Instructor's Teaching Experience

Of the major Chekhov plays, it's pretty accessible in terms of character and motivation to a modern audience; you don't need to explain much about the old Russian political system for people to grasp what's going on since it's mostly about artists. If your class is focused on questions of why someone creates, and what someone might want to do as an artist, it's an excellent piece of that conversation. Since many of the common ideas of acting today were created for Chekhov plays, there's a lot of potential in getting students to make choices and think like an actor when interpreting the characters. (Nate Ferguson)

Classroom Strategies:

Performance Video

UIowa has access to a filmed production from the National Theatre (Accessible on Drama Online via the UIowa Libraries Database Portal) that should take two or two-and-a-half class periods to watch, depending on how much pausing for commentary and discussion you want to do. It's also a great potential break from reading homework if you assign it.

Character Relationships

The hardest part of a Chekhov play for GEL students to follow will be character names. There are a lot of characters, and if the translation follows the Russian rules of address, their names will shift around. I found it useful to take time after we watched the first half to draw up a chart of characters: Write down what names you want to refer to them as in class, and have students come up with a couple descriptions of their personalities and histories. With the names and traits on the board, you can also recap much of the plot by having them draw out where the love triangles are, and talk about what they think is likely to happen.

Line Interpretation

This is an old acting-class exercise that works really well for plays like this, where characters have a lot of subtext and actors can choose to take them in a number of ways. Choose an ambiguous or puzzling line, and have a student volunteer to read it. Then, give them a different motivation: To seduce, to incite, to insult, to warn, etc. and have them say it again with that in mind. Keep giving them as many motivations as there are for potential interpretations you can think of. Use that as a seed of discussion for how directors and actors can read characters in different ways. How many ways could they interpret, for instance, the motivations of Nina? Is she driven mainly by love? By fear of her parents? By desire for fame?