Thursday, May 26, 2011


The light is here. The city is embarking on the annual Bacchanalian time called White Nights.  At this point the sky is still a cobalt blue at midnight.  "Magic Hour" - the late afternoon side light film directors covet  - lasts about six hours.

Nevsky Prospekt at 8:00 pm
We've just finished a really busy period of teaching, rehearsing and performing.  Producing theatre in Russia is an adventure.  What they lack in organizational skills or fathomable management, they make up for in passion.  What is clear is that without Volodya's insider know-how we would have been sunk for sure.  Our posse from America arrived and settled into either our apartment (Julsci and Bill) or Soul Kitchen Hostel (Dan and David).  We had one five hour rehearsal with everyone and then an hour or so to tech in each of the theatres we played.  Surreal experience of teching in the Dostoyevsky Theatre as the lighting director's toddler alternately nursed while his mom tried to set levels, or banged on Dan Dukich's drum.  All happening with Butoh, Performance Art, Dancers and Clowns sharing the space.  Three or four languages....Felini-esque.  Really great time had by all and I am so excited to report that I ran our light board in both theatres, making up and composing light as we went, live.  It was thrilling and now I dream of completely changing my career to Lighting Designer.
A lighting designer that NEVER goes on ladders.
And also doesn't need to know anything about electricity or cables.
Igor and Volodya rehearse at the Academy
Does that kind of lighting designer exist?
The shows were very successful and we all agree that playing this show to Russians is the way to go. They know this story of Mayakovsky and Lily Brick as we know about Yoko and John.  It's their national story and they care about it.  The work on making it all Russian text was worth it.  The audiences both nights ended up clapping in unison to beg more bows from our confused actors.  We are already making some plans to bring the entire show back to a theatre here next year. So that was great fun.  The workshops at the Academy also ended on a high note.  Our Open Class was well attended and the students demonstrated how far they have come and presented the work as I babbled about it to the audience, with the expected Russian seriousness and commitment. They are a great group. It is very clear that our way of working is just so different from what they are getting in their regular courses at the Academy. I feel in some ways like their corruptor but I also constantly stress that this physical and non-realistic approach does NOT replace the solid Stanislavsky training they are getting. In fact, it enhances it and hopefully will infect their more traditional work with more life.   I want so badly to bring them to the U.S. to mix with and meet my UMN students. My UMN students could use some help with the basics of realism.   As I told my Russian students, "many of my American students, if left to their own devices,  rarely even play humans."

dan and i doing Chapin with dolma
David and Dan stayed an extra four days after the festival. We took them to the Cat Cafe for Georgian food and we all went to Peterhof on a "fast boat" to see the Summer home of the Czars.  The boys enjoyed the boat ride and we all enjoyed the fresh air after the dust of the city.  
just a little country house...

In THEATRE news:  Went to see Lev Dodin's productions of Uncle Vanya (transcendent) and King Lear (horrendous). I love going to the Maly Theatre to see anything, especially with Peter Cemak, my favorite Maly actor. I am attempting to see Dodin's new Three Sisters in June.  I hear its "DARK".  Can't wait.  Yalies: David Chambers was just here too for another project and we got to hook up briefly a few times.  He seems great as always and it was a trip down memory lane to walk these streets with him again.

missile carrier at train museum. spooky
boys on old soviet train
In family news: Boys are done with school. We pulled them out a month before end of year so they could just live here a bit without pressure of the daily grind. We're "homeschooling" -- this means we basically sleep til noon, do five pages in a study book a day, read at night, watch the bird nest out the kitchen window and visit museums in between cooking, fighting, doing nothing, playing and going to shows and museums in the city -- works for us.  We went to the most amazing Train Museum.  hundreds of Russian trains from the past two centuries parked together where you can CLIMB ON THEM!  No safety or caution signs.  Just disgustingly dirty, awesome old trains to explore. It's a boy paradise.  The soviet star emblazoned on all of them. Even one that carries a missile...with the missile still in it! Wow.  

I celebrated my birthday and since it falls on Cinco de Mayo we did a Mexican theme.  Burritos, Chili, Salsa and Guacamole. Plus a LOT of tequila.  Really fun to feed this food to Russian friends, who are unaccustomed to the flavors. Igor and Olya serenaded me.
Improvised burritos using Lavash bread
We prepare now to rest.  We are planning a journey either down South to the Bulgarian coast or over to Europe to visit some friends new and old.

Sasha having a popsicle with Neptune
45 year old me under tequila effect
Victory Day came and went as did fireworks from our balcony...our favorite room in the house now that summer is here.  We begin to feel homesick and at the same time can't believe all we want to do in the next six weeks.  Also really worried about the scale of this city and how we've gotten used to it. Minneapolis will seem small....just getting prepared for culture shock and also actively planning the next trip here next spring.  Hope this finds you all well. Please write or leave comments as we miss you all so much.  Lisa
Dan and David feeling the love across from hermitage
Russian word of the day:  свет "Svet" Light.

P.S. please check out Daniel's blog if you have not yet. It's quite an informative read.


  1. Love reading this and it makes me miss you! What an adventure you've been having. I hope we get to pow-wow again soon. xoxoxoKP

    PS maybe you can be a lighting designer who doesn't go on ladders or know about cables if you have a really really good TD...

    PPS magic hours is well loved by film directors not because the light comes from the side but because it doesn't come from anywhere directly, the sun is down and the remaining light is just reflected from all directions by the sky. Thus: no ugly shadows.

    PPPS can you tell I used to make the rent money as a film and theater electrician by the things I choose to comment about??

    kisses -- KP

  2. What fun it is to read these posts. I almost feel like I have been to Russia myself! Such fascinating adventures and so different culturally from the USA---fascinating. Thanks for keeping us "in the know"! :)

  3. To be clear I'm really proud that my students rarely play humans! Just in case someone thought I was dissing.....Thanks Susan and Kath for the great comments! Miss you both.

  4. Lisa is there ever a tech with you that doesn't include nursing children, clowns or renegade lighting designers? Sounds like you are having an amazing experience but could really use a good stage manager next year . . .



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