Monday, July 7, 2014


I know a lot of people who didn't know some or any of their grandparents.  Or maybe their grandparents passed when they were too young to really remember them.  I, on the other hand, knew all four of my grandparents well.  I had their hugs and stories and laughter and weirdness for decades.  It wasn't until I was
Nana and Gandalf's wedding photo
22 years old that I had to say goodbye to my first grandparent: my maternal grandfather, known to his 21 grandchildren as "Gandalf."  He was a magical, musical, admirable man whose love of stories is the seed to which I follow back my love of theatre.  Almost two years later, his wife - our Nana - left us.  She was gentle and warm and kind, an inspiration to her numerous children and now grandchildren who have followed her into teaching.  In the coming years, grandkids kept going to school and falling in love and starting families and starting jobs and going on adventures and generally growing up, the way grandkids tend to do.  And all the while, my brothers and I continued to be overseen by our paternal grandparents.  Sometimes known as Teta Agnes and Jeddo Leo (because of our Lebanese cousins), and usually known simply as Grandma and Grandpa, these wily Canadians continued to weather and rejoice in all our sorrows and joys.  In in the last five years they gleefully took on the rarely held title of Great-Grandparents (they referred to themselves simply as "The Greats").  It wasn't until two years ago - ten years after we lost Gandalf - that Jeddo Leo passed.  His adorable Newfoundland lilt and infectious laugh lost to us at just shy of 90 years of age.  And finally, today, we laid to rest Teta Agnes, right beside her husband, at Assumption Catholic Cemetery (and directly in the flight path from Pearson International Airport... which is perfect for this aviation-obsessed branch of the family).  We spent the last couple of days reflecting on the life and love that she shared with us, and as I stood at the pulpit today reading the responsorial hymn, I reflected back on all these remarkable grandparents I have known and loved and lost.  For my maternal grandparents, I was always asked to sing this psalm.  For my grandfather, I read the general intersessions, and today, I read aloud the same psalm that has been present at each of these farewells.  As I read the words, honoring my grandmother, I couldn't help but think back to all the funerals - all the amazing people who shaped my world view and my sense of humor and my identity.  I could feel them all there with me at the Mass of the
Teta and Jeddo dancing at my cousin Claire's wedding
Resurrection for my sweet, hilarious, adorable grandmother - like Nana, another inspirational teacher.  And I could feel again how lucky I am to have known all four of them so well, and to have my parents and aunts and uncles and brothers and cousins and nieces as reminders of how much I have learned about how to live and learn and love.  And, even though we are sad today, I can't help but be happy to think about the ridiculously cool and smart and fun and supportive and loving family of which I am a part.  And as Father John noted, we are a pilgrim family - one that takes great pleasure in our journeys, and as much pleasure in coming home to each other.  And that's what we did this week - we came home to each other.  And though she is gone, it was Teta who brought us here one last time.  And it is one more thing in an endless list for which I can be grateful to her, and to Jeddo Leo, and to Nana & Gandalf, and to all of those crazy fruits with whom I am so lucky to share this family tree.

"The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit.
He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort.
You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing.
Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever."

Monday, June 30, 2014

One Day More

I want to post... I really do... but I have to be up in three hours.  So...

Я люблю тебя, Москва. Пока мы встретимся снова.

6/29 - 18083 Steps 5.71 Miles
6/30 - 15846 Steps 5 Miles

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The End---ish

Today was our final movement class, which is always one of the toughest goodbyes, because Vladimir is made out of magic and sunshine, and the things that we are able to do when we are with him are just plain crazy!  Then we had acting evaluations with Ilja, which was very cool.  It was the first year that I sat in and heard all of them, which was a really wonderful experience.  The teachers here don't just talk to hear themselves talk (I mean, I'm sure some do... but ours don't).  They have only had a month with these kids, and yet they have such wonderful, constructive insights into the work that they've done and the challenges that they can set for themselves to keep momentum moving forward.  I have to say, I was so proud listening to him talk to these kids - many of whom were my students when they were wee baby freshmen, and all of whom I love dearly.  They worked their butts off this month, they learned, they grew... and they're gonna keep going.

Then... well... that was that.  There were many pictures taken, and then I had a quiet early evening to myself before heading out with the group and our wonderful administrator Katya for a couple drinks and some World Cup (I watched only about the last 5 minutes of the game, but Brazil vs. Chile was pretty intense).  It was really a very fun evening, followed up with an awesome (albeit sort of choppy) skype date with my mom before I melted into bed... which is what I am going to do about five minutes after I post this.

10651 Steps
3.36 Miles

Friday, June 27, 2014

More So Longs

This morning was the final stage combat class, which was a lot of fun.  It culminated in the students choreographing their own short sequence - very cool.  Then we had a brief Yoda-esque talk with Sergei before our final celebration with the teachers, the dean, our administrators, and the Butler group.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Then, we headed out to see Rhinoceros at the Fomenko Theatre - one of my personal favorites.  But I ended up having to leave at intermission, for reasons that I won't post about on the blog.  So... that was a really big bummer.  A bigger bummer that it's probably the last show of the month.  An even bigger bummer that it's probably the last show of what is probably my last month in Moscow.

So... I'm a little grouchy.

But whatcha gonna do?

Anyway... I don't have much to say, since I'm still sort of brooding.  So...

17169 Steps
5.42 Miles

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Getting to the Goodbyes

This morning kicked off our first set of goodbyes.  This last week is always so hard!  We started out with our final singing class, which was a little different this year, as Marina decided that we and the Butler group should sing for each other - a little nerve-wracking, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.  They went first, and we finished things off.  And I have to say, I really think everyone did very well.  And, not to toot my own horn (but this is MY blog... so I can do what I want), the trio I've been working on ended up sounding pretty darn good!  So go us!

Next, it was time to bid farewell to ballet, which also ended up being very pleasant.  Renat took the group through everything they've done this month, and they really rocked it out.  Then... it was on to acting, where they did their 12 minute version of The Seagull for Sergei, and then did their own etudes - all of which were really awesome and creative and well thought through.  This group has done a lot of really interesting work in a very short period of time.  One thing we talked about tonight was the fact that this group has probably had more Russia based training at home than any of the groups preceding them, which has definitely shown in their ability to jump into the work here.  So good on 'em!

Then... we had a night off!  Yes!  I made a little dinner, had a couple beers, did a little work, gossiped with some students, and just had a generally low-key evening.

And now... I'm off to bed...gotta prep for more goodbyes!

Oh!  But I feel I should mention that, as of today, I have walked more than 100 miles this month!  With my 12039 Steps and 3.8 miles, I am now at 103.08 miles for the month of June (give or take whatever the margin of error is for my little pedometer).  So... woohoo!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Zoyka's Kitchen

Well, yesterday was a pretty full day, with our last theatre history lecture with the incomparable Anatoly Smeliansky, and then acting class, in which the students presented their own 12 minute version of The Seagull... that they came up with in one day.  And it was pretty good, too!  So go them!  (I ran sound... because that seems to be my main function with their performances.)  Then, we gathered for our last show at the MXAT - Зойкина Квартира (Zoyka's Apartment).  It's this crazy story from 1920s Russia (just after the Revolution) of a woman named Zoya who opens a brothel under the guise of opening a seamstress school.  It's a musical - which is a lot of fun.  And on top of that, it is an amazing technological experience.  Between this show and Master and Margarita, it's as if the directors were actively trying to showcase the capabilities of the space... but they also managed to make all these crazy technical elements actually help tell the story!  In this show, the set was a giant rotating cube... there were huge projections... amazing costumes... and the set had a full ceiling, which totally changes what lighting they can use.  I have actually seen this production once before - two years ago - and I had no idea what was going on.  I mean, it was amazing, but sort of incomprehensible.  This time... I read the play before we went to see it... which completely changed the experience.  I knew just enough of the story and the language to really get some of the jokes, which was rewarding.  And it's always easier to watch a play when there is some modicum of understanding involved.  Plus, even though our seats were added into the house left aisle, I scooted us into the center when the show started, since there were empty seats... so we had a pretty great view!  All around, a very cool evening!

Today started out with our penultimate movement class... and I kind of rocked on the shoulder stand today, if I do say so myself... and I do!  Plus, I was joined by two of my kidlets in achieving Russian Dumpling!  Then I got zillions of pictures of different acrobatic things, which is super cool.  And for acting today, one of the students was ill, so I was pulled up to participate to even out the group, which also turned out to be a lot of fun.  Then we headed back to the Satirikon for our last show with them, a strange little piece called Кухня (Kitchen).  It's basically just the story of a group of people who work in a fancy restaurant - chefs and waitresses.  Mostly it was sort of impossible to understand, because not much really happens.  But it was fascinating to watch as an exercise in super detailed acting.  The set was a huge, fully loaded kitchen with what must have been hundreds of dishes and pots and pans (oh my!).  And no matter how real it looked... they actually didn't cook anything.  Everything they did was pantomimed... to perfection.  Apparently, all the actors had gone under cover at a local restaurant, training in the kitchen.  Only the manager knew that they were actors.  So they got the experience of preparing food... and man, was it amazing to watch!  I would have sworn they had the items they were preparing.  There was a guy who kept flipping and seasoning cutlets by whom I was totally transfixed.  There was chopping and cooking and serving and all sorts of kitchen behavior... but not a single real piece of food.  The first part ended with an amazing, stylized version of the lunch rush.  And there was a great sequence when the chefs were all fantasizing about what their lives could be like.  So, though it was sort of hard to follow, it was so freaking cool to watch!

The show was only an hour and a half, so we were home at a reasonable hour for once, giving folks some time to work on things for tomorrow... because tomorrow is the beginning of the end - our first "last day" with our singing and dance teachers.  It sneaks up on us every year!

14261 Steps
4.5 Miles

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Place Holder

I want to blog tonight... I really do... but I am running on fumes.  So... I'll post later.  But in the interest of keeping my mileage tally going:

11400 Steps
3.6 Miles

Monday, June 23, 2014

Little old Lady from Tverskaya

Singing at 10:00am is not always the easiest undertaking, but the group really brought it this morning.  Lots of big steps forward for people.  And lots of fun choreography.  Marina noted after our big group number ("All That Jazz, which we choreographed in about half an hour last night in someone's dorm room) that, even as talented as their students are, they tend to have a hard time with singing and dancing together.  I found the discussion very interesting, since musical theatre is always talked about as THE American theatre form.  It's interesting that there's enough of a cultural difference to make our ability to deal with its unique requirements stronger than these exemplary Russian students.  Well... I guess if we can come out on top anywhere, we should be super proud!

After singing class I had planned on running out to a theatre to pick up tickets for anyone who wanted to see a show on Thursday... but no one wanted to see it.  That made life easier for me, so I just hung out and watched dance class.  I am always fascinated by the Russian dance work when we're able to fit that in.  I would imagine that the MXAT students would school us pretty hard core on that, because man... all that stomping and hopping... it's just a little over my head.

We then had a shortened lunch break today because today is graduation for the MXAT acting students, so Sergei and Ilja had to go give their students diplomas.  But rather than cutting off our class altogether, Sergei gave the group an interesting assignment: they are to perform The Seagull tomorrow in 10-15 minutes.  So they spent the next 2 1/2 hours working on planning out how to do that.  There were some really interesting ideas thrown around.  I tried to pipe in here and there with advice or insights into the play, but I made sure to let them make it their own.  I'm very interested to see what they come up with for tomorrow!

Then, because we had no show tonight, I headed back to the dorm.  Right now, almost all of the students are out at a graduation party for the MXAT students.  I considered going, but I'm no good in social situations like that, and I'm so much older than everyone, and I don't have clothes that even approximate the level of fancy schmancy that the students pulled out for tonight... so I decided to just stay close to the homestead, do a little reading and editing, and have a nice cold beer.  I think I've earned it!

10805 Steps
3.41 Miles

Sunday, June 22, 2014

All the Chekhov

So, Saturday morning started out with another wonderful installment of movement with the magical Vladimir.  This time, we started in on some of the acrobatic work he does with us.  It's pretty amazing how readily we just jump into standing on each other.  Or rather, how readily THEY jump into standing on each other.  This is the point when I fade back to become the photographer more than the participant.  But I'm still rockin' out Russian Dumpling, Scorpion, and I've almost got that shoulder stand! So I'm feeling pretty good.

Acting class was a little short on Saturday because of an early curtain time for the show (which I'll get to in a moment).  So the group did a cute etude about being elves and a machine in Santa's factory.  We also learned that in Russia, the elves are not called elves, but midgets.  So that's a fun cultural fact for ya.  They did some work, and then spent the second part of the class discussing The Seagull with Sergei... and let me tell you: I love listening to Sergei talk about Chekhov.  He understands these scripts so deeply, and his insights are so playable and vivid... I could listen to him dissect these plays all damn day.  It's so effin' cool!  Then we had a brief dinner break before meeting up with the Butler group and heading over to the Satirikon for one of my favorite things in the world: their production of The Seagull.  Four and a half hours of non-stop emotional and intellectual energy just exploding out of every seam of every actor... it's unbelievable.  And I was seated right on the aisle (or rather, right in the aisle), so when Treplev came out into the aisle to watch the performance of his play, he came right over to me, blew fake snow on me, and just hovered over my shoulder for a while.  I may or may not have died a little from sheer happiness.  And even though I've seen this show four times... and even though I've taken copious notes on every production I've seen... I am still awed by every moment.  I still weep at the end.  I still soar along with the actors through this crazy exorcism of everything that this play has ever meant in its century or so of existence.  I just... I freaking love this show!

Then we headed home and I did a little skyping with my mom and my niece.  My niece, it turns out, was concerned that I was here by myself... without my kitties... so I had to assure her that I had my students with me.  She insisted that she see my students.  So I walked her around the dorm and she got to meet a couple of them... which was adorable.

Sunday morning I got up early to head over to Starbucks for my weekly skype date with my Giant Ginger, which was delightful, as always.  Oh... so homesick!  Then I headed back to the dorm to met up with the group for our annual trip to Chekhov's estate in Melikhovo, a town about two hours south of Moscow.  Oddly, we ended up getting there early, so they took us on a brief sojourn to a holy spring that beautiful and crisp and super cold... it was a nice little side trip.  Then we hit the main attraction: Chekhov's home and grounds.  It was a lovely tour, a lovely day, everyone was super jazzed to get the feeling for Chekhov's world... it was delightful!

Once we arrived home, we had a couple of hours before our weekly potluck, then we did a little choreography for singing class tomorrow, and finally headed off to our respective rooms for some well earned quiet time!  Heading into the last week is always bittersweet... this year's group has been wonderful, and I have no doubt that they're going to rock out this final week and be all kinds of awesome, and we'll be sad to leave... but I've got a whole lot of life waiting for me at home, and I'm eager to get back to it!  So I'll treasure the next nine days... but I'll treasure what's coming next too!

June 21 - 11275 Steps 3.56 Miles
June 22 - 10589 Steps  3.34 Miles

Friday, June 20, 2014

Dead Souls

This morning the group had Stage Combat first thing... and then nothing until acting at 3:00.  And, since I don't participate in stage combat, I just stayed home, slept in a bit, took a shower, worked on edits for my dissertation, finished phase one of an editing project for a friend that I've been working on, and made lunch.  The me time was highly beneficial.  It was a super productive morning.  And I would very much like to get addicted to that kind of productivity.  That might make this whole dissertation thing slightly less terrifying.

Anyway, after my awesome me time, I headed down to class, where the group came up with an amazing etude about aliens... seriously... this was creative and cohesive and cool... I think they really rocked this one out.  And they did good work in the rest of class too.  I'm getting the feeling that this last week of class is going to be full of really exciting work.  I'm looking forward to observing it!

After class, we met up and headed off to the Gogol Center for their production of Мёртвые ду́ши (Dead Souls).  This is a fairly new theatre, and the show itself is listed as a premiere (which can mean a lot of different things in the Russian theatre system, but at the very least, it's the newest work by a very cool director).  The theatre itself has an amazing, open, creative, inviting vibe that just made me want to play.  There are images of and quotes by famous theatre folks all over the place, the exposed brick is awesome, the actual performance space is somehow cavernous and intimate at the same time... it's sort of perfect.  And one of the most interesting differences we noted while we were there was that all the ticket staff were young people - probably in their 20s.  At every other theatre, those jobs are held almost exclusively by little old ladies.  But here, everyone was hip and young and energetic.  It was interesting.  And the play itself... I hardly know what to say about it.  It was a fascinating, imaginative, and undeniably alive performance of what is, frankly, a pretty boring play on the surface.  But this was definitely not boring.  Oh!  And the interesting twist was that this performance featured English supertitles, which I thought was going to be awesome, and in some ways it was.  But the fact is, I have gotten so accustomed to watching shows in Russian and making my own meaning out of the acting and visuals, that I found the desire to take my eyes off the stage to read the words a little distracting.  I probably missed a lot by doing that.  But the play probably would have been fairly opaque without them (even considering the sort of adorable typos, strange translations and technical difficulties).  All in all, the show wasn't up there on my list of favorite shows or anything, but it was wildly creative, I was totally transfixed... and I seriously want to live at the Gogol Center.

From there, it was back to the homestead... and off to sleep before Vladimir has his way with us in the morning.

11859 Steps
3.74 Miles

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Cherry Orchard

Today started out with a weird personal moment.  At the end of the flight from Amsterdam to Moscow, I noticed that one of my rings was missing.  It didn't really make sense, but the ring is usually a little loose, so I figured it just managed to fall off somehow.  A bit of a bummer, but not a big deal.  Then, this morning, I FOUND THE RING... in my bed.  Now, the logical side of me knows that, obviously, it fell into one of my bags, and was eventually jostled free in all of the ins and outs of the crap that I carry around from day to day.  But the irrational part of me can't help but imagine some sort of crazy, KLM-based poltergeist that has been waiting for just the right moment to return the ring... and then maybe make a mess or something.  I don't really know what poltergeist do.  I'm terrified of that movie.

Anyway, back to the real world...

The morning started out with ballet and then singing, both of which were a little humbling, as both teachers chose today to remind the class that they can't get too comfortable - they have to keep pushing themselves.  It's always hard to hear, but it's also great to hear.  Acting was much more fun, as the group really brought a lot of wonderful energy and creativity to their work today.  And whole class wrapped up with a wonderful group activity that actually made this sentimental sap a little teary watching it.  So go team!  Make this last week and a half count!

After class we all scattered for dinner and then met back to hop the subway to the Sovremennik Theatre for a production of Вишневый Сад (The Cherry Orchard).  It was an interesting show, because it was probably the most traditional thing we'll see all month.  It's a very straightforward production - sort of exactly what you would expect a Chekhov play to look like.  It's not mind blowing, but I think it's good for the group to see a simple performance telling a the story with straight up psychological realism - no real bells of whistles to speak of, just good, solid acting.  Also... to give an added understanding of the way Russian theatre works... I'm pretty sure this production opened in 1997.  Yeah.

When we got back to the dorm, a handful of us finished off the night by reading aloud the first two acts of The Seagull, which the acting class will be focusing on for the rest of the month... and which we'll also be seeing on Saturday (be still my heart!).

13183 Steps
4.16 Miles

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lady with the Lapdog

Today started out with movement class... and as sore as I was after the last one, I wasn't really sure how well that was going to go, but it ended up being wonderful, as is always the case. We got into shoulder stands, a pose lovingly called "Scorpion," balancing on chairs... it was delightful.

After lunch, we had an interesting acting class which involved a pretty hilarious improv game that went well enough that I really wished I could teach an improv class with this group.  Then, after a creepy spider etude, the group started into observation etudes, which are always difficult, but always an amazing learning opportunity.  It's hard enough creating the inner life of a stapler or a raccoon, but to have to do a full-fledged human being... that's much tougher.

After class, the other grad student (Brandon) and I headed over to a theatre known as МТЮЗ for a production of Дама с Собачкой (The Lady with the Lap Dog).  It's based on a short story by good ol' Anton Chekhov.  I actually saw the production three years ago, so it was very cool to see it again.  The lady was actually a different actress this time (different from the one in the photo), but she was absolutely effervescent.  It's kind of a talky play, but it also is so simple, clear and theatrical in its story telling... it's just lovely.  The whole thing is performed on the balcony level of a much larger theatre space.  So the stage is actually on the front of the balcony, and actors readily hop off the edge into the vast space beyond (or rather, the balcony beneath them).  And they use the strange little space they have so very well!  The lighting is minimal - sometimes only one light would even be on at a time, yet it helped tell so much of the story.  And, when the scene shifted to an opera performance, they turned on the huge, beautiful light fixtures of the theatre proper, which was such a genius way to incorporate the space.  In addition to the two lovers, there were two sort of clown characters who brought props in and out, danced, commented on the action... did whatever was needed.  And they were wonderful.  The whole show really was.  And may I just say... it was pretty darn sexy, too... but without a single bit of nudity or even a single kiss.  In fact, there was hardly any actual physical contact.  But wow... the staging was all kinds of creative and evocative.

Afterwards, it was back to the dorm for a quiet night.  We don't really have many of those left... so I'm enjoying it.


10810 Steps
3.41 Miles 

Our Town

This morning (June 17) started out without much fanfare.  Most of us headed out a bit early so that we could get some internet time at Starbucks before class, what with our dorm being without.  At home, when the internet goes down, it’s a bit of a pain, but I’ve got my 4G, I’ve got my phone… I’ve got other ways to contact people.  But here, wi-fi is all we have.  And without wi-fi… it’s a little bit frustrating and a little bit unsettling to be along on an island.  Apparently the person who is in charge of the wi-fi in the dorms was defending his final project today, so we’re hoping that went well for him, so that he’ll be in the mood to fix our wi-fi tomorrow.

For theatre history today, rather than the portrait gallery of the MXAT, we were shuttled up a few floors in a tiny elevator four people at a time, and we ended up holding class in a conference room that is part of the office of Oleg Tabakov, the artistic director of the Moscow Art Theatre, and a much beloved Russian film actor as well.  He’s kind of a big deal… and the room certainly bears that out.  The rich colors, fancy art, historical books, big leather chairs… it was pretty intimidating.  But it also ended up being kind of wonderfully intimate, as about 30 of us huddled around the table with Anatoly Smeliansky at the head, spinning yarns about Stanislavsky as if they were old pals.

After class, I had a little adventure with one of the students, as we went to a specialty orthotic store to buy her some arch supports in hopes of quelling some foot pain she’s been dealing with.  So… now that’s something I’ve done.  It was definitely easier than the late night urgent care trip last year, so I’ll take it.

Acting class was interesting today, as they started off with a cool, balletic etude about a snowman who fell in love with the sun.  Quite tragic, as you might imagine.  Then there was a fascinating storytelling exercise that wasn’t particularly successful, but was extremely illuminating.  This was followed up by a snake and a mouse, a sloth, a pelican, a cat, a baboon, a butterfly, and an army of fire ants. 

Then… came tonight’s show. And I have to say, it was really something.  Tonight we saw Наш Городок (Our Town).  It was particularly cool for several reasons.  First of all, the undergrad company did Our Town earlier this year, and four of the actors from that production are on the trip with us, not to mention the director – our fearless leader, JT.  Second, this production was directed by our deal Ilja, who is teaching most of our acting class this year.  And finally, this performance was the final performance that the fourth year class would be giving together – their very last one!  And, on top of all that, it was absolutely remarkable.  They took a quintessential American play (that usually runs just shy of three hours with two intermissions) and brought it to exuberant life on stage in less than two hours (with no intermission).  The acting was incredible, the company was utterly together, the precision of their pantomime along with the sounds that were used was all but unreal.  The cuts were great – they really made the play sail along.  And oh wow… did this show make us cry.  There we all were, sitting in the front row, hanging on every word (that we didn’t know, and yet completely knew) and weeping openly.  I know it puzzles the Russian actors that we can be so moved by a play without speaking the language, but between our familiarity with this script, and their excellent, invested and imaginative production… it was all we could do to pull ourselves together enough to walk home.

Of course, the walk home didn’t happen until after some of the students introduced themselves to some of the cast members and ended up getting the group invited to the class’s graduation party.  Ah, those outgoing American kids!

Then… well… it was a quiet evening at home… since internet is still just not a thing for us.

You know, when I was in college, I lived in Austria for a whole summer one year, and we didn’t have internet.  We had to go to internet cafes, if memory serves.  And I would call my parents collect once every other week or so.  What a difference a decade (and then some) makes.

16129 Steps
5.09 Miles

Swan Lake

This morning (June 16) started off with a little scheduling snafu – both we and the group from Butler University had the same morning schedule.  But since we had switched last time that happened, they went ahead and switched this time.  So we had a delightful morning of singing with Marina (observed, of course, by JT, Margaret (his wife), and John (the department chair)).  The trio that she assigned me and two other girls went… ok.  She remarked that it is a very difficult piece, and that, though the group from Harvard earlier this year had had three months with it, they hadn’t gotten it as well as we have in just two weeks… so that was a nice little ego boost.  Still… we have a long way to go on it.  Some of those harmonies just aren’t happening.  Ah, singer problems.  I miss having singer problems.

No tickets to be found at the Bolshoi... but I did find a selfie!
After singing, the group headed off to ballet, and I headed out in search of tickets.  I grabbed two tickets for me and the other grad student to a tiny show at an interesting theater for Wednesday.  I’ll write more about it then.  But we’ll be going with JT, John and Margaret, so that will be fun.  Then I headed down to the Bolshoi to try to get tickets to Carmen for a few students who were willing to cough up the dough for that kind of ticket.  Unfortunately, they ended up being sold out, so there will be no Bolshoi for them.  It saves them the money though, and that’s probably good in the long run.  What’s not so good is that this trek and my sandals decided not to cooperate today, which means I ended up with GIANT blisters covering the bottoms of both of my heels.  It would turn out to be a very rough rest of the day for my tootsies.

Acting brought us another day with Sergei, which is always so much fun.  Since he’s the teacher with whom I have spent the most time in Russia (other than Ilja), he really sort of IS Russia for me in a lot of ways.  His insight and warmth and creativity are just so exciting.  I love me some Sergei!  And he had a lot to say about today’s bearded dragon, chimpanzee, flamingo, lion, giraffe, porcupine and prairie dog.  And before all of that, Ilja really took them through the paces of all the exercises we have done this far – probably to show off a bit for our department chair.  And the kids really stepped up. They did a great job of maintaining focus through all of it!  Go them!  Plus, I got another big hug and kiss from Sergei… which just makes me feel so cool.  Knowing that this amazing Russian theatre master cares about me makes me feel so connected to this crazy Russian theatre lineage.  Seriously… where’s my citizenship?!

After dinner, we all met up for the very short walk to the Stanislavsky/Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre’s production of Лебединое Озеро (Swan Lake).  Now, this theatre is gorgeous, these dancers are some of the best in the world, and I completely recognize the aesthetic beauty and the remarkable skill of the performance… but I confess that I find ballet boring.  All the Victorian melodrama gestures and the ten minutes of jumping to say hello… it’s just not the way I would choose to tell a story.  Still… it was beautiful, so there’s that.  I had a seat across the balcony from the rest of the group, so I was sort of on my own, taking it all in.  Throughout the course of the night, I answered a Russian woman’s question about the performance, I answered an American couple’s question about the theatre, and I eavesdropped on some Brits sitting behind me who sat there complaining about Americans (most notably, and American ex-pat who had to keep talking about how he’s not REALLY American.  I have some news for you, pal, you’re being “that obnoxious American” right the hell now).  It was a pretty pleasant experience overall.  And I had a great view of the bored-looking, hairy, middle-aged Russian percussionist who just plain looked awesome when he had to play the triangle… which he had to do a lot, and with great gusto.
I could see the rest of my group... and most of the stage... from my seat
After the show, I put on my goin’ out shoes (that is, my sneakers) and went with the group to a nearby bar to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the students.  We didn’t stay out long, but it was a delightful evening nonetheless.  I intended to post about this upon returning home, but internet has been down all night… and continues to be so the next morning… so we’re a little screwed where that is concerned.  It’s a very stranded feeling to have absolutely no access to communication whatsoever.  So hopefully they will be able to get this fixed soon.   

23691 Steps
7.48 Miles

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Much Ado

Part of "the gulling scene" from Much Ado
at the Pushkin Theatre
Today (June 15) was supposed to be our boat ride down the Moscow River, but the incessant rain made that a no-go.  So pretty much everyone just stayed inside all day – many sleeping off the late night they had the night before (nothing illicit folks – just a little good old fashioned clubbing).  I skyped in the morning with Brian (did my parental skype Saturday night, so they didn't have to stay up so late).  Then I worked a bit on my dissertation, and then finally, at 6:00 we all gathered to head back to the Pushkin Theatre for their production of Многа Шума из Ничего (Much Ado About Nothing).  This is a production I had seen two years ago, and I really like it.  There’s something distinctly Western about it – it doesn’t feel as Russian as the other shows we see.  And that, perhaps, is a symptom of the fact that the show was actually developed while the company studied in England with Declan Donnelan (or so JT tells me).  But whatever the case, it is an energetic, music-filled, sparkling show.  And the couple who played Beatrice and Benedick were the main couple from Good Person of Szechwan just two nights before.  All the roles that these people must have in their heads!  And how brilliantly and fully they play all of them! It’s so impressive and inspiring.  How I wish I could do rep theatre with a resident company…

After the show, I did a bunch of internet searching to see if I could find the music from the show. It’s all performed by a Russian band called Группа W/ (the W band).  But they don’t seem to have much of a web presence after about two years ago.  It took a lot of weird websites before I was finally successful though!  I was able to actually find some of this music that I’ve loved since I saw the show two years ago!  So that was a little personal triumph over technology for me.  Huzzah!

Aside from an evening of internet and laundry, we also had a quick potluck after the show (minus the pot… we pretty much just had chips and cookies and candy) to check in after the week and to welcome the chair of our department as well as our group leader JT’s wife to Moscow – they had both flown in that morning.  It was a fairly pleasant evening.  I am really enjoying this group and their enthusiasm, and it will be good for our department chair to see their awesome work this week!

10319 Steps
3.26 Miles


**We're having internet issues in the dorms, so I'm a little behind.  Here's me trying to catch up with the crappy internet at Starbucks**

Today started out with another rousing class of movement, with Mr. Russian Sunshine – Vladimir!  I still think he’s taking it kind of easy on us compared to past years, but it’s still plenty hard.  My claim to fame remains intact though: Russian Dumpling (both feet behind my head) – 4 years and counting!  That’s one point for the little old lady!

After class I headed off in search of tickets for The Cherry Orchard for next week – and met with no resistance.  So that’s all taken care of. 

Acting class involved what Ilja called “a very American etude” which involved interrupting a wedding.  It was a little bit hilarious.   And then the individual etudes involved a penguin, a beaver, a pigeon, a raccoon, a scorpion, a kangaroo, a bear, and a turtle… it was quite the menagerie

After class and a quick dinner, we headed over to the Meyerhold center to watch the fourth year students perform their expressive movement piece titled Mp3 Ravel.  It was an hour and a half of dance-type movement set to variations of Bolero.  All of the movement was very sultry, passionate and sexually charged.  The endurance and attention of the students was really impressive (though a lot of the choreography involved sexual violence, which isn’t my favorite… but whatcha gonna do?)  Now… the music got more than a little repetitive (one of our administrator’s friends remarked that he’s worried that the next time he has sex, he will hear Bolero in his head), and it was probably a little longer than it needed to be, but the stamina and commitment and strength of the students was really impressive, and the Wayne State students really made great connections between the work they saw, and the work they are doing in class.  We’re getting the seeds that, after the intensive work the students here do, can blossom into so much more!  It was very cool.

15642 Steps
4.94 Miles

Friday, June 13, 2014

Good People Got No Reason

Today turned out to be a fairly interesting day actually.  First off, I didn't go to stage combat with the group today.  Instead I stayed at the dorm, worked a bit on my dissertation, and then went in search of tickets for a show for next week.  These tickets are for a theatre I've never been to before (it's very new), and a show that is premiering next week... so it's all very hip and fresh and whatnot.  And despite the fact that this theatre is in a completely unfamiliar part of town for me, I still managed to find it... and I only walked the wrong direction for about two blocks.  So I definitely count that as a win.  Once I did get there, I was just over the moon for the Gogol Center.  It has a coffee shop and bookstore in the lobby, so it's really meant for people to feel comfortable spending time there any time, not just when there's a performance.  And the atmosphere is just great - it feels really creative and exciting.  I think that next Friday I might try taking my computer over there to do some writing.  I feel like that's a place where the juices might flow a little easier.

After that little excursion I headed back for acting class, which involved some good challenges for the group, followed by etudes as a pillow, a garbage disposal, a shower, a typewriter, a jack-in-the-box, an umbrella, a rat, a peacock, and a barn owl.  It was quite a day!

Then, after a quick dinner, we headed off to the Pushkin Theatre to see Добрый Человек из Сезуана (The Good Person of Szechwan), directed by my good pal Yuri Butusov (of Othello and King Lear fame so far this month).  And as much as Othello was a bit of a muddy mess (albeit a fascinating one), Good Person was a master work.  It was so clear and alive and the imagery was absolutely breathtaking.  There were moments when rice would rain down from the flies... and the way it bounced and played off of the light brought tears to my eyes.  And near the end, as everything is falling apart around Shen Te, an avalanche of cigarette boxes accompanied the rice... completely covering the floor and threatening to bury her.  I know that my jaw was literally hanging open when that happened.  And oh, the lead actress!  She was unbelievable!  The trick with this play is that she must play the good-hearted prostitute Shen Te, as well as her cruel male alter-ego Shui Ta... and holy moly... she was phenomenal.  Her transformations were so thoughtful and purposeful.  Oh - and in a particularly Brechtian element, some of the songs were sung in German with Russian supertitles over the stage.  Now, you know what language I don't speak?  Russian.  And you know what language I REALLY don't speak?  German.  So that was interesting.  But the effect of the two languages playing against each other was really cool.  I could go on and on and on about this production...and I'm sure I will in my personal journal.  It was brilliant.

Once we got home, I hopped in the shower (which is directly across the hall from my room).  When I emerged, I was met by one of the students standing in the hall with a jar of peanut butter in her hand, and then three other students came bolting out of my room giggling.  It seems they had decided to "deconstruct" my room - which basically meant that my chair was upside down and my cabinets were open.  I had to put the ringleader in a time-out in the hallway, but I think he's learned his lesson now.  Really - it was a pretty hilarious way to end the day.

17033 Steps
5.38 Miles

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Russia Day

Okay... first things first: Let's get real about how sore I am after movement yesterday.  By the Hammer of Thor, my muscles are grouchy!

Moving on...

Today was probably the least eventful Russia Day of the four I've experienced...and they're rarely all that interesting to begin with.  Class was cancelled, and the ladies in the dorm wouldn't do our linen laundry, and most of us ended up napping for most of the day.  It was pretty chill.  I probably never would have even left the dorm if we hadn't had a show to see - and what a show.

I've seen the Satirikon Theatre's production of King Lear twice before.  Last year I skipped it to go watch a terrible production of Coriolanus.  But this year, I was back!  This show opened in 2006, but the place was packed.  And, for the first time, we got to do third bell seating.  In Moscow, they open up the doors to students and pensioners after the third bell, and then it's just every man for himself.  Elbows flying, people climbing over each other to get to that empty seat in the middle of the row (and the Satirikon is not big on leg room), chairs in the aisles... it was quite an experience.  But, as nuts as it was, they allowed time for it.  They didn't set us free in there at 6:59 and then just start at 7:00.  They waited until the ushers had managed to seat everyone.  Me - I was sitting in a chair in the eighth row of the house left aisle, which actually ended up being a great seat.  At intermission I was able to shift over to a real chair, and honestly, I think the view was actually a little better from my aisle perch (though my butt was happier, so I think it all came out even).  The show itself is much stronger than Othello.  It is more polished, has a clear through line in its interest in father/child relationships, and the images that he chooses to tell the story are much more effective.  Butusov can be brilliant, but he can also suffer from a lack of self-editing.  When he's on... he's on.  And in Lear, I would say that he is ON.

On this trip, I have found myself paying a lot of attention to the lighting in the shows we're seeing.  I suppose it's just a manifestation of missing the Giant Ginger so much.  I keep trying to look for the things that would be exciting for him.  And I do think that Lear has a particularly effective lighting design.  There are a lot of steep angles and small areas - revealing only what is needed at any given moment.  And the music!  Oh!  Music is so much a part of all of the shows we have seen so far this month.  And (soapbox) with the stupid Tony Awards dropping sound design as a category, I found myself extremely aware of what the sound was doing to me tonight.  Without that music, it would have been a different, and much less visceral show.  I mean... just... wow.  And Russian theatres are not afraid to TURN IT UP.  You feel the music in your bones.  One of the things we talked about at our potluck the other night was that US theatre sees a script as a sort of finished product, with the actors, directors, and designers putting in their two cents worth to make the pop up book of that product come to life (obviously, I'm way over simplifying here), but Russian theatre sees the script as a place to start.  It is as alive and flexible as any other part of the production.  And it's pretty exciting to see the ways they shape the stories they want to tell out of the stories that we think we already know.

4680 Steps
1.48 Miles


Me and my good buddy Vladimir from last summer
Wednesday morning was a welcome late start, since the other group had movement first this morning.  But once we got started, we were off like a shot!  Today was our first class with the incomparable Vladimir - our ball of Russian sunshine in human form.  Though I have been observing in our other classes, I decided to participate in movement, partly because it matters less how easily we can divide up in to pairs, and partly because it is so unique, I really feel the need to just DO it.  It would drive me nuts to just sit there watching it.  As class began, Vladimir saw me, his face lit up, and he gave me a big high five... because we're old buddies like that.  Ah yeah.  He took it a little easy on us today... but it was still extremely tough.  And we still have miles to go!  And it was still awesome.

Acting class was also pretty great today, since it was the first time that our usual master teacher Sergei was able to join us.  Sergei is currently in the process of auditioning his new class of students, so he's a little busy. (Here in Russia, acting schools are very few and very selective.  And students don't work with a bunch of different acting teachers, they are recruited by one or two main teachers, and they work with their company and their teachers for the entire four years of their study.  It's a very different approach to actor training.)  But it was wonderful to have him in class today.  First, I got another bright Russian smile when Sergei saw me, and a big hug.  Even our translator Irina greeted me with a hug and a "привет."  And though I've mostly been sitting in the back of the classroom, quietly observing, Sergei insisted that I scoot up and sit with him.  We even chatted a little bit in Russian (mostly about the fact that my Russian isn't great, but it gets better each year).  We also talked about the students.  And then, while folks were doing their object etudes, Irina translated something for him and he quickly told her that he knew that word... I chuckled, and he chuckled that I understood him.  It was just a really fun feeling of camaraderie.  And watching Sergei talk about students' etudes is fascinating.  He has such easy insight into the performances.  He can see stories and details and possibilities in a way that completely opens up the bounds of your imagination... and he's just talking about a lamp or a stapler or an umbrella.  His student Ilja is also wonderful, don't get me wrong, but Sergei is magic!

After dinner on our own (I'm doing a lot of granola bars and fruit for dinners - keeping it cheap), we met up with our awesome administrator Katya to head to a production of Трамвай <<Желание>> (Streetcar Named Desire).  This was actually a final student production by the class who graduated last year, but they decided to re-mount it for a night at a theatre center that allows people to rent out the space.  It was interesting to see it again after last year - since I hadn't particularly liked it.  I would say that I liked it more this year because I was able to allow it to be what it was: a student studio piece.  It wasn't attempting to be THE Streetcar, it was its own thing with its own purposes for them as a group of actors.  Though I still don't particularly think their Blanche really GOT the neuroses.  Other than that, I let a lot of their "inaccuracies" go - they didn't need to FEEL like a Tennessee Williams play.  They didn't have to be in the right time and place with the slow Southern tempo.  They were creating the essence of moments, rather than the definitive Streetcar.  Interestingly, the Moscow Art Theatre is opening a new production of Streetcar later this month, which I suspect will be much more "authentic," as they had a dramaturg who taught them what life is like in New Orleans.  But for this - a student show - I was much more able this year to let it be what it was.  And it was cool to see in the program that they all listed the theatres where they are now working.  Way to go, MXAT grads!

After the show, most of the group went out, but I stayed in the dorm (as den mothers are wont to do), and zonked out.

10657 Steps
3.36 Miles

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Lucky Pots

Today was sort of a light day, which felt good... and will feel good in retrospect as we head into the next week... which is going to be jam packed.  We started out with our first theatre history lecture with the delightful President of the MXAT Theatre School, Anatoly Smeliansky.  Seriously... magical theatre history elf!  I love this man!  And he always does his first lecture in the portrait gallery in the lobby of the MXAT... which is just gorgeous and magnificent.  He refers to it as the Pantheon of Russian Theatre.  And as he meandered through historical anecdotes, we all hung on his every word.  (Except, unfortunately, my phone, which somehow paused itself from recording 6 seconds in... so I didn't capture the lecture.  Boo.)

After that was a quick lunch during which I popped over to the administrative office to check on tickets for the students for Swan Lake next week.  While I was there, I chatted with the delightful Larissa and Lena in the office - a little Russian, a lot of English - and they invited me to have lunch with them next week!  I feel so special!

Then the group met to work on their first group etude, which is always a fun process to watch.  The etude itself actually ended up going pretty well, though it could definitely have been sped up a bit.  Still... an excellent first effort!  Go team!  And then came the first round of object etudes, which brought us a flip phone, a straw, a fan, a fire extinguisher, a carpet, a recording device, a flower, a lighter, and a balloon - all of which were super interesting.

After class everyone went their separate ways, since we didn't have a show.  I took a couple of minutes to chat with a young woman who had been observing our class.  It turns out (I think) that she is a student from Brasil who has been studying here since April.  So, if that information is correct, then I'm very proud of the two of us for muddling through it, since clearly neither of us spoke great Russian.

Then around 9:00 the group came back together for our potluck.  It was a lovely time, the group was super talkative and insightful about the time they're spending here, and there was lots of yummy food (largely carbs and cheese based... so... you know... I was happy), and then we scattered for the night.  All things considered, it was a quiet day, but a good day!  And now, we have a show every night until at least the 17th.

11071 Steps
3.49 Miles

Monday, June 9, 2014


This morning started off with a very encouraging email from my dissertation chair... so that was really an excellent way to wake up.  This puppy might actually get written after all, damnit!  Add to that a cool, gray, rainy day, and I was feeling pretty good.

On the classroom front, we had a teensy scheduling snafu... in that both our group and the group from Butler had the same schedule.  Oops.  So we decided to go ahead and switch to ballet first with singing second.  And I'll just say it: ballet did not go great today.  I think Renat was frustrated.  Hopefully the gang will knock it out of the park next time around.

Singing, on the other hand, seemed to go very well.  We got through everyone, people sound good, they're learning their songs and generally being awesome.  Marina seemed in generally good spirits... which just makes everyone happy.

After lunch, it was time for our usual acting teachers to emerge!  Sergei and Ilja have been traveling with their students (who are about to graduate), and just returned.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I know exactly when the students got back from their tour, because around 2:00 in the morning, there was a great ruckus outside that involved a lot of yelling about the greatness of MXAT's school, and, for some reason, how much they love America.  So, I think there may have been a touch of celebrating at the end of said tour.  Anyway, my guess is, with the late return, Sergei decided to take the day to himself, leaving the class in Ilja's capable hands.  Since I'm observing rather than participating this year, and since I've known him for several years now, Ilja was super warm in greeting me, which was fun.  I felt all growed up!  Ilja got them started fast, and the group progressed through a lot of exercises today, which is very good.  Since we have a little less time with them than usual due to that first week, I'm glad that it looks like this group is catching on to the training quickly.  That means that they'll have the opportunity to go interesting places.  And speaking of interesting, they start their object etudes tomorrow... which is always great fun!  I can't wait to see them!

After dinner, we gathered again at the MXAT student stage to watch the fourth year (graduating) students do something called ГогольРевизор.  Basically it was a show composed of etudes about Gogol's play The Inspector General.  Since this class is now down to their final performances as MXAT students, the place was PACKED.  While we were waiting to get in, I ran into our film history teacher (who is not teaching us this summer).  Galina actually was the one who grabbed me, asked me about my life... it was so cool!  Look at me with all my cool Russian friends!  Anyway, once we got into the theatre we were slammed in there with people sitting on the floor on pillows, people standing 6 deep in the aisles... it was nuts.  It was almost 2 1/2 hours without an intermission, and I stood through the whole thing because I was way in the back back row.  But let me tell you... it was fantastic!  It was so energetic and wild and creative and fun...and, as a bonus, there was a little audience participation.  First, it was set up as a bar, so one of the actresses was taking (and delivering) drink orders before the show.  Then, there was a great bit where one of the women started getting all amorous any time she heard "Unchained Melody."  The music played and she grabbed one of her cast members and started to kiss him - but when it stopped, she released him.  Then it played again and she grabbed a guy in the audience and planted one on him - but it still could have been a plant or a friend or something.  Then... she grabbed first Luke and then Carl from our group and gave them each a good smoochin'... while the rest of us cheered from the back row!  The final moment of the show ended up being a Russian theatre inside joke... THAT I TOTALLY GOT!  They finished up their evening with a little riff on an element from Butusov's (the director whose Othello we saw last night) famous production of The Seagull that I'm in love with. I felt so in the know in that moment.  I'm ready for my citizenship now!

The rest of the evening was pretty chill. I am still feeling a little worked up from seeing awesome theatre.  But something tells me, once I finally hit the pillow... I'll be gone.

Doppelganger update: So, we've had more than a few.  First, there was Russian Megan Barbour in the Starbucks (Sydney caught a sly picture... it's uncanny).  Apparently there was a Russian Jen...I didn't see her, but I am forming an elaborate plan to take over her life so that I can be in Russia any time I want (I'm sure her friends and family won't find it weird that her conversation is suddenly limited to purchasing theatre tickets).  Russian Brent Griffith played Kochkariev in the production of Marriage that we saw the other night.  And in the performance of etudes surrounding Inspector General tonight, we saw Russian Joseph Gordon Levitt, Russian Brad Smith, and Russian Doug Lubaway.  Oh... and Russian Becky Pierce was in the audience.

Seriously... if we do this right... we could all just live here and no one would be the wiser!

12534 Steps
3.96 Miles

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Sundays are technically our days off in that we do not have classes.  But if we're being honest about it, Sundays aren't exactly off in any real sense of the word.  Today I started out with some early morning Starbucks skype time with my parents, and then with Brian (our cat Burr's butt made a few cameos... Burr loves his butt).  Then we loaded up our group with the group from Butler University and headed out for a bus tour around Moscow.  We went to Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery (the cemetery is a trip we usually save for the end of the month... so I actually felt like this trip sort of took the wind out of the sails of the one at the end... but since there was another group with us, we sort of had to let that go.  It'll still be special when we go later.  It'll just be different.  Then we went to the highest point in Moscow - Sparrow Hill - which gives a beautiful panoramic view of the city.  From there we drove by Victory Park, stopped along the river for a few photos, and finally ended up in Red Square (which was a little less scenic than usual since they are in full setup mode for upcoming Russia Day festivities).

Once back at the dorm, we had a little time for dinner (a little less than we thought... but I'll get to that), and we met up to head to the Satirikon for a new production of Othello directed by Yuri Butusov... on whom I may or may not have a ginormous intellectual and artistic crush.  We left a little early for the customary 7:00 Russian curtain time, but when we arrived at 6:15, we discovered that, though no one had informed us, the curtain for this particular show was 6:00.  Very embarrassing.  And I sat stewing through the entire first act, kicking myself (though it wasn't my fault - or really anyone's - it's just an honest mistake... and several Russians came in after us, so we clearly weren't the only ones to make it... but still...).  It was almost hard to pay attention, I was so caught up in being mad at myself.  Still... the production was fascinating.  This is the fifth show I have seen by this director (we'll see one I've seen before on Thursday, and one more I haven't on Friday), so I sort of know to expect the wildly unexpected... and this was definitely that.  It was a little more opaque than most of his other works, but still a complete feast for the senses.  Othello himself was played by a white actor who regularly painted his face and/or hands black (not brown... black).  It's important to note that this was not black face per se... and it's also important to note that Russia does not have the same relationship with race that we do... so with those qualifiers, it actually ended up providing some pretty amazing images.  Most of the time he just appeared as himself - it was only at key moments when his face or his arm(s) would be painted.  When he was talking about wooing Desdemona with tales of battle, the three women playing Desdemona for that moment surrounded him, hanging on his every word, and when the one would would become Desdemona for the rest of the performance chose to kiss him, the black rubbed off onto her face.  When she later appeared nude wrapped in a black curtain, beckoning him to bed, it was only his hand that was black as it intertwined with hers.  It was very interesting that the color became not about something that was inherently different about him, but something that the society put on him.  And finally, when he killed her, he painted her face black like his... and the play closed on a seemingly endless tableau of the two sullied lovers seated side by side, and the symmetrical bodies of Emilia and Iago (yeah... in this version Iago dies) at their feet.  Nobody won in this Othello.

Of course, there was much more beyond that.  There was a grass covered bed on which Desdemona fantasized about marrying Cassio by mistake.  There was a moment when, section by section, the entire floor was turned over to reveal the darkness on the underside of the wood.  There were butterflies that no one could catch - like that perfect image of love - they remained always out of reach.  There was stunning work with two-way mirrors.  Roderigo was basically Eminem... and he had the clothes and theme music to prove it.  There was a long scene when Othello searched through huge boxes in complete silence, only to discover a little toy dog that sang "If You're Happy and You Know It" and clapped its little paws.  Maybe it was the innocence that he had so loved about Desdemona?  I don't claim to understand or even to remember everything I saw.  And though I think the production overall was a little less skilled in storytelling than were his other pieces, it was full of candy for the eyes and the soul.  And, while I was watching, I couldn't stop getting ideas for a production of Hamlet that I have suddenly decided that I need to direct.  So... who wants to give me a theatre and about 4-5 months of rehearsal?

14161 Steps
4.47 Miles

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Master and Margarita

Today was a big day here in Москва.  We started off with stage combat - for realsies this time.  He did a lot of heavy partner work with them today - it was all about communicating and responding appropriately.  I really love the way he teaches combat.  It feels so connected to acting.  It's maybe a little more philosophical of an approach than I'm used to in the states, which feels a bit more mechanical.

After combat, we shuffled off to the Stanislavsky house museum, which was a lot of fun.  We got a tour of the small apartment that Stanislavsky and his family lived in for the last 17 years of his life.  It's so funny, because I've toured this place several times now, and I've taken the tours, and I've had to give the tours, and I've been given apocryphal information that was all so romantic and legendary... and a good helping of it actually ended up being debunked today by our friendly neighborhood docent.  But still, she was lovely, I'm glad to have the new information, and I was able to deal with her in Russian and English... so go me.

After the tour, pretty much everyone was voracious, so we headed back for some lunch before our last day of acting with Misha.  It's so strange to have had him just for this one week.  The group has grown so attached to him already.  Of course, I know the awesome that awaits next week when we start up with Sergei... so there's that.  But still, the class was quite amusing today, as they played a round of the game "Mafia"... which always gets super contentious.  But it was a pretty fascinating game to watch from the outside.  There were some other wonderful activities as well that sort of defy description.  But all things considered, it was a pretty great way to end our time with him (I say "our"... but it would definitely be more appropriate to say "their."  Since I was just observing, I'm pretty sure Misha doesn't even know my name.  But whatever... he was still a joy to watch!  I've learned oodles!)

From there, it was dinner before our first show at the Moscow Art Theatre: Мастер и Маргарита - an adaptation of Bulgakov's novel of the same name.  This was my third time seeing it, and it still takes my breath away.  The sheer scope of the scenic effects is enough to knock you off your socks, but the fact that all the big shiny bells and whistles actually serve the play... madness!  The brilliant movement piece that introduces the metro; the buoyantly floating scrim that drops as Margarita flies over Moscow; the subway car; the moon... it's all so delicious.  The group was completely floored.  And yeah... the man who plays Woland (the Satan figure in the play) has got to be about 7 feet tall, and all the Russian man that has ever Russia-ed.  I know it's the cat's name, but the actor playing Woland is a real life behemoth!  We have three teeny tiny pixies on this trip... I would be so thrilled if we could get a picture of any of the three of them with him.

From there, we walked home through the delightfully cool summer evening in a cloud of awesome theatre afterglow.  All in all... not a bad way to end the first week!

18169 Steps
5.74 Miles

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mawwage what bwought us togevvuh... tonight.

But before we got there, we had a sort of strange day.  We arrived at 10:00am for our Stage Combat class... but apparently our teacher got his wires crossed (something you overlook in a fearless beast of a man), so our class was cancelled.  The thing is, we didn't have class again until 2:30... so that meant we had about four hours to kill.  I'm not sure what everyone else did... I mostly did some reading and some journaling, strolled down to Red Square for a few just to pop by and say howdy to ol' Basil, and generally enjoyed the quiet time.  I also spent some time with our awesome MXAT support staff getting some ticket things figured out.  So that's cool.  Acting this afternoon turned out to be a really lovely, moving day.  I can't really do justice to all the magical things that the students did in class today, but it made me really proud and happy to see them commit to the work and each other the way they did.  It was a super special day.  And that's really all I can say about that.

Then, while five folks headed back to the dorm, eight of us hoofed it up to the Lenkom Theatre where we saw Женитьба (Marriage).  This is a production I saw two years ago, and though I don't love the leading lady (she's a little long in the tooth for the role, and a little hammy for my taste, but when you're related to the head of the theatre, well...), the show itself is quite a spectacle.  The use of automation in stages over here is very impressive.  And what may well be most impressive is that the automation is used effectively to progress the plot.  Madness, I know!  The action of the show sort of revolves around this big wardrobe - which rises sideways out of the floor at the top of the show (while a couch revolves from under the stage with an actor on it), and later moves about, flies, etc.  It's pretty impressive.  But there's one point where a whole wall is whirling around like a windmill, mirroring the whirlwind in which Podkolyosin (approximate transliteration) finds himself... it's pretty wow-worthy.  It's definitely a step of from our Twelfth Night the other night... and I just can't even express how much of a step up tomorrow night is going to be!  I love knowing what's in store!  It's so much fun!  Though, we also have a few shows that I don't know, and that is fun too.  I love the chance to discover  these ridiculously awesome pieces!

Sadly... I forgot to wear my pedometer today.  I'm thinking it was 3.75ish miles.  So... we'll say it was that.  I'm really hoping all this walking and eating less will translate to fitting back into my dress for my friend's wedding in July.  See... this trip is inspiring AND practical!

Thursday, June 5, 2014


9382 Steps
2.96 Miles

Okay... it's always hot in Moscow in June.  It just is.  That's weather.  But man, it has felt just SWELTERING these last couple of days.  I can't seem to not be sweating.  And this is not a city that really embraces the creature comfort of air conditioning all that much.  Certainly not to the level we do in the US.  So I walk to class... and I sweat.  I watch the ballet class... and I sweat.  I sing... and I sweat.  I eat buckwheat and vegetables...and I sweat.  I observe acting class... and I sweat.  I walk home... and I damn sure sweat!  But hey... I also learn a lot.  So stop whining, self!  Geez!

This morning we had ballet again.  I was pleased to see how much the students retained from the first class.  It always makes Renat crazy when we don't retain what he teaches us.  I have faith in this group.  They're working hard!  Then we hopped over to singing class where we started out with our crazy trio... and frankly, for our first time singing it through with accompaniment... we may have been just a little awesome.  I'm very proud of us.  Actually, I'm proud of everyone.  It's so much fun to sing with Marina.  And she has brought a lot of different songs into the mix this year than in the past three.  The biggest surprise, however, was at the end of the class when one of the students started working on a new piece she had been given... and it quickly turned into a group number.  All That Jazz is now some of the most organic singing fun I have ever had!  Go team!

Lunch was uneventful, until the very end when JT swung by to take me over to the administration building to meet the ladies in the offices.  Larissa and Lilina are names I have always seen in email chains, but somehow I managed never to meet them in all my times here.  So it was nice to get a chance to put faces with the names.  And they were very sweet about my Russian - praising me for being able to speak any at all.  And let's face it... who doesn't like a little praise here and there?

Then it was back for acting class, which was a lot of fun today.  They did some activities that are old favorites of mine, as well as an etude in which they had to check a list to see if they got into the university of their choice - and it was up to them whether their name was there or not.  It was interesting to watch the ways in which they dealt with the good/bad news.  The most fun, however, was an etude in which they had to be a bunch of actors waiting to find out which of them had been cast in a film.  It was deliciously awkward!  Then they finished up by drawing pictures of each other and making up stories about them.  Misha does a lot of exercises designed to open up the imagination, and man, are they a lot of fun.  I really look forward to trying some of them with my own students one of these days.  But first I need a job... and before that I need to write the damn dissertation...

Yeah... it always comes back to that.

Anyway, it was a quiet evening around the dorm, and I have been determined to keep myself awake instead of drifting off like I want to.  I feel like tonight will be the one that truly tips the scales into Moscow's time zone.  I just need another hour of consciousness... that's all... I can do that... er... maybe.


18146 Steps
5.73 Miles

This morning was our first stage combat class, which is always a lot of fun.  The teacher is a fearless beast of a man who is just fascinating to watch.  He introduces every exercise with, "Next pleasure."  He had the group all over the place, doing all kinds of different activities - they were working very hard in there, for sure!  Every now and again, JT, the translator, and I had to relocate to avoid being run over by zealous high-fiving or some other such activity.  After class, I headed up to the Lenkom Theatre to pick up tickets for Marriage for some of us on Friday.  I was supposed to buy eight tickets.  She told me there were 5 for the price we wanted, and 3 for a price 2.5 times the price we wanted to pay.  I told her that was too much money for students, so I would just buy the five.  Then, lo and behold... three more cheaper tickets appeared!  So I felt pretty good about myself on that interaction.  We're in the absolute back rows of the balcony, but we're there!

Then I headed back down to school for a quick lunch before acting class... unfortunately, one of the students thought she had left her cell phone behind at the Starbucks near our dorm that morning, so rather than making her miss any of the class, I did the good den mother thing and made the journey there and back myself.  Thankfully, it turned out to be a successful journey, as the barista had her phone back in the office.  Huzzah!  I did manage to make it back for the second half of class, which largely involved everyone describing how they thought the world would end.  This was fascinating, hilarious, and a little depressing.

Back at the dorm for the night, I hung out quietly while the kiddos went out for dinner.  I had every intention of using that quiet time to my advantage - maybe doing some reading and writing and whatnot, but I'm still just the teensiest bit jet lagged... so I just ended up zonking out until they returned.  <sigh>  Then... well... I zonked out some more. Honestly, I'm getting concerned that, four times in, my blog is now getting a little boring.  The kiddos are always out running around exploring with every spare second they can find, while I just sort of hang out in the dorm, reading and wishing I were writing... I do need to make a point of heading out to a couple of places I haven't seen yet that I know I want to...but I also have to make a point of making some progress on that dissertation monster that keeps breathing down my neck.

Oh... but why the post title?  Well... today's activities were all so partner focused.  It was really neat to hear the continuity in lessons between stage combat and acting class.  The philosophies are so compatible.  I feel like, in the US, a lot of the time our training is so haphazard.  Whatever disparate things these people in this department like are what we'll talk about.  But here, there is such deliberate heritage.  Whether you are telling a painful story from your partner's childhood, or chasing your partner's hands around the room with your knees, the relationship between the partner is paramount.  It's why an audience leans forward in their seats to see what will happen next.  I really loved that little motif for the day.