Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31 - Day 44

Last night late into the evening we were all called into a meeting. David, one of the students in the other group who is very sweet and who I unfortunately haven’t really gotten the chance to know, found out that his father has only several weeks to live and has return to the states. Today, Will one of the guys who came with me from NIU told our small group that due to a virus he has, which killing thousands in the US right now, he might have to return home to receive treatment unavailable here because he is legitimately afraid if he stays he might die. Tonight, Andy another NIU student found out that his father died, and while he knew it was coming he had been planning to return in a few days and had been praying he would have a chance to say goodbye. These guys are friends. In this crazy place they are our family. There is a lot to process and any thoughts I have at this point just seem trivial. Discontent just seems so ridiculous now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

October 30 - Day 43

In Russia they say, ‘Nothing is allowed and everything is possible.’ It is the best expression I have found to date to describe the bizarre dichotomy that is the reality of living here. Everything is a contradiction and nothing makes sense. ­­­At 6:30 this morning I was startled out of my sleep by the sound of someone violently trying to break into my room. It scared me to death but for some reason my instinct was to bolt, half asleep, to the door to track down the intruder. The culprit was a sketchy looking construction worker who just shrugged and smirked at me when I tried to ask through broken English/Russian and heated hand gestures as to what in the hell he thought he was doing. In Russian they literally have no word or expression to define personal privacy. It is a concept completely foreign to them and as such I have become quite familiar with these types of violations. We have absolutely no space that is sacred and people come and go through our personal areas at their leisure. This was only one in a series of incidents in the past few days (others included Jenna having money stolen from her room while she was at class and Will being walked in on while he was showering in a locked bathroom by a construction worker who was clearly expecting to find a woman on the other side of the door) and I was left to begin my day on edge with an intense feeling of loathing towards the general populous that makes up this city. It has been a difficult few weeks in terms of the cultural differences and the hardest part is not feeling safe because I have yet to feel like I understand how to negotiate the city. It was an aggravating morning so I decided use my extra long break as an opportunity to explore areas of Moscow I had never visited. I started to walk and the further away from the center I got, the more the people started resemble real human beings rather than fashion models and the more the edges of the city’s atmosphere began to soften. My breathing became easier, deeper and my gaze began to open. I realized people on the streets were actually making eye contact with me, even smiling. One man passed me on the street and said ‘Hello. How are you?’ in English, then giggled and kept on walking. I was so startled it took me a second to recognize how American I clearly looked. I walked for hours, stopping to eat lunch in a park and watched mothers with their little children play on the massive clown statues that lined the boulevard. On my way back I got completely lost but I didn’t even think to panic. Somehow the Russian knowledge I had buried deep within my brain made its way to the surface and I was able to ask a Militia for directions entirely in Russian. There was something overwhelmingly empowering about being entirely self-reliant and I could clearly feel how much I have missed my independence. It was strange but during my walk I began to feel for the first time like this was a kind of home rather than a tourist destination. I had missed the interactions with real people just trying to live their lives rather than the polished façade of the Tverskaiya regulars. It was such a beautiful afternoon, so peaceful, so invigorating that all but dissolved my morning’s animosity and left me believing once again that in Russia, as in life, despite what you know or understand, anything is possible.

Monday, October 29, 2007

October 29 - Day 42

Sometimes I think the best you can hope for in a given day are the little victories that let you know your strife isn’t all for not and somewhere someone is listening to the worries you hide in the deepest part of your heart. Today I felt like for once I won one – within myself, for myself, for the beliefs I hold dear. I have been having a difficult time with our acting program lately and it has slowly chipped away at my motivation and joy for the work. The Russians have very strong personalities and even stronger opinions, and while this wasn’t really a surprise it has been very hard to reconcile in terms of the approach to the art and the thoughts I have about myself. The difficulty with this work is that it hits so very close to home. It is not Shakespeare. It is not grandiose ideas about love and honor. Chekhov writes real people, with real issues, who’s conflicts are as prevalent today as they were a hundred years ago. I feel such a deep connection with these people, with these women and I have such empathy for the trials that they face. My professors are less sympathetic. The difference between the sexes is obvious here but for the most part it has stayed out of the classroom. Suddenly everywhere I turn there is another Russian eviscerating a female character’s character and to a certain extent I feel like they are condemning mine. We are not so different, these ladies and me, and I feel so often like the choices they are facing were based on my life. So…last week one of my professors, who I absolutely adore, went on this tirade about how Nina is a bad person (this, after we had already established that Chekhov doesn’t write black and white characters) and it really really upset me. I know he was talking about The Seagull but in my head I didn’t hear ‘Nina is a bad person’ – I heard ‘you are a bad person.’ And it is impossible to argue with them. They know these stories in and out. They have lived them for decades and their vehemence broke my heart. I spent the last few days with a cloud hanging in the back of my mind, causing me to dread the work for the first time. In this time I tried to formulate my rebuttal, trying to think of any way to defend her, to defend myself that he couldn’t immediately slam down. Today I got my shot and while he tried to hear what I had to say the limits of translation wouldn’t allow my point to be clear. Luckily for me someone else I felt my plight and my typically far more misogynistic professor let him have it. It was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen; two grown men, losing it in a full on bitch fight about the integrity of a fictional character. They were both so passionate, debating with such conviction, knowing clearly that what they were arguing about was far more than a play but an entire point of view on love. To me it was just a sign of hope - that there is always opportunity to see things from another angle, that no situation is ever really black and white and most importantly, that even though we all mistakes, everyone deserves a chance a forgiveness, a little compassion and human understanding.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

October 28 - Day 41 - Photos

October 28 - Day 41

Today I think I left Moscow or maybe Moscow left me. The sun shone so brightly this morning that it’s warmth rather than the sound of violent construction was what first woke me from my sleep. Stephanie and I decided enjoy the beautiful weather by venturing to Gorky Park. Our first thought when we made it outside the dorm was that this world could not possibly be Moscow. It was too sunny, too happy, with too many cheerful families strolling down the streets. The air actually felt fresh and for once I didn’t have the grating taste of dirt lining my throat. As we approached the park from the North however, we could the feel the early sensation that accompanies abandoned carnivals in cheesy horror movies. We walked through the golden gates to find an almost completely empty amusement park. There were unmanned game booths and rides that looked as though they hadn’t moved in years with the occasional family guiding their toddlers on a miniature pony or Big Wheel. Everything seemed to move along in rhythm to the random Christmas music blasting through hidden speakers stashed away along the avenues. It was all so very strange and we weren’t sure what to do or even if we should be there so we just tried to migrate through, drawing as little attention to ourselves as possible. But as we approached a glistening pond, the mist started to settle and the warm autumn sun lit up the park, illuminating its once triumphant glory. I could see, without too much imagination, a sea of giddy Moscovites mingling around the popcorn stands while their children squealed from the massive Ferris wheel or roaring roller coaster. Just then, two swans glided over to us and posed as we snapped dozens of photos. Suddenly everything was beautiful again - that is how fast things shift in Russia. We wandered through the private gardens that surround the park discussing all of the topics that girls love best and laughing at their ridiculous attempts to appeal to western tourists before ending up at the Tretyakov Sculpture Garden. It was enchanting and silly and heartbreaking all at once. I am developing such an intense love of sculpture being here because the work is so unlike anything I have ever seen. It all seems to defy my previous notions about both classic and contemporary sculpture and feels far more embedded in humanity then what I accustomed to seeing in the States. It was the most beautiful, unrushed day and we walked and walked until the brisk air turned bitter and ushered us towards the metro and then to our dorm for hot apple cider and a nice long nap.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

October 27 – Day 40

There are reasons why we, as actors, do what we do. I could postulate until I am blue about the cultural and political significance of art or the transcendent experience of watching perfection in artistry but then there are performances that drain all the words from the universe and leave you with a feeling impossible to share with anyone who has not witnessed it himself. Tonight I saw Constantine Riken perform again, this time in Richard III. By the time I left the theatre I knew that this will be the last time I will ever see this play. I honestly believe nothing could come close to topping this production. All adaptations have issues, even ones of the utmost precision. In this case it was the loss of verse in translating Shakespeare into Russian but what the language missed the execution made up for ten fold. I wish I could describe Riken – his lightness and his strength, the boundless energy and endurance he carries through in each moment, the way I was at once repulsed and mesmerized by every move he made. In this production the value went far beyond the acting. Once again the mise en scene of Russian theatre was sensational and the atmosphere invoked images of ‘Edward Scissorhands’ meets ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ It was a genius menagerie of spectacle yet it never diminished the cruelty and devastation of Richard’s tale. Stephanie wept the entire bus ride home and I couldn’t blame her; the tale is tragic. But by that point my mind had wandered elsewhere. In my life I have had a select group of relationships that allowed me to share my passion for art and as we stood there, clapping until I thought my hands might bleed, I started to wander who I would share this with when I return. Those conversations are something I miss tremendously and with each transformative experience I think how much I would have wanted to share it with people in my past. Being here all I want, all most of us want, is contact with the outside world, something to make it all a little less intense but at the same time we realize that when that time comes it will be hard to find words to say. For us, time has stopped so that we might submerse ourselves in a world that is entirely surreal – and uniquely ours. For everyone else life has kept on going and we aren’t sure where or how we will fit back in.

Friday, October 26, 2007

October 26 – Day 39

Sometimes stupidity is a necessary part of life; being completely ridiculous without a second’s hesitation about appropriateness or practicality. Tonight was by far the most fun I have had in Moscow. It was ridiculous and immature and a massive relief from the building tension of too much over-analytical, hyper-emotionally developed, introspection. It was… DORM OLYMPICS. It was childish, mildly destructive and a wee bit dangerous but I suppose the best things in life often are. My events of choice were Mattress War and the grand-slam Monkey in the Middle tournament. For better or worse most of the evening’s action was documented on video. From the delightful exhaustion I feel right now I'd say I need more stupidity in my life.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

October 25 – Day 38

I can’t help but think how trite this all must sound. All this talking and pondering. Sometimes it seems so silly. I could say that it is just what we do here – what we are commanded to do but I think I would be like this no matter what I did. And all of this thinking is not painful, in some twisted way it is fun, but I wonder how ridiculous I must sound having some sort of revelation nearly everyday. None the less that is what happens. Today I got my first major ass kicking by my acting class. Somehow in coming to Russia, I developed this strange feeling that dressed itself as confidence but moved more like a sense of nothing to lose. It has been so liberating and for a while I struggled to remember the last time I felt this way. (I think maybe when I was little and sang in church every week with Meredith Leonard, and never knew to question whether or not I had any talent.) I suppose it is only natural that the longer I am here the more I will have invested and the more I will hate to fail, but I wasn’t prepared for it to hit this hard. We had been working on independent scenes from Chekhov and finally presented them today. My problem wasn’t that they ripped apart our scene or that I was upset by their critique, it was much smaller. They debated a choice we made and after all their prodding and explanation I still failed to agree with them. That was it. They are the best actors in the entire country and some of the best teachers in the world. They have decades of wisdom and experience on me and even now I think they are wrong. It is such as stupid little thing and I understand where they are coming from but I deeply feel like this can’t be the only way – I want the option to believe in another way. And thus I reach my daily revelation/conundrum. I have this tendency to put my teachers, my superiors, my elders – hell, even some of my friends, on some sort of pedestal and then I have this inner debate between a freethinking spirit and the mind of insolent child - is it ever possible to really agree to disagree? I left feeling disconnected, distanced from the minds of people I deeply respect, wondering if that is just a part of growing up. Is this the beauty of letting go – knowing what battles are worth fighting and when it is okay to be misunderstood? Can you maintain a connection if you fail to find common ground? In the end, is knowing your own truth more important than being heard?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October 24 – Day 37

I danced today. I danced all the way to school. I danced up and down and up again on the endless stairs at MXAT. I sang out loud and head-banged to the ridiculous chick rock blaring from my IPOD. I quickly discovered that despite a few odd looks from otherwise stone-faced Russians no one really cared and I deeply enjoyed the ludicrously of it all. After all, I am in Russia, who cares?!? It was the first day since the St. Petersburg trip that I didn’t feel heavy. I wrote and wrote until 4 in the morning about every piece of silliness bothering me and felt the tremendous freedom of letting it all go. It was such a fantastic day. It was finally a little warm and there was even a beam or two of sunlight. We spent the morning working on back bends and summersaults and I have to say I might be getting the hang of it. I had so much fun all day and could barely contain my anticipation for the evening’s performance of the opera Eugene Onegin based on the famous Pushkin novel in verse about the original superfluous man. It was so amazing. I cannot believe how spoiled I am to see all this phenomenal work. I could go to the theatre every night here and still not see everything the city has to offer. It was so gorgeous. I cannot get over the fluidity of the Russian stage picture. Every work I have seen, no matter the genre, moves with the rhythm of choreography without its limiting rigidity. The design of these shows takes live theatre to a different realm. Every element is so rich and such a decisive choice. Perhaps because it is rep and some of these shows have been running for over 20 years but there is a clarity and vision so distinct it astounds my mind. My favorite part of the mise en scene was in the final ball scene during the General’s aria, which was beyond heart-breaking, when they lowered a faux proscenium made of ornate crystal beading and golden thread woven so intricately it resembled a series of ornate necklaces like that of Catherine the Great. Sometimes when a piece of theatre is truly spectacular you can feel the breath of the audience moving in rhythm with the heartbeat of an actor. Typically it is spiritual subtlety. In Russia it is a reality, manifesting itself in thirty minute curtain calls where the audience creates rhythmic harmonies in their syncopated applause.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October 23 – Day 36

After the major stomping I got from Russia yesterday I had no energy to go to the disco and opted instead, for once, for a good night’s sleep. Luckily, I heard all about it this morning when I woke up. Jenna came into my room and crawled into bed, lamenting to me and Stephanie about the ‘bad decisions’ she made at the dance. It was the most eerie sense of déjà vu and suddenly I was transported back to a time and place when life was much less confusing, a brief window when Saturday mornings were spent nursing hang-overs and joking around with my sorority sisters about the ridiculous things we may or may not have recalled doing the night before. Somehow in all the laughter and teasing, all the crap I had been worrying about just didn’t seem that serious. Stephanie and I walked to school and had this incredible conversation about our life here, how it is something we will never be able to fully verbalize to those who are not experiencing it and how studying Chekhov in this place is the only way to fully understand our transformation. What was so bizarre, and it really shouldn’t be because it keeps happening, was that the exact conversation we had on our walk was practically repeated verbatim by our acting professor. I am beginning to think of this trip less as an acting excursion and more as a really expensive massive therapy session. Studying this work is like the guidebook to the complications of life. What I love about it is that Chekhov doesn’t try to sum it all up in a nice neat message. His characters have both vision and vises because he embraces the messiness of life. He got that life is complicated and as such his work should be. Just when you think you have it figured out you discover another layer to the situation and you see a person or conflict from an entirely different point of view. After class, I sat down to write about all this and discovered an email from an old friend. He had crossed my mind from time to time while I was walking around St. Petersburg, but it all feels so long ago; it is hard to believe that part of my life was real. At some point over the last few months I came to the conclusion that moving forward meant letting go of people and situations that have been chains to the past. It is a notion I have been struggling with on this trip. If I want to move forward, how can I possibly go back – to Los Angeles, to a life that wasn’t working, to relationships that were destructive? But then I got this email, which caught me completely off guard and reminded me why people never cease to be amazing. I really thought that walking away and starting from scratch was the only way to create a new direction but my old friend has once again challenged my preconceived notions and made me see that there is always more than one way to approach a crossroads. There is always room for second chances, and sometimes even thirds.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Pictures of St. Petersburg

October 22 – Day 35

Russia kicked my ass today – hard. St. Petersburg was a wonderful trip, filled with amazing experiences but it also opened an entire series of thoughts and worries I have been trying to put on hold; doubting the future, searching for a home, looking for any indication of what to do next. I sat on a bridge overlooking a canal of the Neva River just as the sun set, casting shadows of heartbreak on the face of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and I prayed to anyone who would listen for a sign. When I got back to Moscow this morning all I got was more confusion, one second I am overwhelmed by a flood of inspiration and the next I am baffled by the exasperating nature of man. We had the morning off after our six AM arrival and started the day with a stirring lecture by Professor Smelianski. We were talking about Chekhov’s play, Ivanov and how in all of his dramas there is the issue of spiritual disease. Chekhov was not a religious man but he often judges his characters on their ability to feel others pain and he constantly writes about intellectual creatures trying to deal with a void of heart – if you are truly alone in the world, unable to connect to the feelings of others and there is no higher power to help you, where do you find the inner strength to keep going. It was the most fascinating conversation and as has become a frequent occurrence, was a mirror to so many of the questions I have been having as of late. I have felt more and more isolated here, dealing with my thoughts beyond this place and the perspective I have within it. In the past few days I have felt so consumed with my inner turmoil, I have been unable to feel for the burdens of others – and this loss of empathy is something I find terribly disturbing. There is all so much to be processed right now and it feels as though at this point we are all in different stages of the process. The ensemble work has become more and more heated and aggravating to the unit as a whole and today it went so far that they were still bickering (I pretty much keep silent these days unless absolutely necessary) when our entire acting faculty, movement faculty and Russian professor, came in to announce that we would not be having class today or tomorrow morning because after the student show tonight, which we were to participate in, we were all invited to the student’s after-party disco ,which typically lasts until six AM. I think at that point a fuse switched off in my brain. It was sensory overload. My professors were telling me not to come to class because they wanted me to go out and drink and mess around with Russian boys. They asked me what I was thinking and all I could say was that this is a very bizarre country and it has been a bizarre few days that I am still trying to figure out. And with that they all left. We spent the rest of the day trying to rehearse with 35 screaming voices, no director and increasing agitation amongst those not willing to yell. I feel so cranky and all I want is have a second to get it out of my system but that is a luxury we don’t have. Stephanie, who is the sweetest girl had to leave after rehearsal to get a drink and calm down before the show. It didn’t really work but by the time started she was feeling no pain. And this is normal – cause it is Russia. The show was a confusing mess but we got on and off without too many catastrophese and the faculty seemed to like it. I was almost out of the theatre, making my dash for home but Jenna stopped me and gave me a surreal soliloquy. She said, “I know that everyday is a test of your patience and everyday is a test of your will but we are all in this together and we just have to remember that.” She went on from there but I was too stunned to process. I am not sure of her exact intent but it snapped me out of my self-indulgent reflection and it least put me back on the track of external awareness.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October 21 – Day 34 - Part Two

I sat on a park bench this morning, nursing my hang over and watching little children play on a swing-set. Moscow and LA are two very different places but in the moment I saw the fatal flaw in both. Not enough parks with elderly couples holding hands, families out for a Sunday stroll, and beautiful children screaming with delight. It was the beginning of a deeply beautiful day. Stephanie and I wandered around St. Petersburg, stopping for several hours to shop at the flea market, lunch a quasi-Parisian café, take pictures along the Neva canals and eventually make our way to the Hermitage. The Russians compared the Hermitage to the Louvre as it was the get away for Katherine the Great and while I understand the comparison the architecture was truly unique. The first room I entered was gilded entirely in gold and the setting sun made it glow so intensely it was difficult to see. We did not have as much time as I would have liked but what I love about art museums and why I will never tire of going is that every time I go I fall in love with someone knew and discover a thought or concept I had never imagined. Today I discovered the work of sculptor, Venanzo Crocetti. He is a living artist and so different from the work I conventionally imagine when I think of sculptors of the human form. It is so difficult to describe his pieces in words but the way he used curves and fullness to define the shape of a female model and the squared edges of the male sculptor was genius. I could have stayed there for hours but the gallery babushka scooted me out at closing. As I was leaving I walked through a sea of Monet and came to a realization. I don’t want a live in the palette of Monet. Yes, it is beautiful and lovely, tranquil and soft but I am not a Monet and no matter how hard I try my colors will always be a bit too bold, too messy, too harsh. This thought launched into a splendid conversation with Stephanie, as we killed time before our departing train, about defining yourself by an artist’s style. (We play a game in acting class where we have to ask such questions. If this person were a … what would they be? It is one of my favorite games.) And then are we what appeals to us, what we are drawn to, or is that a separate notion meaning we are individual of our tastes in others or the external. This is why I love Russia, why I love art and artists and the random conversations that happen when you have time to be with your thoughts.

October 21 – Day 34 - Part One

It was a rough morning. I had been rather well behaved this trip, comparatively speaking (I live in Russia, I am practically a Saint!) and last night after the show we decided to celebrate our final night in St. Petersburg and Eric’s birthday by going to a pub and celebrating Russian style. Let me just say, I now know and I only need to learn once that I am a true American thru and thru and will never be able to “Rock it Russian Style.” That is because it involves bottles and bottles and bottles of vodka and a few of wine for good measure. I am not sure how many people were there. I am not sure how many toasts were made or shots drank but I do know that somehow in a state I am less than proud of, Eric and I decided to engage in a heated debate about life and art and our relationship with one another. I so did not see that coming but there I was, blurry-eyed, listening to a twenty year-old guy lecture me on my life choices and how he HATES everything that I am. I barely know this kid but I am taking it because I am in no state to argue and I knew enough to know that the perspective I have at this point in my life is never going to translate into the perspective that he has at the place he is at in his life. It was a very enlightened moment for me, several shots deep, and all I could think about was this stupid advice columnist I heard on a reality TV show when I was home in St. Louis. He said that you can’t control how you are perceived; you can only control how you are presented. While so cliché, it is a very liberating notion to think you can only be who you are, who you can live with day in and out, and the rest of the world is free to form their own opinions. I grew up being so afraid of being disliked. The idea still upsets me, but at this point I am seeing the triviality of worrying about it. Those you are close with one day might change their opinions the next and it is completely beyond your control. It is so easy to approach relationships looking for results. I want this person to love me, to trust me, to think whatever about me and yet it is a pointless waste of energy. Our acting teachers say all the time that love without reciprocation is not real love. I haven’t decided exactly how I feel about that statement but I am beginning to understand what they mean. And so if someone objects to who I am or can’t love me because of something inherent to my being or simply can’t see me the way I see myself, than that is for them, it is based solely on their perspective. I can’t change/manipulate their perspective and I think I see now how wrong it was to try.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

October 20 – Day 33

When I was a little girl my parents used to take me to Augusta, Missouri in the fall to pick pumpkins, buy preserves and see the beauty of the changing leaves. I still have this vivid memory of my dad pulling the car over on a hill and we all got out of the car to look at the splendor of the rolling hills in Autumn reds and yellows. I love that memory so much and when I think of home it is often the pallet that I recall. Living in Los Angeles for the last few years, I have forgotten how much my soul needs the fall. It needs the dying off as much as it needs the rebirth. How can there be any growth when nothing ever changes. My heart became stagnant like the seasons and I started to disappear. Today was more beautiful than any day I can remember. We drove out of the city to the Estate of Katherine the Great and spent hours and hours wandering through the gardens, looking at the brilliant landscapes and magnificent castles scattered throughout the property. The gardens seemed endless, although a guide said he thought they were approximately 250 acres. I am not so sure about his math but none the less they were splendid. The day began cold and misty but as it progressed and I got lost walking in silence along dirt paths and frolicking like a school girl in the fallen leaves, the sun appeared and painted my face in warmth while the crisp air tingled in my lungs. It was a perfect day and as I looked around at the beauty around me, which reminded me so much of home, I started to reflect on what a fortunate childhood I really had, how much I miss my family and how incredible they truly are. I never wanted to leave but as is typical, our pace is never ceasing and we rushed back to the city to get ready for the Mariinsky Ballet’s presentation of Swan Lake. I was so excited to see the ballet again after seeing it at the Bolshoi, particularly because the Mariinsky was where my love, Baryshnikov got his start. We all dressed for the occasion and walked to the theatre. The house is not nearly as grand as the Bolshoi but the energy is just as magnetic. When the show started I was sure that it would pale in comparison to the Bolshoi’s which had spectacular production values with the most ornate sets I have ever seen live and brilliant choreography but as I watched I discovered the moments that made this production so superior in many ways. It was in the quiet moments, the intimacy. When I watched the Bolshoi I thought to myself, ‘How beautiful!’ When I watched the Mariinsky, I felt the devastation in the pained moments, I felt the heat of a love that could bring a creature back to life. The final act was jaw dropping. I had never seen black swans before, which I believe the Mariinsky ballet was the first to introduce and when the Prince carried Odette across the stage she was a swan, not a dancer or an actress but a magnificent white swan dying in the arms of her true love. It was by far the most compelling thing I have seen on stage ever, although I feel like everyday I am saying that about a new production but that is the gift of seeing theatre in this country. It is so heartbreaking to me that work like this isn’t available to people of all walks of life. I watch it and think how different the world would be if we knew the beauty that can be created when we look beyond what seems possible. There is so much beauty all around, in what we create and what has been created for us – if only we took the time to notice.

Friday, October 19, 2007

October 19 – Day 32 – Part Two

Today didn’t end exactly as I had planned. After we left the café, Katiya and I were ready to get back to the hostile and get some sleep but when we returned we realized no one was there. We putzed around a while but the place was eerily quiet, so when Katiya remembered she needed to email a faculty member from her university she planned to meet while in Petersburg I jumped at the chance to go back out. St. Petersburg is a beautiful city and in many ways I love it sooo much more than Moscow but to a certain extent they are still even further behind than the southern city and WIFI is one of the things the are not quite up on. After walking around for far too long in an area we were only somewhat familiar with we decided to try a small coffee shop I had visited on the first day but as I expected, when I tried to communicate I got the familiar ‘Dumb Amerikanski’ stare. It was getting really late and I was falling asleep on a couch while Katiya tried to figure out what to do next. Around this time a dapper young Russian man, most likely in his thirties, came in carrying a laptop. I motioned to Katiya to go ask him if he had any suggestions and she asked if I was sure that was a good idea. At this point my train of thought was, well he is wearing a silk scarf, how dangerous could he be? This is were I made my first mistake. I waited, bemused as she played our favorite game of ‘Help Me!’ charades with the charming Russian man but then suddenly she was motioning to me to come with her and we were leaving the shop with him and his sketchy friend. I hadn’t heard any of their conversation and was not privy to where we were going but when I tried to ask her what the hell was going on she just gave me reassuring looks that she knew exactly what she was doing. We walked through the busy courtyard above the metro stop and I grabbed her hand repeatedly but no one seemed concerned. That was until we reached the end of the block and the men motioned toward a darkened alley and said in broken English, “Five Minutes.” That was it. I mumbled ‘Say Goodnight’ to Katiya and drug her into the MacDonalds on the corner. I was utterly freaked out when I got inside. She kept telling me that she had no intention of following them down a darkened path but figured as long as we were out in the open it would be fine. I am pretty sure I didn’t fully agree with her logic but none the less we were fine and safe and she was buying me fries so I was content. But somewhere through the first third of the box I noticed the men lingering outside and before too long they came in, walking right past us but staring from the line. For some reason at this point I was perfectly calm, maybe it was the 200lb butch looking security guard with a gun standing two feet from me, but who knows. Katiya on the other hand was completely freaking out. We decided to leave as nonchalantly as possible, waiting till they were ordering to make our exit but somewhere in the process Katiya flipped and launched out of her chair, running toward the door and practically body checking the security guard. She did not stop running until we were through the courtyard and half way back to the hostile. And at that point we just collapsed against a building laughing hysterically. That is the twisted thing about living in this country – I mean, Katiya is a hard core New Yorker; tough as nails, fearless, maybe even a little crazy and I guarantee she could have taken out one of those guys with no problem but it is not the same when you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the customs and the gender relations are so skewed as compared to western culture. There is a certain exhaustion that comes from constantly being on edge, constantly being aware. Even tough girls get scared. Even the smartest, most sensible people feel lost.

October 19 – Day 32 – Part One

Last night after a much needed nap, Jenna, Steph and I hit the streets of St. Petersburg and wandered around in search of comfort food, in this case anything green. The Russian diet is pretty beige and when accompanied by the grey sky, it can start to become debilitating – it is my theory as to why Russians always looks so glum walking through the perrihotes. We had a lovely time and returned to the hostile just in time to find our program coordinator, Colleen, as well as a good majority of the female students drunk beyond belief. The one thing that seems to unite all women regardless of age or experience is the topic of relationships, so dozens of us girl-talked about love and loss into the wee hours of the morning. The conversation, however, spread into my dreams and I woke up today with that feeling of uneasiness about the future that had been plaguing me yesterday. We started off first officially planned day in St. Petersburg with a bus tour of the city, which in retrospect might not have been the wisest choice of the travel coordinators. The group was uncomfortable and irritable and ready for separation. We have an ongoing issue within the classes of ensemble. Everything in the Russian work is about the ensemble – we hear that word over and over and over every single day – the problem being that ensemble is not necessarily an American ideal, particularly when people are young and used to being a lead. I was having a private discussion on this topic, spurned by yet another skirmish in the group, when one of the young men in my class interrupted and began pestering me to have a conversation with the group. I didn’t want to engage in this debate with him and tried to explain that at this point in my life whether or not we sing or dance for the student show case just doesn’t matter to me but ended up receiving a lecture on why I should oblige myself to such arguments because to forgo them would mean I don’t care about the ensemble. How do you tell someone who is still so in the throws of this process, that in life you have to choose you battles and fight for what really matters but recognize when issues are superfluous and unimportant to the greater scheme, especially when you have just figured this out yourself. I tried to tell him that I no longer desire a life filled with unnecessary drama but the message didn’t seem to translate and I just felt pompous and full of crap. And so very ready to get off that bus. There are some really great people on this trip but there is one shining beacon of hope for me in all this madness. My classmate Katherine, or Katiya as the Russians call her, is probably one of the neatest – yes I said neatest and I don’t mean tidy – girls I have ever met. She is an old soul and a valuable confidant and a breath of fresh air in the midst of ego. She was sharing my feelings of tension on the bus so when we finally got off we bolted away from the group and found the most amazing Irish pub. We wasted several hours drinking beer, eating the best burger and fries I have had here, (okay, the only real burger and fries I have had here) and talking about life while she tried her best to convince me to give up LA and live with her in New York. We has so much fun, so much so we barely noticed the man who pulled up a chair at the table next to us and proceeded to watch us like a reality TV show right before his very eyes. By the time we left, we were a little tipsy and a lot poorer and ready to check out the Russian Art Museum. I have never experienced an art museum inebriated before and while I would not say it would be something to do on a regular basis considering all the invaluable artifacts I could have easily tipped over, it did seem very Russian and quite fun. (I did get completely ripped off buying what I thought was a Russian art book only to later realize it was German but at least I got a story out of it.) After we sobered up we went to the Cathedral of Spilled Blood, which one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen. The entire interior is one giant mosaic and while I was able to take photos, it doesn’t come close to doing justice to the feast of color the tiles created. After the Church, we met up with Stephanie and ran through the rain looking for a place to get dry and warm. We found this tented garden café with cozy couches, a live jazz band playing English tunes in the vein of Diana Krall, and big screen TV playing American sports with English subtitles. I was in heaven, I cannot even begin to explain. I get so excited any time I have the slightest clue what someone is saying, let alone when things are in English. This language here has proven to be a near impossibility for me and even when I know for a fact that I am saying things correctly, people stare at me like I am crazy and just walk away. It is beyond exhausting so these little moments of pleasure and understanding go a long way to keeping me sane. Well, the Irish coffee didn’t hurt either.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 18 – Day 31

I have always thought the idea of an overnight train ride was romantic; a cozy sleeper car, sipping cocoa while watching the gorgeous landscape fly by through the chamber window, like some sort of throwback to Some Like It Hot. The reality of an evening on the eight hour Moscow to St. Petersburg passenger train was more like a cross between A Murder on the Orient Express and The Twilight Zone. I got on the train already hyped up from the mad dash to the station and when I got into the twin bed size compartment for four, I started to panic. There was no place to move, there was no window and the heavy metal door slammed shut to create the image of a tiny metal casket in my mind. The wine we had while packing was not helping the situation and I started to feel very ill. There was so much noise, so many people swirling around me in the narrow velvet corridor that the world began to spin. I have been claustrophobic for a very long time and have gotten to the point here in Russia that I know that at times it will be unavoidable, like when the metro stopped for twenty minutes underground on my way home from a show, but last night when the train started to leave the station I honestly thought there was no way I was going to be able to make it. One of the guys in my cell pulled me aside and gave me a little pill to calm me down. I think it was an anti-anxiety drug but whatever it was, it worked and I started to calm down and could breathe again. The train ride was pretty rocky and no one got any sleep so by the time we finally arrived in St. Petersburg we were all very irritable and desperate for a nap. Unfortunately the hostile wasn’t expecting us and there were no rooms ready. We dropped off our luggage and walked to St. Isaac’s Cathedral, which we were told had the most amazing views of the city but when we got there all that waited for us was an empty glass kiosk with the word INFO written in English. It was so emblematic of our life here that almost everyone stopped to take a picture. We all split up to wait for our rooms to be ready and by that point all I wanted was a little solitude and some rest. We are together CONSTANTLY – thirty five people moving as a giant herd, bumping into one another, stepping on each others toes and just generally grunting with discontent. After a month of togetherness and ensemble work, and being ushered in groups from one place to another I am starting to forget what quiet feels like. Sometime while waiting for my room in the rain, it hit me – in two months I will have to leave this place and these people and return to an empty apartment that no longer feels like home and a life that is currently without direction and start over. I looked around at all of these kids, a term I use not out of disrespect but jealousy, who are busy planning their next semester of courses, who have no bitterness, no jaded disposition about the harsh reality of the business that awaits them and I felt so very alone. I took this trip to find myself or re-find myself and each day it seems I am moving further and further away from who I was when I left. So much of that is wonderful. I feel happier, more centered, more alive but at the same time I am terrified that in going back I will move backwards. I see now how very off things have been particularly in the last year, how far I have gotten from everything that makes me good, makes me whole. And I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to think about it, to dwell on it and waste the precious time that I have in this place but I also don’t want, to quote someone I used to know, stick my head in the sand and be completely lost when I get back. I feel at this moment like a woman without a country, without a place. Stephanie says nearly everyday that the longer we are here and the more we learn, the more America feels like some acid trip dream. The days here all blend into one another and the outside world seems to freeze around us. I know that when I return people will have moved on, places will have changed and I might no longer fit into a life that used to be mine. Having no ties or obligations is an exceptional feeling but a paralyzing one as well. How do I take this amazing gift I have received and transform it into something that continues to grow regardless of my zip code? How do I not get stuck?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October 17 – Day 30

“Only in Russia!” This is the feeling that I live with day in and day out here. It is the feeling that unites the American students and causes an endless fluctuation between hilarity and exasperation. Today started off as just another day in Moscow; going to class, preparing scenes, straining to accomplish as much as possible in the few minutes of down-time we have. We had just wrapped up our acting class and were scrambling to make it to an evening meeting before breaking up to see various plays, but before we could all exit the building, several random Russian students came chasing after us yelling that we needed to hurry back to the American Studio. We filed in thinking that we were about to get another warning about our safety with the evening’s much anticipated Russia vs. England soccer game. Marianna finally busted in the room and screamed at us all to be quite – which does not happen, ever. We quickly understood her panic. There had been a mix-up with our train tickets and the train that was supposed take us to St. Petersburg on Thursday night was actually set to leave tonight - in three hours. Okay, things like this happen. Sometimes mix-ups are unavoidable but in Russia it is kind of a way of life. Maybe it is not knowing the language, maybe it is having every moment of the day planned out in detail but whatever the reason, I spend ninety percent of my time having no idea what is going on. So tonight I booked it home on the subway and joked with Kolia about the importance of letting go. If Moscow has given me anything in the month I have been here, it is the freedom that comes with knowing that most things in life are beyond my control, so why fret. Live like Russians - grab a bag, grab your passport and just go.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October 16 – Day 29

A few years ago I saw Merryl Streep in a live radio play and it was pure brilliance. Never before or since have I been so moved by the effortlessness and magnetism of a perfect artistic creature. Last night we had to earn our right to see theatre with a twenty-minute full on sprint but the pay off was beyond worth it. Thirteen of us went to see Constantine Riken in the ‘Cosmetic of The Enemy at the Satiricon Theatre. The play was sort of like a Russian version of ‘Fight Club’ and while I had no idea what was going on because it was basically just two men in black standing on stage talking to one another for three hours, the intensity of Riken’s performance was undeniable. He had an ease on stage I could only dream of possessing. His impulses coursed throughout his entire being – you could feel that each moment was alive in him all the way to his toes. And his specificity!! The difference between good acting and great acting is in that innate specificity of every moment. When we feel things in life, the emotions have a place of residence. Anger may land in your head, passion in your heart. Whatever the emotion, there is a truthfulness that we don’t have to think about – it is just part of our mechanical make up. Actors spend lifetimes trying to understand and dissect those emotional manifestations but performers like Riken just get it. It is so rare and to watch it live is an experience impossible to describe in words. Watching him work left me with this high (It is the same high I get every time I see great art and it is better than anything else in this world. It is what makes all the stupid bullshit of a career in this industry worth it.) and I could not wait to get back to work on my Chekhov scene with Jenna. I have been out of school now for almost four years and in that time the deepest acting I have done was a few late night comedy shows and a chicken commercial, so the thought of delving back into Chekhov was at once intoxicating and petrifying. Luckily there are people in this program with fantastic insight and a generosity of ideas who were there to help. I spent the walk home analyzing my scene with Lexi and Jill, going through it line by line – by far the most fun ever. I feel so silly but every time I work on a scene or listen to a lecture in class I feel like a kid at Christmas. It doesn’t take much and I am inspired, feeling like all of that dead weight I have been carrying around in my soul has been completely sloughed off. When I got back to the dorm, Jenna and I sat at the kitchen table working on our scene and talking about all the things that make Chekhov so great. Chekhov is like life – what is said is almost always quite simple but the underlying conflict is as complex as humanity itself. He did not write characters that were either good or evil. He saw that in all human beings there are tendencies towards beauty and bile. To work on these pieces, to try to understand the point of view of his characters means to take a deeper look at one’s self. I haven’t stretched my mind and heart like this in such a long time and while there is a definite stiffness, it feels so good to feel that pain.

Monday, October 15, 2007

October 15 - Day 28

Today was a landmark day in my training. It was the first time in this program that I thought, ‘Oh god, I do not want to go to class today.’ I had an exam of sorts in ballet and was dreading in it. We were told that we will be performing a show for the entire faculty and I cannot begin to think of anything with which I am more inept. After the last class and just not being able to make my body do the things it so desperately wants to do, I was simply tired of sucking. I hate having that attitude – the best part of coming here was not caring if I fail and trying full out regardless of the outcome, so I decided to suck it up and even if it was only in my head I was going to be graceful. And to a certain extent, it worked! Okay, I am sure I still looked like a jack-ass, failing my limbs around in inhuman ways, but it was fun and Larissa must have sensed I was really trying because every time I did something right she would squeal Korascho!!! Half way through I realized that I was doing things I didn’t know my body could do and hurting places I didn’t know existed. This class is like my mental Everest. I know I will never be a dancer but if I can just get out of my own damn way for a minute I might learn to be a more patient and less judgmental person – and someone who has a lot more fun.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

October 14 - Day 27

My alarm clock went off this morning on accident, and I was so ecstatic to be able to sleep in for once, that I distinctly remember thinking, “Thank god! No construction on the roof for once!” Maybe a half a second later I thought someone was taking a buzz saw to my ceiling. I could hear Jenna scream in the next room (she has a rather amusing volume issue) and when I got up a few minutes later because apparently two Russian men felt the need to have a shouting match outside my room, Jenna was in the hall, pacing back and forth stammering “They are IN MY ROOM!” It was 7:30 in the morning, they weren’t really in our rooms but they might as well have been, and with the raging headaches everyone seemed to have from last night’s ‘Let’s bond as a group through homemade Mojitios’ party, they were an especially unwanted sight. I tried to go back to sleep with the aid of ear plugs but a few hours later I woke up with Jenna hovering over my bed and I screamed bloody hell. She had this deranged look on her face and kept saying, “Do you know day it is?” I was half asleep; of course I didn’t know what day it was. She told me to look out my window and when I did I saw that full-on snow storm had begun in Moscow. This wouldn’t be that interesting/creepy if it wasn’t for the fact that a few weeks ago when we went to see ‘The Queen of Spades’ at the Bolshoi, Marianna had told us how October 14th is a religious holiday in Moscow and gone on and on about how every year, even if for only a few minutes, it snows. We, of course, laughed it off, which is something that happens on a somewhat regular basis with Marianna (she is a lovely lady but is from Siberia and is a little out there) but when we saw the snow this morning it was the first thing anyone could talk about. And it was the beginning of my super creepy day in Russia. We decided since we were awake and it was cold and snowing/sleeting that the best way to spend the day would be to wait in line to see Lenin’s Tomb. It was freezing and by the time we got in there I was soaked, but the real chills came from seeing the almost hundred year-old body hanging out there in the glass case. I have no idea how they preserved him. I am not sure I want to know the details of such an embalming technique but all I can say is I am glad the Russians have finally decided to bury him in the ground because that was just wrong. So I figured the only way to top that would be to hang out in the creepy basement of the MXAT dorms by myself for the afternoon. I had had plans to go to the Pushkin Museum but was so cold and tired I decided to head back and beat the rush to do laundry. The laundry is in the basement down these creepy winding stairs and through a labyrinth of doors but I figured if I was going to be down there I might as well only make one trip so I hung out and read some Chekhov and had a really cozy afternoon – until I decided to explore. I had one more load so I decided to see where all the other doors lead. So many places here have weird tunnels underneath them, I got curious to see what was down there. I freaked myself out so bad! I went thru a series of corridors which lead into what must have been an old shower room. I accidentally back up against the wall and all the tiles I touched came crashing to the ground. It echoed so loud – it scared me to death. I have never bolted out of a place so fast. I think from now on I am going to stick to doing my laundry when people are around and get out my curiosity elsewhere.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

October 13 - Day 26

More and more I am finding that there must be some force in the universe far beyond our scope that hears our inner fears and pains and sends us signs to guide us in our understanding of the world. Things happen for a reason. There is a method to the madness. Fate. Destiny. God. Whatever it is, there is something bigger than me that keeps sending me these signals, letting me know that everything is going to be okay. And sometimes those signals come in the most ridiculous packages. In this case it was ‘coffee guy’. We don’t have computer access in the dorms so in order to post these long-winded entries I have to go to one of the few free internet cafes in the area called Respublica, where they sell thousand dollar hand bags and eight dollar lattes, and coffee guy talks to me through broken English while I sit at the bar eating the free cookies he gives me on the sly. Coffee guy is the resident hippie stud. The twenty year-old girls I go to school with sit around checking their Facebook accounts (something I missed as apparently it is a big thing now) and stare him, giggling. I am usually too absorbed in my own self-indulgent writing but I guess he has been hitting on me and today, coffee guy (I have no idea what his name is) finally asked me on a date. It came completely out of left field and I just sort of stammered, “Uh yeah, sure, maybe, sometime!” and I ran out the door. Not exactly my smoothest moment but I haven’t even been thinking about such things and in the land of Amazon beauties, where I always look sweaty and exhausted, I didn’t really think it was an issue I would have to deal with anytime soon. But, to be honest, it was pretty darn cool. I walked to school with a stupid grin plastered to my face, as my fourteen year-old self gave me internal high fives. The day just kept getting more and more laughable. I was invited to attend the second year Russian students’ fencing class with five other students from my group, under the guise that we might be able to join the class for the rest of the semester. Gregory, which sounds so much cooler in Russian, is the professor’s assistant and might be the most dashing human being I have ever met. We all sat there, jaws ajar, as he demonstrated thrusting and proper parrying technique. It was brilliant and we all left wanting to act out the sword fighting in ‘The Princess Bride’ (and maybe a few other scenes as well!). Hour by hour, I had one strange run in with a Russian man after another. Jenna and I decided to do actual grocery shopping (The Azbuka by the dorms is a western grocery and is insanely expensive. I think the cheapest orange juice is eight dollars a carton.) There is a store about twenty minutes from the dorm and while the walk wasn’t terrible on the way there we didn’t take into consideration the pouring rain or ten bags we would have on the walk back. Jenna was completely soaked from the waist down and practically in tears trying to maneuver in her soggy Ugg boots. I tried to carry most of the bags because she kept moaning that she thought they were going to break. Sure enough, three blocks from the store her bags busted sending canned goods in all directions. I wanted to laugh, scrambling to catch jars of peanut butter and pineapple before they rolled into the street. Jenna was less amused so we decided to try to hail a cab. Now, in my right mind, one that typically exists when I am not drenched and carrying 3o pounds of groceries, I would have know that this was not a good idea but when Jenna and I are out and about it seems we can’t help but find ourselves in these situations. I called the dorm to try to get our address or street name (names of streets or places in Moscow are very confusing because five streets may have the same name with just a different ending) but when a car finally pulled over I panicked and the name vanished from my memory. The car looked like something from the old KGB movies and driver looked about like what you would expect from a Russian taxi driver/hit-man. I went to grab my cell phone to call the dorm again for help but unfortunately Jenna’s peanut butter was wedged in my pocket and I couldn’t get it out. My arms were weighed down with the bags and I looked to Jenna for help but she just stood there frozen looking back and forth between me and the angry cabbie. I was attempting what could only be described as a deranged chicken dance to get it out. I finally screamed “Jenna, help me!” but she just started crying, “What am I supposed to do!?!” With that the passengers who had been in the cab opened the door a crack and looked at us with a glare. “You no Russki!” they barked and slammed the door. The cab sped off with them still inside, spraying us with water as they went. It was exactly like all the commercials you see on TV and all I could do was laugh – my hysterical, ‘You’ve just gotta love Russia’ laugh. I grabbed more of Jenna’s bags and started marching in the direction of home. Shit happens and in this country it happens a lot. All you can do is hold onto your humor, your friends and of course, a big umbrella.

Friday, October 12, 2007

October 12 - Day 25

There is an ongoing struggle living in Moscow between wanting to assimilate to Russian culture and maintaining the individual truth that comes with being an American. Last night was trip. It was the most American thing I have seen since I have been here (which is interesting, considering it is Swedish music about a Greek Island performed in Russian and directed by a Brit) and it made me really miss the joviality of home. I want to laugh loud, guttural, inappropriate laughs outside the classroom. I want smile at strangers and not feel scared. I want to feel at ease with different-ness, which proved to be the topic of the day. Different students have different takes on how we, as Americans, should behave when we are out and about in Moscow. Russians are a quite people in public and no matter how socially aware we are, when we travel to shows in groups we stick out in the worst kind of way. So that being said, I haven’t quite decided how I feel about my evening metro experience. Tonight we went to a show at the Tshukin school, performed by their movement students. It was bizarre and not really my taste but regardless it was entertaining. Our students then decided that the entertainment shouldn’t end there and fifteen or so guys began group beat-boxing as we walked down the streets of Moscow, even getting our little Siberian translator Marianna to join in. It was funny and really quite good but when we entered the metro and it continued some of the other students began to get really uncomfortable. So this is where I begin to have my internal debate. Part of me understands. It is the part of me who has always cared way too much about what other people think, who has been afraid to look stupid, who has passed up on too many opportunities for joy because I worried about the perception of others. I lost myself worrying how someone else perceived me and ended up being miserable. Now do I think beat boxing in the metro in Moscow is the most appropriate thing – maybe not - but it didn’t hurt anyone, and as our program coordinator Colleen, constantly reminds us – this is good for Russians. Everyone should be pushed out of their comfort zone a little now and then, to test the waters of what is new and different and see how much your own internal perceptions can be change. I definitely feel like I am growing out of my mine.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

October 11 - Day 24

There has to be a reason for things like MacDonald’s, reality TV and the really bad chick flick or action movie. Sometimes the real world is too much to process and our brains need a break. This is the hardest thing I have ever done and I knew that it would be going in. I am still to figure out parts of my life before this and am trying to hold off on thinking too much about the future. Through it all I am doing my best to maintain a rather Buddhist mentality about the whole thing, accepting the difficulty, feeling it truthfully and letting it go. For the most part I feel like I have been pretty successful and I am getting far more out of it all than the minor pain I have to endure. But sometimes days just suck and all you want is to ingest some crap and turn it all off for a while. Today was one of those days. I had a really rough ballet class and let the frustration of my gracelessness get to me. The agitation was almost out of my system when I got a weird message from someone back in LA. I wasn’t sure how to take it and lapsed into familiar obsessive tendencies, worrying for no reason about stupid things that have nothing to do with me anymore. Acting class is usually my salvation. The minute I get in the room I just shut out the rest of the world and instantly feel better, but today I couldn’t do it. My mind was out to lunch and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t focus. I felt so disappointed in myself, saddened that I let it all get to me, that let it affect my work, and just wanted to go home, curl up and cry. Unfortunately, Alex had called a friend of his before he left and gotten all the NIU kids tickets to ‘Mama Mia’ in Russian.
I really did not want to go. A musical based on the music of Abba doesn’t exactly strike me as genius and the thought of listening to it in Russian just sounded down right wrong. And it was. It was so, so, so bad that it was fabulous! I have not laughed that hard since I got here. Every part of it was just so wrong it was amazing. The theatre was the most westernized of all the playhouses I have been to and was clearly a purely commercial venue. There was a Ford Focus in the lobby and at intermission one of the shows choreographers came out and taught the audience a disco line dance. It was hilarious. We grape-vined, we shuffled, we had a blast. And then the choreographer put a spotlight on us and announced to the audience that we were Americanskis from MXAT and the entire auditorium cheered. The show, which I think would be just terrible in English, was hilarious in Russian and when they launched into the post-encore concert, we were the first people to get up and dance. The Russians looked at us like we were aliens but no one cared and by the third song everyone around us joined in the fun. It was exactly what I needed, three hours without thinking or feeling anything but joy. It was the theatrical equivalent of a Big Mac on a really bad day.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Octoer 10 - Day 23

Last night after the meeting, I had a run in that typifies the f-ed up nature of life in Moscow. Jenna and I decided to go back to the boutique grocery by the metro to pick up some wine and food for a really scrumptious dinner in hopes it would help us chill out after the very stressful day. We were in the store picking out trail mix when we got accosted by a very drunk Russian man who wouldn’t leave us alone. He kept getting in our faces and tried to grab Jenna by the arm. One female employee tried to get him to leave but the others just sat behind the counter laughing at us while I tried my best to squeak out, “HET! HET!” hoping he would go away. He was finally ushered outside and I went into the basement to pick out some wine while Jenna paid. She must not have understood where I said I was going because she thought maybe I left and went outside to look for me. Our scary Russian friend was there waiting for her and a shop employee had to yank her back into the store. Suddenly it wasn’t so funny to them anymore. These things happen everywhere but when you don’t know the language and you can’t understand what crazy drunk men are saying it adds to the fear factor a little bit. Needless to say Jenna and I stayed very close on the way home. Later, after we had made it back and were cooking our feast, we realized that the NIU students were the only ones in the dorm and for the first time since Alex left we were all together. We threw an impromptu potluck and made a make-shift dining table in the hallway. It was fantastic and chill. It was the type of family gathering I have missed being here.
I have been nervously anticipating today since I went to the doctor last week. I have been so worried that she was going to give me more bad news or tell me that the nodes on my vocal chords are still present. I woke up with anxiety despite having a lovely evening and felt on edge all day. My class was particularly loud and combative, and filled theatre-people drama today and I so desperately wanted to be around thirty year olds. I had a sudden wave of sympathy for people on the receiving end of other’s drama. I have lost my stomach for it and had no desire to deal. Half-way through the day I decided to give myself the right to speak regardless of any doctor’s clearance. My voice is still very raspy and weak but I just needed the release. We started acting class with our daily impressions and I decided to share my terrifying visit to the doctor. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to tell someone about it – about anything – about how scared I have been and how isolating the silence could be. Colleen, our poor program coordinator and today’s translator, looked horrified. Clearly, she had never seen this so-called medical genius. I had just finished up my impression and a few daily exercises when Marianna pulled me out of class for my appointment. I think because I talked about it and joked about it, it was far less scary than the first time. Luckily the appointment was brief and much less painful. She said that the damage on my vocal chords seemed to be healing and while I still shouldn’t talk for a few more days, and most importantly shouldn’t cry, everything looked okay. When we left, the clouds in the sky had parted and for the first time in almost a week there was sun. While, speechlessness isn’t something I would request for myself, it has shown me a lot and given me a lot more to think about. I feel like I have handled this situation pretty well and it has given me the opportunity to reflect on so many other times when I haven’t handled things at all. The mind and the heart aren’t always on the same page. Some people operate better from one place than the other. I feel like for while now my heart and mind been in such adverse juxtaposition to one another because of truths I was too afraid to admit to myself. I am learning so much being in Russia and through all of this several ideas keep playing in my head and appearing in my daily life. We are not innocent of what we are too blind to see. And as the past week has shown me, sometimes the words left unsaid are the ones that hold the most value.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

October 9 - Day 22

I have lost count but I think we are going on day 5 of hurricane Moscow. I can’t remember the last time I was dry or warm or, thanks to my insane dance and movement teachers, not in total pain. And you can tell it is starting to get to people, everyone is getting cranky. It is kind of funny, in a ‘I am so deliriously tired, it has to be’ kind of way because it is obvious that everyone is really, really trying not to be bitchy but it is so damn hard. We are all so dead and the pretty faces are all beginning to melt. (Last night, I actually fell asleep, sitting completely upright on the edge of my chair at a modern dance adaptation of the Rite of Spring, which I was thoroughly enjoying. I woke up just in time to see the bows and catch the drool before it made its way down my chin.) I was really bad yesterday and cheated with the talking so I did my best to be good today, avoiding speech entirely. But after yet another meeting with 35 screaming 20 year-old theatre kids I had had enough. I truly like all of the students I work with but the concept of ensemble is new to most of them and everyday is like dealing with thirty divas who are determined to have their voices heard above the rest. Originally, I refrained from saying anything because I have no desire to be the theatre mom. Then, I didn’t say anything because I physically couldn’t. It was one of the most bizarre group interactions I have ever had. I think Jenna put it best when she said that because I couldn’t talk people really had to listen. You could hear a pin drop as they stood there bug-eyed with their chins on the floor, taking in my practically inaudible whisper. The only message I wanted to share was that everyone here is of value and every voice deserves to be heard. I wanted to hug them all and tell them to just ease up on each other. I am not sure why but my need to protect the mistreated here is intense and it killed me to watch everyday as the spirits of really amazing performers/human beings were being quashed. I remember so vividly that desperate feeling that these programs create in the young or insecure but god, after almost four years of living not as an artist but a product in a deeply messed up industry, I so wish I could impart to them the freedom I feel being here. And I know I can’t, it is not my place but oh how I wish someone somewhere had taken me aside and said, “Chill out. The drama and the stress and the worry are just not worth it -whatever will be, will be. All you have to do is trust yourself” And I am sure someone probably did but I was to busy freaking out to listen. In this case, Jenna just grabbed my arm as I walked out the door and said, “I am so glad you are here.” It about broke my heart. This place, this process, this silence is the most intense learning experience I have ever gone through and we are only on the third week.

Monday, October 8, 2007

October 8 - Day 21

Everybody’s got a story. Every person has one thing that makes them glow, one thing that they truly love, which gives them passion and fires up their existence. The best part of not being able to talk is that you really have to listen. Suddenly I am hearing people in a whole new way and learning that if you’re willing to be there then people will often be willing to share their souls. Last night we had rehearsal for the group performance we had to do in acting today. It ran really late and after a long day of sight-seeing in the rain I was exhausted, starving and ready to get home. It was still pouring as Jenna and I made our way back to the dorm so we decided to duck into a little coffee shop for some hot cocoa to warm us up on the walk home. We waited for our Kakao and Jenna used the opportunity to confide in me about her fears with the program, hopes for the future and ideas of art. She spoke of the neo-futurists (a movement that some of my classmates from college belong to) and the moments of theatre that changed her life. I have been having so many of these impassioned theatre conversations lately but I realized half-way through our walk that this was the first time I let someone else do all the talking. It was amazing. Jenna was practically floating and she kept apologizing for gushing. I know that feeling so well and I just kept hugging her wishing I could tell her how impressed I was with her intelligence and conviction – how blessed I felt to share in her enthusiasm. I know that I can talk, that I have plenty of ideas and opinions but damn it felt good to just shut-up and let someone else revel in their excitement for a while. My face hurt from smiling, which is something that keeps happening here. One minute I am sad and cold and exhausted and the next I am on this surreal high, feeling like the luckiest person in the entire world. I came to Moscow looking for my path and I am not sure that I have found it or that I ever will find it but I keep finding these moments, these tiny life lessons that are putting all the stupid crap I left behind in perspective. Maybe that is all life is, a series of tiny little moments, hints about this great big answer we are all searching for. That walk home was the best conversation I have had in Moscow, one of the best conversations I have had in my life and I didn’t say a word.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

October 7 - Day 20

“Moscow is hard.” Daniel whispered behind me. I had been sitting on a bench in the Tretyakov Gallery staring at a painting for nearly twenty minutes. I knew I had a pained look on my face but didn’t have the energy to disguise it. I was tired, hurting and sad. The silence had finally gotten to me – too much time swimming in my own head. We had spent another rainy day in Moscow sightseeing in a large group. It began with the Stanislavski Museum, which was the home where he was imprisoned by during the final years of his life. It was fascinating but frustrating. I wanted to be able to ask questions, to talk with my classmates about what I was seeing but I couldn’t. So I cheated, speaking as lightly as I could without whispering; only a few words here and there when I was absolutely desperate. It was a very bad idea and the pain slowly crept up my throat. Big groups are impossible with this speechlessness. If it is just one on one I stand a chance of being able to communicate at some level but when there are multiple people it is just too easy to speak around the person who can’t talk. There was time to kill before the going to the gallery and somehow I ended up spending the day with Nick, the only one of my classmates I never really talk to. I can’t quite figure him out. Maybe he is shy, maybe we don’t have anything in common, maybe he just had no desire to talk to me but regardless, this was the first time we had spent any time together and there we were traipsing around Moscow in the rain, making a pathetic attempt at charades. I finally broke down and asked him if he wanted to get a drink – I have never wanted one more than at that moment. Katherine and I had discussed keeping FAQ as our little secret but desperate times called for desperate measures. We ran into Daniel on the way and at that point I was just relieved to have a break from my feeble attempts at sign language. As I anticipated they were utterly blown away by FAQ and thanked me profusely for bringing them there. We drank our hot whiskey and cider and Nick and I read Puskin Fairytales while Daniel attempted to check his email. It was so nice to be able to sit in the company of others without trying to speak. There has been a strange side effect of this situation which is that my other senses seem to be supercharged. I am noticing people’s subtle tells; their vocal tones, shifts they make with their eyes, and just general energies. So I am sitting there, across the table from a person with whom I have never shared a real conversation, who I am still not ‘talking’ to, but dare I say, I think we might have been making strides toward friendship through weird glances and ridiculous smiles. When we left to make our way to the metro to meet a few other students going to the gallery, Moscow, to be perfectly blunt, looked like the apocalypse. These days it is dark and rainy and generally unpleasant. A week ago we were running around without jackets and now I am deeply regretting my decision not to bring military issued snow boots. It had already turned down-to-the-bone cold and sadly, I was quickly losing my spunk. The gallery is a very beautiful place in an older area of Moscow that feels much more like the city I anticipated, then the Rodeo Drive-inspired area we typically frequent. The place was packed with people and I just wanted to wander around by myself. Our very, very sweet Russian ‘angel’ Katiya, however, seemed determined to show me around. While I truly appreciated her enthusiasm, classic portraiture is really not my interest so I took the first opportunity I had to disappear into a quiet wing and gaze at the a massive fresco. I was lost in thought when Daniel found me. “Moscow is hard,” he said and there are days or fractions of days when I want to hate this place. But then something so unbelievably random happens that it is impossible not to laugh. Daniel curled up next to me on the bench and I sooo wish I had a video of what happened next. It was a sort of slow motion train wreck aided by my inability to speak. There was this woman who was dressed like a low rate hooker. Her black bra was fully exposed though her sheer mid-drift top and as she teetered on her stilettos she tugged methodically at her over-processed platinum hair. Her mesmerizing erratic behavior was directly in my line of sight, while from Daniel’s perspective, in the opposite corner of the room, a vicious looking schoolmarm type was becoming increasingly enraged. At the same time he and I tried to point out what we were observing but before we could get our lines of communication uncrossed, the schoolmarm charged the hooker like she was a regular in Pamplona. She got so close she could practically count cavities and began reading her the riot-act. The young woman who was clearly strung out just stared back at her and then let out the most terrifyingly animalistic cackle. Neither woman budged for a solid minute until the blonde lost her balance and stumbled backward. Suddenly the room refilled with air and the blond woman marched out of the gallery laughing all the way down the hall. Daniel and I just stared at each other with the “What the hell was that?!?” grin that has become such a necessary part of daily life in Moscow and is typically followed by the “Who the hell knows” shrug. And just like that we were off and moving again - rehearsals to get to, meetings to plan. Maybe if we are lucky we will get home before dawn.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

October 6 - Day 19

It is cold. It is dreary. It hasn’t stopped raining in days and I am pretty sure there is no end in sight. There also appears to be no end to the construction on the roof that wakes me up bright and early each day. Today I was so excited because due to a schedule change I was to have the entire morning to sleep in. The very loud, slightly crude Russian men outside my bedroom door at 7:30 in the morning had other things in mind. I laid there telling myself not to fight it, the hammering, the JACK HAMMERING, will never end. I had just gotten back to sleep when a guy on my floor knocked on my door bearing ear-plugs and a smug grin in return for a favor. At that point I had no need for the ear-plugs and figured the best use of my time would be sharing the hell with someone else. I went in and crawled under the covers in Bob’s room, forcing him to fill me in on all the details I missed from the previous day’s acting class. He talked and I drifted in and out of sleep with my feet in that poor boy’s face. It was just like slumber parties we used to have in college when we would spend rainy Saturday mornings curled up in somebody’s bunk bed waiting out the storm. It was fantastic and exactly what I needed. We only had our acting class today and Igor was the sole instructor. I have to be honest; I have a total mentor crush on him. He is absolutely stupendous and he makes me laugh until my insides hurt. Today he told the most hilarious story about an accidental run in he had with pot when he was on tour in the States and even though I heard what the translator was saying, he was completely clear using only his eyes. He is such a fantastic actor. I cannot wait to se his next production. After class Katherine and I wanted to go in search of good food and a place with internet access. Katiya, one of out Russian ‘angels’ offered to show us an underground café frequented by young Moscovites and hipsters called FAQ. She wasn’t speaking figuratively. This place is literally underground – down an alley, through a construction site, down hidden staircase and through a heavy wooden door that makes me feel like I should have some sort of secret code to gain entrance. And it is AMAZING!!! It is now my favorite place in all of Moscow. It reminds me of a converted wine cellar or maybe some of the caves my Dad drug me to as a kid. There are several zones, as they say. The place is a restaurant/bar/internet café/lounge/hookah joint/library plus the food is cheap (by Moscow standards) and the cocktails are delicious. If FAQ were a man, I would marry him instantly and maybe even consider taking his name. We convinced Katiya to stay and have one drink with us and somehow we managed to spend four hours hanging out, laughing and sharing stories through broken English, basic Russian and one very large notepad that never seems to leave my side. Everyone has a story, I am finding and more than anything they are just looking for someone to share it with. These days I seem to be an easy outlet. And it is great. I am finding out so many things about people that I might not have known because I am forced to think carefully and ask questions that really matter because I want to know the answers. Hearing what relative strangers have to say, about their hopes, their fears, their lives in general, is the only thing making this silence bearable, maybe even a little fun. I guess it is my cliché silver-lining to another cloudy day in Moscow.

Friday, October 5, 2007

October 5 - Day 18

Today is difficult to write about. It was complicated and scary then delightful and refreshing. I am having a difficult time wrapping my brain around it all and I’m not sure where to start. The only thing I know for sure is that I make boys cry. While this isn’t exactly news, it’s really starting to freak me out. The day began normally enough. I woke up this morning feeling better about my voice than I have in days and while it still really hurts to talk at least sound was being produced. I made it through my Russian Cinematography class without speaking too much and I have to say, for a three hour class that starts at nine in the morning, I find it absolutely captivating. It has been such a great addition to the program. I knew my love of theatre would be easy to reconnect with but having a class that reminds me of all the things that once stirred my interest in film makes the concept of going back to Los Angeles so much more bearable. I honestly love all of my classes. It is such gluttony of the mind. I wish I could retain it all but I know it is impossible so rather than frantically taking notes I just try to relish in the magnificent storytelling of each professor. Half-way through my Acting class, Marianna, the head Administrator of the American Studio pulled me out of class to tell me that MXAT had called in a favor and the foremost vocal doctor (I am sure there is an actual term for this, but I forget) in Moscow would be willing to treat me free of charge. Russians aren’t exactly known for their desire to bend over backwards to help others bur as Marianna told me later things are different at MXAT. You mention MXAT and people are more than willing to work with you. Anyway, we headed to medical office, which is based out of the Bolshoi Theatre as to be available for the most important actors and singers in Moscow at all times. It was a mind-trip walking through the facility like I was someone who actually mattered and I felt so cool surrounded by famous pictures of famous Russian dancers, singers and actors. However, the feeling of awe I all but vanished the moment we went into the doctor’s office, if you can call it that. The most terrifying visions you could possibly have of a Russian medical facility pale in comparison to the real deal. Luckily, my brain just couldn’t really process it – it really couldn’t be like this. There couldn’t really be a set-up straight out of every old black and white horror movie I have ever seen. (I half expected them to lay me back and give me a lobotomy!) There couldn’t really be two of the most terrifying lab-coat clad doctors I have ever seen, one with a ZZ Top beard and the other pushing 90 with a giant bright red beehive, waiting to light medal tubes on fire and then shove them down my throat while I was instructed to pull on my tongue with gauze. I know Russia has come a long way but I don’t think they have quite caught up to modern western medicine. It was horrible. I tried not to cry but I was so completely freaked out by the slew of people me instructions in Russian and saying horrible words in English that let me know things were more serious than I had anticipated. Marianna told me that the doctors said I had had a bad respiratory infection which was causing nodes to develop on my vocal chords. I don’t know much about medicine but I know one thing you don’t mess with is nodes, especially if you are a performer. I had a teacher in high school who destroyed her voice because of nodes and it was horrendous to listen to her speak let alone sing. They gave me a long list of medications to buy, including a special inhaler. Then they told me I would need to be absolutely silent for 5 days and then come back to be evaluated again. I have barely been speaking as it is but the thought of going through class for another week without being able to communicate was just a lot to take. I am still really curious as to how this is going to work. I have already missed the last three singing classes and it looks like I will miss at least two more. After trying three pharmacies for this magic medicine to no avail, I went to catch up with my class who were just finishing up acting. They had all apparently been filled in on the situation and were given instructions not to ask me to speak. Luckily the girls in my class so very sweet and we decided to forgo our plans to go out and instead planned a relaxed girls night complete with mulled wine (one prescription the Russians got right!). We bought, I brick (not a bar) of chocolate, red wine and cheese and artisan bread and hid from the boys on the floor in the room that was supposed to be our kitchen but was never completed. We spread out a comfy blanket on the floor and had a picnic with different ladies migrating in and out throughout the night. We were silly and girlie and everyone patiently waited while I wrote out my comments on a increasingly full notepad. When we finally finished we discovered that the gents had decided to plan a special ‘man night’ in retaliation to not being invited to our soirée. The guys genuinely make me laugh. They were doing the exact same things at 20 that guys I know in their 30’s through 90’s still do. I guess that is the whole idea of guys will be guys – and that is something I find increasingly comforting. So speaking of the opposite sex, I seem to have a strange effect on them these days. Big burly ones, little effeminate ones, it doesn’t matter – they talk to me and they cry. It started the first weekend here. I was talking to one of my classmates Alex, giving him input on his scene and sharing my two cents about the theatre and before you knew it he was weeping. He told me later that it was one of the most amazing conversations he’d ever had (hell, it lasted three and half hour!). The next weekend was the same deal only this time it was one of the other NIU students. Tonight my evening ended sitting across the table from Mitch, while he read my lips (he is partially deaf and the only person I can communicate with now with ease) and I tried to ease his fears and concerns about this difficult path he and I have chosen. Mitch is a big, loud, funny guy, who as I learned tonight had, until this year, never shed a tear. We sat there, me mouthing inaudible words to which he responded in the softest way I have ever heard him speak and he slowly teared up. I was so moved. It was so honest and real. It was the most surprising way to end the evening. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and if I can have a few more nights like that then another week of silence might just be worth it.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

October 4 - Day 17

Moscow is a very surreal place. This entire experience can be defined as surreal. Or maybe bizarre. Or at least complicated. I am getting hit with so many conflicting emotions at once that it is hard to process it all. One moment I am so blissfully thrilled to be doing whatever it is I am doing and the next I am just trying to breathe through the anxiety of whatever strange foreign obstacle has presented itself. I feel so schizophrenic but I think that might just be part of the process. I am going on Day, I don’t know - 3 or 4 maybe, of silent living. I had gotten used to not being able to communicate with the people in Moscow but it is much more frustrating to not be able to speak with my colleagues or ask questions in class. I could be really depressed about it, but like all things in Moscow it just isn’t that easy. Today the faculty told me they want me to go to the Bolshoi Theatre tomorrow and work with the company’s private physician to figure out what is wrong with me. And while I am sure it will cost a pretty penny, how freaking cool would that be?!? Suddenly all my classmates are jealous of my affliction. Beyond that my sudden loss of speech is really helping my acting. I have always been somewhat uncomfortable being free with my physicality on stage and now I am not worrying about it because I have no choice but to express myself physically and the results have been phenomenal. I cannot express how much I love my acting class. It is like Christmas and Birthdays and rainbows and sunshine all rolled up in one, and now it is even more fun – like a new weird challenge has been added to the mix. That is the crazy thing about this place. It is hard not to find the value in every situation. It is constant learning, constant growth and I have to say I think I am growing in ways I never anticipate. Winter officially started tonight in Moscow and when we got out of class it had turned bitter cold and was starting to pour. We decided to take the metro back to the dorms in lieu of a forty minute walk in the rain and while the idea of the subway at rush-hour is my most vivid image of hell, I didn’t want to risk prolonged silence. We made it on the train fine and even managed to find seats but when we got off my absolute worst nightmare came to life. The subways in Moscow are 40 meters under ground and were designed to act as nuclear fall-out shelters during the Cold War. They are cavernous and always packed. You can feel the oxygen running out as you stand there. So when we made our way to the escalator room to exit some sort of pile up happened. Suddenly there were hundreds of people flooding in from all directions and I was stuck in the middle unable to move. People were slamming into me from all sides and no one was going anywhere. I realized at that moment that there was no way for me to panic – I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t even whisper for help. Luckily one of my classmates, Bob, who is an incredibly sweet and conscientious, knew about my claustrophobia and grabbed my hand from behind me and slowly pushed me through the crowed. This is so lame but I just closed my eyes, stuck my elbows out as far as I could and imagined I was an elephant. I could see the whole thing, my big ears and heavy, powerful legs and giant tusks. I took big deep breaths and moved slowly the way a massive elephant would in a herd. Thinking about it now I feel kind of pathetic but it worked and I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I did take off running as soon as I hit the stairs but hey, at least there was progress. And when I finally hit those sparkling Moscow streets, the freezing rain never felt so good.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

October 3 - Day 16

Last night after a very long and physically exhausting day, which included running up walls and flipping over chairs (the human body was not meant to do these things!) I got the very best treat. I had SEVERAL hours (so crazy!) to just sit in a café by myself and chat on-line with three of my best girl-friends in the entire world. They are the type of people who always go above and beyond, who show up - when you are too distraught to ask, who know just when you need their love and never expect anything in return. When you doubt whether you matter, they are the ones who show you why you do. I love these girls so much and forgot how easy their friendship is – no drama, no expectations, just pure love. I am having an amazing time in Moscow but sharing it with them just made it so much better. I should mention that the reason I had free time was that I am sick – well, I don’t think I am sick - but my Russian teachers are completely freaked-out. I got ill last week and although I feel perfectly fine now I have no voice, none. It was raspy but it just kept getting worse and worse until yesterday it just kind of went away. My acting teacher sent the program coordinator to talk to me because he is very concerned and wants me to be completely silent for the next few days and do this disgusting milk therapy thing (so not happening) until it gets better. They take this type of thing very seriously, in a weird Russian-y kind of way, but I am not quite sure what to do. This is an Acting Conservatory for goodness sake – I sort of need to talk. Rehearsal is a little difficult without it. So instead of going to a show or working in the movement lab I had to take it easy and got to sit in the internet café, drinking jasmine tea and hoping for the best. Unfortunately, when I woke up this morning my voice somehow got worse. It is sometimes painful to speak but I refuse to admit I am sick-sick. Plus it has made class even more interesting. I somehow managed to make it through my entire acting class without speaking and was actually able to do the animal Atude I prepared without making a sound (giraffe – no sound needed), which received a resounding “Success!” (This is a big deal with the Russians. They almost never say something is really good and even rarer is the coveted term ‘Success.’ There is also this weird male vs. female dichotomy, in the way professors respond to the work but I am trying not to let it affect me since it is completely out of my control. - I was the first girl in the class to have a piece classified as a Success, and the one of the few who hear it on a regular basis but I was also the first person to crash and burn in such a magnificent fashion so I figure it all works out.) Also, losing my voice has apparently made me a little crazy. I had one of those completely idiotic moments today, the kind that only hits you hours later when there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It involved me shushing the most important Actor in all of Russian Theatre, and it wouldn’t be that exciting of a story except that I had no clue of who he was at the time. He guess he thought it was hilarious but when I put two and two together several hours later I was absolutely mortified.
Luckily I had plenty of time to ponder my stupidity while we sat in the Bolshoi’s small stage (The ‘small’ stage is still bigger and more beautiful than most of the theaters I have ever visited) watching a new production of “The Queen of Spades,” a Russian opera that is almost four hours long. The production was very impressive with many brilliant moments even though I wasn’t madly in love the show as a whole. Oddly, what I disliked the most from a personal taste perspective: the general design of the piece, with period costumes in a neutral palette on an entirely black and white set, blow-out lighting, and the choice to play with parallel levels covering the entire length of the space, I found most interesting as an artist. The director of this piece made very strong choices and took serious risks and while I didn’t particularly care for the choices he made I commend him for not playing it safe. It was so different from every other opera I have seen and I highly doubt I will soon forget it. Plus, due to a ladies room snafu at intermission (a very long story) I got to go backstage to the women’s dressing room and saw most of the chorus buck naked. Wow, now that was a way to end an evening.