Since my last big blog post was about MFA programs in acting, I thought I should share the following article. I wrote this when I was in Moscow, completing my artistic residency for my MFA. It was my first article (of many many articles) for a fantastic arts magazine called Bleep. You can find it here: www.bleepmag.com.
I hope you enjoy :)
Ok, I have a confession: I have not been practicing with my Rosetta Stone like I should. Ever since I arrived in Moscow for my three-month residency at The Moscow Art Theatre, my Russian skills have remained pretty much the same: abysmal. To be fair, I am not alone in this sinking Russian boat; my fellow company members and I share the same face of confusion and fear when Muscovites ask us for directions. Said face is especially prevalent when our ex Bolshoi prima ballerina ballet teacher yells at us in Russian. Needless to say, we have become very adept at hand signs and pointing. Interestingly enough, the language barrier has not been as challenging in the art world. Stick me in a restaurant and you will see a fantastic pantomime between the waiter and myself, but throw me on the stage in front of a Russian audience or plop me in the back row of a Russian theater, and something magical happens: the differences in vowels and consonants and verb placement are all trumped by the human experience, overtaken by the transaction that is taking place among artist and observer. My studies at the Moscow Art Theater are teaching me how to create this communion between the audience and the actor. It is about taking down walls, eliminating differences, and attempting to find what it is about that specific character or play that is universal and relatable.
The Moscow Art Theater, or the MXAT, was founded by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko and is known for producing some of the first performances of Chekhov's work. It set the stage for naturalistic acting, and as such, birthed the modern form of theatrical training and acting in Europe, which then spread to the rest of the world. Stanislavsky’s acting techniques are at the foundation and core of the most prevalent acting styles in the world. The MXAT is what I and my seventeen other classmates now call home, taking classes that range from ballet to fencing to acrobatics and voice, as well as performing in repertory as a part of their spring season. Theatre is a way of life here, unlike the theatrical scene in America that is slowly diminishing in popularity. Daily lines outside of box offices stretch around the block; scalpers sell tickets for MXAT plays for at least a thousand dollars. Of the approximate twenty shows I have seen in my six weeks in Moscow, every single one has been sold out, leaving a rather large and enthusiastic crowd to stand in the back and enjoy the performance on their tired feet for three hours. Art galleries are packed. Ballets are packed. Operas are packed. Russia has built a community that respects and appreciates art, a community that strives to produce enlightening, invigorating, and inspiring art.
Perhaps the artistic realm is so strong in Russia because of its rocky past. Our drama history teacher, the artistic director of the Moscow Art Theater, told us that in order to understand theater history, one must understand Russian history. Our first class was held in the Portrait Gallery of the MXAT. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by portraits of actors, playwrights, and directors whose work I have always admired. He told us that whenever there is a change of power in the Russian government, the Portrait Gallery must be rearranged, eliminating certain artists all together and bringing others to the forefront. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, all of the Soviet artists were removed from the walls within two months. The father of 20th century directing, Vsevolod Meyerhold, fell out of favor with Stalin and was subsequently executed; after his death, all of his work was erased from the history books, and his portrait was forbidden to hang in the Portrait Gallery—he was even replaced by an open umbrella in a company photograph. In fact, some of the first groups to be targeted by Stalin’s purges were writers and artists. Art is extremely powerful and dangerous because of what it represents and what it shares; fortunately, it is also extremely resilient. It is this resilience that allows it to exist multi-culturally, allows it to cross boundaries and borders and establish communal experiences.
When I first arrived at The MXAT, one of the first things I noticed was the symbol of the seagull that the company had adopted as their emblem. This symbol commemorates Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, the theater’s first production and claim to theatrical fame. One wouldn’t necessarily think that a seagull would become my own personal emblem of my time in Moscow, a city that is completely landlocked and the furthest thing from “beachy.” Yet, it has begun to represent more to me than just Chekhov’s famed play. Seagulls must scavenge, making their home wherever there is available food; and in a way, isn’t that the life of the artist? We must bounce from location to location, searching for the next play, the next spark of inspiration, the next gig. I am grateful that I have found a home in Moscow that provides me with plenty of artistic nourishment. Similarly, seagulls, like artists, must be resilient—crafting the wind into something that lifts us up, instead of bringing us down. Finally, seagulls are a source of comfort for weary sailors, representing that land is near and that the journey is almost over. I think everyone feels lonely and lost, and it is our responsibility as artists to connect with people that we have never met before and show them that they are not alone. My favorite pieces of art are the ones that when I leave, I feel emotionally stirred—I do not feel as lonely or as lost, and I am reminded again that everyone is struggling, searching. This communion with the audience surpasses language barriers because something much more important exists, something bigger and deeper than any Rosetta Stone or Russian teacher could possibly teach: the human experience. And somehow, in the dark of the theater, between the curtain rising and the curtain call, we all speak the same language. Even if the words are not clear, the meaning is fluid and universal
Tools and Resources
You are probably wondering this blog is about. Well, it's about anything that everything that I find inspiring, helpful, and curiosity building.
Curiosity is my favorite state of being, and I've become a treasure hunter and a trash hoarder, collecting all sorts of articles, artwork, and accessories that fuel my inspiration and creativity.
This will also be a place for me to document my life as an actor and coach in Los Angeles. If performing is your passion, I hope that this blog becomes a place for you to learn from my mistakes, grow from my accomplishments, laugh at my witless choices, and share in this crazy, unpredictable, beautiful, life in the arts.