Anton Chekhov was opposed to the falsehoods and exaggerations of acting he saw in most theaters in his day. His plays served as a revolutionary backbone to what is common sense to the medium of acting to this
day: an effort to recreate and express the “realism” of how people truly act and speak with each other
and translate it to the stage in order to manifest the human condition as accurately as possible in hopes to make the audience reflect upon their own definition of what it means to be human, warts and all.
His new form of drama demanded new methods of acting. He found himself objecting strenuously when attending early rehearsals for his play “The Seagull”, arguing that there should be “less acting” and more dealing “as in life.” This subtextual approach to drama became the cornerstone of acting influencing generations of the world’s greatest actors.
Chekhov’s plays provide a wealth of challenges and rewards for actors. Like Shakespeare and Molière
his work demands the mastery his very unique, distinctive language, without limiting oneself to it. And as with all classic plays it affords the opportunity to research the specific time and place, explore the political, social, cultural, religious, economic, sexual, regional mores that would undoubtedly affect the characters. Imagine the boredom, depression, waning hope, oftentimes tragic situations and circumstances of these wildly dysfunctional people without losing sight that his plays are human comedies. People trying desperately to improve their situations but making self sabotaging choices in their attempt to do so. Sound familiar?
Robert Cohen (in Advanced Acting, McGraw-Hill, 2002) writes, “That they [Chekhov’s characters] are defeated on most occasions is Chekhov’s genius; that they try to win, however, is his—and his actors’—glory.” Referring to the Chekhovian “will to transcend despair,” Cohen writes that laughter through tears is the way actors latch onto the demands of Chekhov.
Over the course of the four weeks the actors will be assigned a plethora of scenes and monologues from three plays with assorted scene partners. Step by step we will deconstruct the material in order to have the information necessary to construct the lives of the people whose stories we’re telling. We will use a variety of exercises for purposes of exploration and discovery, as well as to help the actors relax, to focus, to become that much clearer, that much more available physically, emotionally and mentally.
I’ve chosen to use Carol Rocamora’s acclaimed translations.
Ralph Fiennes said of her translations, “The great strength of Carol Rocamora’s translations is quite
simply that they don’t seem like translations.”and Helen Mirren said that they are“…sure to become a standard for future productions.”
Carol Rocamora is also the author of “I take your hand in mine…”(French title: “Ta main dans la mienne”) which met with overwhelming success when it was produced at the Bouffes du Nord starring Michel
Piccoli and Natasha Parry, directed by Peter Brook. Providing for me one of the most illuminating and inspiring evenings of theatre in my life.