My Chekhov, Not Yours: Annie Baker, Kristen Kosmas, Annie-B Parson & Paul Lazar, and Tina Satter
November 18 2012
New York City is alive with radical theatrical interpretations of the writings of Anton Chekhov. The nineteenth-century Russian physician, dramatist, and author is venerated in classical theater circles for his revolutionary contributions to theatrical realism in works like Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Seagull. But this season his work was receiving a dramatic makeover in a coincidental series of adventurous new adaptations by luminaries of New York’s contemporary performance avant-garde.
Presented in conjunction with Half Straddle’s residency “Checkov (Thinking of You)” as part of the New Museum’s RE:NEW RE:PLAY Performance Residency Series, each artist on this panel took a particularly idiosyncratic approach to Chekhov. Annie Baker’s critically acclaimed Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep emphasized the familiar lull of contemporary conversation while presenting period details with equally matter-of-fact familiarity, placing the entire audience inside a carpeted A-frame house built inside a theater. Kristen Kosmas’s There There at Performance Space 122 this January contemplated the meta-theatrical metaphysics of celebrity actors performing on stage, putting forth the absurd premise that Christopher Walken’s female understudy Karen is forced to take the stage in a one-man adaptation of Three Sisters (simultaneously being translated into Russian). The Man in the Case, starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, co-adapted and directed by Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater, takes a short story by Chekhov about a narrow-minded schoolteacher who is obsessed with following rules and transforms it into a dance-theater piece for five performers spliced with found text from an instructional video on how to open a door and detailed discussions of turkey hunting tactics. And finally, New Museum artist-in-residence Tina Satter of Half Straddle presented Seagull (Thinking of you) with Performance Space 122 in January. A dark and comedic group portrait set to an original Russian folk metal-inspired score, Tina Satter’s Seagull (Thinking of you) revels in the strange resonances between Chekhov’s Seagull and the Half Straddle ensemble of female and/or genderqueer performer/artists brought together for this particular show.
Join these artists as they discussed their productions, their individual motivations for adapting Chekhov, and their thoughts on the current spate of contemporary Chekhovian adaptations. The panel was moderated by Jessica Del Vecchio.
Half Straddle’s residency at the New Museum took a closer look at the season’s unusual trend of radical Chekhov adaptations taking place around New York City at venues such as Soho Rep, Performance Space 122, River to River, Hartford Stage, and other major commercial productions on Broadway and elsewhere. A series of related programs with notable boundary-defying contemporary theater makers provided context and research for the development of Half Straddle’s Seagull (Thinking of you), while exploding the relative concept of theatrical “realism” that originated with Anton Chekhov and Constantin Stanislavski.
Jessica Del Vecchio received her MA from the Performance as Public Practice program at the University of Texas, Austin and a PhD in Theatre at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. Her dissertation analyzes the recent resurgence of explicitly queer and feminist performance in New York City’s experimental scene. She has taught in the theatre departments at Hunter College and Drew University, and created the instructor’s manual for the 2012 edition of Mira Felner’s THINK: Theatre textbook. She has written about experimental performance in the Brooklyn Rail and might be good e-journal, as well as for Theatre Journal and The Drama Review. Currently, she teaches at the School of Theatre and Dance at James Madison University.