All the work I did in the shop ended up involving wood. First David instructed Sam and I to move carts of what he referred to as “weathered wood”. It was the same weathered wood that would be used to line the inside of the map room and Yelena’s room. To me the phrase “weathered wood” implies that the wood has been weathered by the outdoors, most likely by rain and wind. However, our weathered wood was to go in the inside of the house. The thought struck my mind that wood could still be “weathered” from the inside of the house. I imagined the rooms of the house worn down by years of boring conversations and the petty squabbles of its inhabitants. This newfound meaning for the description of “weathered wood” helped me to see how the choice of wood physicalized the atmosphere of the estate and characterized the house as old and exhausted.
Then I helped Maddie with the process of nailing the wood panels into the floor by placing them and then staple-gunning. The work reminded me of when I had to perform the same task at home not long ago. This past summer my parents pimped me out for manual labor around the house. I was forced to construct the wood floors for the basement room with my bare hands and a power-saw. I recall after all the sawing and the click-locking was finished I was saddened by the fact that the beautiful puzzle I had put on place would now be trampled on by my family members. My attitude towards constructing the floors for Uncle Vanya was very different. As we nailed the wood down I imagined the scenes that would take place atop this very floor. Yelena giving in to Astrov. The beginning of Sonya and Yelena’s friendship. Sonya’s veiled plea to Astrov. It excited me to think that actors would perform upon the floor I was putting in place. Placing the wood for the Vanya set evoked a sense of pride and excitement for the magic that was soon to come.
As promised, a list of the parameters of our experiment that I read aloud at our Friday, Aug. 30th class meeting.
Theater is a space of imagination, thoughtfully informed by worlds, times, and experiences outside its space.
Within Uncle Vanya characters’ realities are driven by feelings and their ability/inability to be articulated through language and action.
The purpose of character teams casting is to offer actors a chance to unlock a shared, yet separate, understanding of complex characters by making specific, detailed choices born in the space where language and physicality meet. This approach offers an audience the chance to pay close attention to character construction through actor performance.
We seek to disrupt our audience’s nostalgia about historical realism by focusing their attention on our fabricated world within the walls of Sheafer. We are offering the audience a glimpse into the process of constructing theatrical reality — just as the characters seem to be processing the notion of “how did I get here?” in their lives. Everything is transparent and open but not improvisatory, simplistic, or unprepared.
Baker writes of her approach to the text,
The goal was to create a version that would make Chekhov happy; to create a version that sounds to our contemporary American ears the way the play sounded to Russian ears during the play’s first productions in the provinces in 1898.
We seek a similar, lofty goal: to create a version that appears as something new, unseen before and yet ultimately recognizable and relatable to our contemporary Duke University audience.
And a few of the items Jeff mentioned about performance conventions:
We will be thinking about Chekhov’s vaudevilles and the swing of the pendulum in his major works between farce and trageey; laughter and tears.
Some characters will be broader in their performance than others based on their actions and given circumstances.
Audience members (both on and off-stage) are always aware that we are watching a rehearsal/performance of the play (as in Vanya on 42nd Street).
Music is used for transitions and, in vaudeville terms, interludes (possible song & dance moments).
Character teams work together, helping each other prepare for their chance to tell the story.
Age will be achieved with costume, props, movement, voice. Not makeup.