudes and were assigned our animals.  Things are moving really fast in acting class this summer, and the group seems to be keeping up, so that is super cool!

And then…we headed off behind our escort Аня (Anya) to see Как вам это пон равится по пьес е Шекспира сон (“As You Like It based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Dmitry Krymov)… and had our minds completely blown. He sort of took the Pyramus and Thisbe section of Midsummer and smooshed it all up, expanded it, made it achingly beautiful, terribly funny… and a little dirty… and wrapped it in a cloud of awesome.  I had a chance to see this same show in previews last summer, and it did not disappoint on the second viewing. Things had been added, refined, cut and enhanced… and it was amazing. Oh… did I mention that the entire thing is performed by two giant puppets? There are no words for the beauty and sheer creativity of what we saw Wednesday night… but we were just beside ourselves.

On the walk home our escort got us a little lost, but we eventually made it home, and I crashed hard.

Today (yes…I’m finally catching up with myself… HUZZAH!) started out with another day of movement, which threw in a little extra challenge for me because our translator was late, so I became the… I won’t say translator… I’ll say interpreter for the first half of class.  It was quite an experience.  It was a combination of knowing Владимир and the exercises, some actual vocabulary knowledge, and a few wild guesses, but I got us through. I was actually a little impressed with myself. I expect they will be offering me a job any day now. But anyway, eventually the translator appeared, and helped us through some of the tougher exercises – which are also advancing quickly.  This group wants to work together.  I’m proud of them!

Next up was a theatre history lecture about the history of the Moscow Art Theatre and the different iterations through which it has come over its 115 year history. Very cool stuff.

Then, it was another wild day of acting as we moved from objects into animals…and as I pondered the real beauty of people moving chairs around a room in unison. We had no shows to see tonight… which was strange, but also gave us a much needed break for things like blogging and grocery shopping and having a nice cold beer with dinner. I’m still on the lookout for more shows to see... I got some good ticket news for us tonight… and am hoping to have more coming in the next few days. Much to do!