This is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the American Course at GITIS. We say that a lot on this website along with unique and once-in-a-lifetime. It’s a big thing to say, but it’s the truth.
My relationship with IFTER and the American Course at GITIS goes back to the very beginning, before any of it had a name.
More than two-years later I can call myself part of the inaugural class of the American Course at GITIS. Our last day of class was three weeks ago and now, even more than I could have imagined, I am changed by the course.
This wasn’t my first time spending a semester in Moscow or studying acting there for that matter. In 2009 I spent a semester in the American Studio at the Moscow Art Theatre School with the National Theatre Institute. I thought I knew what to expect. There were some things that my previous experience did prepare me for, but the discoveries I made at GITIS were still endless.
So how did my life change? When I put it in words it sounds a little simple, but sometimes the simplest discoveries are the most precious. Here are some key discoveries that I took home with me.
I have always been one to be aware of my surroundings– observant of my environment and the people in it. This is key for an actor and sharpening of this awareness is something that I love about the Stanislavsky System. Though I can usually describe without trouble the wall decor of the restaurant we were in last night and at least five conversations at the tables around us I was missing something: self-awareness. This is a skill that I really built over the eleven weeks of the American Course. I learned to be aware of my body, inside and out, aware of what it could do with proper preparation. I began to learn how to tell when my body was ready for a task and if it wasn’t ready how to prepare it. I became aware of each piece of my instrument, how they work together and how many stories I can tell with each piece of me. I then became aware that putting them all together brings countless possibilities. I became more aware of my emotions, my impulses and where they come from. I became aware of my cliches and the little ticks that I have that make me me. It all seems so simple, because we live in our bodies every day, but it’s a never ending world to discover.
Working in an ensemble is a strength of mine. I am an actor’s actor. I like to give on stage, to focus on my partner. I’m not too fond of monologues. Ensemble training is something else I love about Russian Theatre training. Guess what? Monologues aren’t going anywhere. Guess what else? You don’t have to be responsible for them any more! Ready for a secret: at GITIS we worked on the concept that your partner is always responsible for your next line. If your next line is a monologue then, well, they must be pretty powerful to spark that monologue inside of you. Think about it: when you say something to someone you have a reason for saying what you are saying in that time and place to that person. They may not say a word in a scene (in life or on stage) to spark 200 words from you, but somehow they do.
I’m a curious person. I ask ‘why’ a lot. I’ve always been analytical and have taken my faire share of analysis classes, but never before like this. No matter how many questions I ask they are never enough to analyse text to the fullest. Even before the first line of the first scene in a play there are a lot of questions to answer. Sometimes you can’t find the answer for a question you have at the top of the script until Act IV, but you have to find it and you will. Something as simple as the time of day or the direction the wind is blowing can completely change a scene. You’d be surprised what is hiding deep inside that script. The more you discover, the more questions you have. Now when I read a scene or even look at a painting I am hit with a million questions and find myself on a search for just under a million answers.
This experience wasn’t only life changing in the classroom, but culturally too. An average of three times a week we would go to the theatre. We would see professional shows, student shows: comedies, dramas, operas, movement theatre, classical, avant-garde. We were filled with ideas and inspiration. We could apply what we learned in the classroom to many real-life situations. And while sometimes I wished my Russian was stronger while I was at the theatre there is something magical about watching Romeo and Juliet in their balcony scene and forgetting Shakespeare’s words for a moment just to feel the heat and the emotion that runs through that moment.
Everyday in Moscow is an adventure. From discovering new museums, parks and restaurants to getting off at the wrong metro stop just to see what’s there or going to the grocery store. Being immersed in a new culture is such an exciting way to learn about you, your own culture, what it is to be human and what it is to be part of any culture. It’s also a great way to find an adventure around the corner. Talk about a great way to add tools to your tool box for building a character, all while building great memories!
Now that the course is completed and I am back in the United States I feel a little like a different person, okay not different, just a better, more aware, more skilled, more thoughtful me. I am continuing some of the training and exercises that I really connected with at GITIS on my own now that I am home. I have a lot of tools that I can’t wait to try out in building my next role. I’m also working at IFTER making preparations for the next American Course at GITIS and looking forward to sending a second class to this amazing program! Want to know more about the program or what is happening at IFTER? Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading!