During our studies at the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts (Gitis) in Moscow, we had to arrange a performance day. We were allowed to move wherever we wanted in the school building, and were encouraged to do site-specific work. Our task was the same: we all had to interpret a scene from Act 1 in The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, using our Norton Edition translated by Laurence Senelik.
NINA. Human, lions, eagles and partridges, antlered deer, geese, spiders, silent fishes that inhabit the waters, starfish and those beings, invisible to the naked eye – in short, all living things, all living things, all living things, having completed the doleful cycle, are now extinct. Already thousands of centuries have passed since the earth bore any living creature, and this pale moon to no avail doth light her lamp. No more does the meadow awake to the cries of the cranes, and the mayflies are no longer to be heard in the linden groves. Chilly, chilly, chilly. Empty, empty, empty. Ghastly, ghastly, ghastly. (Pause) The bodies of living creatures have crumbled to dust, and Eternal Matter has converted them into stones, water, clouds, and all their souls are mingled into one. The universal soul – ’tis I… in person… In me are mingled the souls of Alexander the Great, and Caesar, and Shakespeare, and Napoleon, and the lowliest of leeches. In me human consciousness is mingled with animal instinct, and I remember everything, everything, everything, and I relive each life within myself.
I changed the text quite a lot in order for it to fit my vision of a more down to earth performance than this very extravagant speech. Chekhov intended for it to be a comedy, so of course one easily detect how he plays with the notion of a character who is philosophizing, thinking that he (Treplyov) has created something unique. I was very inspired by Happy Days by Beckett at this time, so I decided to do a Beckettian version where I would cut the words, created repetitions, and played with different pronunciations. The character was inspired by Winnie.
After our studies in Russia, we decided to create a show based on our experiences in Russia. Our show concept was taken from the Neo-Futurist group in the U.S.