Yesterday, I celebrated the first anniversary of my twenty-first birthday in Moscow. Based on my experiences over the past two months, I was expecting it to be pretty memorable. I was not disappointed.
To start the day off right, my lovely roommate, Rita, treated me to breakfast at the bakery cafe I talked about in my last post. To help you understand how wonderful this place is, it was completely worth getting up an hour early on my birthday. For anyone who has ever seen my try to wake up early, this says a lot. I went through my normal day, receiving sporadic “Happy birthday’s” in English and Russian. Then, at the end of acting class, we were informed that our group had sixteen tickets to see Julius Caesar that night, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, who just so happen to be visiting the Moscow Art Theatre this week. Now, as excited as I was to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform at the Moscow Art Theatre (because, let’s face it, that’s pretty much the best of everything in the world), I had been planning to see the show the next night. Which meant that I was without proper theatre clothes, and not at all sufficiently caffeinated for a 3-hour play after a full day of classes. But I’ve gotten pretty used to Moscow throwing a wrench into my plans–I’m actually pretty close to giving up on making plans altogether–so I decided the Russians would just have to forgive my jeans and scuffed boots, and I went to Starbucks for a Mocha.
As soon as I made it into the theater and got a look at the stage, I decided this was exactly how I wanted to spend my birthday, even if I hadn’t realized it five minutes before. Apparently, Caesar had been transported to modern-day Africa, and the set, which consisted of a giant set of partially-deconstructed stone steps and a very Hussein-esque statue of Caesar, was occupied by a band playing African music and actors dancing and waving Caesar propaganda. Even though I knew the Russians around me would judge the hell out of me, I couldn’t really help dancing in my seat a little. The play was every bit as good as the pre-show led me to expect. Not to mention the sheer joy of seeing a play in a language I understood for the first time in months. The show would have made a lasting impression on me no matter what, but sometime during the fifth act, I witnessed the craziest thing I have ever seen in a theater… and I’ve seen some weird stuff. Brutus and Cassius were in the middle of an argument, daggers in hands, when all of a sudden Brutus’ knife flew out of his hand and into the first row of the audience, where it landed in a woman’s lap, or so it looked from my balcony seat. Still in character, the actor jumped down into the audience to retrieve the knife and check on the woman. After a few seconds, he stood up, lifted his hands, and said, “We have to stop. This woman’s been cut… is there a medic?” After a moment, a stage manager ran out and escorted the woman and the man she was with out of the theater. At this point, I wasn’t sure who to feel sorriest for–the woman who had just taken a dagger to the face, or the dagger-throwing actor who was now standing on stage, clearly with no clue what to do next. After a minute, he raised up his hands and said, “извините,” (excuse me), which is one of the first words I learned, and definitely one that I use often. This earned poor Brutus a laugh and some applause from at least half of the audience. After another moment, another stage manager came out and announced what I was told was something about an intermission while the situation was taken care of. Eventually it was announced that the woman was alright, and the show would resume shortly.
During the craziness, my friend Meg turned to me and said something to the effect of, “Welcome to live theatre. This is why we keep coming.” It’s a weird thought, but in a way, she’s totally right. It’s not like we come to the theatre hoping to see the accidental stabbing of an innocent audience member, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we do know that this is a place where absolutely anything can happen. And there’s something about that, I think, that we like. Even if it means we might avoid the front row for a while.
Back at home, I was just about ready to take a shower, crawl into bed, and be totally happy with how my birthday had gone. But first, I remembered I had been promised a birthday back massage by my friend Joseph, whose parents are both massage therapists. In other words, not an offer I was going to pass up. When Joseph was almost done massaging out the six hundred knots in my back–souvenirs from stage movement and ballet–Lily came into my room and said now it was her turn to give me a massage, and I would have to tell her who was better. Because Lily has the unique talent of turning anything into a competition, this seemed reasonable. Although I wasn’t sure why she was leading me out of my room to give me the massage. When she opened the door into Connor’s room, my train of thought went something like this: Why are we coming in here? Why is it so dark in here? Why is my entire ensemble sitting in here in the dark? Then they started singing, and I screamed, and then I almost started crying, and then Joe stuffed a pizza bagel into my mouth, and then Jenson tackled me to the floor with a hug. After they had sung “Happy Birthday” in English and sort-of Russian, Connor handed me a giant shoe box labeled “Blair’s Box”. Inside was a bakery box with a piece of some delicious creation called honey cake, which Jenson insisted on feeding to me while Sarah took pictures. Also in the box were a bunch of folded-up pieces of paper… happy birthday notes from each and ever member of my ensemble. They were written on scrap paper, torn-out journal pages, sticky notes, and toilet paper. Some were hilarious, some were incredibly sweet and touching, and many were both of those things.
There was no big fancy party, no birthday cake, and no store-bought presents in colorful wrapping paper, but I cannot think of anything in the world that would have made me feel more special and loved on my birthday than that room full of people and that box of notes. If I didn’t already feel incredibly lucky to be in this amazing city with these beautiful people, I certainly felt it last night. And if I ever forget, there’s a shoe box in my closet to remind me.
***Extra credit to anyone who translates the title. Extra extra credit to anyone who does so without Google Translate.