What’s good theatre anyway??

This week has been one crazy journey.  MXAT is hosting the Stanislavsky festival to celebrate his 150th birthday.  I know what you’re thinking… “Michael, Stanislavsky’s birthday is not until January! WHY ARE THEY CELEBRATING NOW?!?!”  Well, my friend, they just are!  So, MXAT is playing host to numerous theatre schools from around the world (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, and even the US)

The shows have been going on all week, and since there were a limited number of seats available for each show I made the Hungarian production my number one choice.  Other students’s reactions the the other country’s ranged from bad to worse.  Tonight, when I was entering the Hungarian production of Spring Awakening…the play not the musical I had some very serious doubts of the quality of theatre I was going to be seeing.

Let me change the subject to a little background about who I am.  I am a pretty free and open person.  I’ll share my story with anyone who has the time to listen.  No subject is taboo. I curse too much.  I laugh too loud.  and I have a great love for videos on youtube of people falling or hurting themselves.  I make crude jokes…that sometimes do not go over well.  And, the big one, I’ll make a scene anywhere!

Back to Spring Awakening.  I don’t really know how to describe it other than I giant sexcapade gone wrong.  There was nudity from women and men for no apparent reason.  I was genuinely offended by the exploitation of sex throughout the production and at the end there was a crucifixion of a baby doll.  All in all it seemed like they were going for shock value over substance.  It was the worst thing I’ve seen in Moscow to date.

But, this week I have also had my number one theatre experience of all time.  I don’t know if it will ever be topped.  It was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The play was in an old art gallery.  The stage was raked and my chair in the audience was made for a child.  Little of Shakespeare’s text appeared in this production, but it didn’t really matter.  The use of puppets, text (created specifically for this production), and singing made the story so easy to follow.  There was nudity in a sense in this production as well.  Puppet nudity, but in the realm of this play it was real nudity.  At one point one of the giant puppets relieved itself on stage.  In contrast to the Hungarian production all the things that happened during the course of this production were justified and eerily beautiful.  To say I liked or even loved this play would be a drastic understatement.  I encourage you all to read the links I post..to just get a taste of what happened to be the other night!

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/dream-as-you-like-it/rehearsal-photos.aspx

http://bloggingshakespeare.com/year-of-shakespeare-a-midsummer-nights-dream-as-you-like-it

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/aug/15/midsummer-nights-dream-as-you-like-it-review

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/dream-as-you-like-it/dmitry-krymov.aspx

So much awesome theatre is created in the most unexpected of places! GO FIND IT!

 

Another positive thing about my time here so far is that I have lost a lot of weight.  I’m not exactly sure (in lbs) because we don’t have access to a scale BUT I do know that none of the belts I brought with me fit anymore and I am swimming in my jeans.

If, when I get back, you want to do some of the movement work that has led me to my weight loss let me know.  All you need is a partner and a whole lot of will power.  REMEMBER your body will always want to stop moving…you have to learn how to tell it not to.  AND Pain is good.  It’s how you know you’re alive.

I ran in to Jessye Norman…that was exciting to say the least…

Chekhov’s short plays are so GOOOOOOD!

ANNNNNNNNND!!!!!! I really can’t wait for College Night…just thought I’d throw that little tidbit in!

 

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Russian Theatre

Out of all the shows I’ve seen in Moscow the most amazing story came from Verdi’s La Traviata.  The wonderful singing, combined with one of the most amazing theatrical sets I have ever seen also combined with being in the Bolshoi Theatre I really felt carried away in to the story.  This production had dogs, birds and even A HORSE AND CARRIAGE…what??  Even though it wasn’t really a modern telling of the story it felt SO new and now because of all the things that were added in to the set.

Last night we saw Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS.  I have to say I was a little let down by the set design and some of the acting.  When I first took my seat and saw a kind of cafe setting with a number of tables placed around the stage and numerous actors already on stage I got really excited!  I thought it was going to be this really cool abstract take on this really classic text…It was not.  The tables and chairs became a barrier to the actors.  The tempo was also a problem especially during the Masha and Vershinin scene in the 2nd act.  It was so rushed I barely had time to realize what was happening.

One thing that really makes theatre feel like family here is a tragedy that happened earlier this week.  One of the actors in the Moscow Art Theatre company was killed in a car accident.  She had a lead role in THREEPENNY OPERA and since yesterday the stage has been dark.  Her portrait is in two places, one inside a hallway and one outside on the street, in both places flowers -TONS of flowers – surround her portrait.  It is this homage and the dark theatre that sets Russian Theatre apart from American theatre.  I find it hard to believe that the actress wouldn’t be replaced with her understudy in America and a half hearted announcement made to the audience that the night’s performance will be in her honor.

In cancelling the productions theatre practicioners and audiences have time to grieve. And reflect. And really evaluate what each individual means to the theatre and to their lives.  It is done with love.  There is no selfishness and from what I can see no anger from the audiences for not being able to see the production they paid a lot of money to see.

I am honored to be studying art in a place where everyone takes acting so seriously it hurts.  It really hurts…there hasn’t been a day yet where I haven’t gone to bed in pain OR woken up in pain and remained in pain all day.  AND MORE PAIN ADDED IN THAT DAY!  Whoever says acting is easy I beg you to come here and get tortued in Russian Ballet, and combat and movement.  You jump in the air for an hour straight, Do the Russian Dumpling, lift your partner in any possible way, or become a telephone, or an elephant or an ox and then get back to me with your insistance that anyone can act!

Three Weeks in and I never want it to end!

Blue Skies!

The Greats!

This weekend we went to St. Petersburg!

 

IT IS THE BEST CITY EVER! at 11pm on Friday we boarded our over night train from Moscow.  At 7am we were off the train and starting our crazy two day adventure!  We immediately started a bus tour of the city, driving past large statues, giant cathedrals and too many palaces to count. one of my favorite sites in the city on this tour was St. Petersburg State University.  It is not far from the Hermitage or the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul and all the buildings are nearly 250 years old.  It felt like a small village square. It was just wonderful.

 

By the way: I will post all the pictures from my trip as soon as possible.  I just have to find a way to get them from my camera to the computer!

After the best and cheapest lunch of my entire Russian journey so far (320 Rubles for Borscht, a salmon sandwich and a Coca-Cola, around $11) we visited the Hermitage.  Hermitage is a Russian word meaning “Hermit’s Dwelling.”  The vast art collection inside all started when one magnificent lady, Catherine the Great SIDE NOTE: she and Michelle Obama share the same place in my heart–just imagine how excited I was there and by her giant statues!!  Anyway, she started purchasing vast works of art and placing them in a private collection in a building now known as the Small Hermitage.  She would spend her private time there and sometimes invite her very close friends.  since then the museum has taken over four buildings including The Winter Palace-the official residence of the tsars of Russia from Peter the Great until Nicholas II.

Everything inside is GLORIOUS! the architecture and design is just magnificent! basically everything is covered in Gold leaf.  I saw the most amazing mirror inside! just amazing.

After the Palace we had free time in the city so we went to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  It is built on the spot where Alexander II or Alexander the Liberator was assassinated in 1881.  EVERY inch of the interior is painted with some sort of mosaic.  It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been to!

We had dinner at a very good Georgian restaurant and then after a night in the hostel we woke up early to go to Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin.  I was thinking nothing could be greater than the Hermitage and then we walked up to the most beautiful structure I have ever seen!  The palace was built for Peter the Great’s second wife Catherine I and decorated both in a baroque-esque style and a Neo-Classical style…because Catherine II (the great) hated the gaudiness of the Baroque gold leaf.

We visited Alexander’s Palace, nearby to Catherine’s which was the final residence of Nicholas II and his family after he abdicated the thrown to the Bolsheviks. It was also a command point for the Nazi army after they seized the small town while they were trying to take over Leningrad.  It was also the sight of a mass execution of 800 Jews in September 1941.

Other highlights of the trip to St. Petersburg: Visiting the Fotress of St. Peter and Paul, the cathedral inside is the final resting place of the tsars and grand dukes and duchesses of Russia including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and as of 1998, Nicholas II and his family. St. Michael’s Palace-the place where Paul I was assassinated. AND THE CHOCOLATE MUSEUM!

I know that description is long but the weekend was amazing! there is really so much more I could tell but then I wouldn’t get any sleep tonight!

Blue Skies!

An Eventful Weekend

So beginning with Thursday I’ve had a lot of weird things happen to me.  While walking to the supermarket on the way home from school A friend and I happened upon a man on the stairs seizing covered in blood! the each stair below where he was had huge puddles of blood with an even larger puddle at the landing below the stairs.  This was a moment that will stick with me for a long time.  We were in the middle of a very funny story when we turned the corner and saw this extraordinary thing!  Silence fell suddenly and we quickly moved to the other side of the stairs.  Helping was pointless at this point, we didn;t speak the same language and there was already a large crowd around this man trying to offer some sort of help.  We continued on our way to the store in silence..after a minute we both looked at eacher and i asked, “so do you want to continue your story?”  She eventually did continue telling her story but the image and sounds of this man still clung to all of our senses.  There was something totally different about us for the rest of our trip.  And, when we walked back by the stairs on our way home 30 minutes later everything was cleared….the blood gone and traffice flowing normally.  The world will never know what happened but we will not soon forget.

I also had my ipad stolen yesterday…which was an experience…. It is the very first time I really felt betrayed by the city of Moscow.  I am trying to search for it on the internet using GPS but it hasn’t been connected to the internet since it has been taken.  Now I just know to leave the valuables at home and keep my stuff close and clung tight!

Now the good stuff:

People make out EVERYWHERE!

The zoo, crowded and very loud is one of the most beautiful places in the city. And it is only like four blocks from our dorm.

Burger King is THE BEST! and I bought milk for 98 cents. and sugar for 25 cents.

Going to bed now! Love you all!

Blue Skies!

The First Week

I feel like I’ve been in Moscow for a year! And that’s a good thing.  This city is amazing. Every day on my 30 minute walk to school I see something new, something that I check off in my brain that I have to make time for on my day off.  I’ve decided that it is okay to finally take different routes to school.  It is basically a straight shot but, we always walk on the main street…today I will take a side street, stop by the fruit stand, and have so many new adventures!

We’ve only had 4 days of full classes but already we’ve had about 12 hours of acting.  3 hours everyday.  They are the most exhilarating 3 hours of my day!  At the start of class we perform a group etude (improvisation) and then play various theatre games to help with concentration, growth as an ensemble, trust and attention.  We are encouraged to move as one.  If we are asked to stand–we have to do it all at once. We are asked to move our chairs–we must do it together…and here’s the real kicker, we have to do it silently. Not just without talking but the chair must not make any noise. It is one of the more difficult aspects of class but  does more to help me with connecting and concentration than any of the other exercises we have done so far.

We had our first Ballet class on Monday…ya’ll don’t even KNOW! My legs will never not be sore while I’m here.  The teacher had my leg stretched behind my head…my legs don’t belong there….they do not.  We didn’t even move much, just a little bar work but, I have never sweat so much in my life, and that is saying something.  My goal for ballet is to be able to do the splits by the time I leave here, I think there is more than a possibility of me having it by the end of October!

Stage movement is a really interesting class as well.  I really had a lot of time in that class to get to know my body.  we spent several minutes on each section just stretching and doing various exercises to become aware of ourselves.  I thought I would have limitations, but the professor told us “your body will want to stop and be lazy…you must have the will to tell it not to.”  It is going to take a long time for me to be able to tell it not to, but as soon as he said it I could feel a change inside from wanting to just stop and die to wanting to continue forever!  The last exercise of the class was a jumping exercise.. he told us how he wanted to jump and then we did it all together! He covered his ears in pain and told us to stop!!! “Do it silently.  Live in the air! Live in the air and not on the ground” ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm what?!  I challenge you (it is not that big of a challenge when you are actively listening to your body and telling it what to do) to jump the air, while trying to kick your hindquarters and land softly on the ground with no noise…and keep jumping.  Do all your thinking in the air. live there! make that your home.  you should only be on the ground for a split second before your back in your home. DO IT NOW!

There is so much I can’t put into words yet! but rest assured I will try to share with you as much as I can, and to blog whenever possible…but if I’m not in class I am either sleeping or walking to class!

I love you all!

Blue Skies,

Michael

First day of classes

I just wanted to write a really quick note on our first day, which was yesterday.  At 11:00 we all met in the portrait lobby of the Moscow Art Theatre to have a Russian History lecture with Anatoly Smeliansky, the dean of the school and associate director of the theatre.  He is so amazing! he taught himself English in the late 80s and knows everything and more about Theatre in Russia, the world and the entire history of MXAT.  The first lecture covered Stanislavsky, Pussy Riot, The Temple of Christ and the current state of the company.  It really was inspiring and I can’t wait for more of his classes! THE NEXT ONE IS TODAY!

We also had our first acting class yesterday.  we did concentration and rhythm activities devised to help us really get focused and concentrate on each other as an ensemble.  our teacher is wonderful and has a real love for the art of acting!  some of the tings he said in class that really stuck out are:

“Everything has already been done on stage. Everything. Except you”

“Make eye contact as often as possible on stage”  the context of this is that sometimes, as actors, we forget to make eye contact but, when we do there is a real connection and the non verbal language can be just as, or more, interesting as the words that are being spoken.  Eye contact is important.

So, some of the Russian students have been assigned to help us get around, find out where to buy food, groceries, clothes or electronics, and to just be there if we have any questions.  They are affectionately called “The Angels” and they really are.  without them we probably would cease to function.  They wanted to go out last night and have a little fun with the Americans– perfect opportunity for them to practice their English and for us to get some practical Russian training.  To say the least, last night was a blast, and of course I had a little vodka with my new friends!

 

Blue Skies!

That’s how you know you’re alive.

First, I would like to say thank you to everyone who is thinking about me and praying for me on my trip. You are all wonderful and the thought that so many people love me back home makes this experience even better.

Second, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut is so beautiful. It is right on the water and practicing my monologue from Long Day’s Journey into night in the same place that it’s set was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done!

Now….RUSSIA!

We boarded our flight to Frankfurt at 3:10 Tuesday afternoon. After a most glorious flight of two meals, a lot of free wine, BRAVE and DARK SHADOWS, and flyrobics (exercises in your seats guided by the most glorious cartoon on the planet) we landed in Frankfurt. PS, everyone fly Lufthansa, you will not regret it.

In Frankfurt I met a woman from the place closest to my heart…IOWA! She teaches Russian Literature at George Mason and was traveling to Moscow to present a research paper. After a very short layover we were off to Moscow…another meal and a mimosa we landed! While in line waiting for passport control I met an elderly couple from….IOWA! What are the odds. MY LIFE IS THE GREATEST! They were traveling all over Eastern Europe and were just the most loveliest of people!

We hopped on a bus and 2 hours later we were at our dorms moving in! I will never love any shower as much as that first one in the dorms. NEVER. it was quite literally sent from heaven and made just for me! I intended to take a nap but that was clearly out of the question with all the exploring I had to do.

The first hurdle was to exchange my money! Next, we had to EAT! And then just walk around and look at the shops. I went in to a supermarket…about the size of a bedroom. Learning that Cyrillic aha bet is no joke! A lot of the words are cognates or are in very close relation to their English counterpart but you would never know it of you didn’t know how to read the words! They God I actually spent time learning that!

I am proud to announce that this morning I ordered my coffee at Starbucks COMPLETELY in Russian ALL BY MYSELF! I’m basically the greatest Russian speaker of all time.

And that brings us to right now! Stay tuned for more crazy adventures. My laughs and tears are all for you! I will try to tell you about everything as often as I can, but we are jumping right into school starting today so my free time will be severely limited!

Blue Skies

“That’s how you know you’re alive” came from a workout at the O’Neill taught by an alum of this program. When someone was really feeling the strain of the workout she just told him “that’s how you know you’re alive” and went on teaching. So, I guess I’ll be prepared for a lot of that in Russia.