When Artistic Director Natasha O. Ramer began writing a script in 2019 based on the life of acclaimed Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, she never expected that she would not be able to bring the work to the theater stage, or that two years later she would be collaborating with a film studio to present Akhmatova’s story as a theater-on-film project.
However, despite a global pandemic that made a live theater performance impossible, Ramer persevered, determined to bring her play to an audience.
Akhmatova was one of most significant Russian poets of the 20th century and is often referred to as the “Soul of the Silver Age.” She began writing poetry at age 11 and became a national figure while still in her teens. She witnessed two major revolutions and survived two world wars. She had a difficult and tragic personal life: her first husband was executed, another died in the Stalin’s Gulag and her son, who was arrested three times, spent fourteen years in concentration camps.
Having risen to prominence at a time when female voices were mostly silenced, Akhmatova was a strong, independent woman who witnessed unimaginable atrocities during Stalin’s terror and had her work banned by the brutal dictator. Yet, she persevered.
Natasha’s script is based on two central characters — Anna and her lifelong friend, Valya. The play begins in 1964 when 75-year-old Akhmatova traveled to Sicily to receive the prestigious Etna-Taormina Literary Prize from the European Community of Writers.
Based on three biographies and incorporating Akhmatova’s poetry, Natasha’s script flows through flashbacks between the two friends who chronicle their lives and Anna’s transformations. On the train ride back to Russia from Italy, Akhmatova feels the presence of her beloved friend, who had passed away, and engages in an imaginary dialogue reflecting on their lives.
Ramer cast two veteran New Orleans professional actresses — Diana Shortes as Anna Akhmatova and Kathy Randels as Valya. They initially started rehearsing in January 2020.
She initially planned a two-part production, beginning with a stage presentation of sketches from Akhmatova’s life and the second being a program of readings, lectures and concerts. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted those plans and delayed the production for months.
In early May 2021, Ramer, Shortes and Randels reunited with “Anna Akhmatova” scripts in hand. After 14 in-person and Zoom rehearsals, they staged the first dress rehearsal — and with cameras running.
After more than two and a half years of trying to bring the play to the stage, Ramer again pivoted from her original plan. The cast, along with set designers, costumers and a crew of videographers and technicians from Esplanade Studios costumers transformed a dance studio at Tulane University’s Department of Theatre & Dance into a film set.
For two days, they captured the behind-the-scenes staging of Akhmatova’s life digitally. The documentary-style production presents Ramer directing her actresses as they rehearse the script that explores the achievements, disappointments, dreams and heartbreaking realities that inspired Akhmatova’s poetry.
Because of budgetary constraints, several scenes from the original scripts could not be filmed. At the current time, “Anna Akhmatova, Sketches from a Poet’s Life” is in post-production as Ramer seeks additional funding to complete the theater-on-film work as Moscow Night’s next production.
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