Russia has been in the headlines quite a bit lately – and for mostly unsavoury stuff. But they’re not all bad. In fact, their dedication and innovations to the arts, specifically theatre, is pretty much second to the Greeks. They have a love of beauty that’s culturally innate and when it translates onto the stage, it can be breathtaking.
The Chekhov Collective, a group of theatre dynamos, got together over the course of a year to rehearse using the infamous Chekhov Technique to mount THE SEAGULL. DirectorPeggy Coffey answers a few questioms about it:
1. When you say ‘The Chekhov Collective‘, who’s the Chekhov behind the Collective? Anton Chekhov or Michael Chekhov, or both?
Michael Chekhov is the Chekhov behind the collective. Michael was Anton’s nephew, and considered one of the greatest Russian actors of the 20th Century.
2. While many have heard of Anton Chekhov, the significance of Michael Chekhov isn’t as well known. Can you (briefly!) summarize why his work is significant and why you think it’s important to continue to explore?
Chekhov technique provides a safe method for actors to work in great depth. It appeals to the actors imagination, and the exercises work the imagination of the actor to a high degree. Here is a quick check list of the method and training:
1. The actor must train his or her body through the use of psychophysical exercises exercises.
2. The actor must use intangible means of expression while acting and rehearsing to achieve tangible results—an example of this is ‘psychological gesture’. This is a repeated archetypal gesture that is outward and can bring powerful sensations into the body. The gesture is then tucked away from the audience in performance, but can offer give the actor a scaffolding to stand upon in any given scene. Like subtext.
3. The actor must employ a creative spirit and the higher intellect to unify the various aspects of the performance. This is working with a ‘higher’ or artistic self. We call this stepping over the threshold. Only work with integrity and bring your best game to the studio during rehearsal, workshops, and performance.
4. The purpose of the Chekhov Technique is the embody each component of the method as a means of awakening all parts of the method in order to evoke a creative state of mind.
5. The actor must penetrate each separate point of the Chekhov Technique and then determine to what degree and by what means it frees his or her talent.
Personally, I have been on a 7 year journey with the technique after a full career in the theatre. Many mature actors have rediscovered the joy of acting and training through this technique. It is the safest and most fun you can have in training. (My opinion of course, but shared by many who have discovered this work) Acting training is intense, and I personally run away very quickly from any teacher who puts me through anything that is like ‘therapy’. MICHA is an International training centre, that is serious about acting, and they offer the best training in the world in this technique.
3. The rehearsal process for this show has been unique (4-day intensive sessions every few months over the course of one year), can you explain why you opted to go this route instead of a more conventional rehearsal process?
This is a question for Rena, the producer. But as her colleague in Chekhov technique I can answer in part. Process is usually short changed in today’s theatre, because of economic restraints. A group of actors, willing to work this long to build ensemble and explore the play with this technique is rare. We know that the longer something can cook, the better. These actors formed a strong ensemble, and deep knowledge of their characters and relationships. The results are up on that stage. The actors have great confidence in performance, because they have worked together for a long time, and very intensely. It was a dream for me to join the group and offer the outside eye and leadership which was the next step.
4. What advantages are there in preparing for the show in this way and what did it teach you as a Director?
It was the best creative experience of my career. I stepped into a finely tuned ensemble, and gently made my way into the directors chair. I did that with respect, calm, and by listening and watching every breath they took. I came in with a clear ‘point of view’ for the play, and the themes thoroughly investigated by doing my homework and prepping every day and night. Prep prep prep!! My task was to help the actors put their work and discoveries into the vessel or form of the play. It taught me to be patient, to always listen, to work with love and care and respect. At times it was very scary for me to be the one everyone looked to, because they are my peers and all very talented. Some days I repeated ‘hold your nerve’ to myself, offer strong leadership, and MOST importantly to trust the play to be the most important player in the room. All answers are in the play, all disputes can be settled by going to the text and finding out what that journey is that Anton Chekhov so brilliantly charted. It is a stunning play. Also, I believe my passion for the play was a strong and inspiring force for the actors to trust. I never let them down.
5. The Chekhov Collective seems to be a unique entity in Canadian Theatre – what’s next for the group?
Well, I think the Chekhov collective will likely keep offering intensives and sharing the technique with actors and directors who might be interested. It is really about sharing, and the technique is generous. A future project would be something that will likely be discussed once Rena catchers her breath!! But, I am sure the pebble has been dropped into the lake, and the ripples are moving outward.