UI graduate wants to return to Russia not as ‘American Visitor’

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By Evan Clark, The Daily Iowan

“Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”

Famous Russian theater director and founder of Method acting Konstantin Stanislavski wasn’t talking directly to University of Iowa graduate Emily Larson when he uttered those famous words, but he might as well have been.

For Larson the inner conflict between self and art is one and the same. This was especially apparent during her first visit to Russia, where she struggled to separate business from pleasure, probably because they go hand in hand for her.

“I was working 24/7 while I was studying abroad in Moscow,” she said. “There was very little time to explore the city on my own, which is something I look forward to do when I go back.”

That Larson says “when” she goes back to Moscow rather than “if” speaks volumes for her dedication to theater. In high school, she received a scholarship to college after sending out DVD copies of her directorial début on stage.

During her junior year at Iowa, Larson won the Marcia Thayer award, one of the most prestigious theater scholarships in the country.

And with the money awarded to her, the 23-year-old was able to spend the fall of 2009 as a student at the Moscow Art Theatre School, taking in everything the program had to offer. There, she became engulfed by the Russian philosophy of theater, as well as becoming aware of the differences between the two cultures.

“Their theater training is completely different from what we have here at Iowa,” Larson said. “The theater I saw in Russia blew my mind. Here, we tend to focus on scripts and new playwrights, while in Russia, they begin from the physical aspects of theater, then on to the textual.”

She is set to go back to Moscow in February, and she is also waiting for her application for a Fulbright grant to be accepted. This would pay for her visit to the Moscow Art Theatre School, and it could allow her to stay in Russia for the next few years. She has also been learning to speak Russian for the past few years, another display of commitment boyfriend Noah Wesley-Parks noted.

“Emily is a tenacious theater artist and a creator with a unique sense of style,” he said. “I’ve seen her go after scholarships, Honors thesis projects, and, of course, going to Russia. She’s an inspiring tour de force of creativity and intelligence, which is almost hard to be around because it’s rather intimidating.”

Larson’s academic adviser during her time in the theater program, lecturer Carol MacVey, also noted Larson’s drive for success, not only toward her career but for all areas of theater.

“Emily loves everything that’s needed for a show, from the acting, directing, to even the stage props,” MacVey said. “I think the theater needs more women who are leaders in all aspects of theater, and I hope that what Emily gets out of Russia is a real strong foundation that will help her define what her vision of theater will be.”

Larson says her vision of theater would be one that “would bridge the theater gaps between the clashing styles of Russian and the United States.” As for what she wishes to accomplish in Moscow, her goals are nothing one would expect from the average tourist.

“I hope to immerse myself more fully in the rich theater tradition of Russia,” Larson said. “I want to live that experience as Russian students do, not as an ‘American visitor.’ ”

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