THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA - Day 7

Day 7

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.


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Three

DAY THREE

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.

 

Theatre Buff

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.

Spasibo. Dasvedanya.

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?


THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Two

DAY TWO

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.

Dylan Jones & Mark Doerr.

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.)

Da.

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.

Da.

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.

Pure luxury.

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.

Lucky you!

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.

 

Originally posted on:

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