My Brief But Amazing Career in Russian Theatre


I wish we had the time to sit for me to tell you the whole story, of all the amazing things I’ve seen, the people I’ve encountered, and the places this ole wandering country boy has been.
As much as I did and do love some of those folk I grew up around, the world into which I was born hurt me and I wanted out of it– and by world I don’t mean this planet and her inhabitants but the insular and moonshine-soaked nether region, framed by choking kudzu and racism that was Alabama in the 60s, 70, and 80s. Eventually I saw a picture of something called The Eiffel Tower in a faraway magical city called Paris and I knew I wanted to go there so as soon as I could. So I did what I needed to do to make that happen. I wanted to stand in the colosseum in Rome and see if there really were all those stray cats. So I did what I needed to do to make that happen as well.
By my early 20s, I’d heard so much these people in some bizarre world called The Soviet Union wanted to kill me that I decided I would go there to meet them face-to-face and find out why. So I did what I needed to do to make that happen and as it turned out, most of them seemed not to hate me too very much after all.
After getting separated from my group in Moscow, I was adopted by a Russian street theatre troupe who were similar in age to me. They did shows in the pedestrian mall in the middle of that fabled city. Between shows we’d sit in a circle and share whatever treats had been procured from our collective effort while men would stand nearby, toe-to-toe, nose to nose, yelling at each other while 100 people stood around to listen. I remember thinking how very Democratic it seemed. [On the flight from then-Leningrad (now, again, St. Petersburg) they took a vote on the plane to see if it would be smoking or non-smoking. Again, very democratic.] I presumed the men debating so loudly in the street were yelling about politics but I couldn’t be sure. I had one word in Russian, “Nostrovia!” (of course.)
Similarly, I discovered that my young Russian friends had exactly one word in English which they said in unison and with with almost perfect American accents at the end of each of our sets. They’s put me on a stool upstage where I sat in ignorant silence for the duration of the play up until what I can come to think of as “my moment.” At the end they would all point to me with outstretched arms worthy of any Fosse finish and through open-mouth grins say, “American!” which would send our gathered audience into uproarious laughter and thunderous applause.
In service to our art form and with dedication to our piece in particular, I was the willing oaf in their gag as I telegraphed my stupidity to the audience with deadpan blinks.  I sat there trying  to employ all my actor training to that point and endeavoring to look as boneheaded and American as possible.

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