What I learned at First Stage: The Moscow Rules

Grace Bobber with Associate Director of the
Young Company Matt Daniels
On Monday, May 25 members of the First Stage Young Company gathered with their families and teachers at Onesto in the Third Ward to celebrate the end of a successful year and to send off our graduating seniors. Graduates had the opportunity to address the group and provide acknowledgements as they ended their time as First Stage Theater Academy Students. Here is what one student had to say.

My name is Grace Bobber, and in a few months I will be going to Northwestern University to study Theater and English, with hopefully a certificate in Musical Theater.

Recently, I was going through a binder I’ve kept throughout my four years of Young Company and I found this sheet of paper. This paper has “The Moscow Rules” written across the top, followed by the ten rules. As I was debating what to say up here today, I read through these rules and realized they summed up pretty much everything I’ve learned as an actor and as a person in these years here.  So I’d like to share them with you.

Grace Bobber with Young Company
faculty member Marcy Kearns
The Moscow Rules

1.    Assume nothing.  Assuming nothing out of others can make life a pleasant surprise.  Assuming nothing onstage can make for a smarter, more aware actor.

2.    Never go against your gut.  Young Company has shown me how to trust myself and my character choices and my knowledge as an actor.  One of my teachers especially, Marcy Kearns, taught me this skill as I was lying on my basement floor working on a monologue with her for my college auditions.  This choice of lying on the floor was completely spur of the moment and I had never done it before in this piece.  I remember her stopping me and just saying, “I love this choice, and I love that you trusted yourself enough to do it.”  Even when my choices aren’t as successful, in the future, I will take this skill of trusting my gut with me, and I will have Marcy and First Stage to thank for that.

3.    Everyone is potentially under opposition control.  Karl Miller taught me a lot more than just some Fosse dance moves.  Karl helped me take the skill in theater that I was least comfortable with and sent me on my way to being totally confident with it.  He taught us and showed us that some people in this business are going to try to get you down - directors, fellow actors vying for the same role, producers, anyone.  But his positive attitude, passion for dance in theater, and extensive knowledge about any kind of dance pushed me and motivated me to be better.

4.    Don’t look back; you are never completely alone.  My mom and dad have given me 18 years filled with a lot of support, encouragement, and learning experiences, but mostly, a lot of love.  I don’t quite know how to thank them not only for letting me be involved in Young Company, but for letting me be involved in the arts as a whole.  This helped me flourish into who I am now.  Mom and Dad, we’ll miss you more than we’d like to admit.  Simply, all I can say is thank you so much, for being my best friends and my biggest fans.  I love you.

5.    Go with the flow; blend in.  First Stage taught me to pretty much do the opposite of this.   Different teachers have asked me to perform pieces with my eyes closed, in a Southern accent, very slowly, very quickly, hopping on one foot, and pretty much anything you could imagine.  A lot of the stuff was weird and scary and uncomfortable, but I did it, and I took something from each experience.  First Stage’s mantra of supporting risk-tasking on the stage has slowly but surely transferred into my life.  Thank you for letting me develop my weird, eccentric self here.

6.    Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.  In the last few years, I have fostered a particular gratitude for a teacher of mine named Matt Daniels.  He teaches a class called Viewpoints, and for you parents out there, I’m gonna be honest, I never really knew how to describe Viewpoints to my parents when they asked what I did that day in YC.  It’s very physical work, and I like to think of Viewpoints as the foundation of building a character, and it all begins with soft focus.  To me, “varying your pattern” is kind of like trying a new tempo, duration, repetition, focusing on the architecture of the room; “varying your pattern” is keeping the acting fresh, honest, and aware.  Thank you, Matt.  Viewpoints has begun to teach me how to do that.

7.    Lull them into a sense of complacency.  At the beginning of this year, John Maclay pulled us seniors aside and told us, when colleges ask us why we deserve a spot in their program, that the last thing we should say is “because I love performing.”  Every applicant is gonna be passionate about performing, John said.  “What you have to tell them is why and what you have to show them is how.”  John, and our other teachers here, never wanted us to be lulled into a sense of complacency; we were to always strive for more.
8.    Don’t harass the opposition.  Here in the Young Company, you learn how to be professional, how to have patience with the craft, both for yourself and for your peers, and how to treat your teachers and fellow actors with respect and admiration.  You learn that harassing the opposition will never get you anywhere, and that kindness and gratitude are the keys to starting successful relationships and careers.
9.    Pick the time and place for action.  Over the years, I’ve picked up some pretty great quotes from our teachers. Recently at the intense 2015 Bard-o-thon in which she asked me to perform some of my pieces screaming on the floor, running around the room, or as the “broiest-bro I know”, Angela Iannone told me: “I don’t care if you feel it up there.  Screw your emotion.  Give me the words.  I’m the audience member.  I want to hear you, and I want to cry.  I didn’t pay my ticket to see you cry.” Additionally, as the First Stage community and my community of Mequon and Homestead mourned the loss of our friend Marty Bergquist, these words of Marcy Kearns comforted me: "Matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Energy never dies; it simply moves on to its next point.” And lastly, John Maclay’s quotes really bring me to the point of this particular Moscow Rule, picking the time and place for action.  Several of my favorite words of his include:

Don't worry about the acting. Just be.
Living with yourself as your #1 priority is not a negative or selfish way to live - it's the only way to live.
Take the risk to trust your work and this process.

John, Marcy, Angela, Matt, all of you teachers here or not here today, thank you for showing me how to pick the time and place for appropriate action, for guiding me to trust my work and its process, and simply, for being the foundation of inspiration that motivates me every day to become a better performer.

10.  Keep your options open.  I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next four years, but I do know that if I don’t give my passion for performing a shot, that I will be depriving myself of something extremely powerful and dear to my heart.  Theater and First Stage have built up an immeasurable portion of my character, my confidence, and my abilities as a performer.  Even if I don’t end up on a Broadway stage or in community theater, I am confident that I can still be content in life because of the opportunities First Stage has given me.  (But you can be sure I’m gonna damn well try to end up on that Broadway stage.) In or out of theater, life will give us the options that we work hard for, and First Stage has reminded me of that over and over again. I know I can take all of these stage skills and truly thrive with them as life skills.  Thank you to the teachers, to all the Patrick Schleys of the world, to my parents, to my friends, and to everyone who has made my time with First Stage so wonderful and life-changing.

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