What else were we doing as students except for the studies? There were not many sports. Actually, among nerds it was not cool to do any sports, it was a strong presumption, that only people who can’t use their brain for anything productive, do sports. And the only sport I remember somebody was doing was our gymnastics team. If there were any other, they wouldn’t have any visibility.
There were obligatory political activities. There ere mathematical clubs in schools, which were called YMSCH – Youth Mathematical Schools. They were clubs, after-school activities, but we called them “schools.” And I will write about them at some point.
One of the highlights of student’s life was the Math-Mech Day. I can’t recall now, what was the way of choosing a date for it, but it was some time in spring, far enough from the finals. Later, it was transformed into the Math-Mech Week with different activities every day. But back then, it was not even a day, but just a performance – a student play, written, staged and performed by students, undergrads, grads and postgrads. That was probably the only one informal gathering I can recall from the Soviet era, definitely the only one in the University.
Students would come and go; people would graduate and move forward, but there were always enough people to keep the tradition alive. I was brought on board by Misha, my former YMSCH teacher – he was about to graduate, and I just started. I knew about the Math-Mech Day from him, and later I brought my whole group to participate.
First, we wrote a script. It was always a good piece of literature, which had a plot. And each scene was a story of its own. Everything was extremely politically charged. We knew that we were putting ourselves at risk, but had a good dose of youthful absent-mindedness to be ignorant.
One year it was a Broken TV, which would randomly switch channels. We used the names of the well-known shows, mostly dull and filled with communist rhetoric. We inserted the text which would mock official propaganda, addressing the issues we were not allowed to speak about, like government-supported antisemitism. I remember a lot from these scripts by heart. I bet very few people can remember the name of the guy who tried to shoot Reagan, but I do just because of one joke in this show. It would go like a mock student council announcement: “Student Hinkley, who did not pass his shooting test will be allowed to retake the test during the next President’s elections.”
We had to submit all our texts to censors, but for several years the performers would risk pronouncing a phrase or two off-script. Until 1983, when we were told, that if during a performance a surveillance person in the audience would hear just one word not submitted to the censors, he would walk on stage and close the show right away.
Now, recalling the scripts, I am amazed at how much we actually managed to say. In 1983, our show was about the tzar Peter the Great and his Prime Minister Alexander Menshikov. And the story was alluding to the actual story of how the city of Saint Petersburg was built. Peter the Great wanted to build a new capital of Russia closer to Europe, and he chose the place which would work strategically but had horrible living conditions and a lack of supply of everything. He would then command everybody to contribute.
In our play, Menshikov advised the tsar to build a new University campus at the place not suitable for this purpose. The essence of the joke was that the name of Menshikov – Alexander Danilovich – matched the name of Academic Alexandrov, who came with the idea of the new University campus. There were tons of jokes about defectors (the tsar wants to send the graduates to Amsterdam, as real Peter the Great did, but is afraid that they may not come back), about Brezhnev’s memoir, which everybody had to study those days. Maybe, in one of my next lives, I will write down all I remember from that pay (and I remember a lot!) with Shakespearean-style comments about each and single line. For now, you have to trust me – it was funny, so that I still smile recalling some verses.
Writing, reading aloud, laughing, discussing, rehearsing, and rewriting again, fighting for each word with sensors, and rehearsing again. And then making costumes and finding props. Staying in the empty department building for long hours.
I do not have any pictures of those pays, and I can’t recall anybody taking them. I guess it was not that much important for us, but I would so much love it if I would have them!
My historical posts are being published in random order. Please refer to the page Hettie’s timeline to find where exactly each post belongs, and what was before and after.