Heights actor: “Russia treats theater like Americans treat sports”

Photo courtesy of Gregory Prusiewicz

Gregory Prusiewicz, 20, of Dearborn Heights, poses by St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. Prusiewicz spent a month at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre School this summer as part of the Wayne State University Month in Moscow program. The 2009 Divine Child High School graduate is a junior at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and has appeared in numerous television programs, films, commercials and stage plays.

By Sue Suchyta
Aspiring actor Gregory Prusiewicz, 20, of Dearborn Heights, spent a month this summer learning the Stanislavsky method at the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre School as part of Wayne State University’s Month in Moscow program.

The 2009 Divine Child High School graduate will be a junior this fall in the bachelor of fine arts theater program at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, and has appeared in television shows, films, commercials and stage plays.

Prusiewicz said he was in Russia May 31 to June 31 with a group of 20 students. Most were from WSU, with one student from the University of Michigan and five from the University of Windsor. He said the majority were actors, with some directorial doctorate candidates in the group and an aspiring playwright.

He said the students lived on campus in dorms and took classes six days a week for four weeks, for which he received three credit hours.

Two of his Russian professors spoke English, Prusiewicz said, and the others taught through translators. He learned some basic Russian phrases so he could approach the Russians he met halfway with some basic courtesy phrases in their own language.

Prusiewicz said they took classes in Stanislavsky technique (which use a series of techniques used to create believable emotions in characters), Chekhov technique (which encompasses the movement and the psychology of a character), both theater and film history, movement, singing and ballet.

Prusiewicz found the experience to be eye-opening.

He said that when he told people in Russia that he was studying to become an actor they were genuinely impressed.

Prusiewicz said that in the United States people tend to be relatively unimpressed and act as if they expect him to be a failure.

“People just have this great admiration for theater over there,” Prusiewicz said. “And what one of our professors told us is that Russia treats theater like America treats sports, and they treat sports like America treats theater.”

They were in class six days a week, from about 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and they went to plays in the evening.

Prusiewicz said they saw 16 shows at a variety of theaters while in Russia. He said every single one of them was sold out. He was amazed that people would pay to sit in the aisle. He said that because the Russians care so much about theater they are very opinionated about it. He said that if people don’t like a show they will just get up and leave.

He said the experience has caused him to re-evaluate most of what he thought about theater.

“I have a whole new theatrical esthetic coming back here, and what I think it should be and what it can be,” Prusiewicz said. “Also… the training is completely different over there than what we do.”

He said that the first year’s training for Russian acting students is all silent acting exercises.

“They don’t let them ‘touch text’ until their second year,” Prusiewicz said. “In America, you’re doing monologues, you’re doing scenes, and they throw you into a show. (The Russian acting students) don’t even ‘touch text’ because (the Russian professors) feel that they have to go so much slower, and you have to master everything silently before you can even begin to talk. And I think that is also why their theater is so physical, much more than ours. Ours is based so much more on the words.”

Prusiewicz said the shows they saw were in Russian, but they either were classics, like Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” “King Lear” and “Hamlet,” that he was familiar with, or they were able to understand enough of the plot through the physical action to understand the play.

He did admit that it was strange seeing Shakespeare performed in Russian.

“When we saw ‘Hamlet’ (it) was funny because the Russians don’t have a pure ‘H’ sound – there is no ‘H’ – so Hamlet became ‘Gamlet,’ (and) the ‘to be or not to be’ speech is placed at the end of the show just before the final scene where they poison everyone and everyone dies… they’re not afraid to deconstruct the shows.”

He added that even how they do theater in Russia is totally different from the U.S. approach.

“There is no specific run for a show,” Prusiewicz said. “They rehearse it until it’s done, then they premiere it. Then they play it a couple of times a month until people stop coming. And it’s all (rotating repertory).”

“The training I got over there was brilliant,” Prusiewicz said, “It really gave me a lot to take back and apply to what I’m doing at school. I just have this notebook full of pages of notes and exercises and things I want to try and new ideas.”

To learn more about Prusiewicz’s trip, see his blog at http://tipinrussia.tumblr.com.