Russian roots influence theater professor

Photo by Reid Bruner

Seven years ago, Elaina Artemiev moved to the United States to teach theater at Butler University, entering a theater climate much different than that of her birthplace, Russia.

This week, in the midst of preparation for the upcoming theater production, “The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in the Garden,” the director sat down in her office, in which vibrant pictures of flowers and people rest beside the elegant Cyrillic script on items brought from the east.

“Theater in Russia is not just like entertaining, but it’s more like art,” she said. “And we believe that you can be moved by theater, and not just observe and forget when the curtain falls.”

She said it’s very difficult, or even impossible, to create here in a few weeks the kind of shows that Russian companies produce.

At Butler, where the rehearsal periods are much shorter, Artemiev said that she makes sure she does not tackle Russian plays without adequate time to show the students the language of Russian theater.

“We all would like to be loved,” she said. “We all would like for people to understand us, but I think that our lives with loud music and computers just close our opportunities to see each other and see the world.”

Taking the time to really internalize the meaning of the play, and learning to communicate with an audience honestly, is the only way for actors and directors to open up to seeing the world, she said.

“I never thought that I would move to the United States. Never. But my twin sister lives here in Indianapolis, and I visited her, and one year I met a guy,” she said, smiling.

Artemiev, who completed her schooling in Moscow at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts, said she continued working in Russia as her husband-to-be sent in applications for her to universities in the U.S.

She found Butler and came to campus in 2005.

“[Artemiev] is really great,” said Daniel Barnes, a senior theater and Spanish major who is playing Don Perlimplin in the upcoming production. “A lot of directors work from the outside in, but she works from the inside out.”

Artemiev said that she was unsure of how she would take to Butler, since it is a liberal arts school and not specifically for theater.

Now, however, she said she feels like she is preparing students to communicate with others and know themselves completely through theater.

She said theater, and acting especially, can help show that “it’s possible to understand people deeply, not just by words, but between the words,” a skill that she said is invaluable to any profession.

Since coming to Butler, Artemiev founded the Butler International Theatre Exchange Program, and takes Butler students to Russia every other year. The theater world is much different there, she said, with shows rehearsed for months, instead of weeks like in the U.S.

“The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belisa in the Garden” opens on April 13. Next year, she is taking a sabbatical and working to develop an intensive program for Americans to study directing in Russia.

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