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A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews

Contents
Part One: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
1. Biography
2. Timeline of Chekhovs Life
3. Bibliography of Chekhovs work
Part Two: Three Sisters
1. Character Breakdown
2. Synopsis
3. Performance History (including this Young Vic production)

Part Three: The Production


1. Cast and Creative Team
2. Interview with Natalie Abrahami, Assistant Director
3. Interview with Danny Kirrane and Gala Gordon

1.
2.
3.
4.

Part Four: Stanislavski and Chekhovs Russia


Stanislavski and the Moscow Arts Theatre
Stanislavskis System
Historical Timeline of Chekhovs Russia
Russian Social and Political Life of the 19th Century

Appendix
1. Suggested Further Reading
If you have any questions or comments about this resource pack please contact us at
schools@youngvic.org or 0207 922 2858.
Compiled by: Anthony Lau
Editied by: Georgia Dale, Imogen Brodie and Lauren Sale
First performed at the Young Vic on 8th September 2012

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part One: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Biography
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born on the 29th January 1860, the third of six children,
in the Russian seaside town of Taganrog, near the Black Sea. He was the son of a
grocer and the grandson of a serf (a landworker who worked for the Lord of the Manor)
who had bought his family's freedom before emancipation in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II.
Chekhov was therefore familiar with the realities of 19th Century lower-middle-class
and peasant life, an understanding that was reflected objectively and unsentimentally in
his writing, especially within his short stories such as Peasants and The Cossack.
Chekhov's father, Pavel, was a deeply religious man who ruled the family with an iron
fist. He terrorised Anton and his two older brothers, Alexander and Nicolai. Their
mother however, Yevgeniya, was an excellent storyteller, and it is often said that it was
from her that Chekhov acquired his gift for narrative and literacy skills.
At the age of eight, Chekhov was sent to the local school, where he proved to be an
unremarkable pupil. He was not academically excellent but instead gained a reputation
for pranks and for making up humorous nicknames for teachers- by all accounts he was
a bit of a joker! He enjoyed appearing in amateur theatricals and often attended
performances at the local theater. As a teenager, he often tried to write short skitsfarcical and comical stories. It is however, also thought that in these early years he
wrote a long and serious play, Fatherless, which he later destroyed.
In 1875 disaster struck the Chekhov family when his father's business failed. Threatened
with imprisonment for debt, Pavel left to find work in Moscow, where Alexander and
Nicolai were attending the university. Yevgeniya, left behind with Anton and the
younger children, soon lost their house to a local bureaucrat who had posed as a family
friend before repossessing the house. Left with nothing, she and the younger children
departed for Moscow in July 1876, leaving Anton in Taganrog to care for himself and
finish school. These unfortunate events provided Chekhov with a theme, the loss of a
home to a conniving middle-class upstart, that would later provide him with the
inspiration for The Cherry Orchard where the main character Ranevskaya and her
family lose their house and estate under similar circumstances to a disingenuous friend.
The Chekhov family struggled financially while Pavel looked for work, and Chekhov
helped by selling off household goods and tutoring younger schoolboys in Taganrog. At
last, in 1879 Chekhov passed his final exams and joined his family in Moscow, where he
had obtained a scholarship to study medicine.
Once he moved to Moscow, Chekhov first started to write not because of artistic
expression but because of the simple fact that he needed to make money in order to
support his family. His earliest efforts at writing were directed at the lowbrow comic
magazines that flourished during this period of political repression in Russia. Chekhov
had read and enjoyed these comic weeklies since his schoolboy days and was under no
illusion about their literary standards- he was simply seeking the income they provided.
September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
His first published piece appeared in the St. Petersburg weekly Strekoza (Dragonfly) in
March 1880. Many more followed in similar journals under various pseudonyms such as
Antosha Chekhonte, a nickname given to Chekhov by his favourite teacher.
During this early period of writing, Chekhov met Nicolas Leykin in 1882, the owner and
publisher of Oskolki (Fragments), the finest of the St. Petersburg comic weeklies, to
which he began submitting his work. Leykin insisted on very short items, no more than
two and a half pages and these restrictions on length helped to define Chekhov, who was
to become the first modern master of a spare and economical prose style in fiction.
Making their first appearance among these brief vignettes and jokes are the themes that
dominate Chekhov's fiction: the petty tyranny of government officials, the suffering of
the poor as well as their coarseness and vulgarity and the misunderstandings,
disillusionments, and cross-purposes that contribute to the human comedy in general.
Chekhov's art also developed beyond comedy during the mid-1880s to embrace more
serious themes such as starvation in Oysters and abandonment in The Huntsman. His
narratives began to identify more closely with a particular character's point of view and
he started to explore psychological reality.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
Do you think Chekhovs characters in the Three Sisters appear real?
What is it that makes Chekhovs characters realistic and believable?

Once he started making enough money, Chekhov began to explore Russia and in
December 1885, soon after his first visit to St. Petersburg, he was invited to write for
the most respected of the city papers, Novoye Vremya (New Times) owned by Alexis
Suvorin. At this stage however, Chekhov still saw medicine as his first calling and in
writing to his brother Alexander, said the following: "Besides medicine, my wife, I have
also literature- my mistress."
By 1886 however, Chekhov was becoming a well-known writer in St. Petersburg. He
had already published one collection of magazine stories in 1883 and another, Pestrye
Rasskazy (Motley Tales), was to appear in May. Chekhov was widely praised and D. V.
Grigorovich, the dean of Russian letters, commented that Chekhov had "...real talent"
which set him ...in the front rank among writers in the new generation."
The years 1886 to 1887 were the most productive of Chekhov's career. Though he was
still writing stories in an ironically comic vein, his more serious plots were also
beginning to flourish. There was evidence that Chekhov was developing an ability to
render life from within the minds of his characters through significant details and to
portray experience without preaching or judging.
It was however, precisely his refusal to pass judgment on even his most despicable
characters in stories like Anyuta (1886) that Chekhov received his most negative
criticism. He was accused by his friend Mariya Kiselev of "...rummaging in a dung

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
heap". His response was typically curt and would reflect a lifelong attitude to
criticism "To think that it is the duty of literature to pluck the pearl from the heap of
villains is to deny literature itself. Literature is called artistic when it depicts life as it
actually is.... A writer should be as objective as a chemist."
There was also a belief in that era of Russian literature that the principal task of any
writer was to instruct their readership. Once again, Chekhov countered this belief when
writing to Suvorin1, "You are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the
correct posing of a question. Only the second is obligatory for an artist."
In December 1884, Chekhov suffered his first episode of violent and bloody coughing,
symptoms of the consumption (tuberculosis) that was eventually to kill him. Though a
doctor himself, having received his medical degree in the previous summer, Chekhov
spent most of his remaining years denying that there was anything seriously wrong with
him.
Despite his illness, Chekhov continued to write extensively: focusing on the short story
medium before he achieved national acclaim in 1888. That year, he received the
Pushkin Prize for his collection of stories, V Sumerkakh (In the Twilight). Winning this
prestigious literary prize was a vital step in Chekhovs career as it announced him as an
eminent writer within the Russian literary circles and made potential publishers and the
public pay attention to his work. Meanwhile, Chekhov had made his theatrical debut in
the autumn of 1887 with the premiere of his four-act play, Ivanov, at the Korsh Theatre
in Moscow. Audience and critical reaction to Ivanov was divided: on the one hand, the
play was very well made but on the other, Chekhov had refused to represent his hero's
behavior in an unfavorable light despite his failings and this constituted another
instance in which Chekhov's objectivity violated Russian literary taste.
Chekhovs early foray into theatre evolved from 1888 to 1890 where he continued to
write and develop plays. On January 31st 1889, Ivanov opened its St. Petersburg run at
the Alexandrine Theater to extremely favorable reviews. Chekhov however, strained
from overseeing rehearsals, advising his producers and dealing with the press, was
becoming annoyed with his success. He declared himself bored with Ivanov and
contemptuous of theatrical people.
After 1888, Chekhov began writing less but to a higher quality. From 1888 to 1890 he
wrote several prized works such as Nepriyatnaya Istoriya (An Awkward Business
1888), Krasavitsy (The Beauties 1888), and two especially brilliant long stories,
Imeniny (The Name-Day Party 1888) and Skuchnaya Istoriya (A Dreary Story 1889).
However, by early 1890 Chekhov was becoming depressed. His brother Nicolai had died
the previous summer from tuberculosis. In the autumn, his play The Wood Demon had
been rejected by two theatres and had closed for good after three performances at a
third. On top of everything else, Chekhov was bored. In April, he set off to visit the

Alex Suvorin was the owner of Novoye Vremya, the most respected paper in St Petersburg.
September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
eastern Siberian penal colony of Sakhalin Island to take a census of its inhabitants,
interview its officials and write a report on conditions there.
After his return from Sakhalin in March 1892, Chekhov and his family moved to his
newly bought country estate at Melikhovo in Moscow District. They lived here until
1899, their longest and happiest stay in any one home. As a landowner, Chekhov was on
good terms with the local peasants, treating their medical problems free of charge,
building schools, and organizing measures against the cholera epidemics of 1892 and
1893.
During his stay at Melikhovo, Chekhov began to publish more frequently in the liberal
press and his trip to Sakhalin and the publication of a chapter on escapees in late 1891
were admired by left-wing critics. After two years of hesitation over possible censorship,
Chekhov sent Sakhalin Island for publication. The entire work was printed in the journal
during 1895 and it was hailed by liberals as a pointed and significant contribution to the
movement for prison reform.
Chekhovs greatest contributions to theatre were yet to come however, and it was not
until November 1895 when he finished The Seagull that he would begin to cement his
place in theatrical history. The Seagull was a play that deliberately went against the
stage conventions of 19th Century theatre: it had no starring role and the dramatic
action declines rather than builds. This impressive first effort at redefining theatrical
convention reveals the full extent of Chekhov's originality. There was also evidence of
heavy symbolism being employed with the dead seagull representative of hopes
betrayed.
The Seagull premiered on October 17th 1896 at the Alexandrine Theater in St.
Petersburg. This was however, a complete disaster. Besides being under-rehearsed, The
Seagull was intended as a special event in honour of a well-known actress, who was not
actually part of the play. Her fans were not only displeased with her lack of
involvement, but they felt that the play was a theatrical experiment which detracted
from the actress. Though later performances were better received, the play was
nevertheless closed after only five performances. Devastated, and with his faith in the
Russian audiences questioned, Chekhov swore never to write another play. Secretly
however, he continued to spend a significant amount of time redrafting and reworking
his 1889 failure The Wood Demon. This would later become his smash hit Uncle Vanya.
On March 22nd 1897, Chekhov suffered a violent haemorrhage of the lungs whilst
dining with Suvorin in Moscow. He was hospitalized for two weeks, during which time
he suffered a second haemorrhage. Chekhov could no longer deny his illness and as such
had to face up to his deteriorating condition. That summer, he stopped writing
completely, cut back on all his activities and it was only then that his health slowly
began to improve.
Chekhov spent the winter of 1897 to 1898 writing in Nice, where the warm climate had
positive effects on his tuberculosis. Whilst there, Chekhov was contacted by Vladimir

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founder of the new Moscow Arts Theatre with Stanislavski2.
Nemirovich was a huge fan of The Seagull and persuaded Chekhov to let him produce it
at the Moscow Arts Theatre. From that point on, Chekhov's work would be forever
intertwined with that of the Moscow Arts Theatre. In September 1898 Chekhov
attended rehearsals of his play and was introduced to the members of the Moscow Arts
Theatre, including Olga Knipper- the actress who would later become his wife.
On December 17th 1898, the Moscow Arts Theater performed The Seagull for the first
time since its disastrous premiere. At the end of the first act, after a stunned silence, the
audience exploded into applause. At their insistence, a telegram was sent to Chekhov to
tell him of his success. This cemented the historic partnership between Chekhov and the
Moscow Arts Theatre in what might be considered one of the most important and
influential theatrical relationships in history.
The success of The Seagull encouraged Chekhovs excursions in theatre and in the spring
and summer of 1899, Chekhov divided his time between Melikhovo and Moscow,
helping the Maly Theater with its preparations for the Moscow premiere of Uncle
Vanya. Except for its lead characters and central theme, Uncle Vanya was almost
entirely unrecognizable from The Wood Demon. However, the play did not suit the
tastes of the Theatrical and Literary Committee that were charged with overseeing the
Maly Theatre. Seizing the opportunity, Chekhov withdrew the play from the theatre and
handed it to the Moscow Arts Theatre where after a rapturous reception on October
26th 1899, became the talk of Moscow.
During the summer of 1900, Chekhov and Olga became lovers and by August, Olga was
hinting at a possible marriage. In October, Chekhov joined Olga in Moscow with the
script for his new play Three Sisters, which he had been working on all year. Three
Sisters proved to be one of Chekhovs trickiest plays to complete due to the complexity
of the characters and he was revising it all the way to Moscow.
It is interesting to note that despite their relationship and positive reception his plays
received, Chekhov was generally unhappy with most of the Moscow Arts Theater's
productions of his plays. He felt Stanislavski had a tendency to overplay productions
when Chekhov felt that they should have been more subtle and understated. When Three
Sisters finally premiered on January 21st 1901, the response was unenthusiastic.
Ultimately, it seemed that the public and critics were not entirely sure how to interpret
the play.
After he returned to Yalta in early 1901, Olga increasingly pressured Chekhov to marry
her. In May, Chekhov finally yielded and agreed to marriage. Even after marriage
however, Chekhov spent the majority of his time in the south whilst Olga performed with
the Moscow Arts Theater or went on tour. The pairs relationship was ultimately
fractious, and they spent as much time apart from each other as together.

See the chapter Stanislavski and the Moscow Arts Theatre for further information.
September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
During that summer, Chekhov once more began to cough up blood. The following winter
his health continued to worsen but he continued to write, completing Arkhiyerey (The
Bishop). That winter, Chekhov began writing The Cherry Orchard, a play and idea that
he had been pondering in his head for several years. It almost seems appropriate that
Chekhovs last great play should have been the one which was inspired by the
unfortunate events of his earlier life. There is a certain synergy about it and one which
Chekhov might have enjoyed. It was finished in October 1902 and sent to Moscow for
rehearsal.
By this time Chekhov's health had deteriorated considerably. His moods darkened and
he became frustrated with Stanislavski and Nemirovichs interpretations of his new
play. Against the advice of his doctor, he travelled to Moscow in an attempt to remedy
the faults he perceived in the rehearsing and understanding of The Cherry Orchard. He
threw himself into the rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard, revising and editing as he
went along. When the play finally premiered on January 17th 1904, it was an
immediate success. It also marked twenty five years since Chekhov had started writing.
In May 1904, Chekhovs doctor ordered him to go to a spa at Badenweiler, Germany.
Chekhovs health was critical and it was believed that this sojourn might help him
recover a little. Frail and clearly struggling, Chekhov travelled to Germany with Olga
and although his health initially seemed to improve, he suffered the first of two heart
attacks on June 29th. Although he recovered from this, the next in the early hours of
July 2nd 1904 would prove to be fatal. He awoke that morning choking and in pain,
sending for the doctor. Upon his arrival Chekhov declared Ich sterbe (I am dying)
whilst sipping on champagne. Smiling at Olga, Chekhov said, Its been a long time
since I drank champagne before turning to his side and closing his eyes. Moments later,
he was dead.
Chekhovs body was sent back to Moscow in a refrigerated car enclosed in a box, which
in a final twist, was marked oysters. Thousands of Muscovites mourned his death and
Chekhovs body was laid to rest next to his fathers at the Novodevichy Cemetery.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part One: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Timeline of Chekhovs Life
1860

Chekhov is born in Taganrog, a small port on the Sea of Azov. Chekhov spent his
first nineteen years here and on a return visit later in his life he described
Taganrog as Asia, pure and simple!

1875

After going bankrupt, Chekhovs father flees to Moscow hidden beneath a mat at
the bottom of a cart.

1876

A former lodger buys the Chekhovs house and evicts the rest of the family from
their home. This would prove to be in the inspiration for Chekhovs later play The
Cherry Orchard.

1879

Chekhov joins his family in Moscow. Chekhov enrols at Moscow University to


study medicine.

1880

Chekhov begins to contribute humorous short stories and sketches to minor


magazines and publications under the pen name of Antosha Chekhonte.

1882

Chekhovs popularity as a satirist grew and he became famed for his articles on
Russian street life. He begins contributing to Oskolki (Fragments), which was a
leading magazine of the time.

1884

Chekhov qualifies as a doctor in Moscow. Throughout his life Chekhov would


maintain his work as a doctor, bringing him much hard work for very little
financial reward.
Chekhov begins writing for the St Petersburg Gazette.

1885
1886

Chekhov is invited to write for one of the most popular papers in St Petersburg,
the Novoye Vremya (New Times). The paper was owned by Alexei Suvorin, a
Russian millionaire who had a monopoly on railway bookstands in Russia. He
was to become a close lifelong friend of Chekhovs.

1887

Chekhovs work as a writer steadily gains momentum. In 1887 he won the


coveted Pushkin Prize for his short story collection V Sumerkakh (At Dusk).
In autumn, Chekhov receives his first play commission from Korsch, who wanted
a light comedy. The result of this was Ivanov: a surprise hit which gained a lot of
praise despite Chekhovs bemusement.

1888

Chekhov begins to publish his stories in literary journals rather than magazines
and has emerged from his comic journalism to become a serious and respectable
writer. At the same time he begins writing four one act farces for the theatre.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
1889

The Wood Demon (which Chekhov later uses as raw material for Uncle Vanya)
opens at a small Moscow theatre and survives for only three performances.
The death of his brother Nikolay from tuberculosis influenced A Dreary Story
which was about a man who confronts the end of a life which he realises has
been without purpose. Depressed and restless after Nikolays death, Chekhov
soon becomes obsessed with prison reform.

1890

Chekhov makes the appallingly arduous trip across Siberia to the far east of
Russia, to the Katorga (penal colony) on Sakhalin Island (north of Japan) in
order to interview and report on the convicts and exiles living there. His findings
were later published in 1894 as Ostrov Sakhalin (The Island of Sakhalin) as a
work of social science. His experiences on Sakhalin influenced him greatly and
informed his work, especially in his story The Murder.

1892

Chekhov travels the back country of Nizhny Novgorod and Voronyezh provinces
in the middle of winter, trying to prevent a recurrence of the previous years
famine among the peasants. He organises relief for the victims of famine and
dines with provincial governors in order to promote awareness.
Chekhov purchases a country estate in Melikhovo, about 50 miles south of
Moscow. He took his responsibilities as a landlord seriously- spending three
months organising the district against an expected cholera epidemic. The
experiences he had as a doctor brought him closer to a broad spectrum of
Russian society, from peasant to aristocracy and subsequently enriched his
writing immeasurably.
Aristocrats? The same ugly bodies and physical uncleanliness, the same
toothless old age and disgusting death, as with market-women.

1894

1896

Chekhov starts work on the first of the three schools he builds in the Melikhovo
district.
He also begins writing The Seagull.
The Seagull opens in St Petersburg at the Alexandrinsky Theatre and survives for
only five performances. Chekhov tells Suvorin that he wont put on another play
even if he ...lives for another seven hundred years.
Theatre director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was impressed by the play
however and begins to discuss it with his colleague Stanislavski.
Chekhov writes Uncle Vanya.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
1897

1898

Whilst dining with Suvorin in Moscow, Chekhov suffers from a violent lung
haemorrhage and is forced to recognise at last what he has long closed his eyes
to- that he is suffering from advanced consumption. As a result he spends winter
in Nice that year to try and alleviate his symptoms.
The Seagull is revived by Stanislavski at the newly-founded Moscow Arts Theatre
to immediate success and huge critical acclaim. The Moscow Arts Theatre
subsequently commissions Chekhov for further work.
Suffering from advanced Tuberculosis, Chekhov buys a plot of land just outside
Yalta and relocates to the Crimean warmth. It is here that he finished Three
Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, each play taking a year to write.

1898

1901

Uncle Vanya is successfully prodced by the Moscow Arts Theatre.


Chekhov sells the copyright to all his work, past, present and future to the St
Petersburg publisher A. F. Marks- a contract which will haunt him for the rest of
his life.
Three Sisters is produced by Moscow Arts Theatre but is received with mixed
reviews.
In May, Chekhov marries his mistress Olga Knipper, an actress in the Moscow
Arts Company. She was the original Arkadina in The Seagull, Yelena in Uncle
Vanya, Masha in Three Sisters and Ranyevskaya in The Cherry Orchard.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part One: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Bibliography of Chekhovs Work

Plays

That Worthless Fellow Platonov 1881 (This was the inspiration for Michael
Frayn's Wild Honey)
On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco 1886
Swansong 1887
The Bear or The Boor 1888
A Marriage Proposal 1889
A Tragedian in Spite of Himself (or A Reluctant Tragic Hero) 1889
The Wedding 1889
The Wood Demon 1889
The Festivities 1891
The Seagull 1896
Uncle Vanya 1900 (This was a rewrite of his earlier play The Wood Demon)
Three Sisters 1901
The Cherry Orchard 1904

Short stories

The Death of a Government Clerk 1883


A Chameleon 1884
Oysters 1884
A Living Chronology1885
Small Fry 1885
The Huntsman1885
A Malefactor 1885
Sergeant Prishibeyev 1885
A Gentleman Friend 1886
At the Mill 1886
Agafya 1886
Anyuta 1886
Easter Eve 1886
Grisha 1886
Misery 1886
The Chorus Girl 1886

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews

The Requiem 1886


Van'ka 1886
Home 1887
The Siren 1887
Kashtanka 1887
Sleepy 1888
The Bet 1889
A Dreary Story 1889
Gusev 1890
Peasant Wives 1891
The Grasshopper 1892
In Exile 1892
Ward No. 6 1892
The Black Monk 1894
Rothschild's Violin" 1894
The Student 1894
The Teacher of Literature 1894
Anna on the Neck 1895
Whitebrow 1895
Ariadna 1895
An Artist's Story (or The House with the Mezzanine) 1896
Peasants 1897
The Petchenyeg 1897
The Schoolmistress (or In the Cart) 1897
The Little Trilogy 1898:
o The Man in a Case
o Gooseberries
o About Love
Ionych 1898
A Doctor's Visit (or A Case History) 1898
The Darling 1899
On Official Duty 1899
The Lady with the Dog 1899
At Christmas Time 1900
In the Ravine 1900
The Bishop 1902
Betrothed (or The Fiance) 1903

Novellas

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews

The Shooting Party 1884


The Steppe 1888
The Duel 1891
An Anonymous Story (or The Story of an Unknown Man or The Story of a Nobody)
1893
Three Years 1895
My Life 1896

Nonfiction
A Journey to Sakhalin (1895)3, including:
o Sakhalin Island (18911895)
o Across Siberia

. In April 1890 Chekhov set off to visit the eastern Siberian penal colony of Sakhalin Island to take a
census of its inhabitants, interview its officials and write a report on conditions there. It is often thought
that this trip was primarily motivated by the need for a radical change of scene. The trip was difficult and
hazardous, even for a healthy man: five thousand miles across the Siberian wilderness, three thousand of
which were only achievable by horse-drawn cart along a dirt road that spanned Siberia. On arrival,
Chekhov observed and carefully recorded the misery of life on the island, conducting some 160 interviews
a day.
This book charted his journey and was a collation of both his findings and results of his surveys as well as
his thoughts regarding the trip.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Two: Three Sisters
Character Breakdown
The Prozorov Household
Olga Prozorova - The eldest of the three sisters. An unmarried school teacher.
Masha Kulygina - The middle sister. She married her husband, Kulygin, when she was
18 and just out of school. She was trained as a concert pianist.
Irina Prozorova - The youngest sister. She is 20 at the beginning of the play.
Andrey Prozorov - The brother of the three sisters. When the play opens he is on track
to become a professor in Moscow.
The Soldiers
Lieutenant-Colonel Vershinin Commander of the artillery battery. He knew the
girls' father in Moscow.
Baron Tuzenbach - A lieutenant in the army. He has loved Irina for five years and
quits the Army to go to work in an attempt to impress her.
Junior Captain (2nd Grade) Solyony - A captain in the army. He is also in love with
Irina.
Chebutykin - Sixty years old and an army doctor. A family friend to the Prozorovs and
formerly in love with the three sisters mother.
Fedotik - A second-lieutenant.
Rode - Another second-lieutenant.
Other Soldiers
Others
Natasha - Andrey's love interest at the start of the play and later his wife.
Kulygin - Masha's older husband and a school Latin teacher.
Ferapont A messenger for the District Council, an old man.
Anfisa A nursemaid, Anfisa is in her eighties and has worked for the Prozorovs for
many years.
A Housemaid
Unseen Characters
Protopopov - head of the local Council and Natasha's lover
Vershinin's wife, who is depressive and suicidal, and two daughters
Bobik Andrey and Natashas son
Sophie Andrey and Natashas daughter

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Two: Three Sisters
Synopsis
Act 1:
Act 1 takes place on May 5th in an unspecified provincial town in modern day Russia. It
is the twentieth birthday (Name Day) of Irina Prozorova, the youngest of the sisters
mentioned in the play's title. She is full of expectation and dreams of going to Moscow
to meet her true love. The eldest sister Olga works as a school teacher and Masha, the
middle sister and the artist of the family, is married to Kulygin, a school teacher. Whilst
at first enchanted by his age and perceived wisdom, Masha has grown tired of him and
his pedantry: suffering from the emptiness which has grown between them. The sisters
grew up in Moscow and all long to return to the sophistication and happiness of their
youth. Andrey is the only son of the family and is a scholar, working towards a career as
a professor in Moscow. He is in love with Natasha Ivanova, a local girl who is mocked
by the three sisters for her dress sense and provincial manners.
The play opens with the one year anniversary of the death of their father, Colonel
Prozorov, who moved his family there from Moscow eleven years earlier. There are
soldiers encamped in the town who call upon the three sisters for Irinas birthday
celebrations including Chebutykin (who once loved the sisters mother), Baron
Tuzenbach (a lieutenant in love with Irina), Captain Solyony and Vershinin (Commander
of the post). Vershinin has two daughters and a second wife who frequently threatens
suicide. A birthday cake is sent by Protopopov, head of the District Council. The sisters
hope that Protopopov will marry Natasha, but by the end of the act Andrey has
confessed his feelings for Natasha and asked her to marry him.
Act 2:
Act 2 takes place almost two years later. Andrey and Natasha are married and have had
their first child, a boy named Bobik. Bobik is Natashas pride and joy and she treasures
him above all else. She exhibits her growing dominance in the household after selfishly
forcing Irina to share a room with Olga so that her baby son can have his own room.
Despite the planning of the three sisters and expectations of their friends, Natasha also
cancels the appearance of the carnival performers who are due to visit the house under
the pretence that Bobik is ill. Even in their own home, the three sisters are slowly losing
their power and authority within the household: they are forced to alter their lives in
accordance to the wishes of Natasha.
Masha and Vershinin are drawn together by their mutual unhappiness. Despite her
initial protests, Masha eventually accepts Vershinins declaration of love. They are
interrupted by Tuzenbach and Irina. The Baron has resigned from his post in the army to
pursue satisfaction in civil life and Irina, finding her work in the post office dull,
remains hopeful of discovering happiness in Moscow. Tuzenbach has made similar
declarations of love for Irina but she is preoccupied with worry for Andreys gambling
habit and debts.

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Having returned to the house to announce his love for Irina, Solyony is rebuffed and he
vows to kill any rival. By the end of the Act it has also become obvious that Natasha is
having an affair with Protpopov, the head of the District Council.
Act 3:
The act begins at 2am in Olga and Irinas room. There has been a fire in town and in the
crisis, people are passing in and out of the room carrying blankets and clothes to give
aid. The three sisters are angry with Andrey for mortgaging the house, keeping the
money to pay off his gambling debts and conceding all his power to Natasha. Natasha
abuses Anfisa, the nurse, and declares that she is now mistress of the household: Anfisa
must go, and Olga and Irina must move downstairs. This demand was not only insulting,
but is also symbolic of the three sisters increasingly losing their grip on their lives and
household.
Chebutykin stumbles onstage drunk, depressed after the death of a patient through his
own misjudgment and breaks an expensive porcelain clock belonging to the sisters and
their mother, whom he loved. Solyony becomes increasingly resentful of the Barons
friendship with Irina whilst Vershinin comes on with a rumour that the soldiers and their
battery are to be moved.
Talking amongst themselves, the three sisters lament what has become of their lives.
Irina weeps out of frustration, despite now working in the town council offices, she is no
happier and concedes that she will not return to Moscow. In resignation, and at Olgas
urging, she decides at the end of the act to compromise and accept Baron Tuzenbachs
offer of marriage despite not loving him. In contrast, Masha confesses her love for
Vershinin and is torn between her emotions and the duties she faces as the wife of
Kulygin.
Finding the sisters together, Andrey confesses to mortgaging the house before venting
his self-hatred. He insists that the three sisters respect Natasha despite her affair with
Protopopov before finally relenting and acknowledging his awareness of lifes follies
and his own failings.
Act 4:
The final act of the play occurs in the garden of the Prozorov household almost four
years since the beginning of the play. There is a farewell gathering for the soldiers who
have been posted elsewhere. An undercurrent of tension simmers however, because
Solyony has challenged Tuzenbach to a duel over Irina. The Baron is intent on hiding
this from Irina and even when she confesses that she cannot love him, likening her heart
to a piano whose key has been lost, he maintains his silence and goes willingly towards
the duel. As the soldiers are leaving, a shot is heard onstage and Tuzenbachs death in
the duel is announced shortly before the end of the play. Despite her grief at the
pointless death of Tuzenbach, Irina stoically focuses on her future as a teacher.
Vershinin is forced to leave with the other soldiers and Masha has to be pulled, sobbing,
from his arms. Kulygin takes her back without reproaching her for loving another man.

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Olga has reluctantly accepted a promotion to be the permanent headmistress of the
school she teaches at and is moving out, taking Anfisa with her and rescuing her from
Natashas domestic tyranny.
Andrey is stuck in an unhappy marriage with Natasha who remains in control of the
household, their children, Bobik and the newborn baby Sophie being the only happiness
in their lives. As the play ends, we are left with the three sisters embracing, gazing off
as the soldiers march to music and Chebutykin sings to himself. Left alone at last,
Masha reaffirms the sisters independence: were left behind to start again... We
must live We must live
In a final moment of recognition, the three sisters acknowledge that they must make the
best of their situations in life. They must reach an end to the confusion all three feel at
lifes sufferings and joy, Time will pass and well be gone forever (but) our lives arent
over. We have to live.

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Part Two: Three Sisters
Performance History
"I write life - this grey, everyday life - But that does not mean annoying moaning and
groaning."
-- Chekhov
Three Sisters was written specifically for the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1900 and it
opened on January 31st 1901 under the direction of Constantin Stanislavski, who also
played Vershinin.
In the winter of 1900, the acting company of the Moscow Arts Theatre sat down to have
an initial readthrough of Chekhovs latest play, Three Sisters. It was his third major play
for the Moscow Arts Theatre after the storming successes of first The Seagull and then
Uncle Vanya. The relationship between writer and company was an extremely successful
one, and even then the two were already synonymous with each other.
The readthrough however, did not go well...
Once the reading had finished, it was clear that the company were extremely
uncomfortable. The director, Stanislavski, was dissatisfied and felt as if the play was
missing something whilst some of the company were in tears. Chekhov, who was present
at the reading was astonished. He too was confused, not by the contents of the play of
course, but at the manner in which it had been received by the company.
The problem seemed to lie in the tone and genre of the play. Stanislavski remarked, "He
thought he had written a happy comedy and all of us considered the play a tragedy and
even wept over it... Whilst this sentiment may be deemed to have been a little unfair,
perhaps even exaggerated, it was not the first time that Stanislavski and Chekhov had
been at odds. Chekhov had on more than on one occasion accused Stanislavski of
misinterpreting his plays and not grasping the core tone of his work, willfully ignoring
his intentions and turning what he considered comedies into tragedy. On this occasion
however, it might be observed that Chekhov had actually labeled Three Sisters as a
drama and noted that the play ...has an atmosphere more gloomy than gloom itself.
Chekhov however, ultimately had faith in Stanislavski. Whilst he complained in private
to anyone and everyone who might listen, he knew deep down that Stanislavski was the
best director for his plays and would come good. Chekhov and Stanislavski both believed
in realism onstage. Realism is a theatrical approach which was fairly revolutionary at
the time. It is the style of theatre which most reflects modern theatre, film and
television where the emphasis is on the portrayal of truth- resulting in a performance
which is as close to real life as possible rather than the exaggerated and melodramatic
performances of the past.

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
In this instance, it seems that the confusion surrounding the acting company and
Stanislavski was that they just were not sure what the play was about. In other words,
they just did not get it. Nothing seemed to happen and the action of the play plodded
along slowly, with only the suggestion of a theme. Indeed, when the play finally opened
on January 31st 1901, despite the rapturous applause, it was met with a similar
response amongst certain sections of the audience and critics.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
What do you think the play is about?
What are the events which occur in the play?
Is there comedy, tragedy and entertainment to be found in the normal and everyday life?

Despite the initial uncertainty, Three Sisters gradually gained popularity and went on to
become a staple in Russian theatre. Whilst the first read of the play yielded several
question marks over the content of the play, further readings and exploration of the text
revealed a greater depth and sophistication in the writing. Indeed, perhaps the company
and Stanislavski (and later the audience and critics) should have been more aware and
familiar with certain common mysteries and vagueness of Chekhovs writing. Like much
of his other work, the multitude of themes behind Three Sisters such as the yearning for
love and meaning of life, the necessity and hardship of work and the elusiveness of
happiness were multi-layered and subtle. Many of these themes and major events of the
play occurred in the subtext, manifesting themselves in what is unsaid, not done and
unseen. This layered approach was in many ways ahead of its time and would not be out
of place in contemporary theatre, television or film. The difficulty in this was that it
made the job of conveying these meanings behind the subtext even harder for the actor
and depending on their talent and success, for the audience to pick up and understand it.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
The use of subtext encourages the audience to read between the lines. Can you think of a
moment in a film which relies heavily on the use of subtext? A film where the dialogue does
not reveal everything, but instead there is an unspoken underlying theme or implied
relationship between characters.

In Chekhovs opinion, the eventual understanding, acceptance and success of the play
rested on the elements of subtext Stanislavskis direction and the actors could reveal.
Despite his consternation over Stanislavskis interpretation of his plays and the disputes
they shared, it is nevertheless unlikely that Chekhov would have trusted anybody else to
direct the premiere of his new play. Especially when compared with productions at
local, provincial theatres, Stanislavski was at the pinnacle of Russian theatre.
Stanislavskis directing was more than capable of revealing the characters hidden
emotions and desires behind the seemingly banal and everyday conversations Chekhov
had written. Stanislavskis grasp of mood and atmosphere was pivotal and he had
pioneered acting techniques which allowed profound subtleties and emotional

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
significance to be brought to the surface. In short, Stanislavski was the only director
who could make Chekhovs highly complex plays work. Furthermore, Stanislavskis keen
eye for aesthetics and use of sound and lighting effects were capable of creating a
reality which was more intense than ordinary life.
Unfortunately however, in Chekhovs view, Stanislavskis method of achieving
heightened reality also resulted in acting that could be accused of being heavy-handed
and overly dramatic when it should have been gentle and subtle. By this, I mean that
Stanislavski often focused on the more extreme circumstances and elements of the play,
such as the drunken trauma of Chebutykin, rather than the everyday problems and
conversations which take place.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
What has happened in your life today?
If you had to tell a truthful account of your day how would you make it engaging to the
person you were talking to?

Commenting on the acting company of the Moscow Arts Theatre, Chekhov argued, "With
the exception of a couple of performers, none of its mine...I write life...This gray,
everyday life...But that does not mean annoying moaning and groaning...Its really
starting to get on my nerves." He was frustrated that the play he had pictured so clearly
in his head whilst writing was not the one that was now onstage. He felt that
Stanislavski and the acting company had changed the tone and atmosphere of his play,
not remaining faithful to his writers vision.
Had Chekhov not died of tuberculosis three years later he might have been even more
frustrated, perhaps even angry, at the tumult of Stanislavski-inspired productions of
realism that swept across European and American theatres in the 1920s and 30s. More
and more former members of the Moscow Arts Theatre were moving abroad in order to
escape the restrictive conditions of Russia. Directed by these former students of
Stanislavski, the productions were overly romantic and nostalgic. Even Stanislavski was
disgruntled by these productions and he was very much antagonised by the
misinterpretation and misuse of his acting techniques.
After World War II, productions in the Soviet Union began to shift away from realism,
experimenting with new approaches and interpretations that emphasised and highlighted
the often absurd and cruel nature of the human condition- one that was readily
recognisable by audiences that had been victims of postwar Soviet domination.
Other English-speaking countries however, were slower to shift. There was what might
even be considered a reverence towards realism and the original work of Chekhov and
Stanislavski. With at least 25 published translations and countless adaptations, Three
Sisters is considered by academics Chekhovs most widely produced play. Though
realism is still by far the most chosen staging aesthetic, experimental companies in New
York and internationally have gradually begun experimenting with new stagings that

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
challenge audiences and artists to examine the subtext of Chekhovs human condition in
the context of our current reality.
Indeed, modern Russian productions have provided Western companies with inspiration
for experimentation. In a 1970s Taganka Theatre4 production for example, director
Yury Lyubimov opened a scenic wall to reveal the dank, grey streets of Russia, ravaged
and unappealing, as if to show the three sisters of the play that their beloved home was
not the idyll they longed for.
Let us for a moment take a look at the Young Vics production of the Three Sisters.
This adaptation of Chekhovs original work has clearly been updated to contemporary
Russia. The language is modern and full of slang, whilst there are modern-day
references to things such as hair loss and regain! Furthermore, the characters sing and
refer to contemporary pop songs and artists such as David Bowie. However, whilst the
references and dialogue have been updated, the themes and plot of the play remain the
same- it could thus be argued that this is the clearest indicator of the timeless brilliance
of Chekhovs writing. Over a hundred years later, the themes and subjects Chekhov
addresses has remained just as exciting, insightful and pertinent. Placing the play within
a contemporary setting has also arguably made the play more accessible to a modern
audience and made the themes and subject matter appear even closer to home.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
What do you think are other effects of modernising the Three Sisters?
Compare the two plays, the original and the adaptation. Which do you find easier to
understand and relate to?
Do you think the play loses any of its worth or impact in being modernised?
Why do you think the Young Vic have chosen to modernise the play?

Three Sisters continues to be performed internationally and with a regularity that is


reflective of the greatness of the play. It is studied in schools and at university, with
perhaps its greatest asset the subtleties of the subtext which thrive best when
approached with the imagination and creativity that Chekhov himself embraced.
Other notable productions include:

1936-7. John Gielguds eminent season at the Queen's Theatre included a wellreceived production with Peggy Ashcroft as Irina and Michael Redgrave as Tusenbach.

1965. Radio production by BBC Home Service: translation by Elisaveta Fen, starring
Lynn Redgrave and Ian Mckellan amongst others.

Taganka Theatre was founded in 1964 and remains one of the most powerful and influential
Russian theatre companies. They are particularly concerned with the theatrical ideas of Bertolt
Brecht, a German practitioner who believed in the alienation of the audience- removing them from
emotional responses to theatre.
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1970. American Film Theatre filmed a version with Joan Plowright (Masha), Alan
Bates (Vershinin), Ronald Pickup (Tusenbach) and Laurence Olivier (Chebutykin) who
also co-directed.

1991. The Queens Theatre, London. Vanessa Redgrave (Olga) and Lynn Redgrave
(Masha) made their first and only appearance together onstage in this production. Her
niece, Jemma Redgrave (Irina) was also in it.

1997. The Roundabout Theatre in New York stages a production filled with star
names. These included Billy Crudup (Solyony), Paul Giamatti (Andrey) and Calista
Flockhart (Natasha).

2010. A production at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith by company Filter included a


cast of Poppy Miller, Romola Garai and Clare Dunne.

2011. The Classic Stage Company staged a production in New York with Maggie
Gyllenhaal (Masha) and Peter Sarsgaard (Vershinin).

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Three: The Production
Cast (alphabetical order)
Natasha

Emily Barclay

Maid

Orion Ben

Singer

Sindy Czureja

Ferapont

Harry Dickman

Chebutykin

Michael Feast

Olga

Mariah Gale

Fedotik

Gruffudd Glyn

Irina

Gala Gordon

Vershinin

William Houston

Masha

Vanessa Kirby

Andrey

Danny Kirrane

Rode

Richard Pryal

Anfisa

Ann Queensberry

Solyony

Paul Rattray

Kulygin

Adrian Schiller

Tuzenbach

Sam Troughton

Creative Team
Direction

Benedict Andrews

Design

Johannes Schtz

Costume

Victoria Behr

Lighting

James Farncombe

Sound

Paul Arditti

Musical Direction & Arrangement

Phil Bateman

Casting

Maggie Lunn CDG and Camilla Evans CDG

Assistant Direction

Natalie Abrahami

Design Associate

Ben Clark

Hair Design

Campbell Young

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Part Three: The Production
Interview with Natalie Abrahami, Assistant Director
Can you tell us a little about your role as Assistant Director?
Assistant Directors are Assistants to the Directors and every Director you work
with is very different.
My role is also generally just trying to assist the director and be there when needed
trying to take things off the Directors plate so Id take a lot of emails that are to
do with the production in terms of arranging interviews and which photographers to
use various things like that. This means that the director can just be focused in
the room and I can run off and do various phone calls or whatever else needs to be
done.
Sometimes I feed in my notes because sometimes a different perspective can be
useful. Benedict [Andrews] has got a really intense and brilliant process so its been
my pleasure to try and help him to get the best out of the actors.
And how did you get into Directing?
I read English at University and did a bit of directing there but I was quite scared
of the Drama scene there as it felt very intimidating. I thought Id give it one more
chance since I was still really passionate about theatre so I got a job as a graduate
trainee at the Royal Court and thought that if theatre in the real world was as
scary then its probably not for me!
So, I did that for six months where I was an administrative assistant to Ian Rickson
and Barbara Matthews who was the Executive Director there at the time and he
was the Artistic Director. I absolutely loved working at that theatre [The Royal
Court] and I really loved the new writing - it was quite a refreshing change from
having to work a lot on dead playwrights at University. The Royal Court kept me on
for another six months after the initial traineeship and I got to assist Ian Rickson
on a couple of shows, I assisted lots of different directors over about three or four
years.
I also during that time trained at the Young Vic here with the Directors
programme on various courses and I was lucky enough to go to St. Petersburg and
do lots of brilliant things. I also trained at the National Theatre Studio and then
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started directing my own work. As a freelance Director people dont always talk to
you about development so Ive always tried every year to just take a week away to
do some workshops to keep stimulating myself
What advice would you give to an aspiring young director?
I think that the most useful thing initially is just to see a lot of work - not just at
brilliant places like at the National or the Young Vic but see things on the fringe
see what your peers are making because you need to rise with your peers. You
should see what designers are working with and get in contact with people just
dive in.
How would you describe this production of The Three Sisters?
What I think is really special about this production is that its called Three Sisters
but there is a brother who no one ever talks about and yet I feel this production is
really clear in representing the whole family. Chekhov wrote the play a year after
his father died and you really do see the fact that this family is coping with the
death of their father.
I also think whats really special about the production in the way Benedicts
directed it is that it had all these themes within it but hes also brought out the
humour. Chekhov said it was a tragic-comedy, he didnt want it to be played as just
a tragedy, and Benedict [Andrews] has really brought out that lightness of touch
and shown human beings with all their dysfunctions and idiosyncrasies and you love
them even though you can see how flawed they are.
So, could you talk a bit about what the rehearsal process was like?
The rehearsal process was really interesting we were really lucky because
Benedict was used to working in a quite continental way where you have your set
and costumes and props in the rehearsal room from the beginning which is very
different from the way Ive certainly been used to working. Its amazing because it
really allows people to play.
The first couple of days we spent reading the text we were trying to get a deeper
understanding the themes and structure of the play. Then we just started staging
Act One and then we were really starting to invent the language.

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What was really interesting about Benedicts process is that although he already
had some design concept ideas such as the building of the tower at the end of Act
One, and knowing he wanted the chaos of the fire to be represented by the tables
hes really responding to the actors with the raw materials he had in the room.
We were really developing the language of how to make that world. He [Benedict
Andrews] talks a lot about testing ideas and he would just test different ideas and
different staging. We went through the play once over the first couple of weeks and
then we went thought it again over the second couple of weeks. Then we got
through it a third time but we only ran it once in the rehearsal room.
Were there any breakthrough moments?
Its really interesting because youd have breakthrough moments and then
Benedicts quite good at the idea of killing your darlings so hed say well, that
was great but we dont need that anymore. When Andrey first came on it says in
the script that he has sweaty hands so we had a little fan, like a little hand fan and
his shirt was undone, he was also fanning under his armpits. Then he nipped his
nipple with the fan and it was a brilliant comic opening. It was great and it was
really lovely but we felt that as we got further through the process that we knew
Andrey better and although that moment was great, there could be something
bolder about not doing that - something about taking risks and taking the
stabilisers off the bike.
Last question what advice would you give to a young person rehearsing their
own production of Three Sisters?
I think what is most important about approaching any text, particularly something
like Chekhov or Shakespeare, is that the people are always human beings - so dont
think of them as strange characters that you have to understand. Make them real
to you.
If theyre real to you then theyll be real to us as an audience. So, whichever
character youre playing, try to rationalise everything theyre doing within your
understanding of the world and then un-earth the truth.

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Three: The Production
Interview with Danny Kirrane (Andrey) and Gala Gordon (Irina)
Hello, Can you tell us about your roles in The Three Sisters?
Gala: Im playing Irina, the youngest sister who is sister to Masha and Olga and the
play starts on her name day. Its also the anniversary of her fathers death and shes
described as a little, white bird. The play begins with her at the age of 20.
In an amazing dress!
Gala: Yeah, an amazing, white, 80s prom dress which is definitely unique to our
production.
Great, and you Danny?
Danny: I play Andrey, brother to the three sisters. Hes in the middle somewhere
age-wise. At the beginning of the play Im just finishing my PHD in Moscow and
Im in the household just for the summer planning to go back. We see the
degradation of the character because he ends up staying in the town and working
for the council and marrying someone who hes not really sure hes in love with. So,
he kind of gets trapped into this marriage.
Could you tell us from your perspective as actors of how you found the
rehearsal process? What things did you do?
Danny: I found it difficult at first but we had the whole table scenario in the
rehearsal room. At first it was quite difficult because they made a lot of noise and
they were quite squeaky but as we got used to it and the stage manager had
gotten used to tying them down it seemed to work - and as we got further and
further into the play we saw how the tables became part of it and it became a lot
easier.
Gala: I found it incredibly daunting since its my first job! I had only finished
drama school three weeks ago, and I decided that on the second day to tell myself
that I could only do the stupidest things everyday. So, I set myself up everyday to
come in and do ridiculous things. It was really liberating and the cast were really

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supportive of all my mad ideas, like doing the Mo-bot sign when he mentions
Moscow and bringing the Olympics into it!
Once we were on our feet was when I really saw the play come alive I think. Its
always interesting when you do a read-through because you can hear why people
have been given the parts that they have but everyones so nervous that you dont
always make very bold choices but then as soon as you get on your feet people feel
a lot more comfortable I find.
Danny: Yeah, we had quite a lot of creative freedom didnt we? Theres lots of
things that we cut because the play was too long. I found it quite liberating really
to try things that maybe you wouldnt normally get to do in a classical piece like
this and he [Benedict Andrews] was really free with it which was cool.
What was unique about this process compared to others productions youve
worked on?
Gala: I think for me its incredibly important for an actor to try new things all
the time because youre never going to know whats going wrong unless you try it.
Because this is a modern interpretation we were doing things so differently to
traditional Chekhov, such as linking with the Olympics or not saying a line with
such huge importance as you might usually.
How do you think that the dilemmas or the situations that your family and
characters are faced by are altered by it being set in a modern context?
Danny: Personally mine dont change at all I think its really modern to be
trapped in a marriage and a lot of people have got family who are still married and
have been married for 55 years and hate the sight of each other and are unhappy
but theyve signed their vows to be together! I think theres something that will
probably always be quite modern and relevant about that.
The whole idea about the loss of youth and loss of dreams and aspirations which I
think everyone has in every single character. I think you can put that in any setting
and people feel the same way. I think, in the way Benedicts written it, it really
shows how brilliant Chekhov is because you can put it in any time and it does work
it really does.

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Gala: Chekhov was one of the first playwrights, next to Shakespeare, where I really
realised how brilliant he [Chekhov] was because his writing was timeless.
Were in a society now where going to the theatre is quite expensive and I think its
really important that younger generations are able to come because so much of the
work thats been done in London at the moment is hugely relevant to our
generation and whats going on in the world. Even from going to the theatre for
three hours it can really I think change what you think about some things. I
think that if young people who want to read Three Sisters, this version would be
good because it is really successful at grasping what the story is about in a
contemporary way.
What advice would you give to a 15 year old who is interested in acting?
Danny: I didnt train as an actor - I did a Physics degree. So I dont think theres
any right or wrong way to get into it. I was lucky enough to start acting after Id
been at the National Youth theatre. I would say that if you want to do it then
theres more then just the drama school theres loads of ways to get involved.
Gala: I did train I went to drama school and I was young I went straight from
school. I didnt get into the National Youth theatre! Even if you dont get into the
National Youth theatre you can get into a strong school. I also went to Stage
Coach on a Saturday.
I think the best way to know if you want to do it is going to see as much as you can
- I know how expensive it is but there are ways around it. I know there are a lot of
good things going on at the South Bank, there are a lot of amazing things at the
moment.
Danny: Theatres at the moment are on a high. All the big theatres are turning out
really good work so; if young people could get out to watch it then it could
inspire people of different generations to get involved.
Gala: So I guess its like find your routes and stay dedicated to it theres always
opportunities out there.
Danny: Read plays and read poems. It was something that was said to me by an
actor once; Reading poetry helps you when youre reading scripts. It really does
help because of the language.

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Part Four: Stanislavski and Chekhovs Russia
Stanislavski and the Moscow Arts Theatre
Learn in time to listen to, to understand and love the bitter truth about yourselves! And
get to know those who can tell it to you. It is with them you should discuss art.
Stanislavski
Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski (January 1863 - August 1938) was a Russian actor
and theatre director, he is most well known however for developing a globally acclaimed
system for acting. He was an early father of 'Naturalism' and much of theatre, film and
television (especially in Western countries) owe their 'realism' to his techniques.
Stanislavski treated theatre-making as a very serious matter- requiring hard work,
dedication, discipline and integrity. Throughout his own acting career he subjected
himself to a process of rigorous self-analysis, reflection and criticism. He constantly
sought to improve himself and in doing so developed a set of ideas which he felt would
make him a better actor. He believed that practice, or rehearsals, should be used as a
method of enquiry- to explore ideas and ask questions, whilst acting theory should be
taken as a catalyst for creative development. The establishment and development of
these ideas would mark Stanislavski out as one of the first great theatre practitioners.
Furthermore, Stanislavski wrote several books in his lifetime which remain to this day
wonderful tools for actors. These included An Actor Prepares, An Actor's Work on a
Role and My Life in Art. He drew upon a wide range of influences and ideas to help
formulate his own theories and this included the modernist and avant-grade
developments of his time. He delved into the world of psychology as well as the
aesthetics of leading Russian writers such as Pushkin, Gogol and Tolstoy.
Stanislavski grew up in one of the richest families in Russia, the Alekseyevs. He was
actually born Constantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev but adopted the stage name
'Stanislavski' in 1884 as a way to keep his theatrical activities a secret from his
parents. The idea of becoming a professional actor was frowned upon for somebody of
his social class- actors had an even lower social status in Russia than in the rest of
Europe. Whilst this may be hard to believe since actors are now celebrities in our
society, in Stanislavskis time they were often seen as uneducated and at odds with
polite, upper class society. Stanislavski's family were a wealthy, bourgeois family whose
factories manufactured gold and silver braiding for military uniforms and medals and up
until the Russian revolution in 1917, Stanislavski often used his family wealth to fund
theatrical experiments in acting and directing. They would thus have been unimpressed
to hear that their son was spending his time acting and surrounding himself with what
were considered questionable theatrical types.
As a child, Stanislavski was exposed to a rich variety of culture and he was particularly
attracted by the circus, ballet and puppetry. In 1877, his father was elected to be the
head of the merchant class in Moscow. That year, he had a theatre built on their estate

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
in Liubimovka, providing what was essentially a theatrical playground for Stanislavski
to exercise and explore his early theatrical impulses. During his time spent at this home
theatre, Stanislavski began keeping a series of notebooks and diaries concerning his
thoughts on acting. These notebooks would form the basis of much of his later ideas and
this habit of self analysis would also prove to be critical in the evolution of his theories.
As he grew older, Stanislavski became increasingly obsessed with the concept of
embracing, becoming and ultimately living the part. He believed that an actor and their
character should become as one, with the actor truly living the life of their character.
He himself experimented with the ability to maintain a characterisation for extended
periods in real life. For one such characterisation he disguised himself as a homeless
person and visited the railway station- behaving and living the life of a vagrant.
In 1885 Stanislavski started studying at the Moscow Theatre School. After only two
weeks however, he left after becoming disillusioned with the approach encouraged by
the teachers. There was an emphasis on theatrical tricks and conventions which owed
little to theatrical truth. These superficial tricks were demonstrative and lacked the
gritty realism Stanislavski desired.
After leaving, Stanislavski instead focused on the performances of the Maly Theatre in
Moscow which was the forerunner of psychological realism in Russia. This emphasis on
psychological realism greatly appealed to Stanislavski and he felt that they embodied
many of his ideas and beliefs. Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol5 had developed this
branch of theatre here, respecting the need for realism in their portrayals of credible
behaviour. There was a concerted effort to move away from exaggerated and affected
acting which up until that point had been the norm. Stanislavski's theories were to a
large part formulated through the early work of these artists and he would continue to
refer to them for the rest of his life.
The Maly Theatre would soon become known as advocates for the belief that an actor
should be one of feeling- somebody who became the character and shared their thoughts
and feelings. The actor should think, move and behave exactly as the playwright
intended. Mikhail Shchepkin was a leading realist actor and practitioner at the theatre
and a copy of his memoirs belonging to Stanislavski was found heavily annotated by
him- clearly this was a huge influence on Stanislavski and the development of his ideas.
Indeed, Shchepkin's student, Glikeriya Fedotova, in turn became Stanislavski's teacher
and instilled in him the legacies of Shchepkin's work. Given these strong foundations it
would seem that Stanislavski was always destined to become inclined towards
naturalistic approaches. However, it was often he himself who sought these teachers out
and who ultimately brought these varying strands of naturalistic teaching together under
one united approach.
5

Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol were pre-eminent Russian writers and figures in
literature. Pushkin was famous for such works as Boris Godunov and heavily influenced Russian
literature. He was also the writer which the Pushkin prize was named after, a prize which
Chekhov won and which propelled him into Russian societys awareness. Gogol is well known for
his play The Government Inspector and short stories such as The Overcoat.
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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
By the age of twenty-five Stanislavski became well known as an amateur actor.
Alongside Fyodor Sollogub6 and Alexander Fedotov7 the three of them formed the
Society of Art and Literature. Situated at the Ginzburg House on Tvskaya Street, the
society was created to unite amateur and professional actors and artists. Fedotov
headed the dramatic section whilst Sollogub was appointed head of the graphic arts
department. The drama department had its own school and Stanislavski spent the
summer of 1888 studying the classes and performances of the Comedie-Francaise in
Paris in order to compile a curriculum for the drama school. It was Stanislavski's
intention that the school should offer classes in dramatic art, costume, make-up, drama,
dancing and Russian literature.
The school officially opened on the 8th October 1888 whilst the society itself was
inaugurated on the 3rd November with attendances from notable Russian artistic
figures such as Anton Chekhov. Through the society, Stanislavski performed in plays by
Moliere8, Schiller9 and Pushkin as well as gaining his first invaluable experiences as a
director.
On the 5th July 1889, Stanislavski married the actress Lilina (Maria Petrovna
Perevostchikovs). Their first daughter Xenia died of pneumonia in May 1890, less than
two months after she was born. Their second daughter, Kira, was born on the 21st July
1891 and their son Igor was born on the 14th September 1894.
It was also in 1889 that Stanislavski discovered his "principle of opposites" whilst
rehearsing Aleksey Pisemsky's Men Above The Law. The "principle of opposites"
concerns an actor discovering and considering the traits within their character which at
first seems incongruous to their character. For example, if they are playing a good man,
an actor should try to discover where he is bad.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
Can you think of any good characters in Three Sisters who also display bad characteristics
or vice versa?
Who are they and what to they say or do to make you think this?
Choose one of them, how would you play him/her if you wanted the audience to think of them
as a good if misguided character?
In February 1981, Stanislavski directed The Fruits of Enlightenment by Tolstoy in what
he considered as his first independent directorial work. Whilst maintaining a disciplined,
6

Fyodor Sollogub was a Russian poet, novelist, playwright and essayist.


His teacher, Glikeriya Fedotova's, ex-husband.
8
Moliere (real name Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was a French playwright and actor who is often
considered to be one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. He is most well
known for his plays Tartuffe and The Misanthrope.
9
Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, philosopher and playwright. He is most well known for
his plays The Robbers, Wallenstein and William Tell.
7

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
autocratic approach as was fashionable at the time, Stanislavski focused on the
dramatisation of the more everyday elements of life- grounding his production in the
real and believable. Rather than focusing solely on text, Stanislavski considered the
play in terms of dynamic- the actions of the play and its characters as well as the inner
thoughts and feelings of the protagonists. Stanislavski brought to life the world of the
play through the characters and their interactions with this world. He believed that if
the actors truly lived the world then his audience would too.
"The task of our generation is to liberate art from outmoded tradition, from tired cliche
and to give greater freedom to imagination and creative ability." Stanislavski
Stanislavskis first documented public liaison with Chekhov was in 1897 when the two
had an open discussion on the creation of a popular, public theatre. There was a strong
desire from Stanislavski to create a "Russian people's theatre" and it was from this need
that he met with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko10 in order to discuss the creation of
the "Moscow Public-Accessible Theatre", what would later become known as the
Moscow Arts Theatre. This now legendary discussion lasted eighteen hours, beginning
with lunch at 2pm in a private room at the Slavic Bazaar restaurant and finishing the
following day at 8am over a light breakfast at Stanislavski's family estate! Nemirovich
was a successful playwright who had a strong relationship with Stanislavski's beloved
Maly Theatre. The two of them shared a common commitment to the idea of a popular
theatre and their abilities complemented each other: Nemirovich needed a director who
could realise his plays and create the vivid images he wanted onstage whilst Stanislavski
coveted Nemirovich's literary talents and professional expertise. Over the course of this
eighteen hour marathon the two of them formed the artistic policy of their new theatre,
by abandoning certain conventional practices and discovering mutual working methods.
They aspired to create a professional company which held an ensemble ethos at its
heart, discouraging individual vanity and egos. They wanted to create a realistic theatre
which would be recognised globally, achieve international renown and yet be accessible
to the common people through competitive ticket prices. The running of the theatre
would be shared between Stanislavski and Nemirovich, each taking the responsibilities
which suited their strengths: Stanislavski in charge of all production aspects and
Nemirovich the literary decisions. Both were given one veto within their departments
and this strict division of rights and duties was in itself a significant source of strength
to the theatre, enabling the two men to co-operate for many years without friction or
discord. Furthermore, whilst Stanislavski and Nemirovich were to initially represent the
interests of the acting company, there was an aspiration to eventually transfer this
control to the actors themselves- forming an equal and egalitarian approach to art.
Once the policies and structure of the Moscow Arts Theatre had been established the
first major hurdle concerned the funding of the theatre itself. Despite the vast personal
fortune of Stanislavski, he insisted on a limited joint stock company- meaning that
significant investors were required. A number of patrons were approached and despite
the usual initial reticence which surrounds artistic enterprises, a few were fortunately
10

Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko was a Russian theatre director, playwright, writer and


producer.
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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
found who were willing to support the venture. Although the sum collected was by no
means a fortune, (somewhere in the region of two thousand five hundred pounds in all)
the enthusiasm of the investors could not be underestimated.
Initially, the Company met and rehearsed in Pushkino, some 50 miles from the centre of
Moscow. The original Company comprised of members from the Society of Art and
Literature as well as students from the Philharmonic School. Their salaries were
incredibly small and not a few members of the Company had sacrificed better paid jobs
and positions- they were all however, enticed by the ethos of this new theatre.
Stanislavski emphasised the social character of their aims: first and foremost creating
theatre for the people. Stanislavski introduced his method to the company with
particular focus on extensive reading and research and meticulous rehearsals where
table work was as important as physical exploration. Through the lengthy rehearsals of
classical plays by writers such as Shakespeare and Sophocles, Stanislavski began to
form his life long friendship with the actor Vsevolod Meyerhold. Their friendship,
mutual respect and professional understanding was such that on his deathbed
Stanislavski declared Meyerhold "...my sole heir in the theatre.."
Although the Moscow Arts Theatre's first production was Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor
Ioannovich, it wasn't until 1898 that the company found fame and acclaim. Stanislavski
co-directed with Nemirovich on the first of Moscow Arts Theatre's productions of Anton
Chekhov's work. In Chekhov's artistic realism, the Moscow Arts Theatre had found a
writer which suited their aesthetic sensibilities. Their production of The Seagull is
considered by many as a crucial milestone not only for Russian theatre, but for theatre
as a whole. It marked the start of a relationship between Stanislavski, the Moscow Arts
Theatre and Chekhov which even to this day remains synonymous- so much so that the
company has a seagull as its emblem. In this original production Stanislavski played
Trigorin, Meyerhold11 was Konstantin and Olga Knipper (later Chekhov's wife) played
Arkadina. The company rehearsed for eighty hours and whilst this was a considerable
length of time by 19th Century standards, Stanislavski nevertheless felt that the
company were under-rehearsed. Despite this, the production was a success. It was
celebrated for its realistic portrayal of everyday life and strong ensemble approach as
well as a sensitive and intelligent reflection of the uncertainty surrounding much of the
Russian intellectuals and middle class.
Gradually, the Moscow Arts Theatre managed to establish itself as the most popular
theatre in Russia. Stanislavski went on to successfully direct the premieres of
Checkohv's three other major plays at the Moscow Arts Theatre: Uncle Vanya in 1899,
Three Sisters in 1901 and finally The Cherry Orchard in 1904. This partnership between
Stanislavski and Chekhov is seen by many as one of the most important in theatrical
11

Vsevolod Meyerhold was a Russian theatre director, actor and producer- he was also one of the
Moscow Arts Theatres leading actors. He is perhaps most well known for his provocative
experiments dealing with physical being and symbolism in unconventional theatre settings. He
believed in actors focussing on gestures and movements as a way of expressing emotion
physically.
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Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
history. Together, they are considered by many as the fathers of modern naturalism- a
style of acting which is prevalent not only in contemporary theatre but also television
and film.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
Can you think of any examples of theatre or film which doesnt subscribe to a naturalistic
approach? What is the effect of this and why do you think these performers have made a
conscious effort to adopt a non-naturalistic approach?
Throughout their professional partnership the two artists: writer and director, were
instrumental in the creative development of each other. Stanislavski's emphasis on the
ensemble and psychological realism revived Chekhov's interest in writing for the stage
whilst Chekhov's reluctance to explain his work forced Stanislavki to explore and delve
beneath the surface in ways which were entirely new to theatre practice at the time.
Finally, in 1902 Stanislavski began writing down his ideas and compiling a definitive
method for his approach to actors and acting. He worked out his theories through a
rigorous approach, exploring all the difficulties actors face with his company.
Stanislavski experimented with putting the actor, rather than the director, at the centre
of the rehearsal process. Some company members, including Nemirovich, regarded
Stanislavskis new methods as ridiculous and disruptive. Actors used to performing
moves and gestures given to them by the director found it difficult to adapt. Stanislavski
nevertheless persisted with his approach and an indication of his success was the
emergence of the best Russian actors of the 20th Century as a direct result of his
system. His rehearsals often resembled acting classes and revolved around objectives, or
in other words what the characters want throughout the course of the play. Stanislavski
believed that through the study of the play, analysis of the role and the recollection of
previous real life emotions an actor could discover the "inner truth" of a part by actually
experiencing onstage the emotions an actor is trying to convey to the audience.
Furthermore, the actor must never lose control of his creation and have the technical
discipline to repeat his previously experienced emotions for every performance!
Next, in 1905 Stanislavski set up the experimental Theatre-Studio with Meyerhold
which was intended to explore and establish symbolism in theatre. Although this
endeavour failed and was eventually closed, it marked a willingness from Stanislavski to
evolve and further develop his ideas.
With the deteriorating political situation in Russia, the company went on its first foreign
tour in 1906, spreading the companys reputation throughout Europe and solidifying
Stanislavski's reputation as a theatre director and practitioner. The tour began in Berlin
and included Frankfurt, Prague and Vienna.

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Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Stanislavski continued to push the boundaries of Russian theatre and in 1912 he
founded the First Studio with young professional actors including Michael Chekhov12.
The First Studio was a unique creative centre where the ideas of Stanislavski were
explored, developed and taught through workshops, classes, discussions, experimental
sessions and arguments. There was an open book where members of the First Studio
contributed their ideas, disagreements and suggestions- making fascinating reading even
today. The results of the Studio were novel, unexpected and brilliant. It was even turned
into a commune of sorts where actors went each summer to live and breathe the ideas of
Stanislavski, building sleeping quarters and even cultivating areas of farmland to grow
their own food.
Stanislavskis success however, was not above the turbulent social situation engulfing
Russia. In October 1917 after the Bolshevik revolution and Tsar Nicholas II was
removed from power, Stanislavski's factory was put into state ownership and he lost his
private fortune despite his support for the revolutionaries. The Moscow Arts Theatre
continued to thrive however, and was one of the foremost state supported theatres of the
new Soviet Union under the patronage of Vladimir Lenin.13
Stanislavski continued to teach his techniques in the Studios, and in 1918 set up an
Opera Studio with young singers from the Bolshoi and Moscow Conservatoire, in order
to prove that his system could be employed beyond naturalistic plays. When he was
evicted from his home in 1921, Lenin found him a property near the Moscow Arts
Theatre with living accommodation and space for his Opera Studio. He lived there for
the rest of his life.
In 1928, Stanislavski suffered a massive heart attack whilst playing Vershinin in an
excerpt of Three Sisters at a gala for the Moscow Arts Theatres jubilee. He finished the
scene and took two curtain calls before going off, but this health scar effectively
signaled the end of his acting career.
However, he continued to work on production plans for plays and operas and to put
together a definitive collection of his notes and techniques for publication. His most
notable book, An Actor Prepares, became the first of his works to fully explain his
system of acting.
As the years went by, Stanislavski became frustrated by internal political divisions in
the Moscow Arts Theatre, and he distanced himself from his first major creation.
Stanislavski's former students Michael Chekhov and Aleksei Dikij were fiercely
competitive and their individual ambitions resulted in further fragmentation of the
12

Michael Chekhov was the nephew of Anton Chekhov. He was a Russian-American actor, director,
author and theatre practitioner. His acting techniques have been used by such contemporary actors as
Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe. Stanislavski referred to him as his most brilliant student and
although he was predominantly a stage actor, he made a few notable appearances in film, such as the
Freudian analyst in Alfred Hitchcocks Spellbound.
13
Lenin would ultimately become the Premier of Russia in 1922.

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
original Moscow Arts Theatre company. At the same time, former student Nikolay
Khmelyov remained loyal to Stanislavski and eventually filled the position initially held
by Stanislavski at the Moscow Arts Theatre. However, other students such as Meyerhold
founded their own theatre companies and continued using their versions of Stanislavski's
system. In the 1930s, Stanislavski together with Nemirovich formed one more
theatrical company in Moscow, the Musical Theatre of Stanislavski and NemirovichDanchenko.
By 1938, he had revised An Actor Prepares for Russian publication, but he died on
the7th August 1938 after a catastrophic heart failure in Moscow.
He was finally laid to rest in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, Russia.

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by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Four: Stanislavski and Chekhovs Russia
Stanislavskis System
Stanislavski's System is a methodical approach to training actors- designed to bring out
psychological depth and enhance the search for "inner truth". This was a reaction to the
state of theatre at the time which was entrenched in cliched traditions and exaggerated,
over the top acting. Stanislavski's system required that the actors should study areas of
acting which included voice, physical skills, concentration, dramatic analysis and
perhaps most importantly, emotional memory.
Stanislavski's ideas on emotional memory were inspired by French psychologist
Theodule Ribot's concept of 'Affective Memory'. He was searching for a way to achieve
artistic truth onstage where actors would live and experience the part onstage every
night. Initially, Stanislavski instructed his students to study and experience personal
emotions within themselves whilst acting and to transfer these emotions to the audience
through their voice and physicality. Whilst this early approach to onstage truth involved
creating relevant emotions and embodying them, Stanislavski later developed the
Method of Physical Actions which would change the way emotions were triggered. This
was focused on physical actions as a way of accessing truthful emotion rather than
relying solely on an actor regurgitating past experiences.
Stanislavski had noticed with his initial method that actors would spend long periods of
the rehearsal working internally and emotionally before hastily imposing a physicality at
the end. The result was unconvincing and he realised that the physical and psychological
lives of a character must be explored simultaneously by the actor because they were
interdependent. This led him to the simple but radical discovery that emotions could be
stimulated through physical actions.
Stanislavski believed that a series of physical actions arranged into an order would
trigger subconscious emotions in an actor's performance, bringing them out indirectly.
The Method of Physical Actions was created to map this journey out for the actor,
helping them access their unconscious emotions through a conscious physicality. This
Method of Physical Actions was broken down into several parts:
1. Given Circumstances
These are the facts which are given to the actor by the writer through the script. These
may be given in the character breakdown such as age, or deduced through the events of
the play.
2. Units and Objectives
In order to create this map, Stanislavski broke the play down into sections, or units.
Each unit had an objective, a particular thing which an actor was trying to achieve. This
objective was expressed through a transitive verb, or action, such as to SEDUCE him,
or to ANNOY him. The actor would thus spend the corresponding unit trying to achieve
this objective.
September October 2012

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Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
For example, in the Young Vics production of Three Sisters Solyony says to Irina,
Oh my divine child. (Through tears.) My happiness, my only happinessYour eyes

your clear, shining eyes Ive never met a woman with eyes like yours... I feel like Im
no longer on this earth, like Im on another planet.
In this unit Solyony declares his love for Irina and is trying to make her love him. Under
Stanislaskis system of units and actions, Solyonys action could thus become to woo
her.
3. Through line and Superobjective
When objectives and actions were put together this would form a through line- a
sequence of actions which together would help a character achieve their Superobjective.
The Superobjective was always the ultimate goal of the character, what they wanted to
achieve by the end of the play. For example, a character might have the Superobjective
of making somebody love them so their through line might include a series of actions
such as: to TEASE her, to PROVOKE her and then to PLACATE her.
4. Analysis of Text Through Action
The actor attempts to answer three questions, "What do I (the character) do?", "Why do
I do it?" and "How do I do it?" By answering these questions, it was intended that the
actor would discover and understand the main aim and ideas of the play.
5. Truth, Belief and the Magic If
Truth onstage is different from truth in real life where in realism the aim of the actor is
to create the appearance of truth. The actor should not ACTUALLY believe in the events
onstage but rather the imaginative creation of them. After all, an actor who honestly
and unquestionably believes himself to be King Lear is probably in need of some
psychiatric help.
How then should an actor create the appearance of reality for the audience? In order to
answer this question Stanislavski created the Magic If, where the actor tried to answer
the question, "IF I were Hamlet, what would I do?" Thus, the character's objectives
drove the actor's choices. Through the Magic If, an actor could make strong theatrical
choices that would appear to an audience real, true and believable.
In the case of Three Sisters, an actor playing Irina might put herself in a position where
she asks herself: IF I didnt love somebody but they proposed to me and that was my
only way to achieve my dreams and goals would I still marry them?
6. Imagination
Obviously, all the different aspects of Stanislavski's System, or Method of Physical
Actions, required the actor to have a rich imagination. The more creative the actor's
imagination, the more interesting the choices made in terms of objectives and physical
action.

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Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
7. Subtext
This is the underlying meaning behind a character's words, actions and dialogue. This
subtext is not spoken, but rather, interpreted through intonation, gesture, body posture,
pauses or choices in action. Thus, through the actor's imagination the subtext 'spoke' to
the audience. This subtext adds texture to the play, giving it a three dimensional quality
which rises above the text.
Audiences enjoy being involved in the causes of the character's behaviour, emotions and
thoughts- subtext thus makes them complicit with the actor and their actions.
8. Motivation
An actor is driven by emotions or the mind to choose certain physical actions. These
actions and objectives are driven by a psychological desire as much as physical ones and
thus motivation becomes the source of this.
9. Concentration
An actor should maintain their concentration at all times without getting distracted by
the audience. Whilst they should never ignore them as such, the focus of an actor should
always be on what is onstage and in the realms of their character.
In order to aid this, Stanislavski created Circles of Attention. These circles varied in size
and had different purposes. An actor should only ever be aware of what was in their
imaginary circle but these circles were split between external and internal attention.
External attention was directed to the material or objects outside of the actor. Internal
attention however, was based on the imaginary life created by the actor that was
consistent with the given circumstances of the play.
10. Relaxation
Stanislavski believed that in order for an actor to achieve control of all motor and
intellectual faculties an actor needed to relax his muscles. Muscular tautness
constricted an actor's performance and bound them, not only physically but emotionally
and psychologically as well.
11. Communion
Communion was an actor's communication with the audience indirectly through
communion with other actors. This was an understanding between actors, where they
are aware of each other's presence and actively communicate and understand without
spoken words. This relied on trust and understanding between actors within a company.
12. Tempo/Rhythm
Tempo/Rhythm refers both to the inside and outside of an actor. Emotions have a
distinctive pulse and rhythm and tempo refers to the speed of an action or emotion.
Tempo can be fast, medium or slow whereas rhythm is, internally, the intensity of
emotional experience. Tempo/Rhythm is vital in the execution of physical actions in a
concrete and truthful manner. In many ways it is not dissimilar to music: just as a

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Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
musical score will vary with movements and sections, so it is the same for actions and
speech.
13. Physical Apparatus
An actor's performance is dependent not only on creation of an 'inner life' but also the
physical embodiment of it. An actor's body and voice are the physical apparatus which
are needed to express every nuance and shade of a character- comparable to musical
instruments which can be tuned to give shape to an actor. In that sense, an actor's body
must be trained and tuned to best convey a character.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Four: Stanislavski and Chekhovs Russia
Historical Timeline of Chekhovs Russia
Rulers of Russia: The Romanov Dynasty and beyond.
1855-1881 Alexander II of Russia
1881-1894 Alexander III of Russia
1894-1917 Nicholas II of Russia
1917 February, Provisional Government in charge
1917 October, Bolshevik1 Government takes over
1860
Chekhov born
Vladivostok founded. Most importantly, it was a port city on the coast.
1860-1869
Populism is embraced by the intelligentsia. This was an ideology and political
philosophy that pitted the everyday people against the elite. In Russia at this
time there was a real inequality between classes and the rich and poor.
Populism was a means of motivating social and political change.
1861
Alexander II emancipates the serfs with the Peasant Reform of 1861.
Serfdom was abolished in most parts of Russia whilst in others their
dependence on the Lord of the Manor was greatly reduced.
1862
Turgenev's Fathers and Sons published.
St. Petersburg Conservatory founded by Russian pianist and composer Anton
Rubenstein. This was a renowned music school which exists to this day.
1863
Artists Co-operative Society (Peredvizhniki) founded. This was a group of
realist artists who protested against the academic restriction of art.
1863-1865
Court and educational reforms instituted.
1866
Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment published.
1867
Russia sells Alaska to the United States.
1869
Tolstoy's War and Peace published.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
1870
Lenin is born. He would later become the leader of the Bolshevik Government.
1872
Russian translation of Karl Marx's Capital.
1873
Beginning of the movement V Narod (To the People). This was a political
movement designed to advance the cause of the everyday person.
1876
Land and Freedom Party. This was a secret political organisation formed by
intellectuals with the aim of moving amongst the farmers and labourers in order
to promote the ideal of individual freedom. The intention was that they would
prepare and instigate a peasant uprising.
1880
Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamzov published.
1881
Populist period ends.
Alexander II is assassinated in St Petersburg. After previous attempts Alexander
II was finally killed by two bombs thrown at him by members of the Narodnaya
Volya (Peoples Will).
1884
Reactionary regulations for universities. Due to the growing power of the
revolutionaries, all teaching posts at universities had to be vetted by the Ministry
of Education.
1891
Building of Trans-Siberia Railroad began.
Beginning of Franco-Russian alliance.
1896
Disastrous first production of Chekhov's The Seagull in St. Petersburg
1897
Moscow Arts Theater founded by Stanislavski and Nemirovich.
1898
World of Arts launched. This was an artistic movement that proved to be a major
influence on art in Europe and Russia.
Moscow Arts Theater produces Chekhov's The Seagull to great reviews.
1901
Chekhov's Three Sisters opens at Moscow Arts Theatre to mixed reviews.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
1903
The Russian revolutionary movement is split into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.
The Mensheviks were led by Julius Martov whilst the Bolsheviks were led by
Vladimir Lenin.
1904
Chekhov dies
1905
Russia and Japan go to war. After several successive defeats, Nicholas II loses
even more support for his already unpopular government. As such he was forced
to grant several reforms including most notably a constitution and parliament
(Duma).
1914
The First World War breaks out. Taking place on Russias western front it
affected the Russian people even more than the Russo-Japanese War. Militarily
and industrially unprepared, Russia suffered from several humiliating defeats,
severe food shortages and finally economic collapse.
1917
By February 1917 the workers and soldiers of Russia had had enough. Riots
broke out in St. Petersburg and the garrison there mutinied. The Duma
approved the establishment of a Provisional Government to restore order in the
city and realising he had no support, Nicholas II abdicated the throne to his
brother Michael. Aware of the volatile situation however, Michael too renounced
his claim on the throne the next day- power was at last with the people.
For the next 9 months, the Provisional Government, first under Prince Lvov and
then under Alexandr Kerensky, unsuccessfully attempted to establish its
authority. In the meanwhile, the Bolsheviks gained increasing support from the
ever more frustrated soviets. On October 25th, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, they
stormed the Winter Palace and deposed the Kerensky government.
1920
Although the Bolsheviks enjoyed substantial support in St. Petersburg and
Moscow, they were by no means in control of the country as a whole. They
succeeded in taking Russia out of the war, but within months civil war broke
out throughout Russia. For the next three years the country was devastated by
civil strife, until by 1920 the Bolsheviks had finally emerged victorious.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Part Four: Stanislavski and Chekhovs Russia
Russian Social and Political Life of the 19th Century
Under the Tzarist rule of 19th century Russia, there was a culture of conflict, disparity,
and unrest. This was in many ways the root of what would eventually lead to revolution,
civil war and the rise of the Bolsheviks14. We must remember when considering the life
of the Prozorov family in their small town in Three Sisters that they were very much a
family of prosperity. They were all well educated and had moved there from a thriving
Moscow. They were not peasants and very much operated within the middle to top tiers
of the Russian class system at the time.
Up until the abolition of serfdom in 1861, Tzarist Russia operated under a serf/landlord
system15. Despite the official ending of Serfdom, class conflict at this point worsened.
The peasants in this period of Russia were firmly and permanently stuck in a hard life of
destitution. For these millions of village peasants, it seemed that by escaping serfdom
they had simply traded one set of masters- the landlord, for another- the bureaucratic
state. Since the majority of the population were peasants, the constant state of
bitterness, resentment, and contempt for the upper classes would eventually be enough
to ignite revolution. They would ultimately support the Bolsheviks, rallying around
Lenin's promise of peace, land, and bread. Indeed, this would become the rallying war
cry of Lenins revolution.
Late 19th Century life under Tzarist rule for workers in the more industrialized towns
and cities such as Kiev was a little better. Workers lived off black bread, cabbage,
cabbage soup, and buckwheat porridge. Most lived in barrack-like dormitories or
communes which smelled of sweat, exhausted breath, wet clothes and hanging laundry
but compared to peasant life, town and city workers felt better off. By the turn of the
century, working conditions in Russian towns and cities were not perceptibly any worse
than across the rest of Europe. Hours were limited to 11.5 hour days, there were public
holidays and laws prevented severe exploitation of children and women. Still, the
working class Soviets wanted change. They wanted less working hours and a fairer
distribution of land to peasants.
Towards the start of the 20th Century, small town workers less privileged than the
Prozorov family in Three Sisters lived in communal apartments where two or more
families shared kitchen and bathroom. Rooms were divided with sheets. Overcrowding
and shortages of food plagued urban life. Workers suffered psychologically and
alcoholism rates soared.
14

See footnote 12.


Tzarist Russia historically implemented the serf/landlord system whereby farmers and peasants
were not free individuals. Instead, they belonged to a landlord who they worked for and in return
the landlord was supposed to provide a home, food and protection. In practice, the serfs were
often mistreated by their landlords who saw them as little more than slaves.
15

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
The middle class of Russia at this time was exceptionally full of culture. For those in
this class in the 19th Century such as the Prozorovs, the economy was booming, literacy
rates were soaring, and universities were overflowing. An English traveler prior to the
First World War commented he thought, "The Russian middle class to be extremely well
educated-so much better educated than the average educated Englishman that
comparison would be silly". Russian cities were filled with the arts, theater, ballet, high
cuisine and vodka for "new fangled cocktails". In the years approaching revolution, the
middle class supported the Provisional Government, continued involvement in the First
World War and little social change that would benefit lower classes. This would turn out
to be disastrous to their own future once the communists came to power. This bourgeois
middle class would become the object of scorn in the years of revolt and in turn this
scorn would turn deadly in the hands of the Bolsheviks who took drastic and sometimes
lethal measures to ensure stability. Once the Bolsheviks were firmly in authority, no one
remotely considered bourgeois was safe so they fled, until a ban was put on all
emigration in 1926. Among those that left the country were landowners, judges, civil
servants, bankers and factory owners.

Social life and customs:


Education
A preschool system was introduced in Russia towards the end of the 19th Century and
by 1917, the empire could count only roughly two hundred schools for children under
the age of 10, with a total enrollment of only 5,400 children. In 1840, only 5 out of
every thousand persons were enrolled in primary or secondary education. By 1890
however, this number had risen to 21; and in 1914, to 59 per thousand. Totals for
university students were even lower, with only the middle classes and above who could
afford to go.
Chekhov himself was highly educated. Not only did he finish school, he went to
university in Moscow where he studied and graduated as a doctor. In that sense, he was
amongst the intellectual elite of the country at the time.
Religion
The religiosity of Russians at the beginning of the 19th Century, in particular those of
the furthest, undeveloped areas, was one which featured primitive and archaic forms of
worship. There was a generally poor understanding of the fundamentals of the Christian
belief as well as a tendency to veer towards superstition. They worshipped religious
icons and made pilgrimages to holy shrines as often as possible. Whilst church going
was expected, there was a general lack of reverence once there. The result of this loose
adherence to religion was an expectation of practical results such as good harvests,
health and success.
Divorce
Grounds for divorce included:
adultery

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
loss of civil rights by one of the spouses
death of a spouse
absence of a spouse from the family without contact for at least five years
entry of either spouse into church orders
inability from either spouse to engage in a physical relationship
For Lutherans (a branch of western Christianity), there were additional grounds upon
which a divorce could be obtained. These include: insanity of one of the spouses and
infectious disease. For Catholics however, divorce was simply not an option.
In this period of Russian history "Illegal" divorce, that is divorce without the sanction of
the church or secular authorities, was common place and particularly rife in rural areas.
In time, the number of such divorces even increased both in the cities and in the
countryside.
Adultery
In the late nineteenth century, sex, marriage and the family were not considered private
issues. Instead, they were considered part of the social or public domain, even for
families in the nobility or middle classes. Adultery and various other acts were treated
as criminal offenses or examples of deviant behavior right up to 1917. In other words,
these acts were treated as criminal offenses or as social crimes rather than personal
matters. However, as is seen in Three Sisters, these matters were sometimes ignored
and allowed to continue.
Family Socialisation
Relationships within the family and the behaviour of Russian parents often left a deep
imprint on the growing up and development of their children. The old adage rings true, a
child learns by example and picks up the bad habits of their parents as well as the good.
Beginning in early childhood, children steadily acquired language, faith, mind-set, social
standards and a system of values from their parents. Once absorbed, these behavioural
attributes rarely changed, especially in rural Russia, generally remaining with
individuals throughout their lives. The deep experience of family life and its system of
interpersonal relations molded individuals and framed their approach to social,
economic, and political relations outside as well as inside the family.
Using Three Sisters as an example, the three sisters fathers respect and affection for
Moscow had clearly left a deep imprint in their lives. His love for the city embedded
itself not only in their mindset but in their longing to return to Moscow.
Discussion Points/Tasks:
Do you think any of your parents beliefs or way of life has greatly influenced yourself?
What aspects of your parents do you most relate to and what do you disagree with?
Prince Kropotkin (born in 1842) describes below domestic life in a Russian noble's
family and of serfdom in the 19th Century.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
We were a family of eight, occasionally of ten or twelve - but fifty servants at Moscow
and half as many more in the country were considered not one too many. Four
coachmen to attend a dozen horses, three cooks for the masters and two more for the
servants, a dozen men to wait upon us at dinner time (one man, plate in hand, standing
behind each person seated at the table) and girls innumerable in the maidservants'
room. How could anyone do with less than this? Besides, the ambition of every landed
proprietor was that everything required for his household should be made at home, by
his own men.
Saint's Day
Russians celebrated the feast-day of their patron saint with festivities resembling a
birthday party. The person who celebrates Saint's Day invites relatives and friends for
dinner, singing and dancing.
In the instance of Three Sisters, Irina is named after Saint Irene, martyr of
Thessalonica, burnt at the stake under Diocletian. St. Irene's day is celebrated on the
5th of May.
Newspapers
Two hundred and four newspapers were published in 1840, and 1,055 in 1913, with a
total circulation of 3.3 million or 21 newspapers per thousand of population.

An Account of Rural Russian Life in the 19th Century:


Village of Holstein
Holstein, as remembered by David Steinfeld
1945
I was born April 8th 1889 in Holstein, Russia in Saratov, near the Volga. Mother died
when I was three weeks old and my grandparents raised me until I was twelve years old.
I had one brother, Henry, five years older than I and a sister who would have been
between Henry and me who died when she was a baby. My folks were blacksmiths. As
far back as I can remember, my grandfather and dad used to make shovels for all the
little colonies around the neighborhood.
I lived in a house about forty feet long by twenty feet wide. It was built of logs and had
a straw roof. There was no floor in the house except a mud floor, and we hauled white
sand from a distance to spread on the floors so there wouldn't be so much dust. We had
two rooms in our house. Grandfather and Grandmother lived in one part of the house
and the rest of the family lived in the other part of the house, in which there were four
beds, one in each corner. There was a great big table in the center of the house. We, at
that time, had wooden dishes, and we all ate out of one bowl. We had a big mud oven
with two big, round kettles where the folks cooked. This was also used to heat the house
in the wintertime. Our fuel was mostly dry limbs picked up from the forest. Each family
had to pick it up clean to keep the forest clear from trash. If we didn't have enough
September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
dried wood, limbs and twigs, the government gave us permission to cut trees so we could
have enough fuel for the winter.
We had about six horses, cows, sheep, goats, ducks, geese and chickens. We had a lot of
land too, about two hundred by two hundred. There were outbuildings - a barn, a
granary, a stable for the horses and for the cows, a stable for the sheep and for goats,
and a chicken house, and it was fenced with willows wound around. They went out and
cut the willows and then they wound them around like a basket.
The people never bought very much. The only things we bought were cotton goods and
sugar. The rest we had to raise and make. We made coats and clothes out of sheepskin
and wool. We wove it ourselves and made our own clothing. The women folk wore skirts
made of wool, hand woven and handspun. All the socks they wore and all the mitts and
gloves and the boots were made of wool. The men wore in the winter coats made of
sheepskin turned inside out, and most of the caps were made of rabbit skin or fox skin.
The only book we had at that time was the Bible. There were no newspapers, no
magazines, nothing really to be interested in. The only decorations we had in the house
were colored pictures from the Russian and Chinese War that Uncle Dave (Martin)
brought back with him from the Army.
For amusement we took wool that came from the cows and rolled it in heavy balls and
we played ball with those in the summertime. We amused ourselves with hiking and
work too. In the wintertime there were horse races, bull fights, rooster fights and
dances. People amused themselves in those ways and in going to church. We had one
Lutheran church in that town.
In the summertime everybody had to work. The women had to help with the harvesting
and help get the grain in, and had to chop their own wood. We had to haul the water
supply from a creek. The whole colony had to haul it for about half a mile. It was
certainly easy for the men in Russia in the wintertime, because all they did was just lie
around and feed a few horses and cows they had.
It was a wonderful country. It was all oak trees and birch and willow trees. We could
raise almost anything that we would put in the ground. We had apples, cherries, almost
all vegetables. We had tomatoes, which were called Adam's apples. We raised
everything that we needed. We raised potatoes, corn, watermelons, and pumpkins, and
kept them all the year around in the cellar, which was warm in the winter and cold in
the summer. We raised more sunflowers than anything else because we needed a lot of
oil, and sunflower oil is good.
There were no railroads within a hundred miles, no communication, no telephones nothing. The only big city we went to was Kamyshin. We had to get our raw materials
for shovels and get our sugar from there.
The climate was awfully cold. I don't know what the temperature was, but in the
wintertime we were all snowed in, could hardly get out from one colony to another.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
I can never forget one summer, the last summer I was in Russia. We were threshing
grain by hand, and a gopher dug up some old metal. Uncle Dave and I started digging
down a little ways, and we found approximately a hatful of coins. They were old coins
and I don't know what they were, but they were all silver. Everybody in the community
made earrings out of them. I suppose they were very valuable, but nobody ever thought
of selling them.
My dad came over to this country in 1895, and I came over in 1900.

September October 2012

A Young Vic Production

Resource Pack: Three Sisters


by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Benedict Andrews
Appendix
Suggested Further Reading
Allen, David. 2001. Performing Chekhov. Routledge: UK
Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.
Benedetti, Jean. 1989.

Stanislavski: An Introduction. Revised edition. Original edition


published in 1982. London: Methuen
Benedetti, Jean. 1998. Stanislavski and the Actor. London: Methuen.
Benedetti, Jean. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition
published in 1988. London: Methuen.
Braun, Edward. 1982. "Stanislavsky and Chekhov" in The Director and the Stage: From
Naturalism to Grotowski. London: Methuen. P59-76.
Gottlieb, Vera, and Paul Allain (eds). 2000. The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Magarshack, David. 1950. Stanislavsky: A Life. London and Boston: Faber.
Merlin, Bella. 2007. The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit. London: Nick Hern Books.
Miles, Patrick (ed.). 1993. Chekhov on the British Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Simmons, Ernest J. 1962. Chekhov: A Biography. University of Chicago Press:
Chicago.
Stanislavski, Konstantin. 1936. An Actor Prepares. London: Methuen, 1988.
Stanislavski, Konstantin. 1938. An Actors Work: A Students Diary. Trans. and ed. by
Jean Benedetti. London: Routledge, 2008.
Stanislavski, Konstantin. 1961. Creating a Role. Trans. by Elizabeth Reynolds
Hapgood. London: Mentor, 1968.
Stanislavski, Konstantin. 1963. An Actor's Handbook: An Alphabetical Arrangement of
Concise Statements on Aspects of Acting. Trans. and ed. by Elizabeth Reynolds
Hapgood. London: Methuen, 1990.
Worrall, Nick. 1996. The Moscow Art Theatre. Theatre Production Studies series:
London and NY: Routledge.

September October 2012