Yelena Gremina/Mikhail Durnenkov rooms, Oxford, UK

Click on photos to enlarge.


I took these photos on November 7, 2014, more or less thinking I would put them away for 20 years and come back to them as if they were relics – assuming I’m still alive in 20 years. But then I realized that today is the ideal day to pull these photos out, still green, as yet unencumbered by the lovely lichen of legend, but quite timely. You see, Yelena Gremina, a playwright and one of the co-founders of Teatr.doc, and Mikhail Durnenkov, a playwright and head of Teatr.doc’s Lyubimovka new play festival, stayed here in these rooms at Wolfson College, Oxford University for three November nights in 2014. And today, February 14, 2015, Gremina and Durnenkov will be among the most prominent people welcoming guests to the opening of Teatr.doc’s new home in Moscow on Spartakovskaya Street 3.
It so happens that I was with Gremina and Durnenkov (as were Mikhail Kaluzhsky, Alexandra Polivanova, Ukrainian playwright Natalya Vorozhbyt and several other talented and fascinating people) when they – well, we – appeared at a conference entitled “Back to the U.S.S.R.? Drama and Theatre in Putin’s Russia.” It was hosted by Julie Curtis, Noah Birksted-Breen, Sasha Dugdale and Philip Bullock, all of whom have made significant contributions to the making or study of contemporary Russian theater.
As anyone who reads the posts on this space probably knows, I ran around Oxford in the short few days I was there photographing as many places connected with Russian culture as I could. It was as I came back from photographing the hotel in which Anna Akhmatova once stayed that I realized I had an opportunity to get one step ahead of history. Just as I was fascinated to know where Akhmatova had rested her weary head and feet after receiving her honorary doctorate in 1965, I assumed that those who follow me would one day be intrigued to know where Gremina and Durnenkov were quartered during their stay at Oxford. It was easy enough to record that information. I merely followed Misha Durnenkov back to his room one day under the pretext of small talk. We photographers have to do that sometimes – prevaricate in order to get what we crave so badly. After I saw Misha back to his room and ascertained that he was occupying room D, I asked which room Gremina was staying in. “The one next to me,” Misha answered, somewhat suspiciously. “That one there. Room C.” As the quizzical look still lingered on his face, I asked if I could photograph him in front of his door. Before he could say “yes,” I snapped the picture so as to capture for all times that slightly baffled look of his. Like, “Okay, but what the hell are you doing?”

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Wolfson College is a modern building ensconced among the old and very old buildings that make up the town of Oxford and the university named after it. It is quite attractive in part because of the extraordinary English talent for making greens and gardens. I don’t know that the architects can take much credit for that, but the gardeners certainly can. The inner quad is a lovely, rolling green with a few strategically placed trees. It stands at the very end of Linton Road near the Cherwell Boathouse on the River Cherwell. On the outside a kind of a lagoon wends off the river up close to the building, as you can see in the final image below. For those who require more information to fill out the future legend of Durnenkov and Gremina at Oxford, I can tell you that on the evening of Nov. 8 there was a fireworks display celebrating Bonfire Night (you can Google it, it’s interesting) and Misha and Lena both viewed the show from their rooms, the windows of which are on the third floor just to the right of the L-bend in the last photo below. Misha told me the next day on our 2-hour bus ride to the airport that the view was quite impressive. For you sticklers out there, I think I can even quote Misha directly. I believe he said, “The view of the fireworks was great.”
To my knowledge the only fireworks connected with the re-opening of Teatr.doc tonight will be theatrical. I’m told there are something like 16 different scenes being rehearsed by various actors and directors. Since this will only happen in about 2 hours I only know specifically about one as yet – a short skit written by Rodion Beletsky, directed by Anastasia Patlay, and starring Alexei Maslodudov and my wife Oksana Mysina who will play a post-death Joseph Stalin encountering a petty bureaucrat whose job it was to close down Teatr.doc. You see, Teatr.doc has been forced to reopen in a new space because Moscow’s authorities did their damndest to shut it down in the final months of 2014. This was one of the primary topics of discussion at the Oxford conference – what would happen to Doc? Well, now we know. It is alive and well and it reopens tonight. It’s about time for me to put on my tux and tails, grab my camera and head out for another historic event involving the always surprising people of Teatr.doc.

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