Sunday, May 20, 2012

DAY FIFTY SEVEN - Monday May 21

DAY FIFTY SEVEN - Monday May 21

Awakened by my favorite alarm clocks, Phoebe, Janet and Nathaniel.  There is apparently a ghost in the machine of our computer at home.  Lots of random right clicks happening.  I got online to help them out and suddenly, there were hundreds of cars honking like crazy with people flying Russian flags out of their windows.

Here's a noisy video - again, at 2:20AM!

Russia won some big hockey tournament.

Janet leaves to come here late tonight (NY Time) and arrives here late tomorrow (Russia time).

From here on in, things might get a bit hazy. It is tech week and things got so insane that I didn't have a chance to blog. And now it's October 30th and I have to rely on my memory from 5 months and two shows ago!

I'll do my best.

I went over lighting cues with Slava in the morning. He is communicating them to the board operator and, apparently, the show is being designed by all three of us!

We rehearsed, of course. And between sessions had a costume parade for Chorus and Ballet. Here are some photos:

Our Palace set

 Chorus Girls

Chorus Girls for "In Chicago" number

 Chorus girls in Americanski costumes

I'm in the middle with four of our six translators.

Me and a couple of Sandors - Vova on the left, Volodya on the right.

Somewhere around her, I was chatting with the stage manager at her station stage right and I asked how she calls the show without Clear-Com. Clear-Com (or other brand) is what we call the backstage communication system. Headsets, often wireless, to tie the stage manager to ALL stage hands running lights, sound, props, flys, automation, set moves etc. She looked at me very confused. There was not a headset in sight. She explained that she does not call the show. Everyone takes their own cues! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTTTT????????????!!!!!!!!!!!

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Suddenly, a lot of the past 8 weeks made more sense. She was not in CHARGE of the show at all. She just made sure props were where they were suppoesed to be and called actors to the stage. But that was about it.

We had three hours onstage and I think we got through the epilogue and the first act. But I'm not really sure. It doesn't really matter - the entire week was very similar - full of tension - last minute costumes, set pieces not showing up, lighting that was EXTREMELY rough to begin with - every second was filled with making a thousand decisions. But a very important decision - who plays Friday, who plays Saturday and who doesn't play at all - still not being made. I apparently have to wait until THE DAY BEFORE WE OPEN!!!!!!!! That's psychological torture tantamount to Git-mo, I think.

DAY FIFTY SIX - Sunday May 20

DAY FIFTY SIX - Sunday May 20

I met with Slava in the morning to discuss lighting cues - since he's now the lighting designer as well.  Our translator didn't show up so until Grisha got here at 9:30, it was pretty slow going.

We only got through the prologue when I had to run up to rehearsal.

I gave notes while Patti worked on one of the last numbers she has to teach.  Then we all got together to work large scenes and put in a few changes.  Then we staged the curtain call.

A couple of the actors were in the kids' show during our rehearsal but stopped in when they could.  My favorite was Oleg - a good character actor who's not thrilled with the size of his role. I can't say I really blame him - he could handle much larger roles - and probably does in other shows. He is in a costume for the villain in their version of Pinocchio. NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: It is now five months after this picture was taken and I learned that Oleg died suddenly over the summer. Complications from diabetes, I think. This is very sad news - he was a great guy - in spite of his every-so-often apathy - but really worked hard, gave a good performance and seemed a very genuine person. Even though I don't know when I would ever have seen him again, I will miss him.

The beard was a little smelly, I have to say.

And here he is with everyone else in street clothes!

This is me with Lena (the dramaturg) and Olga (one of our accompanists).  I took this picture because I thought Olga's vintage dress was kind of fantastic.  It was her mothers. 

On the way to lunch, we ran into Luda - one of our Mary's.  The gal who won... then lost... the contest.

We lunched at very cool place called Bukowski's (for burgers). Menu in English! 

Tonight we run the show for the last time in the repzahl (rehearsal room) as we move to the stage tomorrow. I had wanted to do work rather than a run but I was forced into a run by some of the folks at the theatre. We are supposed to give each of the three teams a shot at a run (even though only two will go on this go round - and as I have mentioned before, I am forced to make that call until later.

We ended up having to stop and fix a few things and therefore didn't get through the whole show - so it was niether feast nor famine, fish nor fowl. And this was precious time. I tried to bargain with the scheduler to get a couple of more hours for full company rehearsal before we go onstage tomorrow night - because it will save us having to stop and fix so much onstage - there will be plenty of stopping and fixing - but that way we MIGHT have a hope of getting through all of act one tomorrow.  To award 3 hours to tech/run a show that runs 2:45 without intermissions is, quite frankly, impossible. 

So there was a majorly confusing finish to the rehearsal in trying to jockey time around to get all the folks in the room at the same time. Tatiana, the scheduler, and usually a rock, left very upset because I had obviously shanghaied the schedule and changed it around in a major way - which nobody likes to do - but here especially. I told her that since I did this run through at their reqest and against my wishes, they had to pay for it by finding a couple of hours for Patti and me to re-space tomorrow.  She kept saying that is what tomorrow night is for - onstage - but with the chorus (some of them quite apathetic thus far) making so many mistakes and being so tentative about everything - we're not even ready for the stage. Correction: The ballet is ready, the principals are ready (although many of them should be a lot better with their lines) and the kids are super-ready.  Those youngins are as reliable as the ballet company.

Ksenia, one of our Marys, had a birthday party in her dressing room tonight.

From Left: Sasha B (Negresco - the Prince's Adjutant), Grisha, Ksenia (the birthday girl), don't know this guy, Olga (one of our accompanists), Vova (one of our Sandors), Roma (one of my favorite chorus guys - making a bizarre face), Nastia (one of our Rosemaries), some blonde gal that I kicked out of the chorus because she had such a bad attitude, and me.

Roma poured me a very pretty drink of apricot juice and some bright blue stuff at the bottom.  Ksenia is in the background.

Tomorrow at 9AM I do more work on lighting cues with the set/costume/lighting designer, then we do scene work with principals, then we have the rehearsal I stole for myself, then we have a costume parade with ballet and chorus, then we have three hours on the set - during which we simply HAVE to get through the prologue and act one.  Wish us luck.


DAY FIFTY FIVE - Saturday May 19

DAY FIFTY FIVE - Saturday May 19

Gregg had the orchestra in the theatre so he worked on the music while we ran act one.  Then we joined him on stage for the big chorus numbers.   It will sound great.

Here's me with one of the actors, Alexsei Alexseivich Shambor - he is one of the actors who plays Mary's father.  He is a highly decorated actor in Russia (they have all these distinctions and honors) and he is the biggest bear of a sweetheart.  From the first day, he would greet me with an aggressive slam of both his palms to his heart - one hand on the other.  I incorporated it into the show as the salute to the prince.

Here's a video of some of the orchestra rehearsal. I went a little crazy and spent a little too much time editing together all permutations of songs 2 and 3!

Here's a nice little tale: the set designer - of whom you know I think the world - told me that there was a mix up in the costume shop. They thought all the girls in the chorus were supposed to be in men's costumes.  Huh?  I even saw the designs for the chorus women's costumes - separate from the ballet costumes.  I did say that three women were dressed as male waiters in the cafe scenes - but not that ALL 10 women were to be dressed as men.  So that's 17 costumes they have to scare up in less than a week!  Oops.  Oh, and another oops. The lighting designer (whose work I had seen here and is by far my favorite ) is suddenly unavailable due to illness. I had assumed they would arrange another lighting designer. Because it's a HUGE musical with about 30 scene transitions and 22 huge musical numbers. But I assumed incorrectly. Slava (the set and costume designer) is now the lighting designer as well! With his characteristic calm and charm, he says, "Horashow," - Good" and he says it with a tone that makes you believe him.

I then staged - re-staged, actually, the comic number between the King and Mary.

In the evening, I gave notes to the leads and worked a few scenes.

After rehearsal, Patti and I laid out the curtain call music and staging.

DAY FIFTY FOUR - Friday May 18

DAY FIFTY FOUR - Friday May 18

We did a run in the morning - Patti did some work with the ballet company when they weren't with me.

Each time we run, we get closer and closer to having something that will be ready by next week. But because of the unlearned lines, the chorus who still is uncertain of where they should be and the fact that everything takes three times as long because of the translation, to say nothing of what is lost in translation, we sure could use another week.  I can't believe I'm saying that after eight weeks of rehearsal.

After rehearsal, Gregg and I happened into the rehearsal room of Izumrud - the house band here.  Here is their poster wall:

As I have said before, they are some of the most amazing musicians I've ever met. Nobody plucks faster anywhere. They asked us if we wanted to hear a song - and we got a private concert! I know accordionists sometimes get a bad rap - but how you can not love this guy's playing is beyond me.  All of them are fantastic.  Keep in mind that the traditional Russian balalaika has only three strings and the first two are tuned to the exact same note!  Not an octave apart. THE SAME NOTE.

If you want to be even further amazed, check out my post from Tuesday April 24th (you can click the date) and scroll almost all the way down to the bottom to see the percussionist play the xylophone... blindfolded. 

We did not have an evening rehearsal because it was the culmination of the contest of Operetta and Musical Comedy.  I watched the final contestants (which took about 2 1/2 hours with no intermission).

By far, the best performance was by Ludmilla Lokaychuk - one of our Marys.  She did Olympia's aria from Offenbach's "Takes of Hoffman" but made up her own scenario - and performed it brilliantly.  Here is a link. She's pretty incredible. Pretty and incredible.

Perfect, musically, and totally clear and hilarious story. There was also a trio (although only one of the performers was officially competing) who did a cute song but the best thing about them was the nearly-Cirque du Soleil antics at the end of the number. They got such rousing response from the audience that they repeated the tricks not once, not twice, but three times! It was pretty brilliant.  If I can get video - I'll post it. 

Then the awards ceremony started with the son of the composer whom the contest is  honoring.  He is a composer in his own right and, judging from the audience reaction, VERY popular.  Then there were a couple of songs performed by some members of the company here - many of whom were in our show.  Then they gave out the awards.  It seemed like there was a slew of runners up and one winner in each of the operetta, and musical theatre, categories.  I would say that I thought the winners were excellent - but I didn't necessarily agree with the runners up - although there were a heck of a lot of runners up - so maybe they just gave out a lot of awards.

Luda was actually announced as the winner in the Operetta category - but minutes later, a white sheet of paper came onstage and one of the hosts read it.  She was disqualified because in the number she did the day before, she used a microphone with is apparently verboten for the operetta category.  The theatre, her home theatre, which hosts the event annually, didn't know that?!

Here's some video.


I hung out for a very short time at the "after party" where I tried to chat with a few of my new "friends" but it didn't last long since I had no translator and conversation was extremely limited. This was the night I could have seen that Stanley Kowalski in "Hamlet" - I was a bit torn.

I also had to work on the staging for a musical number I was doing tomorrow.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DAY FIFTY THREE - Thursday May 17

DAY FIFTY THREE - Thursday May 17

Well, rehearsal started at 10AM - just as we thought. I wouldn't say that all the actors I was promised were in attendance - but we had at least one full company.

We ran the prologue and act one (1:30 with scene change, by the way) and then did some notes afterwards.  Patti did dance stuff and I staged the chorus and ballet into the Epilogue.

Flaming Fajitas at Ratatouille's.

Act Two and Epilogue tonight.

I guess it went ok.  Another hour and a half running time. Some people still don't know their lines though. I can understand the new actors from the latest cast shift - but the leads should have been perfectly off book about a week ago - but there's a guy from the chorus - who plays the Major Domo.  He has four lines total.  ANd they are literally the name of the character who is about to enter. As in the person standing RIGHT BESIDE HIM OFFSTAGE! HE doesn't know his lines! In addition, he carries his little slice of script with him whenever he is onstage. He's got one freakin' line each time he enters! I'm not sure when they all think it's time to pay attention. Many of our secondary role actors were not in place when their scene started so we couldn't feel our scene transitions - kind of important in a musical, no?!

But, the chorus is behaving and focusing much better than they have. And the ballet company has far stronger actors than many of the choristers - they are always focused, always attentive, always playing into the scene.  To say nothing of executing Patti's extremely complex choreographically heroically.

Another hang with Gregg's friend Slava. The evening ended a bit funkily amongst myself, Grisha and Pisha - the details of which are not important. Suffice it to say the lack of communication, the lack of organizational structure, the lack of consistency with personnel in rehearsal, the lack of adequate time with full company, the lackadaisical attitude from some of the performers - are all starting to wear on us.

DAY FIFTY TWO - Wednesday May 16

DAY FIFTY TWO - Wednesday May 16

This started a string of very promising rehearsals. Finally, the chorus was behaving (well, most of them), everyone was focused (well, most of them) and we finally got to the point where we don't have to keep teaching and re-teaching.

But things got off to a very funky start.  Last night, we all met with the scheduler - Tatiana - before the sitzprobe (orchestra rehearsal). We told her we were in emergency mode and needed whatever hours could be made available to us. Not because we're not prepared with our work - we just haven't been getting as much time as we expected with the full cast. And there are many people missing so frequently that I have given up trying to remember which cast has done what scenes. She told us that on days when they don't have an evening show, we can rehearse for 4 hours in the first session and 3 in the second - as opposed to 3 and 3.  So we ALL AGREED that the DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and for the following two days, we would start at 10.

So imagine my surprise when I am just out of the shower and the phone rings. It is Ivgeny - the assistant director - finally deigning to use his cell phone to call somebody - asking where I am. "10 o'clock... all here. Waiting for you."  Grisha was on his way in from his apartment, Patti was still in bed. Tatiana had called everyone at 10AM one day early and forgot to tell the creative team!  Actually, it was a wasted early start since it could only be a three hour session as they have a show tonight anyway - so it didn't add any time at al.  So, again, after being as clear as (I thought) was humanly possible - everything still got screwed up.

I worked on all the massive scenes to review all moves to make sure we were prepared for run-throughs which start tomorrow.

I was very encouraged by this rehearsal, however.  As I had been by Monday night's rehearsal with the character guys. The chorus was well-behaved, everyone payed attention - they still don't write anything down so who knows what'll happen tomorrow.  But we did achieve nearly all I had planned.  The epilogue would have to wait until another day.

Between shows, Dave and I walked Patti to a haircut and then went on to the Japanese restaurant. On the way from one place and to the other, we ran into Gregg and Slava - his director friend with whom we were enchanted last night.  He said last night that he was going to have a surprise for me today.  And I knew it what it was. He pulled out a very attractive, if not new, Star of David with a link to hang from a chain. It was a gift for me - along with a big bear hug and a "Shalom" in my ear. He told me it was from Jerusalem - I joked, questioning if he flew there last night after we had met to get it.  He told me, "No, this was for a friend who is no longer with us."  So I got some dead guy's Jewish Star from this very dear Russian man - I promptly threaded a loop of dental floss through it and put it on my neck.  It was such a magnanimous gesture from a supremely magnanimous man.

In the evening, I was told I had all the actors but five.  Two of the five I was NOT supposed to have DID showed up - but barely any of the others did!  I COMPLETELY give up.  So I ran whatever I could with whomever was there.  Every time we review something is one more time it's reviewed - therefore... helpful.

After rehearsal, a short hang with Pisah, Grisha, Disha and Slava.  The theatre where he is artistic director is in Orenburg (?).  I asked him if he was allowed to fire people who were not doing their share of the work - as there are a few in that category here - and we often wonder why they still are.  He told us that because it is a state theatre, once they are hired, they have the job FOR LIFE. Unless they show up to rehearsal drunk... repeatedly! So, the job stability is definitely enviable. But the incentive to excel is non-existent since everyone makes around the same money and no one can get fired. Let me repeat: if they show up to work drunk - REPEATEDLY - or they just don't show up - they can be let go.  Otherwise, they're stuck with them.  Ergo pergo, so are we!


Monday, May 14, 2012

DAY FIFTY ONE - Tuesday May 15

DAY FIFTY ONE - Tuesday May 15

Day off - I was a sight-seer.  And a souvenir purchaser.

I tried to go to four museums - history, mineralogical, gem and metal.  Only two were open: History and Gem.  Here are some photos.

First the history museum.  From a mining area to one of the major locations of the uprising to an arms manufacturing center (visiting this area was prohibited until the 1990's because of all the armament plants), it is now the 4th largest city in Russia (by some accounts, third).  I've included what English translations I could find about the city.

Yakov Sverdlov (after whos this city is named), Stalin and Lenin.

Nicholas and Alexandra

The five Romanov children

A grand ole' bookcase.


This was a moving, panoramic photo of the city from long ago.

 I found a lot of the soldier's uniforms interesting - I'm guess from the 1812 era.  They'll come in handy or costume research some day.

Models of canons and artillery carts.

This was a fabulous balcony railing.

This was the entrance to a very odd, interesting, cool exhibit - kind of a combination of Lady Gaga and Alexander McQueen - and a pile of mannequins.  

The exhibit poster.

Here's a video:

I think this next section was about crafts and manufacturing in Ekaterinburg.

For lunch, I wnat to Mamma's Big House - a menu in English - which is rare here.

Of the many mushroom soups that are to be found in Ekateriburg, this was by far the most attractive... and the least tasty. The bread was as dense as it look. But it DID hold the soup with no leaks!

I then went in search of the gem museum - because there are supposed to be a lot of them around here.  Gems - not gem museums.   I followed the map to the corner where the entrance was supposed to be - but found huge temporary walls of cement.  I followed the arrows around to a guarded entrance (these guards were not here for the museum), nor was the German Shepard (in a caged area) who's back was literally up to my shoulders.  I found this rather creepy doorway...

Leading to an even creepier stairway and hallway - which led to the back entrance of the gift shop.

I went into the single-room exhibit - and I know it's just a room full of rocks - but nature produces some simply magnificently shaped and colored stones...

Malachite (green and black stripes) is a stone that is very popular here - and I remember Grandma Ruth had lots of Malachite jewelry.

A bone - not sure from what - but it's a big one!

Here is a sculpture of Yajov Sverdlov (a nice Jewish revolutionary) - after whom the city was (and region still is) named.

In the later afternoon, I had an interview for a website called "Orange" - or the Russian word for Orange.

In the evening, we had our first orchestra rehearsal - which I thought sounded pretty good.  Here is a picture of me and one of my favorite older character guys - Alexsei Alexseyovich Shambor.  He plays one of our Lloyds - Mary's father. 

Here's some video of the rehearsal.  Remember, most roles are double-cast - two of them are triple-cast! We are on the Fiddler on the Roof set. At the end you will see the duet between King Pankraz and Mary - but we have two Kings and three Marys - so we had to be creative about the math!


After rehearsal, we had a long hang with a friend of Gregg's.  His name is Slava and he's here to accompany an actress from his theatre and conservatory to the competition.  She's singing opera - on pointe!  He directed two shows Gregg conducted here almost 20 years ago and is now the artistic director of a theatre in the south.

He is a round-ish gentleman who just turned 60 with a huge smile and warm personality - a great joke teller and raconteur.  He was a race care driver before becoming an actor and then director - and won a marathon rally from the Atlantic to the Pacific - a 28 day race - in a Land Rover.  He still teaches racing.

He drove 11 hours to be here. I saw a star of David hanging around his neck - which is unique because I haven't met very many Jewish people here. I'm sure they're here - just not... HERE. He was happy to meet another from "the tribe" and he told me about an city in Russia where he often directs called Kol Ima (voice of the mother) in a region called Magadan (Garden of Eden). 

He asked where my Star of David was - I replied I didn't have one.  He said he would have a surprise for me tomorrow.  And, indeed, he did. 

As we were all saying goodbye, I told him that he was the exact kind of person we traveled all the way from America to meet. And that's true. A completely open, intelligent, caring, conscientious, family-oriented human being and artist who is generous with his ideas and his smile. I'm very happy to have met him - and I know Patti and Dave share those sentiments.  He's here till Friday.