2016: WEEKDAYS AND WEEKENDS
American Anniversaries of the Moscow Art Theatre School
Dr. Anatoly Smeliansky, Associate Artistic Director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre, President of the Moscow Art Theatre School, and Co-Head of Dramaturgy program at the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard, is talking with Alexander Popov, International Producer of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre, Associate Professor of Producing at the Moscow Art Theatre School, Founding Director of the Stanislavsky Summer School, and President of ArtsLand Foundation, Inc.
Alexander Popov: We will be celebrating some remarkable and important dates this year at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Most of those go back to the time when you were at helm…
Anatoly Smeliansky: Well, now I look at it mostly from the outside. Since the time I retired I come back here every now and then, and even when I do – I deal primarily with our international programs. I am very much involved with the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard. This is our most prestigious affiliation. As you remember, we have started it at the end of last century.
AP: I remember it very well! We have selected our first class in 1998, the centennial year of the Moscow Art Theatre.
AS: Our best teachers have always taught at the Institute. First it was Roman Kozak, and after his untimely death Igor Zolotovitsky, the new Dean of the School, took over as a Master Teacher. Same applies to our oldest partner, National Theatre Institute and Eugene O’Neill Memorial Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. We will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of our cooperation with NTI this autumn, and, despite the bitter phase of U.S.-Russia relations, we expect a very good harvest. Thirty-two students from colleges and universities all over the U.S. will be pursuing Moscow Semester in 2016!
The O’Neill Program is keeping our School afloat. Not only it provides a steady source of income, but effectively it allows all our departments to be active in the field of international exchanges. Existence of international programs and their caliber and good standing contribute to the overall rating of colleges and universities.
AP: Moscow Art Theatre School is quite unique in this respect. Not only it hosts the whole realm of programs in Moscow, but it also established its presence in the United States – a quarter century ago.
AS: That’s right. The program is called Stanislavsky Summer School, it was founded by Oleg Tabakov, who back then was the Dean of our School and is now the Artistic Director of the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre, and by you. I think we owe the Summer School our words of gratitude. Most of our teachers have taught in the program over the years. Oleg Tabakov, one of Russia’s most celebrated actors and acting teachers, have been teaching in Cambridge for many summers in a row.
AP: So did Andrey Droznin, Misha Lobanov, Alla Pokrovskaya, Yuri Yeremin, Alexander Marine, and also Kirill Serebrennikov, Adolf Shapiro, Evgeni Pisarev, Natalia Fedorova, Evgeni Lazarev, Alexander Rezalin and in recent years Maria Zorina, Vera Kharybina, Ilja Bocarnikovs… It started in the basement of an old church, right across from the gates to the Harvard yard, at Zero Church Street. The basement used to be an eatery for homeless people, and our friends from the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T.) have converted it into a rehearsal space.
My wife and I have mailed over 900 brochures to colleges and universities in all 50 states, and we have recruited 17 students. Three teachers came from Moscow – movement guru Andrey Droznin, Mikhail Lobanov, who was working on improvisations and acting exercises, and Oleg Tabakov as a master teacher. While Andrey was teaching movement to one group in a larger space, Oleg was sitting atop a massive old kitchen stove rehearsing a scene with another group right in the middle of the kitchen.
Two blocks away from the church, at the West Wing of the A.R.T., a dozen of prominent Russian and American theatre people, led by you and Martha Coigney, the President of International Theatre Institute, were running a conference on Russian-American theatre exchanges.
AS: That’s right! This is why I wasn’t able to teach in the Summer School in the first year. Next summer though I remember very well. You have moved the program to a beautiful campus of Episcopal Divinity School, and there were many more students.
AP: EDS was our home for fifteen summers. We have added directing class and doubled the enrollment in 1993, and the program lasted six weeks instead of four.
AS: Frankly speaking, the most amazing thing is that the program is still in existence. I know others have tried and failed, but Stanislavsky Summer School has survived. Americans don’t take anything for granted. Back in 1920es Moscow Art Theatre has toured in America for two seasons. While their first season was a huge success, they had some issues in the second season. Stanislavsky was puzzled by it, and once he asked one Russian American, originally from Odessa, what could be the reason. “Americans, you see, are an odd bunch. They don’t like anything for the second time,” – was the answer. This is still true nowadays.
This is probably your best producorial project so far, don’t you think? You once told me that we’ve taught about 800 students from 22 countries. Oleg Tabakov, you and all of us involved can be proud of this significant achievement that should be inserted in the history of the Moscow Art Theatre School, and in the history of American theatre training. Our major initiatives, like program with Carnegie Mellon University and later with Harvard, all started at the Stanislavsky Summer School.
AP: It also became an important training ground for some of our theatre management students from Moscow.
AS: Since many of them speak English, they became very instrumental help in managing Moscow semesters for American students. Russian managers became guarding angels for each incoming class – taking Americans to theatres and museums, – and at the same time learning a lot of practical aspects of their professions hands on. We have built a dedicated training facility for our international students, called American Studio. Since its inception in 1999, Russian management students were interpreters, company and house managers; they were in charge of ticket sales and marketing campaign.
American students. Russian managers became guarding angels for each incoming class – taking Americans to theatres and museums, – and at the same time learning a lot of practical aspects of their professions hands on. We have built a dedicated training facility for our international students, called American Studio. Since its inception in 1999, Russian management students were interpreters, company and house managers; they were in charge of ticket sales and marketing campaign.
The best guarding angels are granted an opportunity to do the internship at the Stanislavsky Summer School. I think it is fair to say that the Department of Theatre Management, the youngest of the three in our School, became much more noticeable within the School – and much more attractive to the applicants – largely because of our international programs. Truth be told, we at the Moscow Art Theatre School are in the category of our own with this multitude of international programs, and with foreign students present now 10 out of 12 months a year. It would be silly for our management and producing students not to take advantage of such incredible opportunity, and some of them really seize the moment.
AP: We should probably mention some of the poster boys, those who set a great example to follow.
AS: Interestingly enough, there are no poster boys so far – only the poster girls. Irina Paradnaya joined the management program in 2005 and graduated cum laude in 2010. While at School, she managed O’Neill ‘Moscow Semester’, did an internship at the Golden Mask Festival and the Territory Festival, went to the University of Kent in the UK with a group of her peers, then won a highly competitive apprenticeship at the American Repertory Theatre. It is no surprise that Anton Getman, Producing Director of the Bolshoi Theatre who is also teaching at our School, invited Irina to do the apprenticeship at the Bolshoi Producing Center, where she subsequently was offered a job.
I honestly don’t understand how a young person can accomplish that much in a course of five years – while remaining the A-grader in good standing from start to finish, and getting her degree with honors. In four years at the Bolshoi she has produced nineteen (!) opera and ballet productions. It is beyond amazing how much she has grown professionally in that short span of time. This is probably why she got accepted into the Steinhardt School at NYU as soon as she applied. Irina has just completed her master’s degree in Performing Arts Administration there in 2016, and, since she has already been working with the Met, Lincoln Center Festival, New York City Ballet, and The Balanchine Trust, I can’t imagine where she would go next.
AP: Theatre Producer is a relatively young profession in Russia – if you compare it to acting, directing or set design. This youthful energy becomes their driving force, and they are filling the void, so to speak.
AS: That’s right. Some truly gifted ones manage to accomplish in 3 years what in other countries can take 10 years or more. Here is one more example for you. Anastasia Razumovskaya has come to our School in 2008 upon graduating from the Gnesins Music Academy as an operatic singer – and she has a delightful soprano! She felt that theatre producing is her true calling, and decided to pursue it as a profession. She started as one of the guarding angels at the American Studio, and in less than a year – thanks to her exquisite ear for music and a good knowledge of English – she started doing simultaneous translation in the acting class. As you know yourself, this is the most delicate and complicated translation in our business.
AP: Anastasia grew immensely as an interpreter. She worked for me at the Stanislavsky Summer School for two summer sessions, and – much to her credit, – she is a hard worker and a great learner. Admittedly, she made the right choice to become a producer. Creative and very well-organized by nature, she has a profound knowledge of things artistic as a performer, and has a perfect grip on matters administrative and production as a manager.
AS: With those qualities in mind in her junior year I offered her a position of Assistant to the Dean for International Programs. This was unprecedented. Never before a student was holding that high of a position at our School. Producer is no longer at service of the creatives. He or she is creating the piece of art in his or her own right. Much to my pleasure Anastasia has moved on. She is now teaching her own course in Project Management at our School, and has accepted the offer of Vladimir Urin to become the Head of International Department at the Stanislavsky Musical Theatre. Vladimir Urin, who was the Director General of this second largest opera and ballet house in Moscow, is also Chairperson of Theatre Producing at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Two year ago he was appointed the Director General of the Bolshoi.
AP: Right as we were having this conversation (via Skype) two more groups, from Butler University and Wayne State, a total of 50 students, arrived in Moscow for a month long residency at the Moscow Art Theatre School. In September we are going to host a class from Northern Illinois University, followed by a new regiment of NTI students.
AS: I keep asking myself – what brings dozens and dozens of American students to Russia. I think they are coming here in search of the promised theatre land. Rumor has it that Moscow still stands for that title. They were coming here 15 and 20 years ago, when our relations with the Western world were warm and friendly; they keep coming now, when our relations are quite sour. It gives me a great joy to know that we were among those who paved that road.
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