I Am a Seagull: v. III

A glorious thing happened last week…the cast of The Seagull @ Antaeus  Company got “off-book,” meaning –everybody memorized their lines. Of course there were a few of us who showed up to the first read-through memorized and a few of us who were still clutching our scripts until the bitter end. However, for the most part, the process of blocking the show last week got the script into our bodies which aided the dreaded process of getting off-book so we can finally put a living, breathing play on stage.

“Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul” – William Somerset Maugham

I’m not sure if anybody else feels this way, but this is my favorite time in the rehearsal process. This is when we really get to play! This is when we take our biggest leaps and have our greatest growing pains. We take the intellectual understanding of the play from the tablework + a lush and informative environment in which to work + the discovery of our relationship with our fellow actors and we fashion a play out of this beautiful chaos. I think American novelist John Cheever (known as the Chekhov of the suburbs) put it well when he said, “Art is the triumph over chaos.”

The artist’s process is a major in theme in The Seagull. Two of our main characters are writers who are struggling with their own demons. Trigorin is well-established in Moscow, but questioning his success in comparison to such greats as Tolstoy, and Treplev is trying to create new forms in an environment that isn’t quite ready to hear his voice. This is representative of a cultural shift that was happening in Russia at the time.  Bo Foxworth who plays Trigorin gave me a little insight on this,

“I started reading Anton Chekhov:  A Life by Donald Rayfield and it’s so interesting to find those little nuggets from his life that inspired him to write his plays and characters and how, what was happening at the time in Russia, influenced him.  When Trigorin tells Treplev that there’s been a lot of interest in his writing from Moscow AND Petersburg, I found it interesting that Petersburg was the PARIS of Russia, and to be a writer of interest in Petersburg was significant.  Famous writers in Moscow were bourgeois, but Petersburg was the cultural hub, they were artists.  Chekhov was very caught up in the competition between Moscow and Petersburg publications as he was rising to fame.  It was his popularity in Petersburg that really put him on the map.”

There was also a major shift happening in theater – especially around acting. Constantin Stanislavski, arguably one of the most important figures in the history of acting, was in the process of revolutionizing theater. He created a system for actors to develop authentic and realistic experiences onstage instead of the representational acting that was popular at the time.

“The task of our generation is to liberate art from outmoded tradition, from tired cliché and to give greater freedom to imagination and creative ability.”
– Constantin Stanislavski

The first successful production of The Seagull was at the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT), which was founded by Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovch-Danchenko. MAT still uses the image of a seagull as their emblem. This production was notable because the play and the actors’ performances strived for an honest reality.

…which is what I’m going to try to achieve right now in rehearsal.

  • Next week: An interview with our director Andrew Traister

There should be more sincerity and heart in human relations, more silence and simplicity in our interactions. Be rude when you’re angry, laugh when something is funny, and answer when you’re asked.

ANTON CHEKHOV, letter to A.P. Chekhov, Oct. 13, 1888

Antaeus Member, Jules Willcox, shares her experiences working on our production of The Seagull. This is the third installment. Tickets now on sale at  www.antaeus.org

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