University of Northern Colorado’s School of Theatre Arts and Dance recently tackled the world of Anton Chekov in their production of “The Cherry Orchard.”
Anton Chekov is considered to be the greatest Russian playwright of all time, with 8 plays and over 400 short stories. The sense of style and inner life within his plays is a skill set that many professional actors study and is a part of the curriculum for students studying in the School of Theatre Arts and Dance at UNC.
For senior acting major Claire Metusalem, playing a Chekov role was a wonderful experience.
“Being able to work with such a talented cast and crew was the most rewarding part about this process,” Metusalem said. “Putting up any show in a short amount of time is always a challenge, but it is especially so for a Chekhov play. Everyone involved worked so diligently to put this classic together.”
Anton Chekov’s plays have a very specific style, and therefore require some extra preparation to fully understand the world of the characters.
“Our director, Ken Womble, provided us with an incredible amount of research that really helped me understand what my character’s role in the family was,” Metusalem said. “We were given information on Russian history, which was helpful in understanding the time period the play takes place in. You have to be aware of what was happening politically, socially, and economically during the time period. People’s behavior was different then: there were very specific ways to stand, sit, greet someone, etc.”
As far as his own preparation as a director, Ken Womble, head of and professor of the acting program, conducted extensive research into the world of Chekov. Womble has a plethora of large rehearsal binders that are filled with notes and research for each UNC production that he directs.
“I read Anton Chekov’s Selected Plays as well as the commentary within, reread Chekov’s letters, Chekov’s Plays by Richard Gilman, as well as online research,” Womble said. “My research was focused on helping actors find insights to their characters, what makes them tick, and what they symbolize, etc. Doing this research deepened my knowledge of Chekov.”
Betty Taylor was the Dramaturg for “The Cherry Orchard” and conducted research in the political/historical aspect, such as what was happening in society and the shift between social classes that led into the revolution of 1817.
“I think it’s valuable for actors and audiences alike to learn about classics because we are still telling the same stories today,” said Metusalem when asked about the importance of Chekov productions being presented in a college setting. “These stories translate and impact people today as they did when they were first performed. They will continue to be relevant, just like Shakespeare’s works are.”
In his 15 year at UNC, Womble reflected on his favorite aspect of working with students.
“I love the interactions I get to have with our students because they’re all so eager to learn,” Womble said. “It’s rewarding to get to see people grow over time, especially because students teach teachers.”
Womble also discussed the audience’s reaction from viewing the production.
“I hope that people saw the human condition reflected in this production as well as allowed them to find parallels with their own lives,” Womble said. “It’s rich, entertaining work with so much depth.”
“The Cherry Orchard” ran October 17-20 in Langworthy Theatre.