American Theater Group in Moscow
Theater in the English language is hard to come by in Moscow, but during 2005-2006, the theater scene has been blessed with a talented group of young American actors performing theater by American playwrights such as Edward Albee (Ballad of the Sad Cafe), Sam Shepherd (True West), Tennessee Williams (Rose Tattoo), Thornton Wilder (Our Town), plus Shakespeare (Othello and As You Like It) and Russia’s own Chekhov (The Cherry Orchard).
This troupe of 11 actors, now called Studio Six, have traveled a unique path in the theater world. Most of their group arrived in Moscow 4 years ago to study the famous Stanislavski method of acting at the Moscow Art Theater (MHAT) situated on Kamergersky Pereulok. This is the very same theater where Konstantin Stanislavski developed his famous ‘method’ acting technique and where most of Chekhov’s plays were first performed in the early years of the 20th Century. As most Americans who are interested in acting are aware, the ‘method’ system of acting has been a steady influence on U.S.film and theater, with acting luminaries ranging from Marlon Brando, Joanne Woodward, and even Marilyn Monroe studying under the American disciples of this Russian technique. The young American theater students were faced with learning their trade in a very foreign environment, in the true sense of that word. This included learning Russian, living in local housing, and studying the history of Russian and European theater. A heady and daunting mix for young students, most just graduated from the famous FAME performing arts high school in NYC, along with several just graduated from university theater programs in the US.
Studio Six, in its original group of young theater students, were invited in 2001 by the director of the Moscow Art Theater, Anatoly Smeliansky, who was quoted in The New York Times: “After all the decades of American obsession with Stanislavski, this is the first time an American class is graduating here… for us this is something very historical. It is the most important chapter in the relationship between the Moscow Art Theater and America.” This relationship also includes the Stanislavski Summer School at Harvard University and Moscow Art Theater Semesters at the O’Neill National Theater Institute in Connecticut for those who are interested in Stanislavski and US theater on the home front.
The most exciting development for Studio Six was an invitation to return to Moscow this fall to work once again as a theater group. Their challenge was even greater this time, in they were invited to actually function as a repertory group outside the protection of MHAT. This meant efforts at fundraising at the American Chamber of Commerce annual gala in December, and at other venues around the city. Performances of Chekhov’s ‘The Bear’, and ‘The Wedding’ and Macedonian playwright Zanina Mirchevska’s ‘A Place I’ve Never Been To’ were performed at Theatre Na Strasnoi to packed audiences, which included young English students from schools across the Moscow region. It was particularly exciting to see Russian young people enjoying American actors not much older than themselves performing plays in English – a treat hard to come by in the somewhat xenophobic world of Moscow theater.
Let’s hope that Studio Six can find the means to return to Moscow with their energy and enthusiasm for Russian theater – performed in English and welcomed by English-speaking people here. If you have an interest in helping this fine group of actors, please contact their Executive Director Alexander Popov at firstname.lastname@example.org and 7 905 560 5487