Friday, November 30, 2007

November 30 – Day 74

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

November 29 – Day 73

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

Photos From November in Moscow

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28 – Day 72

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 27 – Day 71

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

November 26 – Day 70

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

November 25 – Day 69 – Part 2

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

November 25 – Day 69 – Part 1

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

November 24 – Day 68

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

November 23 – Day 67

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

November 22 – Day 66

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November 21 – Day 65

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November 20 – Day 64

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

November 19 – Day 63

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November 18 – Day 62

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17 – Day 61

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

November 16 – Day 60

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15 – Day 59

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

November 14 – Day 58

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 13 – Day 57

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

November 12 – Day 56

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11 – Day 55

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

November 10 – Day 54

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

November 9 – Day 53

I heard something interesting today. This morning we added yet another class – Sceneography or Scenic Design, to our roster and I was a bit worried as I had not heard great things about the class or the faculty. In actuality it was not terrible but I did find myself generally opposing most of what was said. (I later wondered if that was because I went in with a negative attitude and promised myself that the next class would be better.) There was one notable exception. Gayev, who bears a striking resemblance to Stalin, told out class that theatre doesn’t teach. It does, however, ask questions and it is because we are still searching for these answers that theatre is relevant. It is an interesting topic which made me think, and thinking it seemed, was to be the topic of the day. We talk here and we think, because aside from acting it is pretty much all there is to do and lately I have been thinking far too much. I go through waves when the thoughts of my imminent and undetermined future creep up in my and I start to worry about what I will do next. I try my best to push them aside and concentrate on the present but now that there is only a month or so left it seems that these are issues I will soon be forced to deal with. Today I tried to distract myself as best I could. Jenna and I went out for sushi and I spent hours working on my scenes. But then we started talking. First Eric and I got into a discussion about the work and the future and he once again showered me with his insights and opinions about my choices in my acting and my life. I have found it is best to just let him talk as I don’t have the desire to debate issues that are personal and private but he did have some interesting insight. He said that it is always obvious when I am thinking too much – this isn’t news, it is my tell – but had I thought that this was something that I had let go of largely here, at least within the classroom. Looking at it now I know what he was saying and I wish so much I could get out of my own way. When I am able to shut it off and just be I find such clarity and release in the work. I just haven’t figured out how to initiate this action. Ironically, right after I left the conversation with Eric, it ending after his rant about why I should get out of LA, I spent an hour talking with Betsy about my life there. She was asking me about my regrets and what I would have done differently, and I wondered for a moment if these were the type of futile thoughts I should be avoiding in the first place. Truth be told, a life without regrets seems to me to be a life not fully lived; maybe this is a point of contention for some people but to me regrets seem slightly unavoidable and it is what you do with them that counts. By the end of the day my head was reeling but luckily my heart was intact. I feel it growing stronger here and while I am still doing much too much pondering, I think for now the lamenting and suffering is over. I am figuring it out here. I guess that was the point.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

November 8 – Day 52

I have forgotten how to breathe. I literally don’t know how to do it anymore. I spent years (and lots of my parents’ money) doing nothing but learning to breathe and now after years of living in Los Angeles and the last year of discontent I did something so incredibly wrong to my body that I no longer know how to breathe right. I wondered aloud if it might be a result of unhappiness and Stephanie posed the idea that such emotion is the result not the cause of an inability to breathe - but I am getting ahead of myself. Today I had my singing lesson with Marina and while I knew I felt tense, I could not pin-point its origin or how to alleviate it. I tried to sing but I just felt as thought I was suffocating. I couldn’t get out the notes and the more I struggled the more stifled my breath became. By the end of the lesson I was gasping for air. Marina punched me in the stomach while I tried to sing with no success except for perhaps a brief stress relief for her. She suggested I go for a massage as my shoulders were rows upon rows of knots. I spent the rest of the day checking in with my breath and I began to notice that I no longer breathe like a performer. My breath has gone shallow and I can’t feel how to breathe into my diaphragm. This might not seem like a huge deal but it made me realize how long it has been since I really had to utilize my breath. In day to day life you can get by, speeding through existence without taking in the moments fully, without breathing into your emotional core. As an artist this is an impossibility. Your mind and emotions are tied so tightly with the breath that I wonder how much my discontent had to do with living this unactualized existence. Stephanie stayed after class and worked with me for hours but I think it is going to take a while longer to undo whatever damage I have done. How did I forget an essential part of being? How did I let it get this far? This was one of those moments of epiphany that puts so much in perspective. I know now that I need this outlet, any outlet, the way I need the air I breathe. It is essential for my livelihood. It is the part that makes me whole, that makes me free and expands my soul like the air flowing the deepest part of me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

November 7 – Day 51

Today I got to live out scenes from one of my favorite movies of all time. With Natasha gone for the week to Egypt for a Yoga retreat our usual movement class was replaced with FENCING. I have to say I am in love. It is now my favorite sport. I felt like such a bad-ass catching swords as they flew through the air and sparing with a partner after only a few minutes of technique training. It is physically exhausting but it is so much fun. This particular training is designed specifically for the stage so rather than simply learning the basics we were taught how to fight from the perspective of the actor. I have done stage combat before but it paled in comparison to the mental and physical stamina this conjured. I left class feeling tougher than Indigo Montoya and ready to choose a new life’s passion. We also had a guest speaker today in our Theatre History class. His name is Constantine Bolganov and he is THE hot new director in Russian theatre. I saw his production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ a week ago and it was so terrible I left at intermission. It was one of the most ridiculous examples of self indulgent visualism I have seen on stage by a non-amateur and it made the thought of sitting through his two hour lecture a little painful. For the most part it was basically what I expected. (I mean he defended making Beatrice, one of the strongest women in all of Shakespeare, a pathetic sex kitten by saying, ‘Why not? She is beautiful. She is attractive. So why not.” It made my skin crawl a little.) But he did say one thing that I found particularly relevant. He said that every performance is an achievement and every performance is a mistake. It is such a fascinating and liberating way to approach life as well as art – without a condemnation of failure, without a constant obsession for perfection. It is one aspect of the Russian artist mentality that I hope I am able to carry with me when I return. It is a much more grounded perspective of reality and it makes the idea of taking risks much less petrifying. The best things in life are scary – they don’t say you never know unless you try for no reason. I feel like being here has allowed me to discover parts of myself I never knew existed, try things I never thought I would enjoy and explore in ways I never knew were possible. I am starting to feel free, like a great woman I always wanted to be.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

November 6 – Day 50

Droznine is the foremost Movement instructor/methodologist in all of Russia. He almost single handedly recreated the way movement was done on the post-revolution stage. (The main reason for this was that Stalin had almost all innovators of movement technique executed during his reign because of any threat they might pose to the Social Realist ideal. Theatre after that was limited primarily to talking.) Natasha is a scholar of Droznine and because she was away this week, she asked him to speak with us. He is such a captivating presence although not at all what I expected. He looks more like Pee-Wee Herman than the Adonis I expected to be responsible for why I am being bent into strange and terrible positions on a daily basis. He had so many insightful theories on humanity and the human form but more so on the spiritual relationship we have with our being. He talked about the pragmatism of his American students and I guess I had never thought of it but it is so very true. In American society we think of our bodies more like something that we own than an essential part of the body, mind, soul triphecta. We eat to get nourishment, to get it done and get on with it. We run because we feel that we need to maintain a certain form or look at our shape from the periphery, as an object to be controlled for public perception or utilization. What I found so intriguing was that he discussed the idea of ritual as a way to maintain daily awareness of your being and as a way to become more present in your world. Being present is something I struggle with and even here, surrounded by these great thinkers with so much knowledge to share, it is hard not to stray to thoughts about what in the hell I am going to do next. The irony didn’t phase me tonight when I read the trades for the first time since I left Los Angeles. I had no idea what was going in the business and really didn’t care but suddenly the writers are on strike and life it seems as well as the business has moved forward in my absence. There was a split second when I thought that maybe this was a make or break situation, like somehow my reaction to this information would be an indication of where I should go next but I am fairly sure life is not that easy. So I panicked for about a second, and then became engrossed, reveling in the idea of thinking for a minute about the actual business - not theories of art but the reality of how to get it done. It was exciting feeling connected again for a second but I quickly realized that there is absolutely no one here I can share this with and no one I can really talk to about it at home, or in LA I should say. Regardless the day was full of insight and exciting new things to ponder about the world although it seems grand revelations about the future will have to wait for another day. For now I just have to deal with the task of being present.

Monday, November 5, 2007

November 5 – Day 49

I had just finished having a conversation about how this was the first day in Moscow that I had absolutely nothing to write about when life once again set out to disprove me. It had been a blissfully uneventful day. I did a little laundry, cleaned my dorm room, even listened to the Patriots/Colts game downloaded from the internet. It was bitterly cold and snowy outside and my pajamas were so comfy I could not bring myself to venture outside. I spent the entire day relaxing and reading with few interesting anecdotes as a result. But then Nick came in to rehearse. We were given our scenes for the final presentation on Saturday and at first I was sort of bummed not to get a scene from Chekhov. Instead I received a scene from Ostrovsky’s ‘The Diary of a Scoundrel.” I am not a huge Ostrovsky fan and at first read this play seemed particularly trivial and ridiculous. I wondered what exactly my professors viewed me as when they were choosing this piece but then I read through it with Nick. It is FUNNY! Actually funny and slightly raunchy (as much as was possible a hundred years ago) and the best part is that the character I am playing is irreverent, sexy and most importantly strong. She is an older woman who has seen and done a few things in her days to male counter-parts blush in unexpected ways. I spent the majority of my college lamenting over playing the weak, girlish victim and then discovered after I graduated that long before I was old enough to drink I appeared too old to play a my age. Since then it has been broken women on the brink of disaster and I have to say it can get to be a downer. It seems I only needed to cross a few continents to be perceived as strong and funny. It is a type of character I have always longed to play and the type of woman I always hope to be. Okay I am not 21 anymore (as my classmates constantly remind me) but that’s okay – I don’t think I was ever that good at it anyway but maybe the best is yet to come. It all seems to be getting better with age.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

November 4 - Day 48

I love Moscow. I love that I love Moscow. It has been a rough two weeks but I finally feel like the hard part is over and I am getting back to the appreciation I had for this city when I first got here. I am finally becoming self-sufficient and capable in traversing the convoluted system that makes up Moscow. It took a month and a half but I am finally starting to get the language, I FINALLY understand the Metro and was able for the first time today to plan my day completely on my own. I made a date with myself today and no one else was invited. I took my time and was for once able to move at my own pace, with no one to wait for or to wait on me. I got up early and enjoyed several cups of coffee in our new kitchen (YAY! IT IS FINALLY FINISHED!) before getting ready to visit the Pushkin Fine Art Museum to see the Chanel Exhibit: The World of Art. The trip required several metro transfers and negotiating a labyrinth of perihotes but suddenly all the signs made sense. I could understand what I was reading and how I needed to navigate the tunnels. What I have missed most about having time alone is the self-sufficiency it requires. During the last few months I was in Los Angeles I got used to constantly doing something, being with people. I forgot how to enjoy the quiet. Here I have been desperate for it and the small amount I have been able to enjoy has reminded me how much value I get from being able to survive on my own. I felt so empowered all day and so much more open to the world around me. I met these hilarious Russian girls and hung out with them while waiting for hours in the queue outside the Museum. They asked me about my experiences here and my honest opinions about Moscow and the veil of discontent that has hung over the last few weeks felt completely non-existent. I knew that there would be point in this trip when things would be difficult and I would be unhappy but it is so nice to finally feel like the hard part is over and I can spend the next month enjoying myself to the fullest. After I left the exhibit, which was one of the most beautifully curated things I have ever seen – it was so ingenious, incorporating touch, smell and sound - I strolled along River reveling in the falling snow, listening to the sounds of Moscovites enjoying the beginning of winter. It was the perfect day. Despite the hard times, I have fallen in love with Russia in its complexity and magnificence. I have no idea how I am going to leave this place.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

November 3 – Day 47

Tonight I was a grown up. For the first time in 47 days (perhaps much longer) I got to be an adult. I have been desperately craving the company of people who are old enough to remember the Gulf War, New Kids on the Block or the importance of Saved by the Bell to an adolescent mind. Five years never seemed like much before but somewhere along the way I realized that I was a college freshman when most of these kids were in middle school and the gap has since seemed insurmountable. A few days ago on my lovely stroll through northern Moscow I met a young British man named Nathaniel at a coffee shop and shared a fantastic conversation while waiting not to be served. We decided to meet up tonight for drinks and I am a little embarrassed to admit how out of my element I felt. First of all it has been a good long while since I have been on a date and even longer since I have had the kind of formal, thoughtful date I had tonight. I felt like at any minute I might get ushered away by the management and sent out to find the kiddy table. Nathaniel is a brilliant young lawyer from London who just relocated to Moscow to work at the largest corporate law firm in the world. He took me to an incredibly chi-chi club on Tverskaiya near his flat were we sipped decadent mojitos and sparkling water and discussed life and art and political correctness. He told me about the year he spent volunteering at an orphanage in Africa and how he took two years off university to build a house in New Zealand with his bare hands. Somehow we bypassed all the idle chit-chat that normally accompanies get-to-know you evenings and went straight to the real stuff. Somewhere in the midst of his insightful soliloquy about the unacceptable objectification of women in Russia, I started to feel like it was all way too much and for a split second I felt far closer to the twenty-year olds I live with than the thirty year old sitting across from me. It was, however a beautiful evening and we migrated from on lovely club to the next in the falling snow in an attempt to escape the smothering cloud of smoke that is an unavoidable presence in Russian establishments. We were just leaving the second lounge on our way to the Ritz-Carlton bar, to hear the ‘swanky’ (it sounds far less pretentious when said with an accent) string quartet that plays there in the evenings when I realized the time. It was 12:45 pm and I had to tell my incredibly generous date that I had to go back to my DORM because I had CURFEW. He was horrified and I was humiliated. I have never had a curfew in my life and even at twenty-five I felt more like twelve. The trip home was rather quiet with the exception of his musings on how he had never walked a ‘girl’ to a dormitory before, and it only became more uncomfortable with the incessant phone calls from the guys I live with who were going ballistic because I wasn’t home yet. My cheeks are still red just thinking about it. All in all it was a very nice way to spend an evening but it made me see how far I am from that place in my life. It was all too much, to perfect, to polite and part of me spent the entire night laughing at how ridiculous I felt in the situation, like when you try out your mom’s clothes for the first time or try to sneak into a bar when you are clearly only steps past puberty. On a certain level, I have spent the last few week worrying that I have regressed, become more and more emotionally immature and losing touch with my adult reality but after tonight I am starting to see with new appreciation the effect of my younger classmates. I have spent my entire life in a rush, bolting towards the next phase rather than enjoying the here and now. I am twenty-five and while that is no longer nineteen it isn’t yet thirty and I think it is okay to just want to enjoy the fun for a while. I am twenty-five. I have no plan for the future. I have no idea what is next. I have no concrete place I want to call home. But for the first time in twenty-five years that is alright. I am happy. I like my life. And I am really really enjoying the here and now.

Friday, November 2, 2007

November 2 – Day 46

I have had a difficult time writing this week. I keep putting it off. Life has been far too real for me to postulate on some vague impressions of the day. We talk and talk here about our theories of art and love and life, and in the end that is all it is - theory. Because while we are talking life happens and eventually we will all have to deal. This morning David left to go home and deal with his father’s impending death and in a few hours Andy will fly back to Los Angeles to bury the only parent he had left. We spend all this time forming hypotheses on the future of art perhaps so that we won’t have to deal with the actuality of the present, but it is here and it is unavoidable. At this moment I feel terribly fortunate and terribly spoiled. I have spent so much time thinking about what is missing I have missed what is right in front of me. I have so many amazing people in my life who love me unconditionally despite my best attempts to push them away. Before I left to come to Moscow I spent two weeks in Missouri, which were two of the hardest and yet most joyous weeks I have ever had in the place I never really wanted to call home. At one point in my stay, my father and I were driving though the country and he said to me, “Your friends are the family you choose. Your family is where you go when you have no where else to turn.” I have more family than one human being deserves, more love and more support. And I am an ungrateful brat who has taken it for granted for far too long. Tonight I talked online to a friend from LA who I didn’t realize how much I missed. We talked about some of our friendships that have come and gone, and I told him that for the first time I see that things are exactly as they are meant to be. You can choose your friends but your family, blood or not, they choose you. They are there, selflessly, instinctually, when you have not the strength to ask. Sometimes all you need is a reminder that someone somewhere believes that you are of value; someone somewhere wants you to know that you are loved. I hope with all my heart that wherever Andy is right now he knows that he is valued and that he is loved.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November 1 – Day 45

There are so many things about myself I wish I could change and while it is easy to dwell on this list there are moments which make me believe that we are built the way we are for a reason. Andy is the only person in this program older than me. He is quiet, he is private, and for the most part he is a wall – solitary, sturdy and strong. Last night he fell apart and he had no one here to lean on. It was Halloween and everyone was beyond drunk by the time he got the news. I hadn’t gone to the party because given all the circumstances it just didn’t feel right. When we found out I knew there was nothing to say to help the situation so I did the only thing I knew how. I tried to fix things - I tried to fix what I could. I helped him make calls and argued with airlines to figure out a way to get him home. It was stupid and insignificant but he needed to be taken care of and it was the only way I knew to help. We are built as we are for a reason. I think sometimes are biggest flaws are necessary. They can be our biggest assets. They can be what makes us strong.