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King University News :: King University Senior Spends Semester in Russia with the Moscow Art Theatre

It was a poster hanging inside the Fine Arts Building (FAB) that made a life changing impact on Jenson Lavallee’s life. The senior Theatre major recently returned from a semester study abroad trip to Moscow, Russia, where he studied with the renowned Moscow Art Theatre.

“I was walking around the FAB one day this past August, and happened to look on the call board upstairs and noticed a small flyer about studying abroad,” Lavallee said. “Little did I know that a month later after submitting the application and portfolio that I would be in Moscow for an entire semester.”

Lavallee, who is from Las Vegas, Nev., has always had a strong connection to theatre and credits both King University and Southwest Virginia’s Barter Theatre in molding him into being a better actor and person, both on and off the stage.

“When I was at the Barter, my director would always talk about Russia,” Lavallee said. “From that point forward I always had a fascination with Russia.”

Before heading to Moscow on Sept. 19, 2012, the group of students selected for the trip spent several days in Connecticut preparing for the trip overseas. Lavallee said being surrounded by so many different students made the journey that much more exciting.

“We had students from Yale, Carnegie-Melon, and even New York University. Being from a small liberal arts college really made me feel like I was up against the big schools and it pushed me even more while studying in Russia.”

When the group of nearly 20 students arrived in Moscow, they immediately began learning the skills and techniques of the Russian culture. Lavallee took part in various theatre sessions each day of the week including: stage movement, acrobatics, combat, Russian language, and ballet.

“The first month and a half were the most crucial part of the entire trip,” Lavallee said. “We were doing so much work together and were surrounded by each other literally 24 hours a day.”

Lavallee went onto explain the drive and passion the Russian students have for the arts and theatre is simply breathtaking. “The amount of energy and charisma that they put into each hour they train was mesmerizing the witness.  Just imagine the best actor you can think of,” Lavallee continued. “These kids go to school year after year studying theatre.  They’re much more advanced and more passionate. Just to know I’m studying on that same exact stage was so surreal.”

When asked if he came back more appreciative than before, Lavallee’s answer was simple.  “It’s so good to see another way of life and culture,” he said. “The people in Russia are like fighters, every single day pouring out all of the blood, sweat, and tears that they can to make a difference.”

Lavallee said being engulfed in the culture and surroundings, from the tall buildings of Moscow to riding the subways, were really wonderful to see.

“We learned not only how to speak Russian but also how to survive for three months in Russia,” Lavallee said.

Being able to come back home to the United States in early December and share his experiences with professors and peers was special for Lavallee. He was able to use the training and techniques he learned overseas to craft them for students in King’s Theatre program.

“We did these short little object-based performances each day in Russia called etudes. I’ve been able to work on those etudes and use them for my upcoming student-led production at the beginning of March.” 

Lavallee’s student-directed short play will be featured as part of the Short Play Festival which will run from Feb. 28 through Mar. 2 in King’s Fine Arts Building.  

For King University Theatre Director Elizabeth Dollar it brings her happiness seeing her students’ success pave the way for future endeavors.

“Jenson’s experience with the Moscow Arts Theatre has blazed a trail for King Theatre students,” Dollar said. “He is our first student to be a part of the program, so to have him come back and talk about his experience and training is so beneficial.”

Dollar said the training that Lavallee was given while in Russia has inspired not only her but also other students as well.

“As a director of an arts-based program like Theatre, you really want to see your students succeed and represent themselves well,” continued Dollar.  “The training Jenson received in Moscow has been extremely beneficial since his return to campus.”

The Moscow Art Theatre was established by K. S. Stanislavsky and V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898.  The Theatre received the status of “Academic Theater” in 1919.  In 1943, based at the Art Theatre, the Moscow Art Theater institute of higher education School-Studio, named after V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, was established.

To learn more about Theatre-based study abroad programming, contact Theatre director, Elizabeth Dollar at 423.652.4839 or ehlee@king.edu.

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