Yesterday, I went to a show about Meyerhold (a famous figure in Russian theater) that was in English, debuted in Paris, was directed by a British person, and I saw it with Americans in Moscow. Talk about a cross-cultural discipline.
About a week ago in acting, I did my second dream etude, where I did Yasha’s dream. It was not a success, but that’s not a bad thing. One of the first things we were told about this program is that sometimes your etudes will fail, and sometimes you learn more from the failed etudes than the successful ones. Today, that’s how it felt.
First of all, the idea was not very good, but that’s not important. The important thing was the execution of the idea was rushed. I get told very frequently in acting class not to rush. However, this time I figured out a reason as to maybe why I have a tendency to rush. Ilya said that he could tell I was watching the audience for their reactions. He was right about that. From an actor’s perspective, I think I need to stop thinking so much about what other people think of me, and just to live in the world of the play. After this day, I decided to try to take too much time and see what that feels like.
Cut forward to now, when I have done a few rounds of scene work, and he told me one time that I took too long. This was a win. You can always compress content, but extending it is more difficult.
Another thing that I have discovered about acting is the importance of specificity. I’ve always known that specificity is what makes a lot of theater good, but this program has just reaffirmed that belief. My scene partner and I have rehearsed our seagull scene for approximately 3 or 4 hours total, and we’ve only gotten about 90 seconds into the scene. The degree to which we are focusing on the specificity of focus and timing is new to me, but it’s so helpful. I’m sure I’ll talk more about this in a future post.
Hey everyone, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. Between my mom visiting last week and starting scene work, I’ve been very busy lately. However, I think you all deserve an update. I think the best way to give you this update is to go class by class.
I’ll start with stage movement otherwise known as Droznin. We have started to do a lot of new movements and partner work. As far as individual movements, we’ve done anything from headstands to shoulder stands to some more complicated things. I hope to make a post later on with pictures and videos of stage movement exercises because they are hard to explain. As far as partner work goes, We’ve done a lot of stuff that I’ll try to put pictures of in a future post. I’ve really been enjoying stage movement and I’m able to do things with my body that I never thought I would be able to do.
Now, we’ll talk about Russian language class. Because I studied a little bit of Russian before I came here, a lot of material in the course has come to me fairly quickly. However, it has been nice to formally learn some Russian grammar. We recently learned the past tense, and the beautiful thing about Russian is there’s only one past tense. No past progressive, no pluperfect, no past participles. The grammar is much simpler than Latin grammar is. Also, the past tense doesn’t conjugate. It’s just based on gender, which is beautiful for my learning. One little note about the teacher: she’s definitely a problematic fave. She’s very funny, but occasionally, she’ll say some stuff that makes me say yikes. Yesterday, she said to the class, “oh, you women must have cooked last night.” Apparently, she’s also told women in the past that if they sit on the ground, their ovaries will freeze. So yeah. But she’s very sweet. Well, sometimes she roasts people, but that’s okay I suppose.
Next is singing. The singing teacher is lovely. We were supposed to learn a group song at some point, like a long time ago, but we have yet to start one, I hope we do start one soon. I am also learning a Russian Opera ish song, which I am enjoying a great deal.
Ballet. I am not very good at dancing. However, that class is a blast. I also think the teacher likes our section. She’s likely used to Russian students taking everything very seriously. We take things mostly seriously, but we do have a pretty goofy section. Today, she told one student that his hands made him look like a cactus. He also told the same student that when he was leaning away from his partner it looked like he was leaning away from a dead rat. She’s very funny. Ballet is hard. I feel like I’m doing things wrong all the time, but it’s one of those things that I’m okay with being bad at. So I just try my best and have fun.
Finally, at least as far as morning classes go, stage combat. The combat we are learning requires more trust and is less safe then the combat I have done in the US. however, at least so far, I think it looks better, better meaning more real. I like our teacher. He’s very funny and also very athletic. However, he always has at least one airpod in, and we’ll go on his phone for a non-trivial amount of class. However, this doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers some of the other students. It is funny though. I often get uncomfortable during stage combat because I don’t like being the aggressor, but oddly enough, this class which is less safe then the combat I’ve done before, doesn’t really make me nervous. I think it’s because of the trust that I have with most of the ensemble here. This reminds me of something that was mentioned by one of my classmates. He said that he wished training in America was more focused on building trust. Here, trust is one of the most fundamental things to the training.
Well we are still having Theater history, design, and Cinema history classes, to be honest, they have not had a hugely profound effect on my learning, with the exception of a few Scenic Design classes. For example, yesterday, we got to go on Moscow Art Theater stage. It was by far the biggest and nicest stage I’ve ever been on. It was a surreal experience to be able to step foot on such a historic stage, where people like stanislavski acted and directed, and where Chekhov’s plays were performed.
And to wrap up the class update, I’m going to talk about acting. I believe I mentioned in a prior post that our primary teacher was named Sergei; while this is not untrue, we have another primary theater master, who is named Ilya. He was in Hungary directing a show for the first month of the program, so Sergei was our only teacher. These past two weeks Ilya has been the main teacher. We have finally started working on scenes and text, albeit our use of text so far is limited. The philosophy of this training is that the text isn’t the reaction to an action but it is the reaction to the reaction of the initial action. The most important thing is the action and the internal reaction to that action. This is why text has not been a priority thus far. We’ve also been working on dream etudes, where we have to devise dreams for characters from The Seagull in the Cherry Orchard, which are the shows from which our scenes are. These have also been very interesting and fun. As far as scenes go, I am playing Treplyov in the scene, where Treplyov brings Nina a dead seagull as a gift, and I’m playing Yasha in the beginning of act II of The Cherry Orchard. so far, we’ve only worked on my first scene. We will likely work on my second tomorrow. but wow, finally working on a scene was very refreshing. To have direction was very refreshing. We have done a lot of creative brainstorming throughout this program. It’s been really nice to just be told what to do for the first time in a while. Also, the way we’ve been working on our scenes has been so detail-oriented. Where we look, how we walk, what we were just doing before the scene, what are willing to do to get what we want, every little detail is something that Ilya has helped us discover within ourselves. for example, in the Seagull scene that I’m doing, my character just killed a seagull. If you were to shoot a seagull, it would likely fall into the water, which means my character likely dove into the water to get this seagull. So, Ilya had me pour water on my head, so I could be wet as if I had just gone after the seagull. Having this outer state help me find the correct inner state for my character. Ilya directs us in a way that is very his way is the right way, which I wouldn’t always like, but I do like it here because it’s so specific. I feel like after having this direction, I’ll be able to be more specific in my own work. When we’re in acting class, I can’t help but think of stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares. The acting teacher in this book would do something, such as here somebody walking to the door. Even though there was no one actually at the door, when the acting teacher did this, there was no question that there was somebody at the door. I had that experience today, when Ilya drank water, but when he drank this water, it was vodka. He was just doing this as a demonstration, but it’s stuck with me as how strong suspension of disbelief can be when an actor believes what they’re doing. I look forward to having more experiences in this class and relaying what I’m learning to all of you.
This was a pretty long post because I haven’t written here in a while. I intend to post more frequently so I won’t have such a word dump next time. If you read all the way through, thanks for taking the time to do it. I look forward to talking again about my experiences here.
PS the Skidmore master schedule came out, and I am trying to build my schedule right now, well not right now, but in this current span of time.
We’re two weeks through the program, and I feel like it’s about time I give you the rundown of my classes:
The only class we have every day a week is acting, and we have that for 2.5 hours. We begin every class with a group etude. An etude is essentially a scene that’s a slice of life where something happens to change all of the characters in the scene. Because we’re 24 people, our teacher, Sergei, divides us into four groups of 6, so we begin every class with four group etudes. After the group etudes, we typically do some attention/coordination exercises, and then we do individual etudes, where so far, we’ve been animals and human animals. I love acting class but it can really make or break my day. If Sergei likes my work on a given day, I usually feel great, and if he doesn’t sometimes it can be hard to persevere and keep my spirit high. I’m learning to take criticism in a way that is productive and healthy.
Every weekday, we have two morning classes which can be any of the following: Russian Language (3 times per week), Movement (2 times per week), Singing (2 times per week), Ballet (2 times per week), and Stage Combat (1 time per week). On Saturdays, we have a 3 hour Russian Cinema history class in the morning. On Mondays and Fridays, we have theater history and design classes respectively.
I have been enjoying Russian Language class because it’s a time where I can not think about acting and what my body is doing. It’s more of a traditional language class that’s geared more towards “survival Russian” as our teacher likes to say.
Movement is whack. We do a lot of jumping and crawling across the floor. We also do a lot of isolation movement, where we’ll move just our hips or just our chest, etc. I’m sure I’ll mention this class again as time goes on. It makes me sore.
Singing is really fun. We’re gonna learn an actual 4 part song eventually, but so far we’ve just been warming up and then working individually with the teacher on our respective songs. I’m singing Empty Chairs at Empty tables.
Ballet is geared towards extreme beginners. I am just about as beginner as you can get, so it has been really good for me. I think some of the actual dancers in the class are not thrilled by the slow pacing, but it has been perfect for me at least.
Stage combat, so far, has been playing a lot of games based on balance and also learning some kicks. We don’t have this class that frequently, but I’ve really enjoyed the two classes we’ve had so far.
Theater history has mostly been review for me so far because the teacher talked a lot about things that were in My Life in Art by Stanislavski, which was part of our reading list, but I look forward to learning more in the future.
Design has been humbling. The designers work so hard, and the design students do some incredibly impressive things from a composition/engineering standpoint. I foresee I’ll talk more about design in the future.
Finally, cinema history has been a little boring for me just cause I have trouble staying focused during a 3 hour lecture. I can acknowledge that a lot of the info is interesting, but it hasn’t quite clicked with me. The films we’ve watched have been pretty weird though.
Anyhow, that’s all my classes.
This is probably going to be a fairly short post because it took me 30 minutes to get to this blog website to work. This website is blocked in Russia and my VPN was giving me troubles.
Anyhow, this’ll probably short; I’ll post again hopefully later this week because a lot has happened, but I just want any and all who are reading this to know this program is nuts.
We were being animals and now were being animals that have been turned into humans, and as these human animals, we are supposed to try to blend in with humans, but also the animal characteristics must always be present? I don’t know.
This is a real note our acting teacher gave someone:
“It was more of a rat than a mouse”
What is school? This place is wild and I’m glad I’m here.
TL;DR: Got to Russia; saw some theater; have class tomorrow; excited and nervous.
A lot has happened in the past two weeks. Long story short, I’m in Moscow now and start classes in less than eleven hours. I’m excited and nervous.
The first few days of MATS (Moscow Art Theatre Semester) took place at NTI (National Theater Institute (I checked and they spell it theatre in the program and theater in the name of the institute. Weird.)) in Connecticut. They gave us a lot of information, most of which I have since forgotten. Here’s a brief list of memories that I have: Russians are soft-spoken; theater is cheap and with our mxat (Moscow Art Theater School) IDs, we get into most theater for free; don’t talk about politics in public; Just because people don’t smile at you doesn’t mean they hate you; etc.. However, I think most of what we were told, I will come to discover on my own in the next three months.
In addition to many meetings, I also met all of the people with whom I will be studying for the semester. They seem lovely. I’m sure I’ll mention them later on in this blog.
After our NTI orientation, we had our flight to Moscow. My friend Tatiana (a nice woman from Belarus, whom I met on the plane) said it was the fastest flight to Moscow she’d ever been on. It was 7 hours and 45 minutes. We were told it would be 9, so that was a pleasant surprise. I watched a Russian animated movie called the Three Heroes. There was a talking horse. It was great. I also slept for 5ish hours.
We landed in Moscow and got bused over to our dorm, which is super nice. I saw a show with three other students the same night that we flew in, which was yesterday. Wild. My body clock is all over the place. We got to the dorm at around 3pm, and three other students and I saw a show last night at the Stanislavsky electrotheatre. It was so well directed and a student directed it. It made me feel like actors and directors in America are simply bad (that’s harsh, but Russian theater slaps. I’ll say it). Oh, also, before we saw the show, we went to this boujee restaurant that was attached to the theater, where at least two of us had the nicest meal we’d ever bought ourselves. I had halibut on a smelt risotto, and another person got braised lamb shoulder with a polenta and spinach puree. Both of these were under ten dollars. I wish I had a picture. Food is good and is cheap. Also, for the first time in my life I wasn’t at least 20 years younger than the average age of people seeing theater. Young people see theater here it’s awesome. After our outing, we went to bed.
Today we had a short orientation with the head of MXAT and the head of the MATS program. They were funny and told us to be cheerful. We were all nervous they’d have us do our monologues; in reality, they both talked for 5 minutes and then left. We also ate at the cafeteria which is dumb cheap and dumb good.
After our time at MXAT, we went to patriarchs pond which is a big part of Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, one of our required reading books. It was great. Afterwards, I went back to the dorm and chilled. Finally I recently got back from getting blinis at a Russian fast food place. Super good. Now, I’m gonna not proof read this and go to bed cause I am tired and have class in few hours.
My name is Anthony Nikitopoulos, and I am a rising junior at Skidmore College. I am majoring in geosciences and theater, and I am spending the fall in Moscow studying at the Moscow Art Theater through NTI (National Theater Institute).
I decided to blog my experience (I guess we’re back in 2012 now) both as a record for myself and as a source of information for others.
The program I am doing is very intense. I was reading through the program handbook, and it said we’d have class from 10:00 am – 5:30 pm; additionally, we will have rehearsals that go as late as midnight and/or start as early as 8 am. Did I mention it’s 6 days a week? Haha. Needless to say, I am nervous, but I’m excited!
I leave in about 3 weeks, and I’m in the process of packing and reading some of the required books. If you’re interested in keeping up with me and my time in Moscow, I’ll be here, and you can expect weekly updates. Leave a comment? I don’t know, subscribe? I’m still figuring out the whole blogging thing. Hope this information is useful for you!
Thanks for reading!