Thoughts on Chekhov by Riley Van Ess
I'm excited to be appearing in my second year at the Lake Effect Fringe Festival. Last year, along with the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, we launched a show by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Francis Beaumont. "The Knight of the Burning Pestle" is a rather odd show. It's a satire meant to keep people laughing from curtain up to curtain down. If Shakespearean shows were a guidepost for the middle of the road type of acting, between realism and theatrical, this show by Beaumont would have definitely leaned heavily on the theatrical side.
And now, as if taking a sharp left turn, we are presenting "The Seagull" by Anton Chekhov. It has been very interesting to act in a play that relies so heavily on realism to make it's point shine through. With that, I would like to share a couple of things I have learned so far during the rehearsal process:
1.) Being vulnerable can be hard (but Chekhov makes it slightly easier):
I think sometimes as actors we like to hide behind tropes of what a character is all about or what their goals, hopes, aspirations are. It's easy, it gives us a road map. And honestly, in some more "theatrical" shows, it works as a nice little trick. But it's not real, it's just an illusion. In that case, you are more of a magician to the audience than an actor.
Chekhov challenges us to be vulnerable and allow the emotions that we all have the experience to come out in our characters. Stylistically, Chekhov makes this incredibly easy because of the way the dialogue is written. All one needs to do is be open and great moments start to appear on stage.
2.) Change is good:
Before this show, it had been over a year of doing nothing but Shakespeare. I enjoy Shakespeare and personally as an actor I would like to specialize in performing shows by the bard of Avon, but I think it is very important (even necessary) to take a step back sometimes and view things in a new lens. Maybe I'll open up my options to a musical or a contemporary play sometime? Who knows!
3.) Chekhov and Shakespeare are actually remarkably similar:
You might be saying, "What? How can this be??" But hear me out. Just as Shakespeare relies heavily on an ensemble of actors, so does Chekov. Both write multiple subplots that interact with one another and both write characters with so much depth that they believe that they are the kings of their own stories.
The genres of Comedy and Tragedy can be bad misnomers sometimes I think. Certainly, there are a lot of tragedies of Shakespeare that have incredibly funny moments. The same is true of Chekhov. I've heard this play, "The Seagull", referred to as a comedy, but there are some incredibly tragic moments to it. I think sometimes people get to hung up on genres, when in fact some of the greatest dramas fall in a third category: the human genre. A genre all about what it means to be human, both with the good and bad. That's why I believe plays by Chekov and Shakespeare can be both incredibly rewarding for both the actor and the audience.