Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day 90 – What Happened?

Well, I suppose it is only fitting that my Russian experience would end with one more little hiccup. When we were planning the trip and it became clear that we would be allowed to stay in the county for only 90 days, it struck me that this would be the simplest and best title for my journey. And so ninety days ago I began to recount the comings and goings of this crazy life. What I failed to realize was that because I started writing when we arrived in Moscow I forgot to account for that day lost in travel. It is a tiny insignificant thing, one little day off in this great big series of life changing moments but I feel like if I don’t mention it then the journey will not be complete. My mother wanted me to go back and renumber all the entries, adding the details of my departure and while that sounded like an interesting use of my time, it wouldn’t be true to the messy life of Moscow. I am kind of glad it hasn’t been wrapped up neatly. It wouldn’t fit with the contradicting nature of this place I have grown to love so much. Beyond that it has given me one more opportunity to think about where I was before, where I have been in the last few months and where I am off to now. I did try to remember the day I left. My mom, dad and stepparents circled around me in my mother’s living room. I remember that I could feel their nervousness but I was too drained to be scared. I had no idea what I was in for, what crazy adventures awaited me. All I could think about was moving forward, getting to the airport, getting in line, getting on with my life. Then I did, get on with my life, I mean and over the next few months as I changed and grew, struggled and succeeded, I would think periodically through each day, “What will I feel about all this when it is over?” Now it finally is and I never could have imagined that I would feel this way, so empowered, so overwhelmed with gratitude, beyond overcome with love. I have been looking for my adjective, the one word that wraps it all up nicely (I even asked for a thesaurus for Christmas to help me in my plight) but I guess it is not that easy. The best things in life rarely are. I am so thankful, so changed, so dumbfounded by the power of this experience. I have no idea what’s next and truthfully I am terrified. But I am hopeful. I am ready. I am even prepared. I have lived through heartbreak and upheaval but more so I lived Moscow and I now I know I can live through anything.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 15 – Day 89

Last night after our evaluations, which was alone enough to leave me emotionally spent, we had our farewell reception and began the marathon of goodbyes. To be honest I didn’t think I would be that distraught but I found myself tearing up with every toast. It might have been one of the saddest parties I have ever been to, more like a wake than a celebration. There was joy though, and thankfulness as we took our last opportunities to say goodbye to all the people who helped us grow so much. We hung around until it became too unbearable and then took one last stroll down Tverskiya back to the dorms so that the seven of us from NIU could finish up packing and prepare for our flight. Katiya, the angel who I will miss so very much, came over and made us a huge feast before our departure. The other students took turns wading into our rooms to share a few final moments of goodbye. Stephanie finally locked me and Jenna in a room so that she could make the toast to us that I had been dreading. I became closer to those two girls than anyone else on this trip and to a certain extent I feel an overwhelming sense of motherly protection over them. I worry about them as if they were my own blood and I hope so much that they make it back and find their way through this big crazy world. There were so many other people who made it difficult to say goodbye and honestly I was surprised. I went into this trip with the idea that I was coming for me and chances would be that I would never see any of these people again. It is only at the end that I could see how clearly they have all affected me, how much they have meant to my life. This trip would not have been the same without them and I hope for them all nothing but the best. At one a.m. the bus was supposed to arrive to take us all to the airport and we made are way to the stairwell, thankful to put the marathon of tears to rest for a few hours until we would have to separate in London but we had one more surprise in store. The bus was no were to be found and after an hour of waiting we realized that there was a good chance we might not make out flight. Eventually it was decided that we were all going to have to break up and hail those oh-so-shady taxis that make every commute an action adventure scene in a mad dash to the airport. We scrambled to load our bags into the row of cars that started to form outside our dorm, and Colleen practically drenched in sweat from frazzled nerves screamed to the driver that if he did not get me and Bob there safe he would have to answer to Oleg Tabakov (He is the head of Moscow Art and one of the most important men in Russia - and as I learned later in the evening, the only name you need if you want to bend international law.) It was really the only way that it could have ended, with us making hurried goodbyes to the last remaining friends and then scrambling to the airport in a fashion reminiscent of Home Alone alone. Once inside, Marianna again invoked the name of Tabakov, flashing a security official a piece of MXAT letterhead and was immediately ushered past security so that she could lead us to the metal detectors. We waved goodbye to her from the gate, as she cried like a good Russian mama and then like that we were off - to London and then to saying our goodbyes to one another half-asleep, surrounded by rushing travelers. It felt like it ended as quickly as it had begun, in a crazy whirlwind of delirium. My life has changed so much because of this experience and I will never be the same. Thank you so much to Russia. Thank you so much to MXAT. Thank you so much to all of the amazing people who made this possible. I will carry this time in my heart forever. I will always remember my Russian Soul.

Friday, December 14, 2007

December 14 – Day 88

I wasn’t nervous until everyone else started freaking out. Even then I wasn’t sure if the nausea I was feeling was a result of anxious anticipation or the last remaining pangs of my excessive champagne celebration induced hangover. I paced outside the ominous leather filled hallway, looking at photos of the legends of the Moscow Art Theatre waiting for my evaluation. When the door swung open and Alex came out I felt like I did in the sixth grade being sent to see our vicious principal Sister Jackie, expecting a beating. When I went in I was relieved to see the jovial faces of Serge and Igor, and the lovely Natasha. At the other end of the long oval table was Smelianski, presumably trying to create the effect of the might Wizard of Oz. After I sat down it all went by so fast it was hard to absorb everything they were saying. I wasn’t expecting them to lavish me with complements or rip me apart so what they did say was equally surprising and gratifying. I think for many people, at least I know for me, I have spent so much of my life hoping to be a certain kind of person and hoping to be viewed in that light by others. I have wanted to feel put together. I have wanted to feel strong. So when they told me that everything was great, that I am a very talented actress and more importantly am a stable actress who is responsive, in tune and open, I was so touched. They told me that they have loved working with me, that while some people are talented but impossible to work with, I make it a joy to be around. They told me that they chose my work for the end of the show because the last scene that has to be the calling card for the piece and they knew that I would bring the work. In fact, they put said that including my Etude in the piece was a testament to what I can do. They even joked about how impressed they were when I managed to work for weeks with no voice and found ways around it. I have a clear concept of my charm, as an actress and a human being, they said which made me laugh a relieved delighted sigh. I get me now and these things that they were saying meant so much more than if I had gone in there to have them smother me with grandiose statements about being the next big thing. Stanislovski always said that the best actors, the best people, were ones who approached their craft from a stable place. My life can be passionate and solid. I don’t feel like a mess anymore. Natasha then looked me and said, ‘You need more courage. Keep doing these things that challenge you because it is all there, you just have to go for it.’ And if they hadn’t already said enough to keep me red for days, Smeliansky looked up and said in what I thought was going to be an admission of his ignorance to my existence, “Well, you know it is difficult with such a large group… but you are the most beautiful woman there.” (I, of course, went into instant self deprecation mode and just assumed that he said the same thing to all the girls!) They went on at length about my beauty and my charm, and even more so my height and that I must use this all to my advantage because I am built for this work. It was all so very strange and more than I had expected. It was as if they tapped into my deepest fears and insecurities the day I went through customs and decided that they, Russia, as a country and people were going to push and prod me until it was certain that I would leave here without all this baggage. There is a part of me that resisted writing any of this down. It is that insecure part that doesn’t want to feel a braggart but it is part of the story. It is the part of my truth here and while I didn’t leave the room a mess like some many people swaddled in loving praise I felt warm, and a bit strange and saddened that it signaled the end.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December 13 – Day 87

Well, it is over. Our final shows were today and soon this will all be a blurry memory. I have had all these fantasies about how this moment would feel, the final bow, holding hands with my classmates under the dim blue light, and while my fantasies are always vivid they are rarely accurate. Such was the case as I stood there at curtain call, stunned, trying to stuff back the tears, not of joy or nostalgia but disappointment. I had been hoping to round out my time here with my best performance yet and I guess I took for granted that it would be difficult. I got out there and the opening moment that usually kills was met with the sound of crickets. From that point on I felt like I was struggling, a feeling that has become unfamiliar as of late. The fan I use throughout the entire scene didn’t get set onstage and for the first few moments of the scene I felt like I had lost a limb. There were sections that clicked but I didn’t feel the ease I usually maintain. Despite the fact that my scene partner, who might be one of the best and is definitely the most giving actor with whom I have ever worked, knocked it out of the ball park, I felt like it was the worst performance I had ever given. People kept coming up to congratulate me but I just couldn’t deal. I was so upset and I hated myself for crying. I felt ridiculous. Jenna tried to comfort me by telling me that in the end it really didn’t matter and rationally I knew this to be true but I couldn’t stop from feeling horrible. I hate that irrational feeling so much now, when I can understand in my mind that I shouldn’t be upset but my heart won’t give in. I asked Jenna why that was - was I just missing some internal component that makes the feelings stop when the mental realization kicks in but she reassured me that things just take time. Luckily, I feel like Russia has given me the ability to speed up that process and things that wound no longer wound as deeply or for as long. It is perspective I guess. So I decided to go home and look for some. All of our final performances were video taped, except ironically enough for my final scene because the camera died the moment I got onstage. Fortunately, someone had recorded the scene on my camera and while the quality wasn’t as great, at least I would be able to assess the damage. I locked myself in my room and put on my headphones to watch with utter breathlessness the work I had created but halfway through the piece I just had to stop. I was laughing too hard, at the scene because it was actually funny and at myself for being such an idiot. Lexi had told me during my fit of disillusionment that if that was the worst I had ever done then that was pretty amazing because it was so great. I, of course, figured she was just saying what you have to say when someone bombs but as I watched it I had to admit she was right. There was some really great stuff in there. Yes, there were moments that didn’t work as well as they could have but it was a really good scene. And then came the epiphany of all epiphanies. What happens when you realize that your own insecurities are ridiculous, when you have to admit that you actually have talent and can no longer hide behind fear. I called Jenna into my room and stared at her with a dazed sort of enlightenment. ‘I am a moron,’ I said. I came to Russia hoping to find myself and I feel like I found so much more. I can’t beat myself up any longer and hide behind my insecurities. Oh don’t get me wrong, I am sure I probably will, at least to an extent, but I don’t have anymore lies to tell myself. I came here feeling, ugly and unstable, irrational and untalented. I felt like I was weak and broken and I hated who I had become. Three months in Russia has toughened me up. It has shown me that I have beauty, no matter what someone tries to make me feel. I feel more solid, like I am finally in control of all this passion and emotional content that drives me rather than being at its mercy. And now, I have to admit, even when I when I feel like I am at my worst, I am good. I have talent. After years of living in Los Angeles, feeling like I had no right to claim the title, I can say that I am an actor – I am an artist, with all the responsibility and conviction that implies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12 – Day 86

Russia has made me strong and more adaptable than I ever thought I would be. We had our last movement class today. It was a final of sorts but more so it was an opportunity for us all to show off in front of our friends. We jumped and flipped and stretched and did things I never dreamed were possible months ago. I hope I can maintain this physical strength but really I just I hope I can continue to develop the courage that Natasha has taught me. For three moths she taunted us with her mantra that pain is pleasure and I think somewhere along the way I may have crossed over to her side. Saying ‘I can’t’ seems so much more ludicrous now. Maybe you can’t now but you never know what will happen if you try. I am proud of myself and so thankful for this opportunity. I joke that I am a badass but really I think I just might be. All I know for sure is that it is a hell of a lot more fun to try and fail a few times than doing nothing and being scared.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11 – Day 85

“Wow. That… didn’t suck!” Our final performances started today. We began with the singing concert and it was really exciting to see so many people in attendance, all the other faculty, the other group of American students and of course, our Russian friends. It was a packed house with dozens of people standing in the isles. I have been a nervous wreck thinking about this show and that tension was not helped by the weeks of American Idol style eliminations we have been having. In the end, I decided the only way to get through this thing was to take all that nervous tension and make a character out of it. I stood up there as a silly young girl and did my best to confess my secret dream to the audience. I don’t think I realized before what a beautiful song it is. It was so fun. It sounded the best it ever had and the audience loved it. It is embarrassing to admit how elated I felt afterward. This experience is all about proving, over and over again to yourself that despite your fears anything is possible. I am sad to see this day end, to see all the work of my ridiculously talented classmates draw to a close and to know that this soon it will all be over and this will be just a memory, a beautifully distant dream.

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10 – Day 84

I fight with an image in my head of myself as an awkward chubby little girl who wanted to be graceful and pretty like all the gymnasts and figure skaters she would watch on TV. Every time I put on a leotard and ballet slippers I see that girl. Before I came here I didn’t think much about what this class would mean for me. I just assumed I would be terrible and would secretly hate it, while people at home would crack jokes about me trying to be delicate. What this experience has given me I never could have imagined. It has given me strength, courage and determination. It has taught me never to lose my sense of humor and that I am truly at my best when I stop thinking so much and just enjoy the process. Today was our last ballet class before the final performance and to my surprise I became emotional at the end. Larissa Borisovna Dmitrieva is just magnificent. Even at eighty I can still imagine her flying through the air on the Bolshoi stage. She is so intimidating and yet so loving. She is the epitome of the grace and elegance I have always longed to possess and even when we struggled, even when it was clear that we were not dancers (well, that I was not a dancer), she never treated us like anything less than primas. I might never have the opportunity to dance like that again and in the end I loved it so much. I could look in the mirror at the image of myself in a scoop neck leotard and see nothing of that little girl. In fact for the first time in so very long, I looked at my reflection and was proud of what I saw. She taught me how to feel beautiful and even at times made me feel like I could fly.