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.