American Course at GITIS: Semester 1 Week 2

We started this program at GITIS because we knew that it would be something unlike any other theatre program in the world and that it would have an immeasurable impact on our students, on the university and on the foundation. Our program isn’t traditional. Our students don’t sit in class all day and read about theatre. They do theatre at Russia’s oldest and largest theatre school with some of the most celebrated Russian theatre professors. In the first full week we have been reminded of the importance of starting this program.

We have continued our Biomechanics and Russian classes from last week and our students are making great progress in both.

This week we have spent the afternoons taking a very unique acting/dance class with Oleg Glushkov. Glushkov has a background in classical dance and has brilliantly taken his background to bring something so unique and special to the actor. In his classes our students are focusing on using the strength, balance and control required of classical dance to move meaningfully on stage. They do this through a series of exercises ranging from contact improv to ballroom dancing. Glushkov has a way of presenting the importance of each principle in such an easy, relatable manner. He divides each two and a half hour class into three parts: partner work, choreography of the final performance, and physical training. This semester our students will be working with him for two weeks, but we have had such positive feedback that we hope to extend training with him into next semester.

And how did we spend our evenings? Well, at the theatre of course. There is an entire post on the theatre we saw this week that will follow soon!

American Course at GITIS: Semester 1 Week 1

We are only in the first days of the first semester of the American Course at GITIS, but I am sure that everyone would agree that the program is off to a very strong start.

Донкий Хот

Our students arrived in Moscow on Tuesday afternoon and were met at the airport by Elaina (IFTER’s Artistic Director) and GITIS Directing Ph.D. student, Vasya. Everyone went to GITIS first thing on Wednesday to tour the school, do all the necessary paper work and officially start our time as GITIS students. That evening we headed for the Moscow Art Theatre School to see a production of the third-year students’ wildly popular show “Это тоже Я” (This is also me). The show began as a class project during these students’ freshman year. They were asked to go out into the streets of Moscow and interview people asking them questions like What is your happiest memory? What is your biggest dream? What are your fears? What is your saddest memory? These interviews were then brought to life on stage in an extremely moving and powerful way.

Classes started on Thursday morning. The day began with our Biomechanics movement class. Conveniently, the class takes place in the classroom in the dorm building. Students can start the day with two and a half hours of movement and work in Biomechanics without having to worry about the morning commute. Maria leads the students in very active warm ups that get the body and mind to work together and then smoothly transitions into taking an in depth look at the principles of Biomechanics. There is plenty of time after class for a quick shower and lunch before making the hour commute to GITIS. We will soon be dedicating an entire post to our work in this class.

On both Thursday and Friday this week Movement class was followed by Russian class. Our students are all at different places with their study of the Russian Language, but luckily our Russian professor, Ina, has mastered the art of treating the classroom like a one room school house helping each student advance from where they are.

Thursday evening we went back to the Moscow Art Theatre School to see another student production. This one was a very modern revised interpretation of Gogol’s very famous “The Government Inspector.” The show was full of energy from the first moment to the final bow and really breathed new life into a classic. A story that we know so well suddenly became a new adventure.

Friday evening, after another full day of classes, our students saw the Butusov’s brand new “Good Person of Szeshwan” by Bertolt Brecht. Butusov is extremely famous in Russia and is a very celebrated director. The show is new and plays rarely. It is always sold out, but luckily we were able to get great seats for our students.

Saturday is reserved as a day for students to do work on their own. There are no formal class meetings. We still did go to the theatre though. This time we were able to see “Don Quixote” directed by Dmitry Krymov who will be leading our directing course next semester. This show was wildly popular with our students and was also sold out. After the show the students were introduced to Krymov before they start to work with him.

Our first week here was very successful. We are looking forward to next week as we get into the swing of things and the full course load. Stay tuned for updates on the work we are doing and the shows we are seeing!

Student Life: Housing

Now that you have met all of our students and now that they have all arrived in Moscow, let’s take a look at student life in GITIS’ International Dorm.

The building overlooks a park and is surrounded by small apartment buildings. It’s a quiet spot, but is close to a few grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and most importantly a metro station (Marina Roshcha.) It is even walking distance from a large mall with a very large supermarket and a movie theatre. We are also walking distance from the Satiricon Theatre.

The building is very secure. It is gated and has staff on hand at all times. Only international students live here. There is rehearsal/classroom space on the bottom floor and all students live on the higher floors.

Let’s take a look at where the students live. Housing is divided into flats. Each flat in the dorm houses four students and has two bedrooms, a bath and a large kitchen. Take a look.


One of the two bedrooms. The second bed is behind the wardrobe on the right. The photo is taken from the door. There is a third wardrobe, a mirror and a coat/shoe rack to the left of the desks. (not pictured)

One side of the kitchen

View of kitchen from hallway

Bath. Yes, that is a heated towel rack!

As you can see there is plenty of space in each flat and everything a foreign student may need to make Moscow their temporary home. This semester further updates will be made to the kitchen and bath as part of the expansion of GITIS’ international programs.  We will be sure to post the end result!




Meet our Students: Iosif M Gershteyn

Iosif M Gershteyn was born in the USSR and immigrated to the US around the time of the fall of the Soviet regime. Growing up in the US he was actively exposed to Russian language and culture, and was involved in Russian language theater productions, films and literary pursuits.


While in Primary and Secondary school he attended the Russian Literature and Drama Studio (NRLDS) where he performed various roles in the plays of Gogol, Chekhov, Bulgakov and others. Although never formally trained in theatrical acting or directing he consistently sought out opportunities to learn related skills (such as improvisational comedy – most recently) and was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to live and study in Moscow at GITIS.

Meet our Students: Emily Larson

Emily Larson graduated in 2010 from the University of Iowa. During her senior year, she took the advice of a very wise academic advisor and studied abroad at the Moscow Art Theatre School through the National Theatre Institute. It was an experience which completely altered the course of her life. Upon returning to Iowa, Emily spent her final months on campus cramming as much Russian language into her brain as possible and promptly flew back to Moscow after graduation. She remained there studying Russian language for 7 months before returning to the states.


Since that time, she has worn many hats. She spent a season as the Dramatics Director for an Ohio high school, then worked as a nanny in Manhattan and most recently developed a professional relationship with Dutch Kills Theatre Company with whom she will direct a newly translated Polish play in summer 2013.


After two nights on Russian soil, I knew nothing was ever going to be the same for me again. No theater experiences have ever affected me as deeply and profoundly as the performances I saw in Russia and, at the time, I did not even understand Russian language. The four plays which had the most impact on me were Yuri Butusov’s Richard III, Rimas Tuminas’ Uncle Vanya, Dmitry Krymov’s Opus Posth 7 and Kama Ginkas’ Lady with the Lapdog. These directors are artists for the stage. By that I mean each image they create could be photographed and it would stand alone as an individual work of art. They have distilled their immense understanding of human nature and the human condition into something breathtaking; the true definition of a moving picture. What is so exquisite about their work is that it can be understood on a level that transcends language. I no longer ask myself the question “Why do I want to study in Moscow?” because, for me, the reasons are evident in the visceral connection I feel to the city and these four plays. It has become a question only of “How and when will I study in Moscow?” I want to learn to (re)create theatre like these artists have done, and who better to learn from than the artists themselves?

Meet our Students: Greer Gerni

Greer Gerni is a 2010 graduate of Butler University. While at Butler, she spent a semester studying acting at the Moscow Art Theatre School with the National Theatre Institute. While she proudly calls Bloomfield, IN home, she currently lives in Cincinnati, OH and works at Cincinnati Museum Center as an Actor/Interpreter for Special Exhibits. Her favorite roles include Varya in Cherry Orchard (dir. Elaina Artemiev, Butler University Theatre) and the Goddess Ishtar/Temple Priestess in Gilgamesh (dir. Joanna Winston, Half Black Productions).

Two years ago (February 2011) I got a call from a friend who told me that an all-American graduate course in acting and directing was being created in Moscow. My heart jumped out of my chest. I knew, with all certainty, that this was the next chapter in my story. Before I knew it, I was working closely with my beloved professor, Elaina Artemiev, to create IFTER and make the American Course at GITIS a reality. A lot has changed over the last two years and we have overcome many obstacles to reach this point, but I am still certain that that little phone call changed my life for the better.

The need to do theatre ran through my veins from the day I was born (so my mother says) and contrary to the hopes of many of my childhood teachers I never “grew out of it.”  This is my greatest blessing and my biggest curse. So often, I am asked why I do theatre. The simple answer is that I haven’t found a way to not do it.  Until the first time I studied in Moscow, this was the best answer I had. It was there that I realized that it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I act for the actors in my ensemble, I act for the art of the playwright, designers and director, I act to make memories and to change the lives of the audience (if only a little). That’s why I do theatre.

The other question that I tackle on a regular basis is “Why Moscow? Why GITIS? Surely you can do this closer to home!” Well, the answer is long and complex, but I will try to be brief. Moscow loves theatre. On any given night there are hundreds of affordable, interesting, high quality opportunities to enjoy a play. Even on a Tuesday, the theatre is most likely sold out. People love to go to the theatre in Moscow and there is so much of it. The standards are high and the tickets are affordable. The productions have a lasting impression more often than not. Theaters rehearse shows until they are ready and the runs last until they are done. So why Moscow? Job security for the artist who make quality theatre that is accessible and leaves a lasting impression. Why GITIS? The Russian Academy of Theatre Arts- GITIS ( is the oldest and largest theatre school in Moscow. The faculty is very highly celebrated and our education will be very well rounded. Not enough? We also will be working with Dmitry Krymov (, an internationally celebrated director. His work personally inspires me and could be called the most original and influential theatre I have every seen. How could I pass up this combination? Truly, I don’t think there could be a better theatre experience for me right now. I am so thankful to have this unique opportunity.

So, what will I do when it’s all over? Bring it home to you, of course. The passion, enthusiasm and character of Russian Theatre is something I will carry with me for my entire life. I would like nothing better than to spend my life offering this type of theatre to American audiences. Hopefully, through my education at GITS and my continued work with IFTER this is possible.

Please continue to follow my classmates and me on our adventure through this blog and our facebook page Your support means the world to us!


Meet our Students: Jacqueline Vouga

My name is Jacqueline Vouga.  I am a 23-year-old college graduate whose life currently revolves mostly around my 4 year old 75 pound dog.  He is one of the things in life that gives me the most joy along with theater and traveling.  Within theater I love to perform, stage manage, and apply stage makeup.

I do theater for a very simple reason: It makes me happy and, in life, I don’t think I could ask for much more than happiness.


I will be the first to admit that I never cared much for school.  I love to learn and reading is one of my favorite hobbies, but I never found much joy in going to school.  I was always in choir and spent much of my youth putting on shows for anyone who would pay attention so when my choir teacher suggested that I tryout for our high school plays as well I saw no reason to object.  I mostly did small parts and helped out management as much as I could but I quickly realized that I was much more willing to go to school when I knew I had rehearsal directly after.  So long story short, when it came time to apply for college and think about what to major in I knew that theater was the only thing I could choose.  I have never looked back and I could not be happier with my decision.

One of the best decisions I made during my time at Butler University was to go on the month long trip to Moscow.  I feel I can safely say that in the four weeks I spent working with the artists at the Moscow Art Theater School I learned more about myself as an actor and progressed more as an artist than I did in my four years in college.  Don’t get me wrong, I treasure the time I spent at Butler and I wouldn’t trade it for the world but the work we did in Moscow was an altogether different experience.  The teachers allowed us to look at things from a perspective completely different from most of what I had been previously taught and having such intensive classes, six days a week, really allowed us to keep focus.  Working that consistently coupled with brutally honest instruction really forced me to see what my strengths and weaknesses were.  As we were reaching the end of our trip I realized how much more I wanted to achieve if I only had more time.  At the time, I knew it was not possible and just tried to get as much out of it while I was still there.  

So, when Elaina approached us with the idea of this program I knew it was something I had to at least apply for.  I would have hated myself for not trying and I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  After I was invited to participate I struggled with the decision for a long time. But once I allowed myself to not be frightened by the prospect I realized that I really really wanted to do it.  I cannot imagine having an opportunity to work with such amazing artists in this sort of environment to come along again in my life.  I am fully confident that this program is going to stretch me to my absolute limits and allow me to learn things that I never thought possible.  I have no idea where this journey will take me but I cannot wait to find out.

Meet our Students: Elisha Jachetti

I just graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and a minor in Cinematic Arts. Most recently, I starred in Tony Picciotti’s September 11th tribute The Guys, which won Best Docu-Drama and Best Director of a Docu-Drama at the Down Beach Film Festival.


I was initially attracted to the American program through GITIS, because I was craving a conservatory experience to make me a more competitive actor. This particular program is so unique for many reasons. One of which is its location right in Moscow, where modern acting theory and theater were born. It is also the only English-speaking post-grad program that exists in all of Russia. Through this program, I expect to hone my craft in a way so that I can use the tools I learn to consistently work. I have been pursuing acting since I was eight years old and believe that it is the most important way I can lend my voice to world. I strongly believe in the healing and uplifting powers of storytelling and I want to be able to relay stories in the most honest way possible. That is why I need to further my training at GITIS.

Meet our Students: Eliana Sigel-Epstein

Bio: Eliana Sigel-Epstein is a director and theatre-maker in Chicago. She graduated from Tufts University in Boston, MA in May 2011 where she directed Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and Jean-Claude van Itallie’s Eat Cake, among others, and performed in over 8 productions. In the fall of 2009, she studied at the Moscow Art Theatre, and she cannot wait to return to Moscow, especially with some of the inspiring artists she met while studying there in 2009. Currently, she is directing a staged reading of an original adaptation of The Marriage (Gogol) and working in the Development Department at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe, IL. In her free time, she practices Russian thanks to Rosetta Stone and watches Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show nightly.

Eliana Sigel-Epstein What attracted me to this program?

When I studied abroad in Moscow junior year of college, I saw theatre productions unlike anything I had seen before. Perhaps because of the language barrier, I saw productions that communicated stories that transcended words. “Opus No. 7” at GITIS particularly amazed me with its imaginative and evocative storytelling about a very painful subject. I am excited to learn from masters of theatrical storytelling, whose works like “Opus No. 7” and others redefined my expectations of theatre. I am also looking forward to the challenge and adventure of studying and learning in a foreign country.


Why do I do theatre?

The reason that I create theatre is because of the essential role it plays in our culture. Theatre and storytelling is one of the oldest traditions, and I think it’s because humans need storytelling to make sense of their lives. Every time I am part of creating theatre, I know I am joining that tradition of storytelling.

I also truly love the process of working on a theatrical production. I love that theatre relies on collaboration, and as a director I am able to facilitate that collaboration. It is nearly impossible to create theatre by oneself. Even if an artist wrote, directed and performed a solo performance, I doubt this performer would really feel that it is “theatre” unless it is performed for an audience. Of course, this collaboration creates challenges and can even inhibit an artist’s vision. But those constrictions make creating theatre all that more exciting and fulfilling.
I hope to achieve a unique approach to making theatre that defines the conventions we typically see in American theatre. Too often, I see theatre that relies on previously established conventions. Audiences attend plays with expectations based on the plays they have seen before, and actors, playwrights, and directors deliver on that expectation. However, I want to give audiences something unexpected when they go to the theatre. I want to give an audience the experience of watching a story unfold in a new and exciting way, so that the story stays with them and means something to them. I do not want to create theatre pieces that are easy to digest, but pieces that requires one to wrestle with the ideas and manner with which they are presented. I hope that by creating theatre and learning about theatre in a unique environment like Russia, where the theatre is as highly regarded culturally as I regard it personally, I will learn how to create original and powerful theatre.

Meet our Students: Daniel Barnes

Each week before we leave for Russia we will introduce one of our students to you! We’d love for you to get to know us. While in Russia we will all update our blog through our website to keep you updated with the work that we are doing and the adventure that we are having!

Student of the week: Daniel Barnes

A note from Daniel: I get asked a lot why I want to “do theatre”. I think it stems from enjoying change. When we go to see theatre, we want to feel some sort of change in ourselves. As a performer, I want to help somebody experience that. I love making people laugh and I love the change it takes to become someone different. I was drawn to this program because of how unique it is. I have never heard of a program like this, and I think it is very special. I wouldn’t have access to these classes or amazing professors if I chose another path for myself. I want to be as well-rounded as I possibly can be, and I hope that what I will learn and do in Moscow will help. I hope that what I learn as a professional and as a person will be invaluable.