Building a Classroom without Walls: Russian and CalArtian Theater Students Collaborate Virtually

A few scenes from the Moscow Art Theater School's 2010 graduating class final production, titled Black Square. Students from both schools shared videos of their work in a recent virtual collaboration.

This past May, acting students from CalArts School of Theater and the Moscow Art Theater School (MXAT) took online learning across continents.

Students critiqued each other’s work via videoconference as part of a new educational collaboration nurtured by the Russian and American governments. The joint venture began on the Skype online videoconferencing service with the students discussing and critiquing videos of each other’s work posted on YouTube.

“[Students also] asked about how the different schools organized their studies and discussed working professionally as actors while still being students,” said Mirjana Jokovic, the associate director of performance for acting at CalArts, during an interview with the website “It was organic and spontaneous.”

The article continues:

The seeds of the collaboration were planted in July 2009 when President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev created the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission to renew and strengthen the bond between the two nations.

One of the goals of the commission is to celebrate the cultures of each country. To advance this goal, the commission created a separate working group on education, culture and sports co-chaired by U.S. Under Secretary of State Judith McHale and Ambassador Mikhail Shvydkoy, Russia’s special representative for international culture cooperation.

“We were hosting the commission [working group] at the Moscow Art Theater and I gave a presentation,” said Anatoly Smeliansky, [professor and dean of the Moscow Art Theater School], one of the driving forces behind the collaboration. “I tried to explain to our American colleagues what new social networks mean for modern-day Russia and how we could collaborate on a totally different level.” For Smeliansky, the advent of worldwide social networks carried a deep historical significance, not just a contemporary artistic one. “Social networks will never allow Russia to return to those times of the 20th century for which we paid such an enormous and horrid price,” he said, referring to the isolation and economic stagnation of the Cold War–era Soviet Union.

Inspired by Smeliansky’s presentation, David Siefkin, U.S. Embassy Moscow press attaché, contacted Jokovic at CalArts, who responded with immediate interest.

The two hope that the workshop in May to be the first of many in-depth exchanges and discussions, both online and in-person learning sessions.

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