THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA - Day 8

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.

Silence.

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.

Lucky you!

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.

Pre-show announcement.

Light clapping.

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.

They laughed.

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.

Alice, Richard and Eugenia

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.

 

 


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 Five

Day 5:

St. Petersburg

Day off-

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.