A decade
ago Eddie Aronoff came to Russia to teach English and ended up becoming a film
and theater producer.

He didn’t
plan it that way. While he was living in Moscow and teaching English, Aronoff
had done many things, but he hadn’t spent much time at the theater. The reason
was simple — his Russian, he said, consisted of two phrases: “’I don’t need a
napkin’ and ‘Where is your husband?’ — neither of which have ever come in
handy.”

But one of
his students invited him to a theatrical performance, and despite his
hesitation, he agreed to go. It was a production of Ivan Bunin’s “Mitya’s Love”
at the Gogol Center, and even without fluent Russian, Aronoff said he was
“blown away.” Soon he was trying to figure out how to share this and other
Russian theater productions with a larger, international audience.

When his
first idea of organizing foreign tours proved unfeasible, he thought about
filming the stage productions. Several theaters were already filming and
distributing their plays in Russia, and Aronoff considered subtitling and
distributing the versions that already existed. But in the end, he opted for
shooting the plays with six cameras and doing a more professional edit. All the
productions are filmed while being performed before a live audience, and all
are sub-titled in English.

Aronoff’s
project, now called Stage Russia, was a great idea, but there was still one
problem — funding. “To say I was
working on a shoe-string budget is to overestimate the cost of a shoe-string,”
he said. But he found that Russian culture “has a wide-open heart when it comes
to helping others, particularly foreigners, and singularly, Americans.”