Bogdan, this is already your third time directing within Entity. In the past, you directed Numbers, a modern play based on actual political events, and the screwball comedy Lend Me A Tenor. This time you have chosen Anton Chekhov’s world-famous classic. One really cannot say that you only like a certain type!
Can you tell us about your process of choosing a new play to direct? Which aspects are you looking for? What kind of stories appeal to you?
Yes, I seem to be jumping from genre to genre without a clear goal in mind. The only thing I could consider, even remotely, close to a process is that I read a lot of plays both new and old. Most of hem don’t really speak to me unfortunately. But, once in a while, one play stands out. And then you know deep down that that’s the one.
Why did you choose The Seagull?
I wanted to do another play with actual human beings on stage. Numbers was a play inspired by true events. The main characters were living breathing people. The Seagull is very similar in that aspect. While it is not inspired by true events like Numbers, it evokes such powerful natural scenes and images that I cannot read Chekhov’s masterpieces without remembering similar scenarios from my life (e.g., conversations in kitchens, game-night with the family, and others). There is something raw about watching actors walking that fine-line between acting and simply “being” on stage. Not to mention it’s a great challenge for the actors to pull it off, which makes the play so much more engaging to watch because it’s a feeling to observe a good actor embody a character so well.
At the same, it is a comedy, a satire, and an honest depiction of human nature and emotion. I love how Chekhov works in meta-commentary about the world of the arts and life of 19th century Czarist Russia. Of course, currently, these elements do not play an active role in our everyday lives. The Russian serfdom prior to communism is very strange to us westerners. Yet, there is something timeless about the play and about Chekhov’s writing. Even though these characters have lived so far away (in time), their problems are still relevant in our times: love, pride, ambition, fear of change, are feelings we can all relate to in one shape or form. You cannot read or watch this play without becoming captivated by its characters and the relationships among them.
What is your vision for the play?
Pure “naturalism.” You can’t say Chekhov without naturalism. And you can’t say naturalism without Stanislawski. In my understanding of naturalism, the actors should behave and act like regular people onstage.
My plan is to pull the play out of its traditional roots (how Chekhov wrote it) and transpose it into a timeless setting. The actors still recite the same text and talk about people like Maupassant and Turgenev. But, while in 19th century Czarist Russia the references and meanings of the characters’ words are rooted into their immediate history (e.g., the Eiffel tower was a relatively recently inaugurated building), in this setting, the same text becomes more symbolic. The text still makes sense because the actors (through their actions and objectives) convey meaning to the text. In this case, the actual text falls into the realm of “archaic,” “olden,” “romantic,” much like fairy tales sound to us.
Which aspects of the play do you like best?
I love that Chekhov considered his play to be a comedy. I love it even more that my peers who have read the play, consider it “too harsh and serious.” They read out quotes from the play and announce loudly with confusion that “surely, this cannot be a comedy!” On its face, it may seem so. From a cold reading, you may think the text is direct, strong, and distant. But, that’s how some people like to consider the Slavic culture. Even more so, it’s difficult to portray the characters accurately, truthfully, and engagingly without understanding a bit of Slavic culture (e.g., how people behave, what they mean when they talk, and so on). It’s like trying to explain Latin dance moves purely rationally while completely ignoring the emotional basis behind them. The wonderful thing about this play is that, once you factor in elements of the Slavic culture (e.g., humor, speech patterns, pauses), the text, which once seemed too distant and dry, suddenly warms up and becomes a gateway to a world filled with humor and deep meanings. Apart from all of this, I love Masha’s pragmatism, I love the banter between Sorin and Dorn, I love Nina’s and Konstantin’s individual journeys throughout the play, I love Arkadina’s and Trigorin’s relationship, and how everyone else swarms around Arkadina and worships her, and finally, I love our rehearsal process.
How does a typical rehearsal look like?
It’s very important for actors to know what they are saying and why. Their characters need to have clear defined goals and relationships with the other characters. Chemistry among actors is vital. Improvisation, being present and in the moment are very important. The big risk with a complex play like The Seagull is that actors fall into patterns or become “over-directed.” That’s why rehearsals are all about exploration and discovery. The point of our rehearsals is repetition and vulnerability. We exercise Stanislavski’s actions and objections and we work in some of Meisner’s exercises (the repetition, the entrance). It’s a fun and safe space where we encourage ourselves to try out things even though we might sometimes fail or even look silly.
If the play was not called The Seagull, what title would you choose?
This play reminds of several movies in the 00s depicting personal journeys. The name is perfect on so many levels. Considering the play’s end, I think Reframing would be a suggestive name.
Why do you think, the audience should come out to see The Seagull?
When I watch The Seagull in the theater, I feel like being close to my family again in the backyard sitting around the table having loud and, sometimes, heated conversations with our guests. There is something safe and calming about that feeling. And then, there is the play’s message. And then, there’s the feeling of watching a live performance along dozens of other people (friends and family included) in the theater and following the characters’ journey from beginning to end. And then, there’s the bar after the show and a chance to chat with the actors and friends.
Pictures: Katrin Fegert