Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles about students involved in cool research, scholarly and creative activities during their summer break from classes.
A month-long trip to Russia this summer helped drama student Elizabeth Kalles find a new voice, a greater sense of self-assurance, and a measure of certitude about her artistic aspirations.
A Hamilton native entering her third year of the four-year BFA in Acting program, Kalles spent most of June at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Along with fellow UWindsor student Will King, she joined a group of drama majors from Wayne State University who went there for an intense program which sees the school’s entire first-year curriculum condensed into a month-long course for visiting actors.
“It was a great life lesson,” she said of the experience. “I grew by leaps and bounds while I was there.”
Kalles spent six days a week at the school, strolling past the Kremlin every morning, attending lectures on Russian film history, the history of the school and its methods, and participating in workshops on acting, dancing and singing. One of the music instructors assigned her to learn The Girls of Summer, a song from a tribute record to American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. That assignment, and the direction and encouragement from that teacher, helped her discover something entirely new about herself.
“I’m normally a mezzo alto, and she wanted me to sing in mezzo soprano,” she said. “I was terrified when she gave me the music because I had never trained my voice like that. But I was really surprised at the voice she brought out of me. Singing is such a vulnerable art form, so to be able to do that and hear that difference in my voice was such a confidence booster.”
She also took part in ballet exercises, despite the fact she hadn’t received any classical dance training since she was a little girl.
“It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most valuable and rewarding experience I’ve had in a long time,” she said. “Our instructor was this beautiful Russian man and a classical ballet dancer. He taught us that your brain has to be working just as hard as your body.”
It was perhaps that emphasis on the physical aspect of performance that resonated most with her throughout her visit.
“It involved a lot of concentration and focus exercises that were really beneficial for me,” she said. “I realized just how important it is for an actor to have those skills. We saw 17 shows while we were there, and every one of them was so physical. They were all in Russian, but I was still able to understand, just because it was such a physical form of communication.”
Despite the intensity of the program, Kalles said she had a load of fun while she was in Russia, which included a weekend trip to St. Petersburg. She stayed in student dorms in Moscow and made a whole group of new friends, who took her out one evening to Gorky Park, where they were doing a live outdoor performance.
“A crowd of people gathered to watch and they put on this really amazing show,” she said. “It was just the most perfect night.”
After graduating, Kalles aspires to be working in some capacity with the SITI Company, which has conducted workshops in Windsor in the past, and according to its web site, is committed to providing a “gymnasium for the soul” for artists and audiences.
“That’s my Hollywood,” she said of the company. “I’d love to be able to work with them.”