Day 9 –
Show Day & Moscow Adventures
After a very deep sleep from our two-show day and celebration, I rose early so I could get a jump on the day. Our tour will be over before I know it, and I’ve seen hardly anything of the city that wasn’t from the hotel to the theater.
The weather will be quite warm and sunny today so I throw on a thin t-shirt with my linen button-up, jeans and my Asics sneaks – I do plan on being comfortable in my walking tour. And since we do have a show tonight I’d like to pace my feet, as they are still smarting from overuse.
Today I head to the Chekhov House-Museum. It is the house he lived in with several members of his family and where he wrote over 100 short stories. It shouldn’t be too far of a walk – like one and half miles.
As I head out I pass through a massive traffic square with massive statues on one side, an underground tunnel to cross the street and enter the subway and the entrance to a park on the other. I walk through a gorgeous, enormous park with a fountain and the original McDonald’s (yes that’s the very first McDonald’s in all of Russia) and a sandy pathway down the middle with trees on either side and the streets going one way and the next on the outside. The traffic is epic so I stay in the center on the pathway. This goes on for a almost a mile until I come to another towering gorgeous statue and a rather complicated intersection and the choice to go down one of three streets that will take me into the area of the Chekhov house.
As I wander down the street of choice-ended up being the middle one-I notice that the street is lined with many different countries’ embassies. Brazil. Finland. Jamaica. I found it odd that they were on the same street. Same block even. I also found it odd-or maybe just unexpected that it was those countries. Finland sure-but Brazil and Jamaica? Yeah mon!
When I got to the intersection where I was to take a right, I paused for orientation. Another absolutely massive intersection with a tunnel and 6 different directions you could go in any of 8 lanes and a building that takes up the entire block. It is simply huge and sprawls across the whole block and even boasts a garden. I go right about two buildings and it’s right there.
Or it should be. But I don’t see it. Did I pass it?
I consult my map. I consult the buildings. I walk back the direction I came from and watch the bouncing ball on the map move further away. I walk back toward where the Chekhov House is supposed to be and stand where it’s supposed to be. I look around in 360 degrees and am baffled. There is nothing where I am standing but a large grey wall obscuring a garden and possibly another building but absolutely nothing that would resemble what I was to expect for the Chekhov House Museum. I am stymied. And pissed off. I pride myself on being able to read a map and navigate with the best of them. And I can’t find the Chekhov Museum. What the blankity blank blank? Alright, I guess it’s time for Plan B.
I consult the map for Arbat Street. It’s a famous street that I’ve dreamt of since I first read The Master and Margarita. The Master and Margarita is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov and was notoriously censored. It was also the first Russian play that I did (18 years ago), and it changed my life. So, if the Chekhov Museum is going to play hide and seek with me, I will go enjoy some other illustrious literary wonders illuminated by a different Russian author.
I walk to a market and stop for a bubble water and tiny wrapped cheeses and grapes. I walk more. Good Lord, where is Arbat street? I know that the main street that says it’s Arbat – probably isn’t the Arbat I’m looking for because that is supposed to be a smaller one of those diagonal walking streets. It’s probably all souvenir and chotchkies shops anyway, but I continue. I will find victory.
Another good mile and I finally am upon what is known as New Arbat. It is a fancy walking mall along the main street. There is a small skateboard park. Super fancy shops and restaurants. It’s where the cool kids are hanging on this warm afternoon. There is an actual mall. I go inside. It is a seven floor indoor department store that is the equivalent of a Barney’s or the coolest Nordstrom you have ever seen. Everything is shiny and chic and organized by designer and I get every kind of look, from “No, not her in the running shoes” to “Oh, maybe she needs some new sneakers…”
When I return to the walking mall I come across a Black Star Burger that has a line around the corner for a dessert that I can only deduce is a giant, crazy ice cream sundae with macarons and marshmallows and other unidentifiable floating objects that hoards of friends have gathered to share this delectable delight together on this hot afternoon. I decide to just sit down for a minute and watch people enjoy this obscenity that is dessert. My feet hurt.
There is an entrance to a little indoor mall. I pop in for another water and some air conditioning and come across a bakery that has fancy breads like we ate in St. Petersburg. They are absolutely beautiful handcrafted artisan creations. The gentleman baker in an apron behind the counter tries to speak to me. I mutter Spasibo and wave in a way that says “No, thank you” and try to telegraph the message inside my brain that says “I’m sorry I came to your country without learning your language.” I can see at this moment that was incredibly rude because I would love to talk with you about this gorgeous edible creation that you’ve obviously labored over, but alas I will have to wander away in shame.
The real Arbat street is around the corner so I walk to it. It is a walking street and it is mostly souvenir shops. I stop into one and purchase a couple of little Babushka dolls and realize that for someone who never leaves the house without a hat, I have been walking for two and a half hours in the midday sun and am a little woozy and irritable.
I decide to grab an Über back to the hotel. We have our last show tonight, and I am beginning to feel as if time is evaporating. It is also starting to look like rush hour in Moscow, and it will be 20 minutes! Maybe the subway. It is all in Cyrillic and I don’t have the patience to try and figure it out. I just want to sit in some air conditioning. This was not the walkabout day in Moscow I was looking for. But inevitably at some point on tour or when traveling, there is a day that doesn’t go quite as anticipated. Today is that day.
When the Über arrives, it is a white Mercedes and my driver is named Sergei. He greets me and turns the air conditioning on high and quietly sits in traffic as I sit and watch the people walking on the sidewalk pass us and I simply don’t care. Our hotel is 1.5 miles and it takes 40 minutes as I sit and drink a bottle of water and doze off and feel like a spoiled American. But I will say that it was the best $11 I spent the whole trip.
Once I return to the hotel, I have the quick switch of grabbing show clothes and racing out the door. Tonight is our last show in Russia.
As I walk to the theater I realize I have walked 6.5 miles already and that is before the show. The weather has shifted and the wind has started blowing. By the time I reach the theater, it has started to rain. I am greeted by the three security guards with whatever the Russian version of “Hey” is. Two of them are bald. I can see that my bribery of them with candies yesterday has made me memorable today. I shake out my hair and my scarf and droplets land on the security glass. They laugh and pantomime flipping their hair to tease me. I rub the top of my head as if I was wiping the rain off my bald head and they all burst into laughter and give me thumbs up.
I pop my headphones on and walk my warm-up and make-up and dressing and pre-show ritual. I feel restless and cannot put my finger on why.
We do our pre-show huddle and decide to do this show for our director Tina & writer Richard. They are the reason we are here and tonight we will honor them. Do our best to make them proud. There. It’s settled. It’s not about me. Whew.
Tonight’s show is met with the same trepidation that we experienced in last night’s show. However this time we understand. This will be an earned experience that we share together. We are just getting to know each other and trust is something that is built.
When Vershinin arrives on stage for the first time, it feels like the first time for me as Masha. If I can make Vershinin fall in love with me, I can hold the heart of the Russian people. The show races forward. and I struggle to hang onto it. This last time until the next time that can never be too soon. This last time that disappears as quickly as it began. This last time before an audience that I can hear gasp and weep audibly as I say my goodbye to Vershinin as quickly as it seems he first stepped on stage. This last time the breadth of this story of this family is reduced to us three sisters standing before an empty abyss that is filled with a sold out silent crowd that I can hear sniffling with us.
Originally posted on:
Day 8 – Two Show Day.
Today is the day.
The day of truth.
I pack for our adventures. Workout clothes for tech from 10 – 12 pm. Then a show for the press at 2pm. More dry workout clothes. Then a break and then another show at 7 pm. And a change of clothes for a reception after the show. Yellow dress? Red dress? Red dress.
I sling my bags over my shoulder, throw on my headphones and walk to the theater.
We do a dance call on stage and walk through transitions. I feel keenly aware that the staff and crew are seeing all of these shenanigans of the show out of context. In my mind there is a secret fantasy where we could clear the house and have a private tech for just us. As if we were doing a nude scene in a movie. However that would make it difficult to run the timing of the supertitles that need to match our lines.
At the break there is really only time to peel off sweaty clothes, try to dry under humid conditions, figure out how to prop the dressing room window open without opening the blind that separates us from the walkway to the stage door and eat a protein bar.
Focus is the name of the game.
I give myself extra time for my ritual back stage.
I can feel myself start to stiffen and auto-pilot waits in the wings.
Too much work has been done for auto-pilot to steal what is waiting.
Luckily this isn’t about me. It’s about Masha and her experience. It is about the show and telling the story.
Just touch one person’s heart.
Yes, it is a house filled with critics. They will either love you or they won’t, but all we can do is do what we came here to do.
We gather in the wings for our pre-show ritual.
No feathers. No fluff.
The pre-show announcement comes on and there is silence.
The lights go down, and we start the show.
We get through the opening dance.
It becomes abundantly clear to me in those first few moments that the only thing we can do is to do it for us. And hang on to each other for dear life because right now that’s all we got. Each other and this story.
The house is about three-quarters filled and it is all press.
We get to our next big song and dance and there is silence.
As we move forward and just do our thing, we start to hear a few chuckles sprinkled through the house. They seem to escape before they too can be silenced.
We finish the show and are met with moderate applause. Applause that says you aren’t the worst thing we have ever seen, and I’m not sure how I feel about your interpretation of Chekhov, but we appreciate the effort and can see that you worked really hard.
Well, at least we got that under our belt.
I change into dry clothes and walk out to rain. A downpour.
I skip past puddles to the sushi restaurant. Yes, again. I have a seaweed salad and brown rice. Just needed a little comfort food.
A deluge of rain continues and the sidewalk gutters overflow. There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in the stride of the people walking on the street.
And then before I know it, my food is gone and so is the rain and I feel recharged.
I go down the street to a little market I’d discovered that has Coke Zero. I grab one and peruse the Russian candies. I choose a bag of chocolates that looks like dark chocolate filled with marshmallow and another bag of chocolates that I have no idea what they are but they have this amazing picture of a baby with a Babushka scarf that is so adorable I want to eat it.
When I get back to the theater I give the security guards chocolates and they look at me as if I am trying to bribe them. I am.
Kendra is pumping in the dressing room.
We decide that trying the candies are our only salvation.
The dark chocolate marshmallow ones are actually not marshmallow at all. It is more like a marzipan except that it is so super sugary it crunches.
The cute tiny baby candy is however the most delicious thing in the world. It is like a chocolate wafer covered in a cross between milk and dark chocolate with maybe a little caramel. Good lord it is amazing. I hand the rest of my piece back to Kendra and instruct her that I am only allowed to have a single bite of that no more than once a day no matter how I try to negotiate with her.
As the rest of the crew returns we dry off, regroup and prepare for our show. The best thing about a two-show day is that by the second show you are already spent and any obstacle that was in the way has been removed. The second wind of a second show when you already gave your all carries the gift of not caring what anybody else thinks. And balls to the wall, let’s do this thing.
I give myself extra time to stretch and warm-up. My show shoes are so worn out (I really should have replaced them before this trip but I am superstitious and couldn’t find the exact same pair) that I put gel sole inserts into them which makes the shoes a little tighter and will have to be removed for this second show for the following reasons:
My feet are swollen and I need the extra space.
My plantar fasciitis is aggravated and the gel inserts have been changing the arch of my foot.
The bones in my feet feel like they have been bound and there is no escaping it so let’s just get back to the way Masha feels in the shoes as is.
We join up for our pre-show ritual.
We decide to do the show for Moscow. The city of Moscow. For the people of Moscow. This is for them.
Hey, it’s already looking up.
We do the dance and move through the beginning of the show. I can feel they are with us even though maybe they don’t know what to make of the show yet. It is as if I can feel their apprehension. It occurs to me that they need to know we are going to take care of them. That we are going to take care of this play. They are recognizing the chart of the story. They are seeing that Chekhov’s Three Sisters is in our birthday cake song and dance. By the time we get to the transition from the first to the second act, which is a tango with furniture, and then we become the band, they can see that we are following the play. They see their Three Sisters in our Track 3, and it’s as if they can finally settle down into the play. Collectively. At the beginning of the second act. And from there we can hear their audible responses to the play. Sighs, laughter, recognition, oh’s and Da’s. They are getting everything. Every little nuance.
At the end of the Second Act, Irina has a speech describing Moscow, and they broke out in delight. The acknowledgement of their city, their brutal history, their sophisticated culture. There were little bursts of Russian clapping.
We have a line in the Third Act when the fire has happened.
Tuzenbach says: In 1812 Moscow was on fire. Man, weren’t the French surprised.
And they laughed.
No one has ever laughed on that line.
Because it isn’t funny unless you understand that the Russians set Moscow on fire so it wouldn’t be taken by Napoleon in 1812.
Come the end of the play, we were received with Russian clapping and flowers, and we went off and came back amid a partial ovation.
After the show we gather in the lobby, and Eugenia and Alice and Vladimir are there to walk us to the Festival headquarters where our reception will take place.
There is a fresh breeze blowing out the rest of the rain. The air is crisp in its cleanness. As we all meander along these Moscow streets and I take in the buildings and the street lamps and the clouds that I can see moving across the sky, a silence falls over me. Everything seems to fall away for a moment.
A moment where I can feel my feet beneath me. Not the pain from before just the aliveness of my steps. I can feel my legs as they carry me, my hips as they sway, my core as it balances me, my shoulders tall and proud. I can feel every cell of my being awake and present to the voice that whispers in my ear.
This is what living the dream is.
This is what it feels like.
This is what it tastes like.
This is what it smells like.
It is not a destination.
It is this here now.
Remember this moment. Memorize where it lives in you.
You can call upon it again when nothing seems to go your way.
And those moments are living the dream too.
This is where it lives.
It lives in you.
When we arrive at the headquarters we go down into the basement and into a red room with white Rococo wainscoating and these candelabra sconces that look like they are melting down the wall. There is a beautiful table filled with fresh veggies and breads and meats and cheeses and fruits and wine and vodka.
The festival director gives a speech. It goes a little something like this.
In Russia, there are only two kinds of theatre. Drama and entertainment.
(The space between the two is elaborated with very deliberate hand gestures putting entertainment on the right side and Russian Drama all the way on the left side-also illustrating that there is nothing in between.)
There is Russian Drama and entertainment.
We expected you to bring us entertainment. And you brought us Drama. Russian Drama.
Well, okay. Thank you for that. Again I am crying.
Then more speeches and more tears.
Then Richard gets up for a speech.
With the eloquence of a writer he is able to express the depth of gratitude that is felt for the work that has gone into making this dream come true for all of us and now everyone is crying because he is crying.
It is a proud moment.
Even prouder as we discover that this room that we are in was originally a printing shop. Anton Chekhov used to sit in the corner that I am seated in when he was still a doctor and he would write his short stories which later were printed in this same room. The room where we celebrate now was the beginnings of what led to his beautiful work and eventually to The Three Sisters and now to us retelling his story.
In some way, I feel as if we have come full circle back to where it literally began.
Originally posted on:
Moscow & Rehearsal
It is Sunday. I am tired and migraine-y. I feel like my veins are filled with molasses.
I put on my same jeans and my Never Give Up SGI t-shirt and take the elevator to the basement to see a similar type buffet as St. Petersburg with the addition of hot dogs and a cream filled napoleon-style dessert.
I am not awake enough to join the group, so I have a little eggs and cabbage salad on my own and go back to our room.
These are the days on tour that I don’t love the most. After a week of non-stop hustle & bustle and travel and lugging and walking at least 7.5 miles every day – oh and the shows we did the week before we left and all that running around to get ready to leave the country and now we are finally here in Moscow and I’m winded walking a flight of stairs.
I feel silly that I’ve come all this way, and I have to give myself a little lie in. My whole life I’ve dreamed of standing in the middle of the Red Square and now it is less than a mile from my door and I’m balking. I guess I really am human and considering that we are doing two shows tomorrow, I remind myself that I am here to do a job. This is a tour not a vacation.
I opt to take advantage of the empty room, chant for an hour and take a very long shower. I pack my rehearsal clothes and snacks and lie back down for another hour. I open the skylight and enjoy the fresh air and I feel the full weight of my body on this very firm twin mattress.
I wander downstairs and begin my stroll toward the theater down our tiny little street. It is warm and there are high puffy clouds. There is a small white church in the traditional onion-dome style. The domes are bright blue like the sky. It has an equally small flower shop in front of it filled with red and pink flowers. As I approach the first intersection of a major street, the volume of cars and people quadruples. For a moment it feels like New York City, except the streets are spotless and I haven’t seen a homeless person in a week.
There is a stride amongst the people walking that is swift and un-self conscious. Maybe a better way to say it is they come across like they aren’t concerned about how they look. But there is a sense of style and formality about them. Being from California, I forget how casual we are. There are no flip-flops here. A sense of self-regard in how they carry themselves which comes across in the clothes they wear. In St. Petersburg, the fashion all felt a little bit like it was the late 90’s or early aughts. There were women of every age wearing dresses with sneakers or cute flats. Here the people instantly feel a little more sophisticated – is it simply because they are Muscovites? Perhaps.
As I arrive at the theater, I put on my lanyard and stop for a selfie. The theater is beautiful in it’s terracotta red, and it feels welcoming. Not austere or grandiose. I walk past security and hold my lanyard and smile and the security guards partially nod in my direction. I walk around to the back of the theater and come to a security desk with turnstiles. I smile and hold my lanyard and they motion me on.
I walk through the green room and directly onto the stage where I find our writer Richard and our stage manager Aaron tech-ing the lights for the beginning of the fourth act.
Let’s go higher on the shutter to the top.
Alice – whom I discover later is the person who translated our show into supertitles – translates Aaron’s adjustments to the theater’s team.
I find Tina working on our costumes and help her distribute to our dressing rooms. Once everyone has arrived we are led through a labyrinth of doors operated by key cards up and down stairs into the lobby where we will rehearse until they are ready for us on stage.
The lobby is grand and lined with tall French windows facing the street. There are these incredible show posters and production stills. The hardwood floors make our voices echo and as we do our dance call the room resonates with our songs. We tease about maybe if we do it well enough in the lobby we will get to do it on the stage. I get goose bumps as we sing “Meadowlands”, our a cappella number that is a Russian folk song. This song comes in the transition from the second to third act when the fire has burned down a third of the town.
I feel heavy under the weight of the history in this city that I cannot quite comprehend. Not because the people I speak to are so serious. It is something in the way they speak and hold themselves. It is as if they have assimilated themselves through this historical lens and allowed their individuality to shine while honoring what has brought them to where they are. Yes, it feels like honor and self-respect.
Then we are off to dinner. Eugenia offers to take us to any of the three within walking distance. David MacIntyre and I opt for the sushi restaurant. I’ve always enjoyed Mac’s company. He and I both have a lone wolf streak in us and sometimes it’s nice to connect even when it’s about not feeling a part of the group. I order a rice bowl with steak and veggies and Mac orders the ramen burger and is presented with black nitrile gloves to wear while eating the burger. Neither of us think sushi as our first meal in Moscow seems weird, and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves. (It was either that or Le Pain Quotidien, which I can get at home.) I sit on the front steps of the theater and eat my bowl while FaceTime-ing with super hubby.
Are you okay babe?
I’m tired today. Hoping that rehearsing the show will help me motivate to get to the Red Square after rehearsal.
Take it easy, honey. Be careful and don’t worry. I won’t tell your mom you are going to the Red Square at midnight.
And that was the half hour.
The theater is a 400 seat house. Simple and beautiful. The backstage is giant and able to accommodate Broadway-sized shows.
About half way through our rehearsal I start to get some adrenaline back. Everything still feels tight though.
Yes, we had a spectacular show in St. Petersburg.
Yes, perhaps they spoiled us and it might be anti-climactic tomorrow.
St. Petersburg is not Moscow.
I can feel the difference in the air. But instead of it feeling like pressure, it is beginning to feel like specificity and focus. That pinpoint of light where everything else falls away and you can see clearly.
We finish up and pack our things to go. I let Kendra know I will meet her at the hotel later, and I slip away into the night. It is actually night here. It has only just gotten dark at 10, but the sun does go down.
Now that I’ve got my feet underneath me again I head toward the Red Square. It has been raining and the air is heavy. As I wander and let this city’s life carry me I am thrilled to see so many people on the street. Folks hanging out in front of bars and restaurant patios are filled. When I come to the end of my street it is the main thoroughfare that goes around the Red Square and back and forth to the Moscow River. To my left is the Bolshoi. It is impressive and takes my breath away a little bit. I double check my map to make sure it is the Bolshoi Ballet. With it’s giant fountain in the front and the chariot of four horses coming out of the top of it, it looks a little more like a government building than a house for art. I don’t know why this is my next thought but it is…
Am I supposed to be impressed?
Yes, I believe you are.
This is a thought that I feel many times around Moscow.
I feel my size in relation to everything around me. I feel tiny.
I find an under-the-street tunnel that will take me to the other side as there are no cross walks.
I wander the direction lots of people are walking and I come to the gates of the Red Square. And as I walk through I am not un-impressed. It is everything that I expected.
The square is flanked by a church to the left and then to the right the super long red wall that is the Kremlin. At the end of the square is St. Basil’s Cathedral. And then on the left is this super white lights extravaganza of a building that turns out to be a mall known as the GUM. Okay I didn’t expect that and am actually a little disappointed that one of the largest and most known squares in the world next to Tiananmen Square has a mall. I am a little offended. I guess I had an expectation that Red Square wouldn’t feel like visiting Rodeo Drive.
The square is filled with people of every size, shape and color, all doing the same thing I am. Taking photos and selfies and videos and pointing and marveling.
The clock tower rings out twelve bells to announce that it is now midnight. I will not tell my mother that it was midnight when I came as she had asked me not to go anywhere alone. Sorry Mom but I feel completely safe. (sheepish shrug)
I look at the map to see how far it is to the hotel. Now is probably a good time to head back-before the adrenaline exits my body and leaves me in a lump on the side of a Moscow road.
As I walk back and gawk at all of the awe-inspiring buildings, this same thought comes back to me.
Am I supposed to be impressed?
Is that the point? For me to be impressed?
Am I supposed to feel small?
Am I supposed to supplicate myself?
Was that the intention?
Is this part of a larger subliminal ploy for the militarization of a country where the good of everyone must work toward supporting the state?
This conversation is supplanted by the third giant and grand theater I pass. I stop to weigh the cultural ramifications of the importance of art and it’s grandeur even if it is meant for the purposes of supplication.
I decide to table this entire conversation with mom until further investigation or maybe not even then.
Maybe hanging out in my brain trying to assess the positive and negative traits of Communism isn’t the best use of my energies right now.
When I return to the hotel, I have walked 5.6 miles. Not bad considering the beginning of the day was spent prone in my bed.
The only job that I am now tasked with is to rest and prepare my heart, mind, body and spirit for our shows tomorrow. The first being our run-through that will be a show for the press. And our second being at 7 pm.
This is what all of your training was for, I tell myself.
All of those years.
All of the blood, sweat and tears were for this.
Rest easy and dream big.
Tomorrow Moscow awaits.
Originally posted on:
Train to Moscow. Now departing: Track 3
The next morning I rise early and pack the last of my things after a quick shower. I go downstairs and wait for my Ubër. A black Mercedes arrives and takes me to the Tikhvin Cemetery, where Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is buried. He is best known for Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and Notes from the Underground. Can’t come all this way and not pay my respects to such a literary legend. Additionally, I will go in search of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Russian composer of such classics as The Nutcracker & Swan Lake. But underneath all of that is my hidden intention to spread some ashes that I have brought with me of a dearly departed friend. Maybe it seems morbid to some, but I can think of no greater place to give my friend to rest. At least I’ll always know where to find him. Amongst the greats.
I walk down a long pathway with tall cement walls on either side and arrive at two different entrances to the cemetery on either side of the pathway. There is a woman standing in front of the left entrance.
Dostoevsky? I ask.
She points to a tiny kiosk with a tiny elderly woman behind the counter. I can barely see her face behind the desk.
She motions to the entrance on the right and points on a map that is printed in English as she speaks in Russian. I am to understand that I can go just into the right side for 200 rubles and find his grave here. Or I can go to both sides of the cemetery for 300 rubles. Is this lady upselling me? At the cemetery? I purchase my 200 rubles ticket and enter the right side.
The morning sunshine streams through the tall trees and dots the headstones. The map that is in English immediately poses a minor problem. The headstones are all in Cyrillic.
I count the number of headstones that match the map to find Dostoevsky. A weed trimmer hums in the background. His resting place has a small fence around it and is quite elegant. My favorite part of the headstone is the back. They definitely took 360 degrees into consideration.
Apparently there were famous sculptors consigned to do the headstones. And by the time I get down to Tchaikovsky’s you can feel the one-upmanship progressing.
Everything you could hope for in a cemetery is here complete with stillness, an ever so slight breeze so you can hear a gentle rustling in the trees and the even more slight warmth in the air that proclaims another perfectly weathered day is ahead.
There is a ginger and white cat with one ear that has clearly suffered through more than one battle who claims this side. The cat watches me approach and rolls over in the sunshine declaring his hard won victory. Every minute of battling for this patch of sunshine was worth it.
I could spend the entire day here. As I wander I look for an appropriate spot for my friend’s ashes. Eventually I find a tree that actually splits into two trees from one trunk. Maybe my friend will also become more than the single life I knew him in.
Upon leaving I notice a small river outside the cemetery. There are three older women in Babushka scarves seated on the bridge. They are sharing a snack. The scene is timeless.
Returning to the world of time, I race to the front to grab a taxi and pass an artist who has watercolor paintings depicting the same scene I just witnessed. I do regret not picking one up in my haste.
Once I return to the hotel, we load our luggage for the station. The train station to Moscow.
When we get to the station we go through a system of back alleys and parking lots with all of our luggage to find the entrance for large groups with lots of luggage. As we go through the same kind of X-ray machines that are at the airport, I see a grey and white cat in a carrier. The cat’s meows sound like the chirping of a bird.
As we walk with the hundreds of travelers also heading to Moscow, we have to stop several times to re-gather our group and ourselves. I can hear the cat’s chirps in the distance. It reminds me of the yellow bird that Irina talks about in the play at the end of the third act. How she tried to set it free and it never left its cage. I think about how happiness can be its own cage and how expectations are sometimes never met. I think of how fortunate I am and can make no sense of how it got this way.
About 2 hours into the 5 hour journey a little piece of paper is passed back to us. It is Happy Birthday in Russian. It turns out that it is our writer Richard’s birthday and the plan is to memorize this Russian version of Happy Birthday to sing to Richard. At some point. Later.
The trees and landscape and water we pass on this train remind me of home. And the train to San Diego. I find this strange and comforting.
When we disembark, we do the luggage shuffle again and are greeted by the smiling face of Eugenia. She is here from the International Chekhov Festival to get us safely from the train station to the hotel.
The first thing I notice when we get off the train is the warmth of the air. The kind of humidity that warms your bones. And then I see all of this pollen floating in the air. If it were cold it would look like snow falling from the sky, but instead it is almost like cotton in the air. Or a dandelion without a stem. Vladimir tells me that it is actually quite dangerous and to not get any in my eyes.
Eugenia is speaking on her cell phone in Russian while pointing to the chap who is there to help her to get luggage carts and she simultaneously communicates all of this to us in English.
I stand guard with the luggage and pull my scarf over my nose to protect the sore throat I’ve been nursing for two days.
Once we exit the train station and go through the gates, I see the Russian army and machine guns. Not doing anything but just standing there next to this large Russian truck that could easily scoop up a good 40 people if necessary. They look bored. I am not one to spook easily so I just assume that their intention is to make sure people know they are there.
We pile into a large Mercedes sprinter van as our luggage is loaded into another and head toward the hotel.
Moscow under first inspection is a massive, sprawling metropolis with all the first-world problems of a massive, sprawling metropolis. St. Petersburg seemed large with all its canals, but next to Moscow, it instantly feel quaint, charming and provincial. I finally see some graffiti and what appears to be a modern day propaganda poster and what looks like an abandoned building amidst gargantuan buildings. It looks like they were just added onto until the single building takes up an entire city block. But mostly, everywhere is construction and cranes.
As we head down a small street/back alleyway, we find our hotel. The Pushkin hotel. While checking in, I concoct a plan with Tina for magically making surprise birthday cake happen for Richard before they have to be at their next appointment in 37 minutes. We check in and I zip into our room to drop my luggage. The room has a skylight which we instantly open and a couple of those little pollen spheres float into our room.
I dash out of our room and grab Elizabeth and we proceed with Mission Birthday Cake. The lady at the front desk gives us very specific instructions to a grocery store that is around the corner. When we get to the corner we can see why her directions were so specific. There are hoards of people going in every direction on an incredibly busy street and construction that has torn up all of the sidewalks and changed the entrances to all the buildings. We find the coffee shop she described and the escalator down into the underground market she recommended. It is super fancy. If Dean & Deluca in New York opened a location in Russia, it would be this market.
I go in search of champagne while Elizabeth searches for dessert of the chocolate variety or apple pie. She finds both tiny rolled chocolate cakes that look like Ho-Hos and an apple pie. Score. I nab champagne and find a fancy blue and white plate with gold scrolling for a price that I don’t care to calculate from rubles into dollars because I believe it is destiny and good fortune that has brought me here, which is further confirmed when Elizabeth returns with tiny hand made paper toothpicks with little mini clown like people on them. We nab a #1 candle. High Five. Best teamwork ever.
While paying for our goods, I try to ask the cashier lady if she has a plastic knife. I pull it up on my Google translate and display it to her in Cyrillic. She has no idea what I am mean. There is a young, hip gentleman with a couple of buddies who asks me if he can help? Yes, I need a knife to cut the cake. He asks her for us. She says no. I thank him and he waves us on our way. I ask in the coffee house upstairs and they hand one to me.
We sprint back to the hotel and prepare the cake on fancy plates and run through Happy Birthday in Russian, and we all go down the hall. We knock on Tina and Richard’s door, to the very shocked surprise of Richard. Hooray! We have the fastest cake and champagne party ever before they take off to meet with the translator for our next show, which is tomorrow!
Ack! Food. We need food.
Luckily, to the delight of the rest of our group, Elizabeth and I already spied that next door to our hotel, yes right next door, is a Georgian food restaurant.
What? For real? Yes.
Our good fortune continues 50 steps from our front door. This restaurant is like a mini dream come true to Moscow welcoming committee. It has an outdoor patio and blankets for your lap and pillows and cushions and seating for all of us and an expansive menu that has delicious options for everyone. I have the pumpkin soup and salad. Pretty much every meal I am having soup and salad and couldn’t be happier.
Once we all finally order, we have a toast.
The Prozorov family in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” never actually make it to Moscow, but we have. It’s taken us 4 years to get here.
Did we finally crack the code for happiness? Or have we discovered the real lesson about life: that maybe everything doesn’t always work out and no one ever gets what they want and that’s okay. Or maybe, just maybe, if you believe hard enough that you can and work hard enough so you will, then maybe the stars will align and give you everything you ever wanted.
Or maybe we will just enjoy what Moscow has in store for us with no expectation of anything other than the experience of it.
I guess we’ll find out tomorrow night.
Originally posted on:
I woke this morning to moments of last night’s performance experience tugging me awake. My gut pulling from the rise and fall of adrenaline. My heart soaring from the roller coaster of so many emotions. But mostly the vision of Tina Kronis, our director, with tears streaming down her face as we exited the stage, stays in my mind. Her return to Russia where all of this was born – the artist has come full circle.
My spirit is full, and I feel an overwhelming gratitude as I slide into my jeans to head down to breakfast at 9 am. The hotel had asked us all to come down at that time because they wanted to present us with something. I am a little unsure as to what the custom or presentation will be and why, but bed head will not do, so I don my headscarf.
After we’ve eaten our breakfast, they bring out a most exquisite pie-type/filled bread with a gorgeous latticed crust. It is stunning and with my love for baking – I can appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into making this lovely sweet.
It is filled with sour cherries and berries of many kinds, candied ginger pieces and currants. It is surprisingly not sweet but tart and glorious.
There is a young girl, probably 9 or so, having breakfast with her grandmother, who has been eyeing us and the pie. I offer her a slice and she looks to her grandmother who nods and then to us with a ferocious nod. I give her a slice as well and she shares with her grandmother.
Today is our day off.
Vladimir will take us for the day to tour St. Petersburg. So we take our leave with expressions of thanks and race off to get ready.
We have a very busy day ahead of us and will be gone for the whole day, so we pack and dress accordingly.
We pile into a large van/small party bus. We drive across the river and into town. We stop and pick up Vladimir’s actress friend, who is a professional tour guide, and who will give us her tour of the town. She jumps into the van, and from word go she clicks into tour mode with her ‘’to your left” this…and “on your right” that. It was clear to me within the very first block that I had a choice. Try to keep up and immerse myself into every single detail or sit back and relax and let the city wash over me.
My favorite is when Vladimir interrupts her. He adds in his own details about the city he grew up in. Every so often the two of them argue in Russian about the path we will take and why their way is going to get us there better.
Such a conversation occurs as we try for more than twenty minutes to get close to the Church of the Spilled Blood. We discover that the streets to it are actually blocked off and two blocks away is as close as we get. It is very big and fancy and looks like the sister to St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. It marks the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded in an assassination attempt in 1881, hence the name.
We stop at a grassy park area just the other side of the river, where we are reminded to watch our wallets. I walk to the edge of the bridge and look across. The Neva River is about as wide as the Mississippi River, if not a little wider. There is a light breeze that blows through my hair and face, convincing me of it’s beauty. With it’s taste of the ocean it whispers:
This is a perfect moment.
You will remember it, and for the rest of time you will search for this breath that contains the most ions you’ve ever inhaled.
There were little tourist carts set up and a coffee hut that was shaped like a giant coffee cup. We only had 15 minutes but I took a look at the Babushka dolls. I had promised to bring one home for my mother.
Now is as good a time as any.
But then you have to carry it…
I end my inner conflict by picking the one that has the 8 nesting dolls.
Every block, there are impressive buildings with sculptures and monuments. Entire bronze brigades of horses carrying Generals or chariots exploding out the top of a shopping center or theater. There was this one horse – the artist used the backside of the horse’s anatomy to sculpt the outline of his wife’s lover’s face – forever cast by betrayal as a horse’s ass. That one was my favorite. Between the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace and the American Consulate and the home where Pushkin died, my mind boggled.
We go to St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
I’ve been to a lot of cathedrals, and they are designed to invoke awe, but this place is simply next level. The most impressive aspect is the lapis and malachite pillars. I’ve never even seen a large piece of either the blue or green stones. I’ve only seen them in jewelry, and these are floor to ceiling and carved into the shape of pillars. Never seen anything like it. Every inch of wall is covered in a spectacular ode to Russian Orthodox versions of the story of Jesus, but I gravitate toward these tablets in the middle of the cathedral. They stand about 8-10 feet tall, and, under inspection, reveal a mosaic of tiles that make up the picture.
We head to a lovely modern café with colorful tiles lining the floor and walls and stairs. I have an affinity for masterful tiling. It wafts over me as a feeling of order out of chaos. I have potato leek soup with smoked trout and a salad with pepitas. All is right with the world.
I step out to the bathroom, and when I return, our group is gone.
Aw, come on guys. Again?
(There was a night in Shanghai when we went on a river boat tour, and I was too busy taking photos to notice that the boat had stopped, my group disembarked, and the boat started off again. I ended up getting a cab driver who used his horn instead of his brakes, and I met everyone later at the hotel, so I guess it was fine. But seriously?)
I ask which way to the Hermitage and start walking. If I walk swiftly I can catch them. I see Doerr hurriedly walking back and catching up with me.
He asks me: Again?
I shrug my shoulders, and we catch up with the rest of the group.
The city square is massive. There is a giant angel on a spire in the center and the Winter Palace where the Hermitage is housed.
The Hermitage is a museum. A world renowned museum.
I could do an entire blog just on the Hermitage and my experience there.
But, suffice it to say that now is the moment when I will have to go off on my own. It’s just how I roll. I’ve got to do my own thing. I sneak into the exit of the museum and go backwards. Somehow I end up going down a hallway filled with art crates. And I find a secret corner of the museum where I spend an hour staring at Siberian horse bridles that were decorated with wood carvings of deer antlers and saddles with the most elaborate inlaid designs ever. From the 11th Century. I see only 3 people.
On the way out, I catch up with the group as if we’d been together the whole time.
We go off in search of a river boat cruise.
We hop on a bus which is packed. There is a woman who sells tickets but she is at the other end of the bus and has to navigate herself through the entire bus at every stop to get to everyone who needs to purchase a ticket. This seems like a bad method for ticket distribution.
Apparently I like river boat tours-especially at my favorite time of day. That golden time when the sun is at that angle that makes everything gorgeous. I get to put my feet up and just take photos and feel the wind on my face. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I look to the rest of our group spread out over the boat and smile at the sight of everyone having their own experience with the city. As the tour guide continues her tour completely in Russian over a speaker, I can see that her deep melodic vocal rhythm has lulled both Elizabeth and Jesse asleep in the seats next to me.
Somewhere between the warmth of the sun kissing my cheeks all day or the moisture in the air that nourished any part of me that could’ve been parched, I fell in love with the cracks and spots where the city shows it’s age and can’t hide it’s wear and tear.
After the boat ride I stay behind on my own for a dinner. I go to the Soviet Café where Vladimir had tried to take us the other night but it was too full. It has a red bicycle with flowers in a basket chained to the stairwell that leads down to it. Russian comfort food. I have the Chicken Kiev with mashed potatoes and cranberries. They bring dark rye bread that I cannot eat and I spend a fair amount of time removing the breading on the Kiev. It is worthwhile and there is a Russian War movie from the 50’s on the TV. This place reminds me of Gorky’s which used to be a 24 hour Russian Restaurant in downtown Los Angeles that I spent a good portion of my nights.
I feel at home even though everything feels familiar but not. Even though the people look like me, but not. Their clothes, their hair, the way they walk. Like me but not-in ways I simply can’t find words for.
This is a riddle that perplexes me. I’m not sure I will ever fully understand how St. Petersburg grabbed a hold of me demanding that I love it. Courting me with all of the riches the world has to offer and impressing itself into my soul.
You don’t have to leave tomorrow.
Yes. I do. I have to go to Moscow. Tomorrow.
But Moscow cannot give you what you want. St. Petersburg has everything for you.
I wouldn’t have even come if it were not for Moscow. I must go. I must.
You can go but it will not love you the way I can.
You think you must-but remember that I said this to you first.
You will never forget me and I will never let you go of you.
Originally posted on:
St. Petersburg, Theater Buff
A nerve wracking day.
To say that all of us were a little tense would be an enormous understatement. There is quibbling. Our show is so tightly choreographed that the slightest shift can throw off the whole train. We had a chair issue. This chair thing, with up to ten moving chairs in play at any time, can derail everything. A moving oscillation that, if it doesn’t land right the first time, it won’t ever be right. The stakes are huge and the fears about the chairs are just a representation of how huge.
Why couldn’t I have been an accountant? Or have a regular job? One that doesn’t require that I stand in front of thousands of people and bare my soul. But sometimes there is a simplicity in it that cannot be found anywhere else but through the eye of the needle. Sink or swim, we were going to do this show.
I’ve got my headphones and my Dior ultra dark fancy eye make up. I don’t have time for perfection – I have time to smudge and breathe and smudge and line and wand and line and spray and jewelry and hose and girdle and dress and spray and blot and wig and pin pin pin…pin– Good god there are so many pins, but tonight it goes on right and tight and this show is going to happen and we are going to give it to them our way. And love it or not, they will come with us.
The house is packed. 400 plus.
First bell. I sneak off to the back stage area behind the scrim. Do my preshow ritual in the blue of backstage.
The cast files into the backstage area. We have our huddle. Vladimir comes by with bubbling enthusiasm.
Break your legs!. He cheers to us.
Break your legs!
We choose him for our show mantra. Our prayer to do the show for. But first, we breathe…together. 1, 2, 3 Vladimir!
3rd bell and preshow announcement.
I assume it says turn off your cell phones but nothing about photography because as long as you don’t flash you can take photos all you like. Perhaps it says, be nice to the Americans. Let’s all be on our good diplomatic behavior. They’ve had an easier history and as a result feel entitled to be treated special. Whatever it says, they start clapping. Their enthusiasm matches that of Vladimir.
The air is electric as time evaporates and the lights go down and me and my two sisters take the stage and sit as one. The music starts and…
We are off. I make a little mistake in the opening dance, nobody but me knows…and maybe the pen of our director, and the rest of the cast who just saw it, but it doesn’t matter. No feathers no fluff. (Their version of break a leg)
Stick in there.
We finish the dance and there is applause.
If there is applause after the dance, then they want to be with us. And they are.
What transpires over the next 90 minutes is that indescribable ephemeral thing that is exchanged between the performer and the audience. You were either there or you weren’t. Me and my castmates and that audience. It is magic. To try and put more of a name on it would be tantamount to finding words for your first love or the first time you knew you were free. It’s sacred. It’s an intimacy that is shared.
Come curtain call, I am in tears. I mean, I already am because of the play and it’s the end of life as all of us know it. But then comes the clapping – the rhythmic clapping Russian audiences are known for. We have our dance reprise, and then we say thank you to the audience, and then we are joined by our director. It is a tradition for the director to join us onstage. Tina Kronis, this is your moment. To come home and stand on a Russian stage again. More tears.
And then come the flowers. Patrons come to the edge of the stage and hand us flowers. I’ve never received flowers from someone I didn’t know before.
One woman comes with only 3 roses.
One for each sister.
I kneel down to receive my yellow rose.
I am crying. She is crying.
This woman takes my face in her hands.
She kisses me on each cheek saying:
Thank you, thank you.
I have no idea who this woman is, and all I saw of her was her eyes as she kept kissing me on each cheek. I had been so worried that I couldn’t comprehend the extent of Russia’s history and what it must’ve been like to grow up there that I had to surrender the whole idea and just speak from my heart and try to touch another person’s heart. She was my proof. The language of the heart will always win out across any barrier.
If I never stand on another stage ever again, I will always have that moment.
After the show there is a tradition of being hosted for a reception.
It is just a reception for us, given by the producers and the theater staff and those who worked on getting us there without even knowing us. There are fancy little cakes and bubbly drinks with fruit and mint and perogi-type delicious dough balls encasing meat.
There are toasts. This elderly man who has apparently run this theater for 50 years gives a toast. I can’t remember everything that was said, and I’m sure all of us took something different away from the night and his speech but it was something to the effect of how important Chekhov is and the gift of seeing ourselves in his writing and such.
“You could’ve been Russian with your understanding of the play and its nuances and its humanity. And now we raise a glass to you. You are now Russian and have a place to come back to.”
Now to load out the show and pack it up for Moscow.
When we left the theater we discovered a few people who had waited outside for us to come out. This is now at least 2 hours later! There is a woman who doles out flowers and candies to us and then later sends me a Facebook request. We passed the front of the theater and there are 3 or so older couples who say hello and holler “Thank You & Spasibo!” to us from across the courtyard. It appears as if they have been sitting and chatting and waltzing and enjoying the late night dusk and breeze that lightens the evening air.
Some of us stop for snacks at a 24 hour grocery.
We found everything from fresh fruit I’ve never seen before to cheese and snacks and these weird cookies which were like a strawberry meringue, to crab-flavored chips that were refrigerated.
Back at the hotel we all converge on Caitlin and Elizabeth’s room – they seemed to have the most space – to toast from the vodka that had been given as an opening night gift and to share snacks. There was a giant bag of these chocolate candies of various flavors of cherry, orange and coffee.
We toast and laugh and enjoy. I went to my room to see if I could reach super-hubby Jeff.
The sun is finally at its lowest, and it appeared to be night. For at least 2 hours it will be. Until the sun rises again at 3:30 am.
I will take advantage of this darkness for a restful sleep after a job well done.
Originally posted on:
Theater & the Theatre
When I finally wake, it is 9:30. Ear plugs are amazing things. I slept through Kendra getting up and pumping 3 times and showering and heading off to breakfast without waking me up.
I throw on jeans and a scarf around my hair and go down to breakfast. The gal behind the buffet asks me something in Russian. Not only am I barely awake but I really should have learned to speak some Russian before I came on this trip. In very careful English she says:
Room number? Ah, yes. 202.
Spasibo. Thank you.
I love a buffet in a different country. I have absolutely no idea what I am going to get. An egg soufflé type thing that I can’t quite figure out. It is fluffy and cut into rectangular squares and for the next 2 weeks I eat it every where – I never do figure it out)
A variety of pork breakfast items. Hard boiled eggs. Yoghurt.
Beautiful cabbage salads of a few varieties, and pastries. Good Lord. Gloriously flakey, unique, filled and topped pastries of many varieties. None of which I can eat. Save it for the blog about food.
As I leave the hotel for the theater, I am very pleased that I downloaded my Here We Go app recommended in Money magazine. Offline maps – yes! We are outside of the city center but it is still quite bustling. Giant apartment buildings that kind of look like the projects – but only in their uniformity and size. A cat comes towards me and acts like he wants to be petted and then darts off through a tiny portal into the underground of a building. There are flower pots hanging below the street signs.
All of the streets are marked in Cyrillic only, however the map has the street names in the English alphabet, and they don’t match.
Theater Buff. A large austere building with a beautiful, inviting courtyard.
I go to the stage door and there is a man just coming on shift as he puts on a tie. I point to my Track 3 t-shirt and he motions to wait. I type on my google translate I am here to rehearse and again he motions to me to wait. He hands me a wrapped candy instead and puts on his security guard jacket. The candy is a caramel kind of something with nougat chunks. Tasty. He takes me to the lobby. Shows me the pictures of artists on the wall. “Famous” he says. He takes me to the theater and sure enough I find our crew. I say thank you.
There is a gold mantle on the stage. It is a huge step up from our previous mantles. This one looks like it goes in a house. Off stage right is a giant birthday cake. I wish we could use it but Olga would have to wheel it on stage.
We go down to a rehearsal room that has mirrors and ballet barres. We have a long warm-up. It takes a good full hour before my body, that has spent the previous 30 hours straight seated, wakes up.
We rehearse and work a few spots. Lunch up to the 6th floor. I have the cold borscht and whitefish with eggplant and rice with dill. There are all of these beautiful fresh veggies cut up to nosh on. Cucumber, red peppers and radish and what appears to be flat parsley.
There is a compote drink that is sweet but I am not sure what the fruit/veggie inside it is. Would taste great on ice with some fresh mint. I will not have ice for the next 14 days. For the same reason that you can’t get ice in Mexico, or China or many other places in the world. Because you shouldn’t drink the water.
Vladimir is our producer. I met him for the first time at the airport. He sits at the last table that is set only for one. I ask him if I can join him as we at the 3 sisters table have had more than one meal together. Vladimir is originally from St. Petersburg. You can see a sense of pride in this fact. The same kind of pride you can see in the people on the street.
He tells me that he has lived in the US since he had to leave in the 1980’s. He was given the option to go to another country or go to jail. I can see that he misses it. He has been producing mostly music acts. This is the first play he has brought to Russia. Quite a risk. He will stay on after us to tour a jazz band.
It turns out that the American Consulate is actually the one hosting us. They found the money through grants and endowments.
(When we meet them later there is a fascinating conversation about how it all works and how it has shifted with our current administration. The mandate has become that public affairs and culture aren’t a priority and 30% across the board-across the world is expected to be cut by the end of the year. They don’t usually bring plays over here but this has been in the works for a couple of years now. Quite a risk.)
I ask Vladimir how people feel about Putin. He says that critical-thinking people have never liked him. But he was very popular in the beginning. He says that people are realizing how corrupt things really are. The night before we arrived there were hundreds of people arrested from the square in St. Petersburg and the Red Square in Moscow. People, mostly young people, had flooded the squares protesting corruption. He says the young people don’t have any fear of the government like the previous generations do. He hopes that they won’t have to and they will be able to shift the tide.
I ask Vladimir how Russians feel about Americans. Do they hate us?
There is a pause. “Wary. They are coming around,” he says. He urges me to understand the massive amount of anti-American propaganda that is spread and has been spread over decades. I mention that our own Cold War propaganda has dominated our view for decades too. He asserts that it is not the same though. Some is warranted on both sides but the tactics and lies on the part of the Russian government are…I’m not sure I heard clearly what the next part was. I feel keenly aware of my fixed point of view and maybe we all have one of our own country.
We finish and go back to the hotel to clean up. Vladimir is taking us into St. Petersburg to the theater tonight. The Bol’shoy Dramaticheskiy Teatr. The company is doing a version of Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. It will be avante-garde and very Russian.
No, you should not have worn the cute shoes, Dylan. You should have worn the flats and you know it.
Yes, you were a genius for bringing a power bar because no, we will not have dinner before the show.
No, there is no Diet Coke in Russia. Not before the show, not when I am still on California time and it is 3 am to me. No, none for you. And yes, it will be 10:30 pm before you sit down for dinner.
The theater is stunning. A very well visited palace. Vladimir has arranged a tour of the theater’s museum. I am blown away by the production pictures and costume watercolor drawings and the stage dioramas. The level of drama and fervor and specificity in every aspect of production is extraordinary.
While the tour director was taking us through, an entire crew of young women ushers in black blouses with long black skirts assembled in the stairway and chatted until they were silenced by the person who was obviously in charge, who then pointed at us.
During this tour, they pointed to a production they did of the American play “Our City”. Did you mean “Our Town”?
Yes, yes, yes. My apologies. Our Town. We didn’t believe it could possibly work. Everyone is seated the entire play. But surprisingly, it did work. Maybe there is something to it.
One of the productions was Three Sisters and Masha’s costume was on display. I got goosebumps over my entire body.
Once we finished our tour, the lobby and foyer and bar and common areas were all teeming with people. I noticed some people had bouquets of flowers. I wonder if they have friends in the cast.
The theater itself is delicious – a 500 person seating. We are all the way down in front on house right. The chairs are fancy, like dining chairs with a rococo flair and are individually linked together.
The show is a spectacular extravaganza of movement, dance, song, exploding enthusiasm and very deep monologues with the malaise of all that life’s ennui can contain. It is rich and colorful and dark and mysterious and light as a feather. I have no idea what it is about as it is in Russian.
The most thrilling and informative part of the evening was the curtain call. Once it started there were Bravos and the Russian rhythmic clapping. People came down to the stage and delivered flowers to the cast. The cast went off and came back on. This went on for 10 minutes. It was such a beautiful exchange. A relationship.
Afterwards, onward to find nourishment. To a Georgian food restaurant. Vladimir’s family is originally from Georgia – the country, not the state in the US – and he assures us this will be the best food we could ever eat. “It’s just up here and around the corner,” he says.
The Georgian restaurant had just closed, but Vladimir speaks to them and it turns out they will accommodate us if we can order just a few things from the menu. So, Vladimir chooses some items The owner shakes his head no. More choosing. More nos. Owner picks. Food on its way. I was happy that Kendra could advocate for my food needs. Chicken skewers as well. Done and done.
Must say it was the best chicken skewers and grilled veggies of my life. Or perhaps I really was that hungry. All of the spices were so delicate and made the flavor of whatever I was eating come out, rather than the spices being the only thing I was tasting.
At the end of the day, I had walked 8.6 miles, half of which were done in my booties. Yes, Dylan, booties still count as a heels!
As I flipped through my photos of the day to choose a couple to text home – walking along canals, lilac trees in bloom and brilliant sculptures – I wondered about what our show tomorrow might hold for us.
Would we receive an ovation in any small part like the one we’d seen tonight?
Would we receive flowers or will they boo us out of the country because we’ve ruined Chekhov’s crowning achievement and disgraced ourselves in the process?
Originally posted on:
St. Petersburg arrival. It is now Tuesday night.
Because you lose a day with the time difference. It’s okay, you get the day it back when you come home.
As we drive toward St. Petersburg it is unclear how long it will take us to get to the hotel.
We pass large industrial plants. Large apartment building complexes. Extensive complexes of housing. And everything is green. Tree lined streets and streets lined with trees in the middle with trains running through the center.
There are swarms of people walking everywhere. Apparently, outside of the city there are very specific spots where the transportation stops. And then you will see people just walking the rest of the way from wherever that stop was. There are paths worn into the grass in every direction. Everyone heading somewhere.
As we near the city, traffic crawls to a stop.
St. Petersburg’s traffic is terrible. I am now beginning to understand why the driver wouldn’t give us an ETA on arrival. From that spot it takes over an hour to get across St. Petersburg to the other side of the river where we are staying.
St. Petersburg has over 600 bridges. The canals are all manmade and it is surrounded by islands and rivers. It is spectacular and old. And there is a monument to history around every corner. A city of palaces. It feels a little lost in time but only from my eyes-it doesn’t feel in conflict with itself at all.
Apparently, Peter the Great was really excited by the French and German stylings so he hired all of the best architects and engineers in Europe to plan out and build St. Petersburg to be the country’s capital. You can see it and feel it in the city’s feng shui. Walls of city blocks that go on and on in a perfect line, until the line is interrupted with something that was a mistake and they didn’t want to correct Peter the Great or something was added on as the city expanded.
Once we arrive at the hotel, there is a camera crew waiting for us. Yes, I have lipgloss handy for this moment exactly.
Yes, liquid eyeliner was definitely the right choice. And yes, eye drops, you are my best friend.
Lights on. They film us unloading our luggage. And I have mentioned before how extensive this process is. It seems a little strange until I can see that they are filming Aaron’s bare feet. They interview our director Tina while Richard checks us into the hotel. Then they want to interview the 3 sisters, but we only have 2 sisters cause 1 sister stayed behind to wait for a lost piece of luggage and is coming after its retrieval.
Okay the Russian man interviewing us would settle for Masha and Vershinin.
Alright Doerr – let’s tag team this thing.
I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve been interviewed in a different language. Vera, our host from the American Consulate, whom we’ve just met upon arrival, translates the questions for us.
Do I feel like I might be a little bit Russian after doing this play?
Da. Da, da, da. Yes. Yes, yes, yes I do.
Do I understand how important the heart of Masha and Vershinin is? That it is the heart of the people represented in these characters?
Yes. Then I’m sure I say something amazing (my secret internal communication was this: Yes, I treasure how revered and known this is and I promise that I will take the greatest of care with the hearts of the Russian people and the iconography of Masha and Vershinin and all that they represent.)
Then – hey we knew it was coming – the question is something to the effect of this:
I watched your trailer and there was a lot of movement and dancing and song and was this intentional or just some student approach to find a new way into the work to make it seem like a re-creation. Was this on purpose?
To which I answer:
Yes, absolutely everything in the play is intentional and on purpose and I think you will find that it is a distillation of the play, rather than an outside the box for no reason but provocation exercise.
He proceeds with:
Well, I mean you are from LA not New York so…
I refrained from my speech about how vibrant Los Angeles theater is and how we have so many incredibly talented people there.
Da. Yes, we are from Los Angeles.
Doerr handles his questions with ease and grace and we have a high five.
I feel pretty proud of myself for not launching into my speech about Los Angeles theater – any restraint at all, being this punchy, is a win. I mention this to Tina, since they are such a crucial part of this vibrancy. Tina, however has lived in Russia and studied at the Moscow Arts Theatre and provides a different perspective.
Yes, but this is Russia. They have a different relationship to theater. You can’t really understand it until you’ve experienced it. It is an actual relationship.
Speechifying silenced. I look forward to the experience I will get to have and I say thank you.
The elevator is tiny. Breakfast is until 10 am.
There is a step up into not only our rooms but through every doorway. It takes a minute to get adjusted as to not trip over. I remember it being the same in China – something about not being sued all the time and different regulations. The step up into the room reminds me of a cabin on a boat. There is a large, tall French window, two twin beds, a desk and a fridge. Plenty large enough for Kendra and I to room – we’ve certainly had smaller.
She is my roomie on most of the tours and I am grateful for her friendship. She has just left her 6-month old baby boy for the first time and she is on the floor in the doorway of the bathroom with her iPad.
Do you want me to come back? I ask.
No, I’m going to FaceTime with Doug and the baby just for a minute.
She squeals with joy as they answer and then promptly bursts into tears.
She wraps the call up early. I give her a giant hug. We both cry. I can’t think of a harder thing to do than what she is doing. I tell her how proud I am of her. I make a joke about how it can only get better from here and she won’t ever have to do that again for the first time. Now laughing and crying and a fair amount of snot.
We plug in our plug converters and she sets up her breast pump.
This becomes our joke – the thing she says to me each time she has to pump.
I text Jeff letting him know I’ve arrived safe and sound and realize I am ravenous.
It seemed ridiculous to even me that I chose to bring food from Trader Joe’s and my Nutri-bullet and powdered goat’s milk so I could make smoothies with my protein powder. I even took cute pants out of my suitcase because the Nutri-bullet is surprisingly heavy. It is also at that moment that I realized my plug converter is only a plug converter for my Apple items. Another great reason Kendra is my roomie because she has brought an entire surge protected station.
Lucky you indeed!
But I will tell you I was happy as can be when instead of having to go find food I was able to pour some granola into a coffee cup, make a batch of milk from powder and nosh with a coffee stirrer.
It is midnight. The white nights are upon us and it is only dusk outside. As dark as it gets? I am very grateful for my eye mask and this twin sized bed.
Flight to St. Petersburg – It’s finally here! Bucket-list-dream-come-true day!
We, the cast and crew of Track 3, Theatre Movement Bazaar’s modernization of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”, are flying to Russia as the first American company invited to participate in the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow.
The Three Sisters finally get to go to Moscow. If you are not familiar with this play-I hope you will be inspired to read it.
It will be me as Masha; Kendra Chell as my older sister/spinster Olga; Caitlyn Conlin as my younger sister Irina; Mark Skeens as my squandering brother Andrei; Elizabeth Ellson as Andrei’s cheating wife Natasha; Mark Doerr as my lover Vershinin; Jesse Myers as Tuzenbach, Irina’s intended; David LM MacIntyre as Solyony, not Irina’s intended, but will stop at nothing until he is.
Then the masterminds:
Tina Kronis is our savant director/choreographer and her husband Richard Alger is our savant writer/technical master/everything else.
And last but not least, Loretta, Mark Doerr’s wife, and Aaron Francis, our stage manager who never wears shoes.
Tina and Richard are the brains and bones of Theatre Movement Bazaar. This is my 3rd tour with them and with this cast – with the exception of Elizabeth Ellison, who is fresh to us.
I never like saying goodbye to my gorgeous husband Jeff Gardner. I don’t do it often. By choice. And today was no different. My husband dropped me at the fly away. We hugged as we waited for the rest of the group to show up. I slipped him a card I’d written. We kissed and said goodbye. Only 2 weeks. I wish I could see his face tonight when he finds the card I snuck onto his pillow. And the one I hid in the fridge. Might be a couple of days til he gets to the napkin that I buried at least 7 deep that says – never mind, that’s private.
The first bus is full so we have to wait for the next one a half hour later. Cutting it a little closer than any of us would like. I make a point of chatting with our skycap Emmett.
It is 2:20 when we get to LAX. Our flight leaves at 4:05! Elizabeth and Aaron have been standing in line for 40 minutes already -a line that is still 50 deep in front and behind them. I finagled my way to the front of the business class line and asked if they can help us since we are such a large group with so much luggage. You see we are going to perform in Russia and it is imperative that we get on that plane.
What most people don’t understand is the extent of the luggage necessary when touring. The props, the costumes, the shoes – everything needed to take the show on the road. Gaff tape, glow tape, back ups of what is going to break in the trunks during transit that you won’t find out about until you are at the theater and can’t get a replacement. You get your one personal bag and then you check a show bag and when there are 13 of you plus a bag each that’s 26 bags.
We are an extensive sprawling motley crew taking up entire aisles.
This is when I meet our producer Vladimir. In the midst of luggage and all of the global travelers of LAX’s brand new International Terminal.
Once we get into the security line, I asked the security ladies if we were going to make our flight and if not, could they help us. She says that our airline never leaves on time because they always wait for everyone. I don’t know if it is too early to read some cultural innuendo into this because I’ve never heard of such a thing.
Once we get through security it is 4:24.
They haven’t started boarding yet? Sweet!
I grab dinner and snacks since I have no idea whether there will be any food served that I can eat. (My restricted menu-that is an entire other blog)
As we board the plane we are greeted by a crew of delightful, beautiful stewardesses in red dresses with matching scarves and shoes. Svetlana, Anatasia, & Oksana.
I am always shocked by how large a 737 airbus is. 12 seats across separated by 2 aisles-50+ rows deep…they are really big.
Our section of the plane consists of us, a group of 50 Russian school girls probably junior high school age, several groups of families at least 3 generations wide and at least a dozen infants and toddlers.
An hour or so in, Doerr can’t find his glasses and while helping him look for them an Armenian woman in broken English asks what we were looking for. She had seen the glasses and placed them in a seat pocket for safe keeping. I get up to retrieve them and the flight attendant scolds me in Russian and points to the seatbelt sign.
Several hours into the 11-hour flight, we fly over Antarctica. On one side of the plane, the sun has been setting for hours. On the other side, it is a mostly still full moon and below I can see ice floes. I wonder about the separation of the ice floes and how much it’s grown due to global warming. I wonder if Jeff has found that card on his pillow yet.
4 movies and 3 magazines later, we start our descent.
First sight of Moscow through the clouds is forest. Trees and lakes. A whole forest of birch trees and rivers. Then these houses. With terracotta roofs and painted green roofs and bright orange roofs.
The airport is a little confusing – customs is always perplexing. I don’t like the sensation of having to be on my good behavior. Makes me feel like I did something wrong.
The signs are written in Cyrillic, English & Mandarin.
We have to go all the way to the end. Of the airport. And downstairs. And then to the other end. To wait for the bus that will take us to the tarmac to board the plane.
Funny that we had a 5 hour layover and our flight is leaving in 15 minutes?
Luckily we get on that plane too.
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Last weekend, LA Stage Alliance hosted their not so annual, possibly bi-annual LA Stage Day. It had panels and theater companies and food trucks. How could I say no to that?
Jose Luis Valenzuela was the Keynote Speaker. He is the Director of the new Los Angeles Theater Center downtown, is a theater and film director and a Professor at UCLA. I know him by reputation but have never heard him speak before.
Jose Luis spoke with a poetry that elicited pride around the keynote subject. Los Angeles. This is a beautiful town, and it is easy to strike a chord doing what LA does best–talking about itself. However, when it comes to talking about the Los Angeles Theatre Scene, it is not as highly-regarded, much to the chagrin of the numerous artists and entire communities that work and exist within and around Los Angeles, and who feel strongly how vital an art form it is. Even those of us who’ve poured our hearts and souls into this community can still balk at how to best express what makes Los Angeles theatre so unique.
As Jose Luis ardently expressed, “We suffer from an identity crisis. We are a reluctant metropolis fighting our own identity.”
Jose Luis Valenzuela, keynote speaker Courtesy of LA Stage Alliance
This, he explained, is partly because we think we have to qualify our right to make art, as a result of still not making a living at it, but mostly because we are at war with our true self as a town. With so many different communities, one of the most diverse melting pot Metropolises in the entire world, we don’t know quite how to classify ourselves.
We in Los Angeles are home to an industry known for giving value to what is monetarily successful, yet we are populated by a majority of people doing whatever they need to do to survive. There is a clash in the disparity between the two–and often our need to be on one side or the other, if only for appearance’s sake, furthers the distance and the internal struggle. But doing whatever you need to do to survive breeds a different ethos, one that gives a different kind of pride–the kind that cannot be taken away, even when you try to give it away to get to “the next level”.
In perfect Keynote Speaker fashion, Jose Luis encouraged us: “Let’s stop trying to be something we are not.”
We are not another city. We are not like another city. If we were, we would be another city.
And he added a rallying cry:
Now, more than ever when we are under attack, be louder!!!
When our minorities and women and basic truth itself are under attack.”
Jose Luis said that in Spanish there is no word for talented. The closest translation is “gifted”. To have a gift. And gifts are meant to be given. They are not ours to keep locked up.
What we can classify ourselves with total authenticity as being, he explained, is a “By Any Means Necessary” theater town. From the woman on the corner selling oranges to the dancer on the corner collecting an audience, we will do it however we have to. Happily starting from square one, or from one audience member, and then magically transforming that into a following, one tiny show can blossom into international touring show traveling the world.
Numerous shows that many of us have been a part of have grown into Equity shows that find global audiences. We, the Los Angeles Theater community, deserve to be global. Our stories -bred out of our community–are of equal value to that of the touring shows that make stops in our own theaters here.
The questions we can ask ourselves now is how can we use our gifts to become part of the resistance? How can we unite and fight? How can we embrace who we are to weave our cultural tapestry together?
After Jose Luis’s speech, there was a panel discussion. It dovetailed beautifully with the keynote speech.
It posed the question: does theater have to mean something or can it just be entertainment? Art vs. commerce and how they are woven together.
Steven Leigh Morris reminded us of a Samuel Goldwyn quote about how the only message he wanted to receive was from Western Union. The panel reminded us that out of great turmoil comes great art and that the Arts have always provided an alternative to just entertainment. And how, if we are not the ones who will shine a light onto what is happening around us and how that affects us, then who will?
In the light of our current political climate, where rights are disposable as well as Arts and the funding for them, we face a larger identity crisis. That of humanity and seeing the face of it. Los Angeles faces its own uncharted territory with our struggles with Equity contracts, and the threat of our local institutions losing funding and keeping their doors open. The tenor here was that we can be grateful for being shaken from any complacency that we were in and utilize this new urgency for art as a way of continuing to build trust and community, as we build bridges for our humanity. We can allow these changes to galvanize us as a community, and to speak for truth. By Any Means Necessary.
Jose Luis brought up a very engaging thought–that we as a country don’t have an ideology. So, religion has become our identity, and we don’t yet know how to fight religion.
It was so refreshing to be reminded by the discussion that as artists, we get to bring clarity to issues that are muddled by political shenanigans. We don’t have to tell people what to think. As artists we get to invite audiences to think for themselves about what’s important, and in turn to share their thoughts and then take them to the streets.
After the panel I went out to sprinkling rain and a windy corridor where tables set up for each theatre company represented. Apparently the last LA Stage Day was 2 years ago and there were about 50 companies, however only a dozen or so this day. There were also open auditions with the companies that were present, but those 50 slots were booked up with another 100+ on the waiting list. I asked when they thought they might do another for those who wouldn’t get in, but no plan was in place just yet.
Oh well. I was still delighted to be greeted by the many friends I’ve grown to know over the last 20 years. And to talk with companies that I’ve always been curious about. It was just great to know that in our town you can come as a stranger and find other theater artists who will talk to you about what we do here. Who will tell you how we do it and see if you want to come and play with us.
I never even made it to the food trucks. Everyone I chatted with offered me food. Because that is how we do it here. We will give you the food off our plates.