Christopher High goes to Russia and Vice Versa

THEATER DIPLOMACY Russian theater students joined with peers at Christopher High to perform Monday. Backstage, it was hard to tell them apart. CHS student Milo Loza is asking fellow actors about costume choices. He’s joined by  Anastasia Anikina, Elisavet

The first difference Alexandra Aga, 17, noticed on her first visit to Gilroy from Moscow was that people here wear shoes indoors.
“In the house!” she said. “Even if there’s carpet! You would never see that in Moscow. It’s very dirty in the streets and you would never see that. It’s not a good idea to use your shoes in the house.”
Aga was one of seven Russian students visiting Christopher High School as part of an exchange program that will bring a dozen locals to Moscow to perform Shakespeare. She studies at the Slavic Anglo-American School Marina, a private school that specializes in graduating students who are fluent in English. It hosts an annual international high school Shakespeare festival with all-English performances, in which the Christopher High students will participate next week.
Another difference was that members of their host families often retreated to their own rooms at night, watching TV or hanging on the Internet.
“At our homes, we eat all of our meals together and we are together in the evenings,” she said. “Here, the grandmother has her own room and TV, the kids have theirs. Everyone is in a different room. But they get together on the weekends.”
Varvara Dmetrieva, 17, was surprised that each American family member makes their own breakfast. “In my family, we eat together all the time. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. And here they wake up and help themselves. There is no cooking dinner together. I help my mom to cook breakfast and here you help yourself.”
They were surprised by how big American houses are, given that they live in apartments in Moscow. The other things the Russian students loved about Gilroy included the so very green hills (little do they know about summer), the proximity to the ocean and nature (they spent Sunday at Point Lobos) and how very friendly and welcoming American students were to them.
“Everyone is so relaxed and happy here,” said Dmetrieva. “In Moscow everyone is tense and in a hurry. This place is amazing. The people are so warm. I don’t want to go back.”
Driving around Gilroy’s farmlands, they said, was more like the Russian countryside than they had expected. “A lot of times I looked up and thought I was home,” said Dmetrieva.
Added Aga: “The green color is much greener here. The sky is more blue.”
Shakespeare is a challenge for native English speakers, let alone those performing in a second language. The payoff has been a world of travel for these Russians, who have been in Canada and the U.S. before, performing.
“Challenge is good,” said Aga. “It’s especially difficult because many of the words no longer exist. But if something survives this long, through the years, it’s something big and when you read it, you feel you are a part of something big. You understand that.””
Fourteen CHS students will have a chance to see how their new peers live. They are traveling to Moscow and London to perform. Drama director Kate Booth and Gretchen Yoder Schrock, CHS Sister City/International Club Advisor and Spanish teacher, will accompany the 14 teens. Twelve of the students are seniors, one is a junior and one is a sophomore.
They are: Jacob Yoder Schrock, Grant Schaper, Jacob Flores Lopez, Owen Emerson, Devan Corini, Brandon Quirke, Annemarie Hayes and Cassidy Andrews, Samantha Drews, Melinda Colbert, Adaline McCaw, Michaela Hawkins, Brenda O’Connor and Sabine Yoder Schrock.
They will perform Much Ado About Nothing.
“Aside from an extraordinary opportunity to grow as artists and learn history, language, literature and culture from a unique perspective, the trip to Moscow is a true exchange,” Booth wrote in the 18-page application for student travel.
“I am jazzed that they approved us,” she later said. Because the board has denied closer trips, including to Oregon, there was worry that Moscow might not be approved.
CHS will represent the United States and there’s a Canadian school in the festival, too, Booth said.
It’s not the first meeting of the Russian and CHS students. Marina students have visited CHS twice and are keen to create a long-term sister-school relationship. In addition to attending a performance at the famed Globe Theater in London, CHS students in Moscow will participate in theater workshops, shadow their Russian hosts to classes, spend two days at the Moscow Art Theater Conservatory and attend a theater festival and four stage performances.
Twenty-two advanced theater students in the Catamount Actor’s Theater (CAT) at Christopher High School auditioned for the slots. The number who can travel was limited by the host’s ability to transport the group around Moscow—their bus is too small for a larger group, Booth said.
Of the performances CHS students will see, one will be either a ballet or opera at the renowned Bolshoi Theater, another will be an avant garde drama and one will be what Booth said provides a “new twist” on Stanislavski.
Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian actor and director who created a naturalistic acting technique commonly known as method acting.
Christopher’s CAT booster’s club has raised $27,000 for travel expenses.

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