Hard To Be a Diarist (from The Seagull rehearsal room)

There was a day, after the first week of rehearsal, after the glorious closing night party for THE RISE AND FALL OF ANNIE (with all its SEAGULL/”Birds of a Feather” references) when I sat down and listed all the possible blog angles i could come up with in discussing our SEAGULL ON 16TH STREET rehearsals. After passing through the crucible of a first week of script adjustments, all the while being called out of the room to attend 12 hours of MIKVEH auditions and single parenting duties while Kate was in Kosovo on assignment, I thought the 2nd week would bring a bit of respite and I’d be able to reflect and share on what exactly was going on with our process — insights into the kinds of issues that were and are coming up between actors, the director, and myself as adapter. But I have not been a blogging daily diarist. And I apologize, I suppose to myself more than to any readers because, god knows, without Caryl Churchill, Sandra Bernhard, or J Street to kick around, we don’t have the blog readership for calm happy processes that we do when we’re in the eye of the storm. So, shall we kick up some more dust? No. The pursuit of good/great/high quality art does not demand a process of turbulence. Internal wrestling, yes; why not? The artist staying up late doing the hard work of owning the language and the actions from the inside: that’s all good. And that’s going on in spades during our process. But we’ve been keeping quiet about it. Not sharing our good process — or our roiling internal struggles — with the world. And why should we? Who needs a Daily Diary Blogpost from the rehearsal room, anyway?

Well, here’s what I can share with you. We’ve been working on the program — our dramaturgical pages and the artistic director statement — our notes about the use of music in our adaptation; that kind of stuff. We’re gonna post that stuff soon on our website, along with the list of cool discussions we’ll be convening every Thursday night and Sunday afternoon during the run. We’re lining up some great scholars and directors right now.

I’m gonna share a little of the artistic director’s statement I banged out yesterday. And also some other topics I hope to share with you in the coming days, even as I begin to take some time away from rehearsals to attend the TCG conference in Baltimore, the pre-conference on International Collaboration in DC, and a day or two at the Association for Jewish Theatre Conference in NYC 10 days from now. So I’ll let the production find its sea legs without me. Ah, letting go. I’m so good at it. (Uhm, not). Read on.

From the Artistic Director

At the heart of Chekhov’s first dramatic masterpiece lies the inspiration for Theater J’s very first foray into producing a classical work on our stage. Boil The Seagull down and you’ll find, at the center of all those overlapping romantic triangles, a relationship between mother and son so Oedipal it might as well take its place alongside Freud and Sophocles as a psychological archetype. The brilliantly drawn Treplev and Arkadina are a filial pair so competitive, so obsessed with each other’s actions, and so in need of each other’s affirmation that you can’t help but wonder, “Are you sure Chekhov wasn’t Jewish?”

That was only our semi-jocular jumping off point as we started this adaptation, but it begged a series of questions: Since when did Jews corner the market on dysfunctional mother-son relationships? (Actually, I think it’s our gift to civilization; that, and corned beef, and Hollywood, and a few hundred thousand other bequests). Alternately, could Theater J ever produce a work that was entirely devoid of Jewish content? And what did an old warhorse like The Seagull have to say to a theater obsessed with producing new work?

We’d gotten it in mind to produce the play after our 2007 trip to London with a Theater J delegation (headed up by our 95 year old Council member, the late Marcella Brenner [nee Siegel] to whom this production is dedicated) as we took in Ian Rickson’s swansong offering as artistic director at the Royal Court in a production that featured Kristen Scott Thomas, which would later move to Broadway. I wanted to bring all that theatrical beauty home. I wanted us to drink from the restorative waters of all that effortlessly wise writing; it would help us to be a better playwrights theater if we studied the structural bones and the famously conflicted souls of Chekhov’s characters.

But the questions persisted: How would The Seagull fall within our mission? Should we challenge that mission? What kind of theatrical artists did we want to be? The precise questions being asked in Chekhov’s original. We moved forward with the charge that, like any interpretive artist, we bring a great deal of ourselves to the process; to meeting the play where we live and sinking ourselves into its essence by not being shy about revealing ourselves—as actors, and as a theater company.

(To be continued…)

Notes for other Seagull Diary postings:

* The Hope: Creating a signature piece for Theater J. Quintessentially us. Personal, collective, a complex dialectic and present/past, revenent/irreverent fusion.

* On being a playwright-producer in rehearsal
The importance of a strong team
The logistics of juggling
Translating vs. Adapting Chekhov
The Ethics of Adapting – The homage, irreverence, the legalities, the relationship with Carol – the collaboration and on-going dialogue with her….

* What is the 16th Street lens that we are bringing? Who are we at this “intersection?”

* Rewrites… What are we looking for? What balances are we achieving? Give examples.

* The use of music. Chekovs’s use of music. John Vreeke’s choice of Shostakovich. Our discovery of Treplev’s Theme. Yakov’s singing R.E.M. Why?

* More on the use of Yakov as a figure traversing two spaces/time zones; then and now

* What are we saying about the search for an authentic Jewish identity and practice – and how to cojoin that with a successful artistic career?

* Panel Discussions — planning them and documenting them (podcasting too)

* The All-Star ensemble… Working with Whiddon, Jacobson, Shiffman

* the director John Vreeke’s vision, his process, our collaboration, and his with the design team…

needless to say; much more to come

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