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.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

December 9 – Day 83

There is so little time left here. From this point on every experience will be the last – the last free day, the last class, the last performance. Last night I spent an hour pouring over a map of the city trying to decide what was the most unmissable thing left to see. All I really wanted to do was rest but instead I planned a full day of sightseeing with a few museums, St.Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin on my list. I was resigned to go alone but pleasantly pleased when Jenna decided to join me so early this morning. It was grey and snowy but the air actually felt clean and I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Chances are I will never again return to this place and even if I do by then it might be a very different country. I want to remember this place just as it is, with all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, and all the confusion that makes it special. Nothing is predictable here so it was no surprise when our plans got derailed. We ended up getting turned around and went to the wrong museum and then wandered aimlessly until we ended up at St. Basil’s hours before we were supposed to meet Eric. We passed the time by strolling through GUM, sipping lattes and trying on $1000 boots. It was so relaxed and enjoyable – happy accidents, they call them, when life works out just as it should despite your best laid plans. We left the mall just after the sun had set behind clouds and the image of Red Square was spectacular, all lit up with holiday lights and a sea of colorfully-clad Muscovites ice skating through the temporary rink. Eric met us in front of St. Basil’s just as my fingers started to go completely numb and once inside we realized there would be no respite from the cold. The architectural marvel was designed with an intricate ventilation system so that it maintains a constant temperature of four degrees Celsius. It was a chilling sight to stand in the cavernous palace and see the view of Moscow from a tiny tower window. The frescos were so magnificent I could see how it would be easy to believe the legend of Ivan the Terrible blinding the architects so that they could never again create something so beautiful. By the end of the tour the cold had worn me ragged and I needed a rest and a warm drink before meeting the rest of the NIU boys for our final group dinner. Over the last few months, every important event that has happened to our group has somehow involved Il Patio and it seemed only fitting that we make one more appearance to toast our goodbye. I think Jenna was hoping for a more sentimental evening but with five twenty year old guys that is difficult to accomplish. Instead we just played silly list making games (who would you rather {fill in the blank} and other inappropriate topics of conversation) and Jenna and I shared sideways glances, reminding each other how lost we would be without another female to keep us sane. In the end the evening was far from maudlin but it was the only way I think it could be. There is time left for sadness and weepy goodbyes. For now I think it is best to think less about the end and try to enjoy what time we have left.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

December 8 – Day 82

I can distinctly remember every theatrical experience I have ever had that has made me weep. It is a difficult task and while there were days when I would cry at even the slightly sappiest TV commercial, I have since hardened, particularly when it comes to theatre and it requires much more to bring me to tears. I will never be able to communicate in words the eerie transcendence I feel here. This place is so strange and so powerful, and in the madness I feel like I have some sort of direct portal to a higher being. My questions and thoughts once vocalized seem to be responded to by the universe in direct rebuttal. Not twenty-four hours ago I stammered out my realization that what I miss most in all this incredible theatre is the experience of the small space, the black box, theatre in the round or thrust stage. There is a different energy that is produced when you are in intimate setting rather than a massive auditorium. For years I resented not having more opportunities to play in a large space. Now I know it is not in my heart. I had barely wrapped my brain around the idea when I was informed that I had won the evening’s ticket lottery and was getting to see world famous director Kama Ginkas’ contemporary piece K.I. From Crime, which is based on a minor character from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It was in a theatre I have visited multiple times but when I arrive I was told it was to be in the venue’s small space. This space was actually an upper level hallway where the 50 or so audience members were perched on random stools or benches before being ushered into a solid white room barely large enough to fit us all that was lit by horrific florescent bulbs and the street light pouring in through the windows. Throughout both areas the character of K.I. short for Katerina Ivanovna and her children ran back and forth creating what could only be described as a voyeuristic journey into one family’s personal hell. It was disturbing and animalistic, real without pretension or bullshit. The lead actress who slowly lost her mind throughout the course of the two hour emotional impalement used audience members as characters in her nightmare and chose me to serve as a role of someone I never fully understood (I believe she saw me as her German landlady from the rage she had against me.) She screamed at me in Russian, forcing me to move seats over and over again, then begged and pleaded with me, weeping harder and harder when it became clear to all involved that I had no idea what she was saying. Finally she began to shout, “You don’t understand anything!” and pushed the small boy who played her son towards me. He stood six inches from my face unblinking until I thought I might collapse. He was a small child acting a brutally painful role, being thrown about on stage and performing monologues that caused me to feel a tiny sense of relief in my ignorance of the language but all I could see when I looked at him was the face of my cousin Benjamin when he was six or seven, so sweet and innocent, and I just wanted to cry. The play ended with one the powerful images I have ever seen on stage. A white latter is lowered from the ceiling by a hangman’s rope and K.I. scramble up its rungs as it swings back and forth and is flailed from one end of the room to the next. It is ultimately pulled back up to the ceiling where in the darkness, she weeps and pounds her fists again spackle crying, “Let me in! Let me in!” I felt a surge of emotion stronger than at any of the other shows I have seen here and even though everyone around me was a mess, I could not cry. The actress and the children came out to take their twenty minute curtain call and were showered with flowers. In all that commotion she stopped the bow and presented me with her flowers. I started to bawl. I have never seen anything like that before. For two hours she gave of her soul more generously than any of the best performers I have ever seen and at the end when she could have basked in her applause she continued to give. She gave to me.

Friday, December 7, 2007

December 7 – Day 81

I spent the last four days trying everything I could to snap out of my angry funk without much success but today without any explanation I woke up and it was gone. Just like that the cloud had lifted and I once again felt that sense of release I relish. My theory is that the sudden shift stemmed from looking at the photos and video of my trip home to St. Louis before I left for Moscow. I watched the video of me and my mother at a Cardinals game a few days after I got to town. Lots of alcohol had been involved in the production and between serenading the other fans with Four Season hits and ranting about my boys’ poor performance I could see how much things have changed. I was a bit of a wreck before I left for Russia, miserable with the state of my life and my relationships and even on my most difficult day I am far better off than the girl in those home movies. I woke up feeling okay about letting go and seeing the world with clear vision again. It felt okay to happy and to laugh. We had a goodbye party tonight at Colleen’s flat – thirty five people crammed into a apartment setting aside all petty differences and frustrations to celebrate the beginning of the end. It has all gone by so fast. It has been wonderful and scary. Things are as they should be and now it is time to go home.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

December 6 – Day 80

I feel so much like I did in the days right after St. Petersburg when my emotions were so fragile and I spent far too long swimming in my own mind. The situation is so much different now but I still feel these burst of anger at this place and these people and I just want to go home. I feel ugly, abrasive and on edge. I knew this week would be difficult and I was prepared for the stress but I can’t shake the awful thoughts and I just want to escape. I don’t want to spend my last days here wrapped up in a cloak of negativity, dwelling on the aspects of life here that disturb me so much but despite my best attempts I can not find the quiet in my mind. I feel people swarming around me, jostling against me as I try to muddle through, buzzing about with toxic thoughts. I just want a moment to regroup from the weeks events but I haven’t the time. This morning I made a break for the stairwell hoping to meander toward school alone but Stephanie nabbed me at the door and while she didn’t want to speak, she insisted on marching next to me no matter how fact I raced. She had no idea I needed space and given how supportive she has been I had to ask. Actors can be needy beings in a constant search for physical contact as a way to reassure themselves of their validity in this world. We kiss and hug and drape all over one another in a manner most individuals might find off-putting and while it is the norm here, all I want at this moment is to be left alone. I feel so smothered. It is too much – too false. I am not in a place to be trotting down the boulevard arm and arm with my classmates like Lavern and Shirley. I am too tightly wound. I know it will pass but I just need a little time to breathe and sort out all the images plaguing my mind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

December 5 – Day 79

Relationships between women are highly complex, invaluable entities. When I look back at the times I have loved and lost, the pain pales in compassion with the break-ups I have had with my female friends - because in the end, no matter how much we might protest, we women need each other. Men are great but they will never fully understand what makes us tick; why we cry at inappropriate times, why we go to bathrooms in groups and why we need each other so damn much. We are a sisterhood, bloodlines or not and here in this place, those bonds are even stronger. We cling together knowing full well that these women are the only people on the planet who will come close to understanding our experience in this country. It makes our relationships imperative and it makes them unpredictable. One minute we could be annoyed about something stupid and the next we are curled up on someone’s bed sharing our tears. It is a heightened reality difficult to explain and unlike anything possible in the comforts of home. There is no time to dwell on petty indigestions. This morning I was exasperated with Stephanie for bitching at me throughout our fencing class but within an hour it was forgotten and we were busy planning our much anticipated girls night. Jenna, Steph and I got dressed up and went to Help! for cocktails. We toasted each other, reminisced about our time here and laughed about topics of conversation only girlfriends can understand. More and more I am becoming a private person. I have learned the hard way about sharing too much of myself too quickly and while I don’t want to become closed off, I see the value in saving your whole self for the relationships that really matter. I spent the last three months with two of the youngest girlfriends I have ever had. Sometimes I felt like their mother, sometimes their guide, and very often their pupil but most of the time I just felt like a sister, an unfamiliar relationship that has come to mean so much

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

December 4 – Day 78

I woke up looking for hope, for a way to shake the remnants of yesterday’s ugliness. My morning class was cancelled so I took my time getting ready and preparing for the day but the dreary weather and darkened sky which looked closer to late evening than early afternoon made it excruciatingly difficult to leave. I decided to use the old ‘when you feel your worst, look your best’ method of self-encouragement and it was enough to propel me out the door with Stephanie under the guise that we would stop at all the massive tacky New Year’s trees (they don’t do Christmas trees here) on the way to school to take pictures but as we walked the boy Stephanie brought along began to complain with every step and insisted we do our outing at a different time. Watching girls cave to the pressure of guys they are interested in is always enough to make me squeamish but today in particular, when I was just doing my best to keep it together, it was almost to much to bare. Just then, like some universal signal that I should have stayed in bed, a truck jumped the curb and ran through a giant mud pool on the street and soaked me from head to toe. I have seen images like this on television and had I not spent an hour and a half getting ready under duress it may have even been funny but in that moment I just could not see the humor. It turned out to be one of those rough days, when the world repeatedly goes awry to the point of being laughable. The only silver lining was that after waiting two hours for the delayed curtain at an avant-garde German theatrical ‘happening’ which was basically the live version of CSPAN and then sneaking out after fifteen excruciating minutes, Betsy and I stumbled upon the most amazing Czechoslovakian beer house. We relaxed for the first time all day, eating roasted almonds and drinking pints of pilsner while sharing some much needed girl talk. I just need that time to feel normal, to stop thinking and trying so hard to be okay. It was a brief respite from the long day but it was just enough to get me through.

Monday, December 3, 2007

December 3 – Day 77

The snow had melted and froze again over night. Russians do not believe in salting their streets as it poses a threat to their footwear, something that signifies more to them than apparel. Shoes are a definitive status symbol and a regular obsession. Moscovites march along the ice covered cobblestone in four inch stilettos or Italian leather without the slightest consideration of the impracticality or safety issues. I was less inclined to traverse the virtual ice rink and for that reason ducked into a metro station I rarely frequent halfway along my walk to school. It was fairly empty for early the morning rush hour and had I not been futzing with my I-pod I probably never would noticed the minor commotion. I was glancing down as I went through the turn style and had paused to adjust the volume when I caught her eye. She was an elderly babushka, most likely a metro employee who carried the lines of someone who had seen too much. She was answering the questions of a lax looking security official but stopped mid-sentence when she seized my glance. Her eyes held me there staring into her own and a feeling deep inside me told me I should turn away as fast as possible and ignore the situation. But I didn’t. Instead my eyes moved to the ground and there I saw an image I would give anything to erase. It was the body of a man, splayed cavalierly in the metro corridor. In instant I memorized the way it looked; how he was positioned, what he was wearing, the black garbage bag that covered his face and upper torso, and the vulgar apathy of all the passersby. It felt like I was the only person who seemed to find this all horrific and unreal. It took me the entire train ride to realize what I had seen. It was a human being cast aside like garbage and no one seemed to notice. I went to my ballet class and tried to dance but I could not get the image out of my head. Stupid, inconsequential nonsense kept happening throughout the day and I found myself becoming more and more upset until I thought I might be violently ill. Something about the image plagued me beyond the surface trauma. I am not sure what finally made me snap but I started sobbing in a way I haven’t in months. I couldn’t pull myself together and I could not pinpoint why I was so terribly upset. The idea of a homeless person dying in the metro is awful but not unexpected. I thought it was the reaction, or lack there of, from the employees and officials and average citizens but even that didn’t seem to explain the wave of nausea I felt every time I imagined the man’s body – his brown boots and green trousers and the yellow jacket with sleeves that came just below his wrists. And then there was the black trash bag pulled over his head. I thought at first that it was some sort of attempt at digression but the idea just didn’t fit. I dunked my head in the sink, hoping it would calm the swelling in my face and force my tear ducts to close. Instead I started to wale harder. I just wanted to calm down, to get a grip but as Lexi sat next to me stroking my hair, I knew that wouldn’t happen. Someone must have notified the administrators that there was a situation because Colleen, my American program coordinator and Marianna, our Russian confidant came to find me. I squeaked out between gasps that I had seen a dead man and they told me that they knew. In what was I believe was their best attempts to comfort me, they told me that this is a regular occurrence and while such ‘criminal’ activities are by no means acceptable to the Russian people they are something that the people have accepted as a way of life. I was not sure what hearing. They were saying these things about bodies being dropped off in the metro or found in the river covered in garbage bags and it was just too much to process. Marianna tried to hug me and told me to just pretend I had never seen anything. ‘The living are for the living and the dead are for the dead,’ she said. In my mind I thought with disdain, ‘And this is how you ended up with Stalin!’ They asked me if I could pull myself together so I could participate in the Michael Chekhov workshop and I tried my best just that but as I practiced activities on psychological gesture all I could think of was the dead mans shoes. Could what I have seen really been the result of mob activity, this idea that we frequently talk about and do our best to ignore? I was lost in this thought when Jon-Michael got up to perform his piece and dropped to his knees before me. It was at that moment that it all made sense. I looked at the bottom of his boots, treads worn raw from the Russian winter and realized they were the same shoes that the dead man was wearing. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the bottom of his shoes and then I knew why. They were new, they were clean, they were not the shoes of a homeless man. It was everything I wanted to pretend didn’t exist in my beautiful fantasy about saying goodbye without anger or resentment. I will never forget that image. I just hope that I am not the only one.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

December 2 – Day 76

The warm winter sun poured through the charter bus windows, bouncing off the clouds and snow, creating a radiant glow that caused my eyes to tear. We have not had a break in weeks and as much as I longed for a leisurely Sunday morning spent lounging in bed, I was thrilled at the idea of getting out of the city for a day to visit the Russian countryside. MXAT arranged for our group to visit Chekhov’s Estate in a province several hours outside of Moscow. We knew it would be cold and that the bitter temperature inside the city was bound to drop even further as we approached the barren birch-lined fields but I had no idea what a welcome relief the chill would be after days spent in the polluted grey of the metropolis winter. I could barely hear the mummers of complaining students as I raced through the snow banks feeling the spray of untouched white covering my face. The quiet was ominous yet it felt difficult to believe that it was possible to feel anything other than blissful release in the sparkling tundra. As we approached the tiny chapel and cemetery that served as a spiritual resting place for generations of Chekovians, I got the feeling I was seeing something I had only before conceived in my mind. It all looked so familiar. I could see him, walking through the fields conjuring Treplev and Nina, writing about love and art in a way that had never before been expressed. I stayed quiet and let the cold wash over me until it began to hurt. It was enough. It made the trip feel complete and as I thawed out napping in the bus to the tune of Christmas carols in the glimmer of the setting sun I felt settled and ready to go home.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

December 1 – Day 75

I heard a great line tonight. Stephanie was crying on my bed after a few too many drinks about the stressful run-through we had had this afternoon. Things hadn’t gone the way she wanted and I was trying my best to aid her through her intoxicated artistic crisis. She moaned through tears and a little snot, that the problem was her Emo and her Ego. The ego part is clear. We are bull-headed artists who have lots of stubborn insecurity issues to deal with but it was the Emo part that intrigued me. We are the Emo generation, waxing and wailing about our emotional sufferings and if there was any place in the world that epitomized the manifestations of Emo it would be Russia, a people that pride themselves on their pain. This conversation stopped me cold in part because of the other crazy conversations I had had throughout the day. There are moments when I look my reflection in other people’s eyes and I look so clear and yet so different from the person I was before that it is hard to believe that it is real. First, I was talking to Galina, my cinematography teacher about distribution rights and international access of Russian films and I felt myself get all flush with excitement. I knew I must sound utterly ridiculous to the rest of my classmates who loathe the business of the industry but I didn’t care. I love this stuff, unapologetically, and I don’t think it makes me any less of an artist. Everyone always wants you choose one path or the other but why can’t you have both. The world seems so much larger when the concept of impossibility removed from the equation. Then, after that rather tense run-through, I set out on my date with Sammie. Sammie is one of the few people on this trip that I hadn’t gotten to know that well but always really liked and tonight I finally pin-pointed why. I asked her out to Gogol CafĂ© for margaritas and talked about our experiences here versus back at home and I realized that she is a living, breathing Beatles song. Till the day I die, when I think of Sammie Granburg, I will think of Let It Be. She is that person, the one who has found the way to exist in this crazy theatre world without all the drama. She is never a bitch. She is never rude. And she is never weak. She gets that certain things are with invoking your passions and certain things aren’t, and never before in my life has such a way of existence seemed so appealing. I somewhat begrudgingly look back conversations I had over the last year and think, damn they were right! Why couldn’t I see? And now I do. So tonight when Steph sat there crying about not getting her way, I could see myself, my former self, in her arguments and shared some advice a guy once gave me about thinking it through and figuring out if it really, really matters. Not every issue has to be a battle. Some things just aren’t worth the drama. It is actually quite possible to set aside all the emotion and ego and just let it be.

Friday, November 30, 2007

November 30 – Day 74

The most random things remind me of home. Tonight I went to see a decent play with the spectacular advantage of being in English. It was delightfully amusing for the simple fact that it was the first time I have seen anything in months that I could understand completely. When I left there were a couple of guys scoffing about how it was just terrible. Okay, it wasn’t Chekhov or Shakespeare but it was fun and that is a quality that is highly undervalued these days. I walked with them towards home until we reached an unfamiliar fork in the road. They were determined to head towards the route we take every single day because it was probably faster or safer but I couldn’t bring myself to go. It all reminded me of my Dad, of how much I miss him, how he probably would have loved that silly play and how much he would hate to take the same old way home. I have spent much time looking for my path, for my higher purpose in life and art and for a second I remembered how fortunate I am to have been raised by people who taught me pause along the way and appreciate the simple things in life. I feel like I got a secret advantage in this world, a level of adaptability that I never would have had if I didn’t have my loving family to remind me not to take it all so seriously. There is time for levity, for uncomplicated joy, at least I think what my dad was trying to tell me in all those silly conversations we shared driving through the Missouri bottoms. So I bailed on the common way and set off on an adventure. It was cold and snowy and I probably would have gotten home a lot quicker if I had taken the safe route but it was so fun and worth it to see the sparkle of Pushkin Square under the glow of tacky twinkling Christmas lights.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

November 29 – Day 73

Today was a multiple cups of coffee day. I was exhausted all morning and was even more uncoordinated than usual in ballet, but it was so worth it. Last night I witnessed the theatrical marathon that was world famous Lithuanian director, Eimuntas Nekrosius’ four and a half hour adaptation of Goethe’s Faust. It was… sick. - I am running out of adjectives! Damn it, they just do not have theatre like this in the States! - How do you explain something that churns your insides and makes you gasp for air, something that changes the rhythm of your heartbeat and makes you skip through the snow all the way home, smiling to yourself until the corners of your mouth feel as though they might pull in two? It was that moment – like falling in love for the first time, when every time you think of that person the floorboards of your insides fall out, when you giggle spontaneously to yourself and have the uncontrollable urge to jump up and down on your bed squealing with delight. It was that moment, only it wasn’t about a lover. It was a play and it killed me a little. Seriously, how did I get here? How did I get this opportunity? What did I do right and can I thank someone, somewhere a million times over for showing me what this life could be like? The play was difficult. It was epic and it demanded the utmost attention. It was highly stylized and yet completely destructured. It challenged conventional images and conventional storytelling but was still precise and accessible. If it is not obvious already, this trip has been one giant metaphor for me and every time I think I get it, every time I think the world is clear, I see something else and develop a sea of new questions. This art is hard. This life is hard. This thing called love is hard. But if love were easy people would have gotten bored with it a long time ago and we would never know what it means soar over the rest of the world carried by that first time high.

Photos From November in Moscow

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28 – Day 72

I can’t believe there are only two and a half weeks left here. Everything is moving much too fast. I want to put the world on pause and go for a nice long walk in the Dostoyevskian snow. When I was in St. Petersburg I bought a photo from a street artist that seemed to capture my idea of the Russian soul. It is the view of a boulevard like those in Moscow covered by the grey of Russia winter. In the foreground you can see the back of a young woman clad in a heavy down parka, traipsing across the street, the solitary figure in the barren landscape. It has a melancholy heartache that was apropos for my feelings at the time but now with the end so near I see that this trip has had a lot more brightness than grief. Katiya and I had a date the other night to catch up on the quality conversation we miss in our hectic schedule. We seem to be on parallel journeys of self-discovery and laughed about the absurdity that is traveling to a Soviet relic to find happiness. It turns out my Russian soul isn’t broken or suffering. It is resilient. It is strong. With so little time left I wonder what more will change and what I will remember when I go. In the end it will probably be the silliness like Russian mullets or babushka hit-women, or the thrill of learning the splits and how to travel Metro on my own. It will be the rush of watching Riken in Lear or the ridiculousness of being only Americans at the Mama Mia disco. My memories will be about growing up and letting go and in the end it will all have been about finding the beauty of the greyest wet winter day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 27 – Day 71

If I was to be completely honest with myself I would have to say that the ultimate reason I keep acting is that at the end of the day I am still a six year old kid who just wants to play pretend. When I was little I couldn’t think of anything more fun to do and as an adult I still find it hard to beat. The problem these days the opportunities to just play are a little harder to come by. But today, (insert sigh here!) oh today, I just got to play! We were working our scene for the class and I have to say it was the most fun I have ever had on stage – EVER EVER EVER. I have had different amazing moments in art – moments I would say were the best this or that but today for nearly an hour I stopped being twenty-five with responsibilities and decisions to make. I stopped thinking and working so damn hard. I was just a kid playing dress up with her buddy. Okay, so maybe I spent half that time making out with my pal on stage but hey, who’s to say the adult version of pretend doesn’t have some perks.

Monday, November 26, 2007

November 26 – Day 70

I have learned how to say No. I have also learned that not every situation which requires a No also requires drama or guilt or angst. It is in fact possible to say no, to take your personal needs into account first and foremost, and do it in a way that doesn’t make you a bitch or turn you into a sniveling little complainer. To be honest it feels good to say No. Dare I say, I feel proud of myself. My day was filled with no’s, some direct and some more of an assertion of my own needs and unwillingness to sacrifice those needs for the placation of others. I feel myself changing and growing. Tonight I asked the guys to respect my space and leave my room when they were beginning to make me uncomfortable. It wasn’t dramatic. I didn’t feel guilty. In fact I didn’t feel anything other than normalcy. To some this might not seem like much. To some saying no is a natural action. For me it has always caused pangs of anxiety, waves of nausea, and an endless inner dialogue in which I scold others for asking of me something inappropriate and then myself for not being stronger. In Moscow I find myself belting out ‘Het!’ at seemingly inappropriate times. It is my only option. It is my only defense and for the most part it has worked swimmingly. I think the idea of ‘Het!’ has permeated my psyche and has given me the perspective to shift the way I interact with the world. We all have basic needs, moral parameters and issues of respect, but having the resolve to defend those needs is something a bit more problematic. I made a choice today and while it felt like a monumental accomplishment to say no to someone I love very much in order to preserve my own newly found emotions/spiritual/physical levity, in reality it was just a simple choice. One decision. One option out of a limited number of options. Before I came to Moscow, when I was in St. Louis and it looked as though the trip might be delayed or cancelled I had an epiphany. I realized that in any situation there are a limited number of scenarios that could possibly result. Either we will go or we won’t. Either I will stay on my given path or I will choose leave. Either I will allow someone in and accept their love or I will tell them no. Either someone will love me back or they won’t. I have a tendency to make things far more complicated than they need to be and somehow looking at conflicts like a simple mathematic equation, while slightly ludicrous is still highly liberating. I think I understand now what someone once told me about thinking it through before processing all the relevant emotions. I still have those guttural reactions but now I feel less burdened somehow. Saying no isn’t the end of the world. It is just a choice. One of hundreds I will make in any given day. And for the first time it feels pretty ok.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

November 25 – Day 69 – Part 2

If Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day was the manifestation of everything exacerbating about the holiday season, then tonight was our moment to redeem ourselves and prove once again, the true meaning of the holiday season. Our schedule here is insane and if it wasn’t for the fact that there is no other option but to keep on going, I am not sure how I would do it. We plow through everyday barely stopping to take notice of our actions out of fear that we might not be ale to regain our momentum. It has been reiterated time and time again that Russia is a brutal place and if we are going to survive we must use any means necessary to keep up. It can make for an ugly existence at times and it was for that reason that this evening’s Thanksgiving potluck was approached by most with a heavy layer of dread. Too much planning, too many heated debated over irrelevant issues, too many Stalin-like commands which tend to turn otherwise enjoyable events into huge productions with lackluster results. Beyond that, after the Meyerhold, it didn’t seem like an appropriate time for celebrating. The party was supposed to start at 4 pm so it could end by six to give students enough time to rush to shows and rehearsal but at a quarter after five people were still scattered at museums, food had yet to be prepared and the dorm still displayed remnants of Saturday evening’s foyer into heathenism. We meandered around the hall way making haphazard preparations when, like the unpredictable Russian rainstorms, the dorm flooded with students and faculty supplied with their American-esque creations. It may have not been a traditionally authentic meal but it was definitely a family affair. Marianna, our resident Russian mama, stood amongst us in a fashion straight out of a Hollywood tear-jerker and made a toast to new friendships, new family and the opportunity to share this once and a lifetime experience together. We all cheered and hugged, and for a few minutes we forgot all our troubles, fears and life outside the warmth of the fifth floor hallway. I found Jenna in the crowd, who was hunched over her plate looking dismayed. When I asked her what was wrong she looked at me and sighed, “Just when I think I couldn’t possibly hate this place more, something like this happens.” I know it is cheesy but I don’t care – this place has made me believe in magic. It has made me remember beauty and the mind blowing power of simple human kindness.

November 25 – Day 69 – Part 1

Meyerhold was a contemporary of Stanislovsky. He was a father of Theatrical October, revolting against the classic theatre and as such he eventually became a threat to Stalin, a dispensable entity. He knew he was at risk every time he created art and so he spent his last days in a constant state of public self-flagellation hoping that Stalin would spare his life. In the end it was futile and at age sixty-five he was arrested by the KGB and tortured for five months before eventually being shot to death. His wife, Zenaida plead for his release in a letter to Stalin in the weeks after his arrest only to be stabbed fourteen times by KGB officers and left to die alone in her home. Today we visited that four room flat, which was converted into a museum by Meyerhold’s granddaughter in 1991. It was released to her only after the KGB employee who took it over two days after Zenaida’s murder finally died. She was the first person to attempt to renew his legacy after the decades in which the mere mention of his name was banned. Meyerhold was the creator of Biomechanics, was at one time considered the ‘ideal’ Soviet artist and was an innovator in every aspect of his field including theatre, cinema and design, but for me his work and his life represent something more personal. He was an intellectual, a heady actor who thought too much about everything. He was like Stanislovsky in that they were both just trying to find the key to stability in life and art, but because he struggled with the classic form he chose to invent his own. The museum was very overwhelming and like so many experiences here it forced me to tune out the extraneous nonsense of the world around me and focus on each individual moment. There was so much to absorb in such a tiny space but what I think struck me most was the potent words I heard throughout the day. In what used to be the living room we watched a film about his life in which they read his letters to the head of the KGB from prison describing his torture and the confessions he was forced to sign. When I heard him say that to know someone’s faults is to appreciate them more than their admirers and that it is impossible to live fighting all the time when all you want to do is work in peace, it meant more than the context of the translation. I cannot describe this experience without feeling like I am writing a history report and in reality it was something much more visceral. During Soviet times the government would produce propaganda films illustrating the ideal citizen – one who would not go to church on Sunday but to the Theatre. For the simple person was the closest was the thing they had to religion and for me this process, these experiences, this place, it has been the closest I have come to God.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

November 24 – Day 68

From time to time I find myself glancing up out of the corner of my eye with a half smirk, just checking in, remembering that there is someone up there after all, who is paying close attention to the goings on in my life and wants me to know that I am in fact on my way. Last night I got a glimpse of how different this trip could have been. I had stayed up much too late chatting online with my past and when I finally fell into bed it was nearly three in the morning. I lye there staring at the cubist shadow formations gliding along my ceiling, feeling oddly undismayed by the conversation when just as my lids got heavy, the phone in Jenna’s room started to ring. To say that Russian handy work is sub-par would be overly generous and as it stands, Jenna and I might as well not even have a wall separating our rooms since I can hear every consonant she makes even if she attempts to speak in a whisper. Last night, however, she had no intention of being quite because it was her long distance boyfriend on the other end of the line and the two were gearing up for a war of the roses, one I recognize with burning familiarity. I listened or tried my best not to listen, thinking that had things worked out differently I too might be suffering at this moment from unnecessary guilt and heartache but instead I feel a strange sense of contentment now thinking about the future and transitioning from this phase to the next. As I lye there, silently applauding familiar battle strategies, I tried to remember the last time I entered a period of my life without the bitter half of the bittersweet goodbye. I feel hopeful now, excited, and while I am in no rush to leave this place, I am greatly looking forward to going home. Funny that tonight when my obliterate girlfriends were giving me grief about abstaining from certain activities (ones which I dare not mention out of fear that tomorrow they might actually remember what they were doing) and for being (gasp) OLD, my first thought was an emphatic, “Yes! I am!” While I know I am not actually old, I feel blissful in the knowledge that that section of my life is over. It is thrilling and fresh. I feel like I really have been given a clean slate to make of it anything I want and this time around I am armed with a richer sense of self, a better sense humor and the unburdened freedom that comes with knowing that life is ever-changing and even the most difficult heartache will heal itself with time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

November 23 – Day 67

I find such joy in watching developing talent, in seeing someone who has struggled get it for the first time. There is a girl in my class who presents herself as an easy target. She is often tactless, inappropriate or crass but she very much wants to get this and she struggles with almost every exercise. Earlier this week I had a conversation with her about her process and the road blocks she felt she had reached. She had just been eviscerated by the other students’ in-class critique of her work and I could tell the constant negative feedback was starting to get to her. I could empathize with her plight. I remember during my undergrad facing similar note sessions and how demoralizing they could be. I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone. I didn’t want her to continue to feel singled out like a weak link in the ensemble. In situations like this it is always just a matter of getting out of your own way – and that is the one issue that as actors we all face. As we spoke she told me how she doesn’t care what people say because every time they knock her down she knows she just has to get up and try again but unfortunately it is a very “I’ll show them!” attitude and I know it well. The difference is that now after years on the defensive, I can see that that way of thinking is neither productive nor healthy. Somehow I let go of that armor and I am not sure where it happened – It just seems like it creates unnecessary walls and provokes work for the wrong reasons. While I believe this all to be true I knew that it was not the time or situation to share my epiphany so instead I just offered the idea that in every experience there must be an element of joy or self-discovery and even if something fails, it is the growth that you gain that makes it all worthwhile. So it was such a thrill to watch her today. It seemed like she was finally getting it and for the first time in months she wasn’t defensive. She was open and sincere and most importantly it looked like she was having fun. I loved watching it so much! There were many beautiful moments and once again I found myself reflecting on why I love this work. I believe I have gotten as much from watching others here as I have working myself. We act as a sort of mirror for one another here and they remind me so much of where I have been and even more so they challenge me to think about where I am going.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

November 22 – Day 66

Holidays tend to bring out the anxiety and drama of the simplest situations so much so that it wouldn’t seem normal to me to sail through the day without any eventful happenings, so spending my day without any recognition that it was special, let alone THANKSGIVING was strange and ultimately depressing. I actually made it through my entire morning and first class before I even realized what day it was and even then it barely warranted as a mention as there were too many ballet routines to learn, songs to sing and scenes to perform for the faculty. It wasn’t until near the end of my acting class, after I had finished performing my scene, when Jenna mentioned that it was almost 6 pm on Thanksgiving and we were still working that I began to realize the reality of the situation. In some ways today was the beginning of the end of a phase of my life. It is the first Thanksgiving I have spent away from my family and most likely it will be the first of many holidays to come that will be spent in untraditional situations. For that reason I jumped at the opportunity to forgo another night at the theatre in lieu of the closest thing we could think of to Thanksgiving dinner at home with the family – TGI Friday’s with the group from NIU. In many ways they have become my Russian family. Here we cling to any resemblance of home and today it felt important to be with them. Maybe that is why the course of the evening upset me so. Jenna, Steph and I stayed late at the studio to work and planned to meet the rest of the group at the restaurant but when we got there ten other people had joined the party and there was no room for us. Rather than trying to figure something out the extra girls told us to find somewhere else to go. It was the first time in Russia I have been really angry and it was only later that I deduced how much it had meant to me to be with those people on that day (with the hopes of a drama free evening). I grew increasingly unnerved as the three of us headed down Tverskaya looking for some place else quasi-American to go. Eventually, after several frantic phone calls from Henry, one of the few people legitimately upset we weren’t there, we went back to the restaurant and sat in a separate section with him, segregated from the rest of the party, doing our best to laugh off the situation. The strange thing is that in a weird way it was refreshing to feel upset about something like this. I have spent so much time here inside my own little world that I wondered if I would really feel tied to these people. I wondered what relationships would remain important, if any at all would last. In the end we were all together, our Russia clan, the only ones that really mattered, for a slightly dramatic, mildly unnerving, truly familial holiday evening.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November 21 – Day 65

When I left Los Angeles one of the thoughts that consumed me was that there would be no one to see me off – no one who really cared that I was going. In retrospect I see the ridiculousness of this thought process but even more so I see the irony. I have been thinking a lot about what it will be like to come home and the directions my life might take and the only clear conclusion I have drawn is that what ever path I take, I know for now I want to travel it alone. I was pondering this thought tonight traveling home alone on the metro. I love the anonymity of losing myself in the crowd, cloistered by my own demeanor. I have spent so much time thinking about where I have been and where I am going and at this point I am looking forward to a journey of solo self discovery. I see now how easy it was to lose myself in someone else, in their hopes and dreams and baggage rather than rifling through my own. Russia has given me so many gifts but one of the greatest is the realization that there is nothing I can’t do if I want it bad enough. This is so silly, but today, for the first time in my life I was able to do a backbend. I love my movement class so much and the validation it has given me as a human being and a woman. I was always so awkward and uncomfortable in my skin and to have someone say that there is no reason I can’t dive into a forward roll over a stack of chairs is beyond empowering. In that class it is one thing after another, first I am doing the splits (which today included going into the splits forward and then turning to the center and rotating backward without getting up – I am not ashamed to admit I cried a little as Natasha wrenched my body around, tearing the my thigh muscles from the bone) and then today it was to flip over backwards starting in a standing backbend. For some reason this has been the hardest thing for me. I have had such a mental block doing it and everyday would freak myself out until I inevitably fell on my head. But there was something about knowing that I could, if I tried hard enough, do this thing as silly as it might be, completely on my own. And when I finally did it, it just felt so good knowing it was all mine - this moment, this trip, this section of my life, it is all mine and I am not ready to give up that feeling of euphoria yet. I forgot how much I loved to live my life like this, and it is not to say that there aren’t many advantages to love or relationships or a settled existence but it is clear to me now I was in no way ready for that place. I mean, my god, I can run up walls and do one-handed cartwheels over table tops. If that isn’t a sign that this portion of my life is meant to be an adventure then I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November 20 – Day 64

I love Chekhov. I love Shakespeare. I love all these classic theatrical prophets but oh, I have been craving something new! One of the great aspects of this trip is the opportunity it has given me to really investigate my feelings about the art and discover what kind of work that really hits home. I think there is a discrepancy amongst actors that says if you want to be a true artist then you have to want to do the Greats. And no doubt, I know that we wouldn’t have any depth to our current ideas if it wasn’t for what came before, but my passion, what really gets me excited about the future, is the idea of contemporary theatre – it is the same feeling that propelled my interest in independent film. I want to work with new voices, whose independent thought is a reflection of the world we live in right now. It is not to say that the classics are no longer applicable – I mean this debate over new versus old forms is the very basis for Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, but to know within my own heart what work I want to be involved in is SOOOO liberating. There is something to be said for knowing, ‘Yes! This is it. This is what I am looking for.’ which makes the rest of the artistic process so much more enjoyable. Tonight I saw Martin Macdonah’s (that might be spelled wrong, these days I only know how to spell things in the Cyrillic alphabet) ‘Pillowman.’ It was disturbing and gruesome, and dealt with topics I would prefer to avoid thinking about like the abuse of children, torture and murder, but it was an interesting contrast to the classic works I have been seeing. I counted today and at this point I have seen over 25 plays and only a handful could be considered contemporary works – in fact I would go as far to say that this was the only ‘true’ contemporary piece that I have seen. There have been many contemporary adaptations of classics but at this point I really, really want to watch things written by people who are still alive. It might not seem like that big of a deal but I want to know that there is a future for contemporary American dramatic theatre, that it will continue to exist and hopefully have a resurgence outside of the commercial American musical. Today our acting professors share with us their thoughts about cultural impediments they find in international theatre, particularly in that of American theatre. Their insights were terribly disheartening. Without malice or pretension they equated our American dramatic theatre with the Russian musical - a comparison which was insulting as it is true. After twenty five plays in Russia I can say without a doubt that I have never seen anything even close to this caliber in the States. I would hope that Broadway might be closer but I am starting to realize the dominance of the commercial musical and how few new works are actually being created successfully in the US. Many of the award winning pieces which dominate the typical 20 year old theatre students’ repertoire are actually coming from Europe. London, for instance is a hotbed of contemporary theatre. I know I need to read more, and I know that great works do exist but I dread the idea of leaving this place and returning to America and a theatre community dominated by big budget musical extravaganzas that don’t foster the intimate personal experience that comes for seeing something truly relevant and truly of period from only ten feet away.

Monday, November 19, 2007

November 19 – Day 63

I am learning to appreciate silence. Maybe it began when I lost my voice. Maybe it is the result of being constantly surrounded by so many booming personalities but today I just wanted to crawl into my skin and swim around in my own thoughts without being forced to engage with others. I talk too damn much and sometimes it is good to just pipe down for a bit. Here it is easier to disappear. I turn up my Ipod to block out the sound and close my eyes and try to forget all the people surrounding me. It woks for a while and then the circumstances bring me back to reality, where my voice is required and it is required with weight. Every day we begin our acting class with these group Etudes and to say they have been a shit-show lately would be vulgar but the only fitting description. We all met last night to discuss the line up for this week and somehow I ended up ‘spearheading’ the discussion (this is the term we have to use because with 35 actors of varying sized egos, if you say the word director, I swear, it is pure pandemonium) and offered my ideas for the project. Shockingly it met no resistance and after the meeting one of my classmates paid me the highest compliment. He said that he always likes when I am in charge because I don’t say a lot and people really listen. I am embarrassed to admit I find myself doing that horribly female thing of worrying I might appear bitchy in a leadership role and being validated for my ability to be strong and simultaneously respectful was incredibly reassuring. These days I am seeing the value of saying less while conveying more and for that reason I decide to opt out of actually performing in the Etude. I hid behind a flat and conducted the atmosphere (lighting and sound design) and tried my best to sneak a peak at the action. After the performance was finished we gathered around Sergie who had a particularly sever look on his face. I could feel my stomach drop waiting for the feedback because this piece more than any other we have done was particularly close to my heart. He did not smack his legs and say Molotsy as is his usual response when we do something decent. Instead he spoke very slowly and explained through Natasha that it was hands down the best piece we have ever done. It was the first piece that actually achieved the point of the exercise and beyond that it was beautifully staged and executed – the story was flawless. I think I started to glow a little and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t on stage and that he had no idea that I was even involved. It just felt good to see a story I created in my mind lived through vividly on stage. More so it felt good just to do it quietly, without attitude or dominance but to share something I love with these talented artists and watch as they lived it in their own hearts. It was just a really special moment and it reminded me so much of why I love this art form. It never ceases to amaze and surprise me and lately I feel like I am beginning to surprise myself.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November 18 – Day 62

So this is what cold feels like. I thought I knew. I thought I understood but apparently I had made a grave error in judgment. Jenna and I had decided to spend the afternoon at Izmaylovskaya Park shopping for souvenirs and before we even made it to the metro station we knew it was bound to be a painful mistake. The real Russian cold was enough to make me feel as though the tips of my fingers had been cut off and were bleeding through my insulated wool gloves. I wasn’t sure what hurt more, my eyes that felt as though they might implode from the blistering gusts of wind or the pounding of my head that reminded me every few minutes of the previous evening’s events. Last night we came up with another way to survive here and it involved getting Greek – as in TOGA. It was eventful to say the least yet I was one of the few people who managed to enjoy a guiltless good time. There is something to be said for a lack of personal accountability and the joy of waking up without the need to berate one’s self for an evening of bad choices. That being said, I was as Lexi put it, a ‘Hot Mess’ who from what I recall had a blast. (Whether or not it was a good idea there are plenty of photos to fill in the gaps of my memory!) It is interesting to observe the level of leniency given towards personal behavior here. It is become clear that we are all just trying to get by anyway we can. We are just trying to make it through and so in that way it makes perfect sense to cut up our bed sheets, clear out a liquor store, and spend an evening playing frat games - banishing all talk of life, art or the imminent future.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17 – Day 61

Over the past few months I have spent every Saturday morning, half asleep watching Soviet propaganda films meant to highlight the most influential of all Russian cinema. On the whole I found much of it disturbing and had grown tired of spending three hours each week watching grotesque examples of Social Realism. Today we were given the opportunity to see something a bit different. It was the 1956 film “The Cranes Are Flying” by Kalatozov, and while it was still an example of Soviet propaganda (but let’s face it, how much of what we see today isn’t in some way propaganda) it was unlike many of the other films we have seen in that it subtly played thru the issues which affect our human condition and showed without obvious bias the realities of life in a time of war. It was one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen and reminded me so much of the first time I saw ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ as a young girl. I remember being so moved, so traumatized thinking about the suffering of someone so close to my own age. Watching this film, now decades older, I still feel that connection. It is a tragic love story and in a moment just before his death, the heroine’s father wistfully reassured his wife about their daughter’s well being. “That’s love my dear,” he said, “a harmless mental disturbance.” It was such a simple yet stunning moment and it played such contrast to the agony these characters were about to endure. I have thought so much about these topics here; about love and loss and who we become when it is gone. I can see clearly now that all things in life happen for a reason and that the experiences I have had here would never have been possible without first traveling down painful paths. There is something so timeless about the final image of this film – a young woman greeting a train full of returning soldiers, hoping against hope that the man she loves will be amongst them. Even though we know he will not be there we sit in silence praying for her that it might be true. Love is timeless and heartbreak human. And as we sit there watching her stand as a tower of strength in flowing white linen, accepting the truth and letting go, we see that releasing our past and moving forward with our lives is just as universal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 16 – Day 60

I think her hair was white but it may have been silver. She might have worn glasses and I am pretty sure she had on ivory pearls that matched her woolen sweater. This was all I caught from the guest lecturer whose name I can’t recall. I was too absorbed working out the logistics of what would happen one month from today. Mom had emailed me wanting to know my flight plans for Christmas and when I looked at my bank account I realized going home for the holidays would be impossible. I would need to find a job, any job, as soon as I got back just to be able to pay my rent come January. And so I would be back to the wretched cycle I left, struggling to find work, any work, to pay the bills, surviving rather than thriving. The more I thought about it the more futile this entire trip seemed. What was the point of coming here, of doing all this work and spending all this money if I was just going to dive back into the life I had been living which had made me so miserable? I don’t know that I want to be finished with that place, that life, but I know that I am not ready to go back. I feel like if I go back unprepared I will end up with the same life I had before. I need a purpose and I need more time to figure out what that is. When I go back I want to make a fresh start. I believe in the possibility of second chances, of starting anew but if the last year has taught me anything it is that if you go back to something too soon, without fully letting go of the past, nothing will change. You will end up repeating the same patterns of behavior that led you astray. So I made a decision the way I have made all the major decisions in my life, with an impulse, a sudden click that makes all the over-analytical worrying clear. It always boggles my mind when it happens. I have spent this entire trip searching for answers and when one finally hit me it seemed so simple and obvious I don’t know how I had not thought of it before. The idea of leaving LA is scary but the thought of going back unprepared is worse. It just makes sense to take a little more time. Why not put the decision making process on hold for a bit and explore the rest of the world. My parents are incredibly supportive and it seems like for once my train of thought is in line with theirs. I want to go back to them for a bit, spend time with people who make me feel special and loved and figure out exactly where I want to be. If I go back to California, I want it to be because my heart refuses to be any other place. It would be so easy to cling on to memories of the way things were but my heart (and gut) are telling me to venture out into the unknown and fully realize this new path I am creating. I wasn’t too fond of the girl I left back in Los Angeles and am ready to let her go. And it feels okay because this time around I feel pretty good about the person I am starting to become.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15 – Day 59

You must fall in love with your minuses. They are what make you interesting. Marinna, my crazy singing teacher (or grandmother’s doppelganger) tried her best to convey this message to me through broken English as I poured my heart out into ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ from “Little Shop of Horrors.” I used to love to sing and could belt out, confident and strong, and while I think my voice has actually gotten better with age, I have lost that fearless impulse that used to make it fun. Over the last few years the only place I would sing with any conviction was in church so performing today for my classmates felt paralyzing. It was everything I could do to choke back the tears as my voice shook with fear. When I finished Marianna just looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently a shy actor isn’t something she sees everyday. She told me to really think about what I was singing; the hopes and dreams of a young woman who has lofty aspirations in the form of a simple life somewhere that’s green. And then - just like that -I got it. I understand what this character is thinking. I understand searching for happiness or contentment and knowing that it is right there waiting in the most underestimates places. My dad likes to say that we are all just wandering around a dark room, looking for the light switch. We are all just looking for that thing, that place, that grants us a piece of clarity or insight about why we are here and the purpose of it all. I wonder sometimes if I will ever be able to be content, to relax into my minuses and find the joy that comes with a simple existence. I wonder if I have made it all to difficult and if I could just breathe would I see clearly everything that has always been right in front of me. I wonder if it will ever happen and now more often I wonder where I will be when it does.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November 14 – Day 58

We have a little over four weeks left and I know as the days pass it will only go faster and faster. I am having the most amazing time here. I feel like I am learning more than I have in my entire life and almost all of the knowledge has come outside of the classroom. Tonight I saw King Lear at Satiricon. It is by far my favorite in all of Shakespeare and this production was my favorite show I have seen yet in Moscow. Hours later I still feel the tightness in my throat thinking of the final picture of Lear and his three dead daughters. It stirred me from beginning to end and reaffirmed once again what this all means. Not everyone liked this production. In fact many of my classmates downright hated it. In situations like this there is always the temptation to debate but the longer I am here the more introspective I have become and the more value I put in silence. All of this reminds me of grandmother, who died when I was two years old. I only know her from stories and her writing and one patchy memory I often question is real. This trip has made me feel closer to her; maybe it is writing, maybe it is searching for god, whatever the reason I find myself in situations thinking about how she might handle them. I know her faith was very important to her and was something she held private and dear. I find myself feeling that way here with this cozy internalization of all my thoughts and feelings, like I have some lovely invisible blanket wrapped around me, holding all these precious moments close to my heart, protecting them from saturation of external negativity. I don’t want to debate what I find beautiful. I don’t want to argue over what makes me happy or sacrifice a lovely moment for tedious inconsequential drama. It just seems so unnecessary now. Lexi came into my room after the show and we had this long philosophical chat about art and love and the promise of tomorrow (pretty much the only things we talk about here) and I vocalized for the first time the truth about coming to Russia. I didn’t come here to learn acting and for the most part nothing I have learned here has been new. I came here to learn about life – a sacred pilgrimage of some sort and while I know that sounds trite it is the only accurate way to describe this experience. I often wonder what adjectives I will use to describe this trip when I come home. Amazing and fantastic and incredible don’t do it justice. Truth be told this trip has not always been rainbows and sunshine. There have been so many things I hate about everything and everyone here but what it has given me is just too invaluable for words. I think that is what I love best about keeping this blog. It has forced me to find the meaning, the value, in everyday. Everyday has a story. Everyday has a lesson to be learned. It is just a matter of how you read it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 13 – Day 57

The blizzard must have begun sometime in the late afternoon because although the ground was clear when I returned to school after lunch, there was nothing but white to be seen when we left acting class tonight. It was a surreal sight but as promised the city truly sparkles in the winter. I had had no indication of the downpour to come when I left for class this morning sporting my worn out canvas sneakers I hadn’t brought out in weeks. Perhaps they were the reason for my thrilling morning since they were what I was wearing in movement when I did the SPLITS for the first time in my entire life. I literally started screaming. It was by far the most excited I have been in Moscow. (In fact, the promise of the splits was one of the things that first intrigued me about this program.) Apparently, Natasha was also very proud of me because she told her other American class how exciting it was. I was on such a high that I did all my cartwheels one handed and almost launched into an aerial. These are things I never ever thought my body would be able to do despite the fact that I spent most of my childhood dreaming I could be like all of my graceful, acrobatic cousins. It was so thrilling I spent all morning bouncing about and ended up bouncing down (well I guess up, then down but it is kind of hard to explain) the marble stare case at MXAT. I bit it HARD right in front of the landing were a group of Russian women spend most of the day smoking and scowling. They were all present for my wipe out although not one of them made a single motion to see if I was alright. I did, however, her one of them snicker as I burst into tears from the throbbing pain which temporarily lead me to believe that I had shattered my kneecap. My high was unfortunately halted but not indefinitely. I finished my acting class and made my way out into the storm determined to just get home and attempt to sleep but my guilt settled in at the thought of missing an opportunity to see potentially great theatre when we only have a few weeks left. So I lugged all my bags back to the building and pawned a few off on some unsuspecting guys who were heading back to the door and joined the group going to see Ionesco’s absurdist piece Macbett. Absurd it was, but soooo brilliant and no joke, it rained fire! My favorite part was when Macbett brought out this massive sword that reminded me of Excalibur only instead of just being a badass sword it was also a flame thrower. As he dissected the air a stream of flame would burst outward in its wake and the other actors would jump or roll to avoid their deaths. It was so beautiful and expertly choreographed. And I am pretty sure I know what I want for Christmas now. I know that it is redundant but every time I see a show here I am blown away by the mise en scene. I have also started to pay particular attention to the lighting design here because its nuance is so superior to anything I have seen in the States. There is an attention to detail and an awareness to its significance which vividly alters the entire mood of the piece. In retrospect I think that the few shows I have seen that I really disliked all under/over utilized their lighting – inconsequential but one of those things here I continually find interesting to note. When the play finished I was thoroughly glad that I chose to schlep through the snow but my knee was less excited. It was coming down hard as we left the theatre and my pride was hurting as much as my knee. I get a lot of crap here for being “old” (funny since I feel like I am twelve in my life at home) and as much as every part of my body ached from movement class, I really did not want to admit that I was just in too much pain to walk for 40 minutes to a metro and then spend another twenty on a train but everyone was frolicking in the snow so I really didn’t have much of a choice. At one point I decided try this whole cab thing again (I had had a slightly terrifying cab experience with Katiya earlier in the week) to no avail, so I tried my best to suck up the tears and hobbled back with two of my classmates who were nice wait in the storm for me. I felt like such an idiot getting upset that I kept apologizing over and over so much so that I didn’t notice the giant patch of ice on the metro ramp and went soaring through the air like Daniel Stern trying to break into the basement in Home Alone. Luckily for me, my classmate Daniel was quick to catch my fall and the entire scenario looked like a slapstick gag. It tied up the day nicely, bring it back to the hilarity of realizing that at twenty five, even if you can do things for the first time like pulling your limbs in opposite directions, or flipping through the air, it isn’t necessarily wise.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 12 – Day 56

There is this common misconception that the key to being an artist is to have a life full of drama. It is this idea which often leads to unnecessary turmoil and strife in one’s day to day existence. One of the most valuable lessons I am learning here is that while we as artists need to find fuel for our work, the key to accessing emotional depth is a sense of tranquility in one’s real life. There will always be suffering and hardships but as the Buddhists remind us, that is simply a part of life, meant to come and going, flowing through our beings like a wave. We had a fascinating conversation today about the drama OF life versus the drama IN life. It is so interesting to me to consider the ways in which we, or I rather, can create drama to avoid dealing with the true realities of a situation – we create problems in our world so we don’t see the real issues affecting us. Tonight I went to see the Seagull (Chaika) at MXAT’s temporary space and while the production was terribly dated and Trigorin was nearly twice the intended age, I couldn’t help but feel tied to the work. The more I study Chaika, the more I feel as though I have a deeply personal connection with these people and this story. In so many ways I feel like this is my story. The characters in this play are so terribly real and their struggles remind me so much of my own. They are people of vast passion and ideals but they are tormented by their reality. Everyone of them loves the wrong person and is so indulgent in their own art that they can not see the effect of their actions on those around them. This play conjures so many questions in my mind; why we love the people we know we shouldn’t, why we continue to make choices that we know will only break us despite our conscience awareness of the reality of our situation. In the last scene of the play Nina returns to the young man who helplessly loved her even as she wept in his arms over her own desperate love for a man he despised. Two years have passed since the previous scene and her transformation is devastating. The man she loved drained her of all her joy, her promise, her happiness, her light. He took everything that made her beautiful and used it to better himself and then cast her aside. Nina is left as a shell of a human being and on the brink of insanity. She is too immersed in her own pain to see that pain she creates in the young man who still loves her even as she rants for another. These ideas of love and loss and loving for the wrong reasons are as universal as they are unique and while we can never understand the true pain of Nina we can empathize for her suffering and what memories it invokes in us. At the end of the play Nina calls herself the Seagull. It is a metaphor I can only now, after so many weary days, fully comprehend. I feel such closeness to her but it is with such gratitude that I know now that I can never be the Seagull and for that I feel truly blessed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11 – Day 55

This morning I sat on the window sill in the kitchen for nearly forty minutes watching a dog meander back and forth outside the construction sight below our building. It just looked bitterly cold and I felt a strange correlation with his pacing and my uneasy mood. I suddenly felt very paralyzed with options. There was so much I could do and so much I should do but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I ultimately decided to forgo the American vs. Russian student soccer game in lieu of another art gallery, this time the Tretyakov 20th Century Museum. I assumed given the bitter cold that there would be a wait to get it (pretty standard for absolutely anything in Russia) but I was not prepared for the hour and a half I spent in line to get my free ticket or the bizarre babushka interactions that would come as a result. I have to say I have had a rough time with the babushkas here. I don’t know but when I think of grandmas I think of warm cuddly ladies with silver hair who sneak you ice cream before dinner. These women are vicious. I have always been taught to respect my elders, offer them my seat, move out of the way, that type of thing but these women will seriously knock your ass to the ground and as a result and I can’t believe I am saying this, I have felt an overwhelming urge to clock one or two of them with my purse. (I sound terrible, insane, I know but that is what this place does – I did not come to Russia. I came to the loony bin where everything is some sick scientific experiment and the men behind the glass are just waiting to see how long it is until I break!) Maybe it was the cold but today the evil babushkas were out in mass and there is nothing they hate more than an American girl who can’t speak Russian. I was standing in line doing my best to be small so that the man behind me who refused to stop touching rear, would get the hint that I am Amerikanski and respect my personal bubble, when a short round babushka in a huge fur coat jumped in front of me in line and started saying something to me in Russia with a friendly look on her face. When I returned her question with my warmest ‘Izvinitiye, Het Ruski,’ she not only huffed, rolled her eyes and stomped away but I could here her muttering something about ‘stupid American’ under her breath. That was just the beginning of my run-ins with babushkas today. I don’t know what it is as I have learned it is best to just avoid eye contact and American speech at all cost but somehow they still find me and then weirdness occurs. On the up side my final babushka occurrence of the day was startlingly lovely. I was circling this massive gallery, which contains one painting that takes up three walls, when the most vindictive looking babushka I have seen came right up next to me, so close that I could feel the itchy wool of her sweater through my blouse (we are the only two people in the gallery, mind you) and she just stood there and glared. No, glared is not a strong enough word but I can’t quite think of one that could describe a jaw that gripped like it was made metal and eyes that bore a striking resemblance to the evil Grinch, prior to the heart enlargement. I stood there frozen, looking straight ahead, not knowing quite sure what to do but I could feel her gaze tearing a hole through my temple. So I turned and smiled politely, an American reflex I was sure might get me killed but instead she burst out into laughter and began asking me about my impressions of the paining. I know this because she was the very first non-English speaking Russian I have met, babushka or not, who upon realizing I don’t speak Russian continued to try to communicate with me, without judgment or maliciousness. I would have stayed there playing charades with her for hours but the sheer proximity between us was really freaking me out and I had to get away. It was a pleasant mood shift and I began to find the rhythm I love so much in going to an art museum alone. Walking in a museum, particularly an art museum, is unlike walking anywhere else in the world. There is a tempo, a pace, that starts at the very back of the heel and vibrated down through the hard wood floors and up into the ringing in your skull. It is a quiet place and yet if you listen closely you can always hear a cacophony of melodies echoing from the separate galleries. It is such a spiritual place that I suppose it is no wonder that it always makes me thing of church. The Tretyakov is a deeply spiritual place regardless and it was one of the first places I have been in Moscow that shows Social Realism for what it was and explains (in English, as well as Russian!) the cultural and political realities it created. No work of emigrant artists was published during the soviet times during the life of Stalin. These people were truly in exile, meaning not only would their life and ties be severed from the land that held their roots but long after they died, their entire existence would be banned from memory. I did not know these things. To be honest, before I came here I knew practically nothing about Russia or the USSR and what I did is from the perspective of my own countries political agenda. Learning about this place and these artists who I greatly revere has been a heartbreaking experience and one I am sure will change my perspective on life forever.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

November 10 – Day 54

I came to Moscow hoping to shed some of the bitterness and disillusionment that began to cover me over the last year in LA. Several people have outright laughed in my face at this thought but I don’t think it is completely without validity. I am pretty sure I am not quite as bitter and I am hoping I will return less disillusioned, but I began to notice today a new side effect of a daily existence in Russian society. I am becoming a line backer. Really. Physically, mentally, emotionally, you name it, I have started to carry myself with that ‘Fine. You wanna go? Then let’s go!’ attitude that dominates the Russian exterior. You have to be that way here. This place is brutal and if you are worried about niceties you are bound to get run over. It seems even the most basic interaction is dominated by a stare down if not a physical shoving match. The subway doors will take your arms off. Cars will speed up and graze your knee caps as you try to cross the street. Pedestrians with feet of room to spare will completely body check you because they feel no need to veer from their given path. Watching interactions between Russians is equally bizarre. People don’t address each other apologetically. There is no ‘excuse me’ or ‘would you mind…?’ It is an immediate battle with both sides barking at one another in that guttural Russian tone, but oddly enough two seconds after the interaction is resolved all parties are smiles and niceness. This place is so strange. It is not for the weak. It is not for the timid. They don’t care about your problems or your excuses; just bring it, get it done. In the same vein there seems to be no need to apologize for pure ineptitude or laziness. Thus the “That’s Russia” excuse. All this has left me in my current line backer state- shoulders down, charging forward unapologetically. Lately I have had little to no tolerance for bullshit or drama, even my own and I know I am being harsh but I really don’t care if you don’t feel emotionally prepared to go there today- if you can’t handle it, that is your problem. On set you are getting paid to break down. Figure it out. It is an icky, unempathetic feeling in the work and life but in some strange way I kinda like it, it cuts down on the drama – there is no need for it. It does pose a problem every time that I feel emotionally stuck and then become disgusted with myself but at least it is better than being bitter. It was this feeling that made me want to launch into a rage of bitch slapping against all post-revolution Soviets after watching Eisenstein’s so-called masterpiece “The Fall of Berlin.” The movie deifies Stalin so grotesquely that the heroine, who has just reunited with her lover after escaping a Nazi concentration camp, realizes that as much as she is in love, she would rather be with Stalin. (Oh yeah and apparently America sided with the Nazis in WWII.) I get that it is social realism. I get that it was made during the beginning of the Cold War but I just kept thinking how ignorant is a population that simply forgot to notice 20 million of its own citizens being tortured and executed because they had the audacity to have independent thought. Rationally I realize that these societies are dominated by terror but emotionally I keep returning to the same questions. How can we as a human race hide our eyes from the atrocities of this world, of our own home, and choose to ignore the truth? And also so much of the rationalization for behavior here is that it is either a remnant or rebellion of Soviet times and this has caused me to start thinking. How long can we use our past as an excuse avoid moving forward – at what point does it become imperative to let go and start over without clenching onto that scare tissue?