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†helmÖ
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†Ė 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†started it†at†the end of†last century.
AP: I remember it†very well! †We†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 then 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 OíNeill 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 OíNeill Program is†keeping our School afloat. Not only doest it†provide a†steady source of†income, but effectively it†allows all of†our departments to†be†involved in†international exchanges. The 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 Ė a†quarter century ago.
AS: Thatís†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†Russiaís†most celebrated actors and acting teachers, has taught 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 BocarnikovsÖ It†started in†the basement of†an†old church, right across from the gates of†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.†) had converted it†into a†rehearsal space.
My wife and I†mailed over 900 brochures to†colleges and universities in†all 50 states, and we†have recruited 17 students. †Three teachers came from Moscow Ė Andrey Droznin, the movement guru, Mikhail Lobanov, who worked 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: †Thatís†right! This is†why I†wasnít†able to†teach in†the Summer School in†the first year. The next summer though I†remember very well. †You had moved the program to†the beautiful campus of†the 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 donít†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. ďAmericans, you see, are an†odd bunch. †They donít†like anything for the second time,Ē Ė was the answer. †This is†still true nowadays.
This is†probably your best producorial project so†far, donít†you think? You once told me†that weíve†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 the program with the 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 in†helping manage the Moscow semesters for American students. Russian managers became guardian angels for each incoming class Ė taking Americans to†theatres and museums, Ė and at†the same time learning a†lot of†practical aspects of†their professions hands on. †We†have even built a†dedicated training facility for our international students, called the American Studio. Since its inception in†1999, Russian management students were interpreters, and company and house managers where they were in†charge of†ticket sales and marketing campaigns.
The best guardian 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 Ė and much more attractive to†the applicants Ė 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 Ė only the poster girls. Irina Paradnaya joined the management program in†2005†and graduated cum laude in†2010. †While at†School, she managed OíNeill ĎMoscow Semesterí, 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 donít†understand how a†young person can accomplish that much in†a†course of†five years Ė †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 masterís†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†canít†imagine where she would go†next.
AP: †The Theatre Producer is†a†relatively young profession in†Russia Ė 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: Thatís†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 Ė 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 Ė thanks to†her exquisite ear for music and a†good knowledge of†English Ė 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 Ė much to†her credit, Ė 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 Ė 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.