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.
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