Members of Seattle’s The Seagull Project are going halfway around the world to present Anton Chekov’s play in Tashkent in 2014.
Closer to home, The Seagull Project’s next Great Soul of Russia event takes place Dec. 5 at 7:00 p.m. in ACT’s Bullitt Cabaret in downtown Seattle. Exit Visas: Chekhov and the American Short Story explores the writer’s impact on the American short story form with selections from Flannery O'Connor, J.D. Salinger, and Raymond Carver. For more information and tickets, see ACT’s website.
In 2015, they will produce Chekhov's Three Sisters here as part of ACT’s Central Heating Lab.
The company began in 2010 when the founding producers Brandon Simmons, John Bogar, Julie Briskman and Alex Tavares came together in Seattle Shakespeare Company's Threepenny Opera. Gavin Reub, Co-Artistic Director, also worked on Threepenny and later joined The Seagull Project as a dramaturg and then producer. Their production of The Seagull took nine months to rehearse before being unveiled at ACT last January to rave reviews.
Reub, recently took the time to discuss how they ended up being, according to their hosts, the first American theater company invited to perform in Uzbekistan and their fascination with Chekov's Seagull.
How did The Seagull Project get started in Seattle?
The Seagull Project was founded by a group of veteran actors who, finding they were fed up with the cookie-cutter method of theatrical creation, decided to take the process into their own hands. We wanted to spend the amount of time necessary to endow a play with the depth and detail that should be given to a masterpiece work of drama, such as The Seagull.
So how did that lead to the invitation to perform in Uzbekistan?
Seattle is very fortunate to have Tashkent as their sister city. This has created a wonderful relationship with the city’s Ilkhom Theatre, which came to ACT in 2008. We were able to utilize our strong community and company connections to plan the "Festival of American Culture: Ilkhom East West" with that theater, and then pushed for the government grant with the US Embassy in Tashkent. We were very fortunate, and are very honored, to receive such a wonderful grant.
Did you have any plans to tour The Seagull before this?
Being a set company, we have played constantly with the idea of having a Chekhov repertory, which we can tour all around the world. I don't think any of us thought it would come after just one show, however.
For you, what is the specific appeal of this particular playwright?
Chekhov has been undergoing a heavy revival these past few years. There is something in his voice that resonates in this modern age. A lot of it is his sense of a great, unfathomable, and unmistakable change looming on the horizon. The great political revolution brought by the Bolsheviks in 1917 carried with it the ideas of the masses and the destruction of the bourgeois under the communist equalizer. We feel these same themes running through the monumental changes that have been brought in our age by the great equalizer of the Internet. We are undergoing similar revolutions, and we are just as confused as to where it will all land, and what will become of us after the fact. We are asking the same questions, and finding that once again no one knows the answers.
So he’s a very modern playwright?
Chekhov has a great irony that speaks to our age. His comedy is subdued. It lies under layers of sadness and truth that can rarely be unearthed. Living in a post-modern world, we have a keen ear for this kind comedy. We accept the subtext, and in fact, seek it out. This is why it is important that we spend so much time on the play. A commercial production of Chekhov can rarely bring about the subtlety and comedy that is absolutely necessary. If you can't find it, the play becomes a snoozer. If you do, then it can be a profound accomplishment.
Do you plan to keep focusing Chekov?
There is nothing more our company would like to do than work on these magnificent plays for years and years. The more the company works together, the better the piece becomes. We would like to create a definitive American production of the plays, and that will take years of work and hundreds of performances.
To learn more about The Seagull Project and their history, visit their website.