University of Calgary

Reimagining a Chekhov classic

UToday HomeFebruary 8, 2013

By Heath McCoy

The Department of Drama's presentation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull runs from Feb. 12 to 23 at the University Theatre. Image courtesy of the Faculty of ArtsThe Department of Drama's presentation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull runs from Feb. 12 to 23 at the University Theatre. Image courtesy of the Faculty of ArtsOften cited as one of Anton Chekhov’s greatest works, there was much about The Seagull that made it a compelling choice for director and professor Brian Smith as he considered the play for the Department of Drama’s February production.

Full of romantic conflicts, rich human drama and humor, The Seagull features “that familiar Chekhovian blend of the serious and comic,” says Smith of the play, running from Feb. 12 to 23 at the University Theatre. There was much that would appeal to a broad audience.

But there was another factor that attracted Smith to the nineteenth century Russian play as an educator.

“It’s partly about the struggle of young aspiring artists to find a place for themselves in the established artistic world,” notes Smith.

What better subject matter then, for young drama students eager to make their own mark on today’s theatre scene?

“This is a play that features the suicide of a young playwright and that’s not just related to an unhappy love affair, but also to his struggle to express himself artistically,” says Smith.

It was a drama which Smith felt his students could relate to; one they could have fun with.

Instead of taking a “period approach to the play,” Smith and set designer associate professor Gavin Semple created a production that bridges the gap between 1896 — when The Seagull first premiered — and modern times.

Everything from the costuming to the music, which incorporates nineteenth century classical music with the likes of The Beatles and Frank Sinatra, brings together past and present worlds in a creative hybrid of styles.

That’s not the only unique approach taken in this season’s presentation of The Seagull. On Feb. 19 the department will bring an alternate version of the play to audiences with a free staged reading of Boris Akunin’s interpretation of The Seagull.

Akunin is a popular figure in contemporary Russian literature who in 1999 wrote a revisionary sequel of sorts to The Seagull. Akunin’s spin picks up where Chekhov’s play ends with the death of a main character. In Akunin’s version, however, the final gunshot is not from a suicide but, rather, a murder. Akunin’s take on The Seagull unfolds as a comedic murder mystery.

When Smith conceived the idea of presenting a staged reading of Akunin’s The Seagull he contacted Stephanie Clark, a graduate in Slavic studies from the University of Calgary who translated the work.

Clark’s translation of Akunin’s The Seagull will be presented as a staged reading at the University Theatre by select students and faculty of the Department of Drama. The production will be directed by associate professor Valerie Campbell.

Clark, who is now studying law at McGill University, will attend the event and make a presentation on Akunin’s play and her translation of it.

View event times and purchase tickets to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.

Learn more about the free staged reading of Boris Akunin’s The Seagull.