GITIS “Stazhirovka” Fall 2013

This fall, three students from the American Course at GITIS Spring 2013 are studying along side the GITIS Second Year Directing students. Through the success of the American Course this fall and the exceptional talent and hard work displayed by our students, GITIS and IFTER teamed together to bring this opportunity to life. 

Eliana Sigel-Epstein shares with us what the first week of the school year (Sept. 2-7) had in store for them. For more about Eliana’s adventure visit her personal blog here.

GITIS Fall 2013: Week 1

On the first day as “Stajor” students at GITIS, we arrived feeling weird and awkward. We knew, from a phone conversation with one of our teachers, that we were supposed to show up at a certain time. So we did, without knowing remotely what to expect. We were horribly, horribly nervous, and had been all week. Though, what made me particularly nervous that day was, actually, talking with my suitemate, who moved in a few days before. I really like her. She was born in St. Petersburg, but her parents are Jordanian, and when she was 13 she moved to Jordan. And now she’s here studying directing and, at 19, is the youngest director in her group. It’s also impressive that she was accepted as a woman into the directing program because some teacher teams (each year has it’s own teacher team, or “faculty,” that is led by a head teacher, the “master”) do not allow women into the directing program, still convinced that it is a man’s profession. Anyway, she was telling us about the horribly grueling and cut throat audition process. While Jackie, Daniel, and I all applied to IFTER, that application process was nothing like what she described. It made me nauseated just hearing about it. So, I went to bed that night, not only worried about what I was going to do should any of the teachers speak to me, but also knowing that the class of students we were about to join had survived and succeeded at this audition process one year prior (we’re joining the second year students). Certainly, we would be treated like second class citizens, nothing but an imposition – a joke compared to the seriousness and talent of the real students.

This turned out to be far from the truth. From when we walked into the room, students approached us and introduced themselves. Three of the directors came up to us and with perfect English informed us that they were here to help us. If we had any questions we shouldn’t be afraid to ask. Class was, of course, difficult to understand. Jackie, Daniel, and I spent the time listening as hard as we could, writing notes about our conjectures of what they could be talking about, and, of course, observing the social dynamics of the class. But it was such a relief that after class we could ask our English speaking experts what exactly the conversation was about – and also what assignments we needed to work on, and when our next class would be. They informed us that we had to pick and present a monologue by the 16th, which we could do in English, and I was to pick an episode from any Shakespeare or Chekhov play and present a concept for the episode on Wednesday. Clearly, we would not be spending our time on the sidelines of the class.

And indeed we haven’t been. The class has been working on a production since last semester and they are due to perform in on Friday. They have graciously offered to include us in the performance, which is a sort-of cabaret slash parody show. It started from character studies of famous singers, particularly Russian pop stars of the 20th century, and some American ones too. The show is an opportunity for them to not only embody a larger than life personality, but also to create a comedic performance, and showcase the singing and dancing skills they have been cultivating over the past year. A lot of them also accompany each other on musical instruments. We actually saw one of their first presentations of this performance for their teachers in the Spring. It has certainly come a long way since then and keeps getting better. It’s really interesting to watch the amount of time and meticulous work the students and teachers put into a show that could be dismissed as “just fun.” Yes, it’s a light-hearted parody, but it’s treated with as much serious artistry as a Chekhov scene. That’s Moscow theatre education for you. I’m just so grateful for how patient and inclusive they have been with us. In general, they have all been really friendly and excited to get to know us. While the three directors who first offered their help probably speak the best English of the group, some of the other students know English quite well or are learning it now. So, sometimes, I’ll be in a conversation where I’m trying to practice my Russian so I’m speaking Russian, and they want to practice their English, so their speaking English. It does take us a while to get through a topic of conversation.

Understanding the teachers, and understanding the students when they aren’t speaking clearly and slowly with simple words, is still really, really difficult. I’ll be able to hear certain words that I know, but not enough to actually surmise what is going on. It’s still really interesting to hear the cadence of the speech, and be able to tell the gist of what they’re saying from inflections and reactions. Like when a teacher is making a joke, or calling out a romantic couple for flirting instead of paying attention to what he’s saying. Or asking a really difficult question that stumps the student. At the episode concept presentations on Wednesday, I wound up not presenting my concept, just telling them which episode I had chosen. This was because the other students had all been working on this assignment all summer, and thus had time to prepare a write up and a model of their set design. They also all had to chose an episode from one of Maxim Gorky’s plays. I am very grateful they let me choose among Shakespeare and Chekhov, as I’ve only read one Gorky play, and the majority aren’t translated into English. Anyway, it was fascinating just to hear the rhythm of the conversations as the directors presented their concepts and the teachers asked questions and gave feedback. I could tell what they were saying had weight and truth, even though I had no idea what exactly their words meant.

Of course, it is horribly frustrating to not know what they’re saying. It’s like being stuck in the moment when everyone’s laughing at a joke you don’t get – and sometimes it is that exact situation. But, I have to remind myself to be patient, that it’s just the first week, and it will take time.

We still have a long road ahead of us. Who knows what surprises this next week will bring, how presenting my director’s concept in a language I still hardly know will go, how I’ll be able to properly understand notes on my monologue. But, unbelievably, so far so good.

American Course: Semester 1 Week 11

Here we are at the end of the semester.

We finished our Acting and Directing course with seven classes with Vladimir Baicher. Baicher is the Dean of the Directing Department at GITIS and an expert in Michael Chekhov’s techniques.

Though our time with Baicher was short, we were able to dig into detailed principles quite a bit working with psychological gesture, energy, given circumstance and events. Baicher carefully balances lecture and physical practice to demonstrate each principle. Through exercises, improvs, etudes and scene work our students began to really dig deep into the layers of a character, their relationship with their environment and each other and the scene.

This week we finished all of our classes, took a look at how far we’ve come and said “until the Fall” to GITIS, our professors, our time here and each other. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us!

American Course: Semester 1 Week 10

Improv Week Two

We left off last week with our observations of people and creating their stories.

Moscow is home to just under 12 million people. That leaves quite a few interesting people to observe in many interesting situations. When you add a touch of imagination the possibilities are endless.

Each student was required to observe and tell the stories of three people. The story should explain how they got to this moment or why they seemed the way they seemed from the outside. From the three stories the story that was the most interesting or that the student was most connected to was chosen to be used to develop the character on stage.

Each student was assigned to find and bring a “detail” of this character to class for them to use as a prop or a costume piece in discovering this character. From here each student one by one found the way their character walked, talked, breathed and even what animal and object this character would be. Each character was interviewed by the class and required to answer in great detail. Each character also delivered a monologue about their thoughts, feelings, dreams and observation.

This project brought together character development and imagination with quick thinking and extreme attention to detail. Stretching beyond comfort levels to find each detail of the character was absolutely necessary. The results were incredible!

American Course: Semester 1 Week 9


This week our students started a two week course in Improv. It’s not necessarily what you would see at your favorite comedy club or on tv. It’s not always funny, but it sure can be sometimes. This isn’t your average improv class. Of course, there are many principles that appear here, but this class is about the process of creating a character, an environment and telling a story in great detail from beginning to end.

Anastasia Imamova is taking our students on a two week journey that requires a free and alert mind and body to discover the world and to react to it. The work that is happening with Imamova is very different from any of our students’ previous training in the program. In other courses the focus has been much more analytical and focused on taking things slowly and with great control. Imamova asks that her students work quickly and impulsively. She asked that they do now and think about it later. And this doesn’t mean that the work should be sloppy, on the contrary, each action should be made in great detail.

Class this week has included impulsive reactions to words, changing a piece of paper into an object and telling a story and even becoming each other. Yes, that’s right, becoming each other. Our course is quite small with only six students. They spend all day every day together in class, at the theatre and at home. This week they had the chance to become one another on stage. Of course, everyone had a few laughs, but more importantly developed characters with great detail. These are people that observe each other every day in many situations. This is a great tool for becoming aware of the complexities of a character.

From here Imamova sent everyone out in the world to observe three people and tell their story (or what could be their story) in great detail. Next week we will begin to develop these characters on stage. Be sure to check back to find out where this exercise takes us!

American Course: Week 8


This week was the busiest, and arguably the most exciting, week yet. A lot happened around here, but this post is dedicated completely to one project. Mikhail Chumachenko has a great project that he does with all of his first year directing students and he chose to work on this project with our course: Paintings.

Each student chooses a painting. The painting must have more than one person and less than the number of people in the class in it. Each student creates a story for his/her painting, does extensive research on the work of art, artist, point in history and place the painting was made/represents, etc. The story that is created is rehearsed and the final moment of the etude must be just like the painting.

Through many classes ideas were developed and thrown out, rehearsals were had, props were made, direction and priceless feedback was given and a lot of work was done. Finally, we got to a point we never thought we would reach. Chumachenko asked for our students to put together a performance day of all seven pieces. Together, props were prepared and scenery and costumes were created from what each student had brought in their suitcases. Everyone tried to get in one final rehearsal before the presentation day, which was difficult since the average student was involved in five out of seven pieces. It was impossible to have multiple rehearsals at once.

The most amazing part of it all was the way this small class of students came together and did have seven presentations ready for the next day. The order was decided and every one worked together to set up scene after scene so that there was plenty of time for each presentation and feedback at the end of it all.

Today we are happy to share with you some notes, snapshots and points of interest from parts of the process.

“Mr. Happy” by Mark Chagall

Director: Iosif M. Gershteyn

By choosing to work with this painting Iosif faced a very difficult task: how to make someone fly to recreate this image.

First he created a story about the painting which he called “Miriam.” You can read it here on his blog. He chose to leave the classroom and stage his painting outside in a nearby playground where his actors could use the playground equipment as the set, creating a solution to the task of having an actor take flight.


“Large Interior W11 (after Wateau)” by Lucian Freud

Director: Emily Larson

Lucian Freud painted in very long sessions. Almost no one would sit for him except his close friends and family, usually his children. He is famous for the melancholy looks on the faces of his subjects.

From this painting Emily created a story of children craving the attention of a father they rarely see. They have prepared a little show for his visit. Their mother enters, mid-rehearsal, and announces that he will not come. In this moment the happiness and energy that they have melts into the position of this painting.

“Five O’Clock Tea” by Mary Cassatt

Director: Vasya Veltsista

Mary Cassatt actually painted this painting for herself after she had retired. There is always something very delicate about the work that an artist does for herself. There must be a lot of truth in it.

Vasya’s exploration of this painting focused on the relationship of these women and the discomfort that can come from the truth that we hold inside.

“Untitled” by Marysole Worner Baz

Project Title: “Many Happy Returns”

Director: Eliana SigelEpstein

In the story that Eliana created from this painting death is knocking on the door, but has only come to call on the man in this couple. Death comes in the form of their son who died years ago. In the middle of a day just like any other day in their very long marriage something extraordinary happened. The man answered the door and saw his son’s face again.



He also understood that it was time to join him. His wife, in the final moment, doesn’t want her husband to go alone. She wants to go too.

The subject matter is very difficult. It’s extraordinary to see death. To direct and to play in this surreal situation at

the end of a long life and a long marriage in your twenties is something very huge to grasp.


“Chop Suey” by Edward Hopper

Director: Greer Gerni

“Hopper painted this painting in 1929 in New York City, Greenwich Village to be exact. That was a big year. The 1920’s brought a lot of changes for the artist, his neighborhood, art, culture, politics, the nation and the world.

 Before doing research on the painting itself my head swarmed with crazy possibilities for the situation in this painting. After doing my research I realized that the circumstances of the world Hopper was painting was far more exciting than anything I could dream up. I stripped away most of my crazy plot and focused on light, sound, and atmosphere in a simple exchange between the two women in the foreground.Hopper often paints very isolated people in public places, or rather busy places full of lonely people. My aim in this project was to create a feeling of excitement and comfort and then to take it all away leaving a restaurant full of people who feel completely alone.This project was extremely useful for me from inspiration, to research, to rehearsals, to the final presentation. Directing students were required to act and Acting students were required to direct. Everyone was working on an average of five of the seven projects. We were constantly bringing things from other rehearsals into our own to create something new.” -Greer Gerni


“L’Absinthe” by Edgar Degas

Director: Daniel Barnes

“Directing projects have always been very interesting to me.  I find it very difficult, but it helps me learn as an actor as well.

The painting project provided a strong structure, but allowed for a lot of freedom within that structure.  This process helped me to better understand the importance of knowing a piece inside and out, and being able to answer any question that might arise within that process.  When I searched for “impressionist paintings” online, I expected to find Degas, but not this specific one.  I actually thought it was Manet at first.  However, it was the story I could find inside the painting and what I could do with said story that drove me to choose it.  With two weeks I was, with my three actors, able to create something small, yet great for a starting point.  It is helpful to see all sides of artistic processes, and this specific assignment did well in helping me see those sides.” – Daniel Barnes


“The Tryst” by Jean-Leon Gerome

Director: Jaqueline Vouga

GITIS may be the oldest and largest theatre school in Russia, but they still don’t keep a camel in the props closet.

Jacqueline chose this set of two paintings “The Tryst (Interior and Exterior) to use to build her story. She didn’t have a camel to ride in on for this man to see this girl through the high window (maybe to steal a kiss), but she did have actors, some twine, some paper and a lot of scarves.

Instead of a man on a camel her story was about a man disguised as a camel (because, of course, that was the only way he could come near his lady’s house) and his female cousin who was daring enough to dress as a man, ride on the back of her “camel cousin” to deliver a message to the girl about when they could next meet.
“This was my favorite project so far. I was delighted that we were able to work on the project “the Russian way.” We worked in class, did our research, had our rehearsals, got feedback, did more research and more rehearsing and finished with a real presentation day. We set an order, made a program, set up scenery, props and costumes (from what we had) and presented everything together like a show. After all seven presentations we discussed everyone’s work.” – Jacqueline Vouga



All paintings are linked to sources.

American Course: Week 7

It’s important to start our post about classes in the first week of May with a little background on what happens in Russia during the first week of May. This is the first real week when the sun begins to shine more often than not. It’s the first week that the grass begins to grow and the snow is really gone. Moscow begins to wake up. For Russians, this is a very important week. May 1st, “Spring and Labor Day,” is a huge holiday here. There are parades and festivals. The parks open their attractions and cafes. The holiday is extended through the first days of May. As May 9th is another national holiday many people take the entire week for a vacation. It is not uncommon to take at least the first few days of May to leave the city. Just like in America, where many people spend Memorial Day weekend putting their boats in the water for the first time, in Moscow many people take the long holiday to go out to their dachas (summer cottages) to open them up and plant their gardens there. This year, Orthodox Easter (the biggest holiday for the Orthodox Church) also falls in this time frame (May 5).

As you can imagine, this is a very exciting time to be in Moscow. There is a lot to see and do. All schools and national offices were closed on Wednesday for the holiday so we had a bit of a break in our week. GITIS actually was not holding classes May 1-5 as an extended holiday, but our students chose to continue to work Thursday and Friday and our professors agreed to hold classes for them any way. Our students and professors alike understand that our time here is short and that our work is our passion. For us, it was the best way to spend the long holiday.

Because we had some unexpected class time, our students were asked what they wanted to study for the week. They chose to analyze and work on scenes from Uncle Vanya. It was such a great opportunity for them to take the analysis work that we had done earlier in the semester with The Seagull and apply it to this play. Of course, Alexei Litvin, who was directing the class dove right in with the students to stretch their range of thought about the text and to work beyond the text.

Don’t worry about these guys and think that they worked over the whole holiday! They had a day off on Wednesday and some extra free time on Thursday and Friday. Sure they spent some of it working on projects, learning Russian and going to the theatre, but they also got a chance to enjoy the sites of Moscow this time of year. That’s the beauty of international study!

American Course: Week 6

Week Six of the course was our second week working with choreographer/director Oleg Glushkov. Since the last time our students had worked with him they had seen two of his shows. This week was filled with a lot of discussion about the shows that we had seen and about exploring principals that he had used to create certain moments that really stood out to the students.

Glushkov’s work is all movement and dance based. One movement in the body inspires another movement. Over this week our students focused on this principle. They did exercises in impulsive movements, moving together, tempo-rhythm and even human-puppetry, where one student would be a puppet and the other students worked together to create a movement story with their classmates body. Together with Glushkov they created short scenes, movement sequences and dances based on this work.

The work in this class really highlights an over all theme of this semester: engaging the artist’s entire instrument in the work that they are doing on stage. Our directing and acting students alike are studying very closely how to engage the entire body in an action, event or emotion. In Glushkov’s class it became more clear for them that what happens on stage isn’t necessarily as interesting as how it happens.

American Course: Semester 1 Week 5

Every afternoon our students have an Acting/Directing class. This week they worked with GITIS Directing Faculty professor Mikhail Chumachenko. What is particularly interesting about working with Chumachenko this week is that he was a student of Zvereva and a teacher of Litvin who each had a week of teaching the course prior to him. It is such a rare and great opportunity to have the chance to work with three masters who know each others work so well, have learned from and taught each other and have very clear and interesting ways of presenting the material from their own, very different points of view.

Chumachenko is really active and hands-on in the way that he works. He chose Romeo and Juliet as the text to work with over the course of the week. The first part of class was spent doing an in-depth analysis of the text and then would move into training exercises from the Stanislavsky System that directly related to the analysis. By doing so, directors and actors alike could immediately bring the analytical work to life. The week ended with a large project for students to apply the week’s work to before studying with Chumachenko again in a week. Students have chosen paintings to bring to life by analyzing the story that they see in the work of art and putting a short scene on stage that comes directly from the painting. We’ll be sure to update you on the progress of the project!

American Course: Semester 1 Week 4

It is becoming very clear around here that our students are really settled into the routine and the swing of things. It’s a really nice feeling when the work that we are doing, the art we are making and the risks that we are taking become a comfortable daily routine. Of course, no day passes with out something exciting and different happening. Today I’ll just pass along some highlights from the week.

All of our students have made huge improvements in our biomechanics class and the challenges presented to them by their professor, Maria, continue to become more and more surreal. This week, just when all of their balance and coordination exercises began to sort of make sense, Maria asked them to complete these tasks while standing on a chair. Why is this important you ask? Our surroundings and perspectives can change all the time and we have to be aware of them and be able to work with them. An actor needs to be able to first control his own body and then be able to control it in given circumstances. In writing the challenge seems small, but the benefits are very great.

Acting/Directing class was a great adventure this week. The class meets five days a week for two hours and fifteen minutes. This week we split our time between two professors. The first two days of the week we continued to work with Natalia Zvereva taking a deep look into “The Seagull” while working with the Stanislavski System and the teachings of Mikhail Chekhov. For the second half of the week we worked with Alexey Litvin, a former student of Zvereva. With Litvin we continued into a very deep analysis of “The Seagull” and explored key scenes through improv, etudes and analysis. Litvin is a director at the Odessa Academic Russian Drama Theatre where he staged a production of “The Seagull” in 2005 which is still playing there now. This Monday we will finish up Act IV with him before  changing gears totally to work with GITIS Dean and Directing Professor Mikhail Chumacheko.

American Course at GITIS: Semester 1 Week 3

Two and a half weeks of our program have now passed. This week we started our in depth Acting/Directing course work. GITIS has a very unique course offering in which Acting and Directing students work together in one class with one professor guiding both types of students in work that allows each individual to grow as the type of theatre artist that they are as well as take an in depth look at the work of each other. The students apply their work together in each class to create etudes, improvs and even do scene work together.

Naturally, we jumped on the opportunity of this course offering for our program. Our students will be studying this way for nine of the eleven weeks of the course with three different Directing Department Faculty members leading the course. This unique curriculum design not only allows the acting and directing students to form a very tight ensemble, but also allows them to stretch and grow by studying intensively with a few different masters over the course of the semester.

We started this process with directing master Natalia Alexievna Zvereva who is an expert in the teachings of Mikhail Chekhov and was, in fact, the student of a student of his. She has been a member of the directing department faculty at GITIS for many years in addition to working internationally.

For her section of the course she chose to focus on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. Her class is divided into multiple sections. First students work through etudes, improvs and exercises of the Stanislavisky System. The class then transitions to script analysis and history before moving into scene work from the chosen text. Over the course of the week students applied all principles from each section of the class to the work in every section creating new art and interpretations of the text every day. We will continue to update you on the work that our students are doing with Zvereva and the other Directing Faculty over the course of the semester.