SORIN: But we can’t do without a theatre.
TREPLJOV: No, but we must have it under a new form. If we can’t do that, let us rather not have it at all.
My relationship with Anton Chekhov began by accident. I was producing a series of experimental performances called As If with actor Jussi Johnsson, we were talking about different acting styles and we taped the conversation. We were talking about non-pretentious acting, and all of a sudden I heard myself saying: “I want to direct Chekhov!” The idea stayed with me, one thing led to another, and now The Chekhov Concept gets its premier in the Kiasma Theatre.
The piece is about how Chekhov’s texts can be performed today. I have thought about what Chekhov stands for in this day and age. Is it nostalgia, a longing for complete, rounded characters, unfragmented stories and emotionally evocative acting? A longing for theatre which used to be True Theatre? What is Chekhov in the context of post-dramatic theatre?
My relationship with Chekhov and drama is fundamentally problematic. I am a performance artist. I understand performances where performers stick Sellotape on the floor and wrap themselves up in toilet paper. Whereas when a real actor declaims on stage, my jaw drops and I’m at a loss: what I should be thinking about it all?
NINA: Your play is very hard to act; there are no living characters in it.
TREPLJOV: Living characters! Life must be represented not as it is, but as it ought to be; as it appears in dreams.
And yet, on reading The Sea-Gull, I feel as if I have received a gift. It is so full of narrative, characters, feelings. It is also full of history and contexts, countless Ninas have pined for their dreams on countless stages, Treplieff has shot himself again and again in the backyard of his cynical mother’s house. I have encountered something everyone knows and yet I cannot be certain that I understand it.
I am interested in lace curtains and postmodernism, the idea of a porch and of course drinking tea and talking about art. I am interested in Chekhovianism, a language I cannot speak.
One of the strands in The Sea-Gull is theatre. There is a play within the play, a scene from Treplieff’s play. In addition to setting up the play, the characters discuss ideas about theatre and what it should be. It is meta-theatre of its time. That’s a good place to start.
ARKADINA: What decadent rubbish is this?
Quotations from Anton Chekhov‘s play The Sea-Gull, translator unknown.