On the first day we visited some of the classrooms and ate in the small cafeteria where the MXAT directors, actors, students, administration, designers, etc., all eat. (So basically we are all eating lunch next to Russia’s most famous and future celebrities. Woah.) That said, I had borsch (beet soup) for the first time! It is delicious and might just be my favorite soup ever. I am definitely learning how to make it for when I return to the States! Rest assured, there will be more comments on Russian food to come.
Following lunch we performed monologues for our acting teachers (in Russia teachers teach in pairs, so each class has two teachers) so that they could divide our large group of 31 (29 Americans, a Canadian and an Australian) into two groups. It was wonderful getting to see everyone’s work and getting to work as well. We were all anxious to begin, and today we began classes in our new groups.
I LOVE my teachers: Oleg and Alexander, who goes by Sasha. They both speak excellent English, and I am incredibly excited about their sharp, witty, demanding and nurturing personalities. We all spoke a few sentences about ourselves and our life goals in theater as well as our first impressions of Moscow before playing some ensemble-developing games.
Our homework for tomorrow: our first etude, which is a group improvisation centered around any kind of event that affects us all. We decided upon the location of a New York subway car filled with people confronted with a woman’s unexpected seizure; tomorrow we will see how successful we are as an ensemble, as improvisers and as truthful storytellers. And starting tomorrow we shall begin every class with an etude, so we have much room for both failure and success.
Anatoly Smeliansky, the artistic director and head of the Moscow Art Theater, is perhaps the third most important man in Moscow. (First is Putin, and second is Medvedev.) He has been the head of MXAT for 15 years, is the head translator for all of Stanislavsy’s oeuvre, and is the leading Russian theater historian to date. He also just so happens to be my theater history professor and one of the nicest, most compelling men I have ever met.
Standing in a room full of the photos of MXAT’s most important personalities from Stanislavksy to Danchenko to Meyerhold to both Anton and Michael Chekhov, Smeliansky said something to the effect of, “When I am in this room it is always an interesting experience for me because at least half of the people in these pictures were once my friends, and now they are dead.”
I am here, I am in Moscow, and I am so close to the history of some of the world’s most important theater artists. It’s an incredible sensation. The visitor can sense that the tradition and the legacy and the passion of MXAT and its former leaders are still very much alive.
Yesterday we briefly visited Red Square (Krasnaya Ploshchad), and it is ab.so.lute.ly. stunning. In awe of perhaps some of the most unique and exquisite architecture I have ever seen, I almost could not believe I was finally standing on those very cobblestones.
St. Basil’s Cathedral is incredible, and even more beautiful than in pictures, both because it is real in all its colorful, onion-dome glory, and because it is still standing despite the hardship it has been through.
GUM, the giant shopping mall across from the yellow Kremlin walls and Lenin’s mausoleum, is detailed and ornately expensive. The historical museum is like a red castle, full of mystery and beauty. Kazan Cathedral, which is as bright and beautiful as St. Basil’s, welcomes visitors into the square.
The sky is open, filled with clouds and more than a hint of quiet elegance. Dignity and history linger in the quiet falls of footsteps as excitement pulses in the air. I don’t mind feeling like a tourist. It’s Red Square, for heaven’s sake! I am so thankful for the next three months that I have to explore this area and the rest of Moscow.
I do not know if I can adequately express just how rich the texture of life is here. Such a blend of newness and tradition, progress and stagnation, brilliantly bright beauty and darkness, quiet stares and heart-to-heart laughter. I want to know this place. I have started to see it, perhaps a little, but I believe Moscow, and Russia, are as of yet only enticing me with their secrets, their beauties… at some point I will find myself lost with no breadcrumbs back to the way I used to think.