THEATRE MOVEMENT BAZAAR'S JOURNEY TO RUSSIA, Day Four

Day 4:

Show Day

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.

Sold Out.

First bell. I sneak off to the back stage area behind the scrim. Do my preshow ritual in the blue of backstage.

Second bell.

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:

Spasibo, Spasibo.

I say:

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.

 

 


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 One

DAY ONE

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.

TMB's tour group ogling an ornate building in St. Petersburg

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.

Turbulentnost. Turbulence.

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.