US Actors Make Russian Theater Their Own ; the 'Studio Six' Group of Young American Actors Enjoys Honing Its Craft in a Society Where Theater Is Venerated

By Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 31, 2006 | Go to article overview

US Actors Make Russian Theater Their Own ; the 'Studio Six' Group of Young American Actors Enjoys Honing Its Craft in a Society Where Theater Is Venerated


Fred Weir Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The newest studio group to emerge from Russia's most famous theatrical school is staging an excerpt from "The Cherry Orchard" at Moscow's Fitil theater. In this version a shirtless, gyrating Yasha sweeps a gasping Dunyasha into his arms and woos her in American- accented English.

It's probably not what Anton Chekhov had in mind when he penned his masterpiece about a slightly mad aristocratic lady struggling to save her family estate, but the Russian audience appears to love it.

"It's like seeing something intimate through someone else's eyes," says Marina Romanova, an advertising executive. "This group of actors seem to be ours, but they're not ours. They are something unique."

This group is Studio Six, a dozen young actors from performing arts schools in New York and Detroit who adopted Russian lifestyles in order to study for four years at the legendary Moscow Theater Arts School, cofounded a century ago by Konstantin Stanislavsky.

After graduating earlier this year, they became the first company of foreigners - and the sixth in history - to be granted the status of a "studio" attached to the Moscow Arts Theater, where Mr. Stanislavsky developed the acting method that took the US by storm when he visited New York in the 1920s.

Generations of American actors, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Geraldine Page, and Robert De Niro, have sworn by the Method, which emphasizes an actor's responsibility to be emotionally felt and believed, as opposed to merely being recognized or understood.

"We all had some Stanislavsky training in the States, and when we got here we started asking, 'where is the method?,' " says Brent Bradley, a Detroiter who plays the bare-chested Yasha in the group's rendition of "The Cherry Orchard." "What we found out blew us away. In Russia, the training isn't based on Stanislavsky's books. It's a living, evolving system. A totally different kind of theater from what we have in America. We just wanted to be part of that."

In a recent variety show, Studio Six displayed what they've learned to a packed Moscow theater, performing outtakes from plays by William Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and, of course, Chekhov. Shifting from English to Russian dialogue, they offered their own skits spoofing Moscow life and two of the group, Raphael Schklowsky and Adam Muskin, delighted the crowd by singing a famous Soviet war ballad together with the Alexandrov Red Army Choir.

"They are Americans born and raised, but they are absolutely Russian-trained actors," says Alexander Popov, the company's Russian director. "This is something that hasn't been seen before."

Members of the company say it wasn't easy. Six of them, graduates of Manhattan's LaGuardia High School for the performing arts, arrived in Moscow five years ago as teenagers with no Russian language skills. …

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