In the light of your study of Stanislavski and after seeing Miss Julie how would you direct the opening act of Three Sisters? The opening of Act One of Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’, gives detailed stage directions, which offers valuable information on the main characters of the play; the three sisters, Irina, Masha and Olga. As a director, I would encourage the actors playing these roles to read the information, as it defines clearly the different characters of the sisters, and so can be used for characterisation.
As a director, I am fully aware that ‘Three Sisters’ is a realist play; therefore, this would prompt me to use Stanislavski methods to develop true to life portrayals of the characters. The following is a sketch of Act One: During the opening of the play the three sisters will sit in their designated areas and the audience will watch while Olga marks her books, Irina puts on make-up for her party, and Masha reads a book on the window seat, subdued.
In the background (the ballroom), the table will be laid by a servant, which could be played by Anfisa, the old nurse.
The ‘clip-clop’ sound of her heels as she rushes about will make stark contrast to the silence of the sisters. I aspire to obtain the audience to suspend their disbelief, and remain this through-out the play. This idea is heavily influenced by the theatre production of ‘After Miss Julie’. My intention is for the audience to see the closeness of the relationship between Olga and Irina.
Moreover, to see how Masha is the recluse of the sisters, and overlooked by them due to her quietness and concealed emotions.
Olga (as indicated by her ‘regulation dark-blue dress of a high school teacher’) is the mother figure for the sisters, especially Irina, who never really knew her mum. Irina seems distant from her sisters, as she is the only young one left, and she is still happy-go-lucky and enjoys her life without worry. Olga is the oldest, and uses this to boss the others sisters around. Olga is the only sister to work, and so is constantly moaning about her work. She revels in being the sister with authority, but also resents it, as she feels forced into work since her fathers’ death.
Her movements should be very swift, and she should constantly be moving around, making herself busy, yet achieving nothing, reflecting a theme of the play. This will create humour for the audience, as they will see her fussing over everything, yet doing nothing. Her movements should be very rapid, restless, and hurried. Using Stanislavski’s methods, I would find out the super objective of Olga’s character, to create naturalism. Personally, I believe Olga’s motivations in life are to return to Moscow, and find a husband.
This is from the social context of the play, where many women believed they needed a husband to achieve true happiness, and also a husband would result in Olga not needing a job. To show this in the play I will show Olga being extremely interested in Tuzenback and flirtatiously behaving with him as he talks about Vershinin. This can be achieved by making lots of eye contact with him and her moving closer to him, until she hears he has a wife, and then she will sharply turn away.
An objective of Olga’s character is to continue working, although she says ‘It wears me out’, I believe she loves it and could not just sit at home like the other sisters. This arises one of the themes of the play ‘work’. None of the sisters worked previously as they are wealthy and do not have the need to work. I believe Chekhov used this to show that you need to work to have ambition and achieve in life. This is shown in the play, as all the sisters’ ambition is to return to Moscow, yet none of them does anything towards this ambition.
Chekhov himself was born into a poor family, but worked hard and achieved an amazing amount. I think this highlights the social context of the play between rich and poor. Rich and poor is an underlying theme of Act One, and was an important issue in the era of the play. Natasha is of low class, and so discriminated against by the sisters who believe she is not good enough for their beloved Andrew. Masha in particular scrutinises everything about Natasha, from her clothes, which are ‘downright pathetic’ to her make-up and hair.
This shows a very materialistic viewpoint, and shows no intent to get to know Natasha, just judge her because of her class. This also shows how much the sisters love Andrew and do not want him getting hurt. I believe the sisters are very jealous of allowing another female into their household, which is why they resent Natasha. In Act One Natasha should be portrayed as a very timid young woman, this can be shown by her emotional outbursts and general uncertainty.
Natasha and Andrew provide the only true love shown in Act One, and as they finish the Act, lead the audience to believe there will be much more to come. The couple give an optimistic out-look that good things can come out of bad situations, and I think this leaves the end of Act One on a happy and loving end. The sketch of the set of the play shows Masha is facing the audience she will be able to communicate with them, they will be able to see clearly her facial expressions, which will create an intimacy with the audience, and I hope result in the audience watching Masha and perhaps feeling sympathy for her.
Being in at the side of the other two sisters also allows Olga and Irina to talk about Masha in whispers, and direct facial expressions at her, without her noticing. The description of Masha ‘in a black dress, sits with her hat on her lap reading a book” convey the isolation of her character. The black portrays seriousness, and hiding her feelings from the other sisters. I believe Masha is a character who tries to forget everything bad in her life.
I think this results in her feeling severely depressed, as in the instance of the death of her father; bottling up her feelings has resulted in Masha not getting over the death, just replaying it repeatedly in her mind, effectively making her unable to think of anything else and become further withdrawn. She rarely speaks, and because of this, the sisters cannot help her. However when Masha does speak, it upsets the other sisters as Masha is the strong one, and causes them to break down with her; Olga particularly loses control.
Masha is also depressed over her marriage; she believed her husband was intelligent and wise, and now she refuses to accept the reality that he is not this, and she does not love him. The audience will have an insight into the ‘true’ Masha, an insecure person, who is deeply upset by her sister’s relationship and her life in general. This will be shown by Masha observing the play, without allowing the other characters to see (which will create dramatic irony), and reacting to the action behind her, while facing the audience.
Masha can use the audience as a friend, and watch them rather than interact with her sisters. Masha’s facial expressions are very important in order to portray her character naturalistically. Due to this I would use Stanislavski’s’ acting method of ’emotion memory’, by asking the actress playing Masha to remember how it felt in a part of her life when she had no one to help her, and her life was disappearing before her eyes. I would then ask her to use these feelings with Masha, to create naturalism.
Part of Masha’s character resents the close relationship between Olga and Irina, and this leads to her feeling more isolated. This will be shown when Masha whistles. The whistle will be one of those ‘pretend I’m not here’ whistles but at the same time, the whistle will remind the other sisters of Masha’s existence. There is a different side to Masha’s character that occasionally shows a more ambitious and happy person; such as when she proclaims ‘You only live once’, where I believe Masha’s voice should change from a bored, monotonous, pre-occupied, slow and quiet voice to a faster, excited, almost breathy voice.
This will highlight the change of character and therefore the comedy-tragedy that Chekhov aimed will succeed. Both the sisters adore Irina, the youngest, but especially Olga, because of their mother-daughter type relationship. Again, the stage directions explain Irina’s character, ‘in a white dress, stands lost in thought’. Irina is young and free, with no commitments in life, and has time to spend her day deep in thought. Her character is portrayed through her becoming very excitable at the thought of her oncoming party, and applying make-up and choosing her clothes.
This shows that she has the time to spend doing these useless tasks, and demonstrates her need to dress-up to feel more important and grown-up, as well as impress the male guests. Irina is innocent and pure, as indicated by her white dress, but can be immature, such as when she remarks ‘I know everything’, which show she believes she has knowledge, which is expanded on later in the play when Masha remarks ‘We know too much’, while talking to Andrew about their education. I believe Chekhov is making a political point about how many people believe they know too much, when they know nothing.
Chekhov was very philosophical (which reflects in many of his characters including Masha and Solyony), and once said ‘Only Charlatans know everything and understand nothing’. This is true to many characters of the play; for example Tuzenback, has never worked a day in his life, and believes he learns all he needs through newspapers. As a director, I would use this to create humour, by allowing the audience to laugh at these sad people, who have no grasp on reality. The theme of ambition plays a large part of Act One, as well as the rest of the play.
All three of the sisters are striving towards moving back to Moscow, as this is where all their ‘happy memories’ are. However, none of the sisters do anything towards their ambition, and so nothing changes in their lives. This again highlights how sad rich people’s lives can be, as they have no drive to do anything for themselves, as they can happily survive on what their family provides for them. To show this in the play I would have the characters constantly fussing over the clock (placed in the centre of the drawing room).
This will represent how time is passing by in front of them without them realising, while they continue their petty lives. Each of the characters deep down knows they will not achieve their dream, but each of them long for it all the same. The theme of ambition also shows the frustration of the sisters, particularly Masha, to escape to the ‘big city’ yet they only talk about it. Again, I believe Chekhov is making a social statement about the amount of people in Russia who wanted to change the out-dated social order at the time of the play, yet did nothing to achieve this goal.
This theme is personal to Chekhov, as he DID return to his family in Moscow, showing you can achieve dreams with effort. I would achieve comedy throughout Act One using the various characters Chekhov included to provide ‘comic relief’ for the audience, characters such as Tuzenback, Chebutykin, and Solyony, to distract from the awful tragedy of the majority of the play. These characters can be completely over-acted but still believable. These characters are typical ‘nutty professors’ and they should all be dressed eccentrically, and constantly thinking of new ideas.
The doctor is the typical result of doing too much work in his life, meaning he has been driven crazy. To achieve humour the actors must fully believe every word they say and make sure they take themselves seriously, even though they are clowns. These characters all flirt with the sisters, that also creates humour, and I believe they find it their duty to look after the sisters since their father’s death. This is another case of the characters believing they know more than they do.
Another chance for comedy is how the three sisters smother Andrew, and clap at him and generally treat him like a child. Humour is achieved by making the sisters become over-enthusiastic mothers, fussing over Andrew, and showing off his achievements, such as the frames on the piano. The audience will be able to relate to this experience and so find it very funny. Ferapont can also be used to create humour because he can be played as a typical bewildered, deaf, old man.
The setting of Act One will be very naturalistic, all props will be used (including knives, forks, table cloth, tables, samovar, chairs, cake, columns, curtains and swords), with fully made-up rooms, including appropriate flooring, curtains, and wallpaper, with everything looking aged, to fit with the period of the play. Many unused and often ugly but expensive ornaments will be placed around the ballroom, to show how the Prozorov’s have lots of money for luxurious items, as well as painting scattered on the walls and an old bookcase.
The ballroom table will also convey the wealth of the family, using ridiculous numbers of knives and forks around the immaculately placed plates, with flowers in the middle of the table, to indicate the springtime time of year. Lighting will be used to mimic natural sunlight streaming through the windows. The audience will be situated around the stage in a semi-circle, and the audience size will be small (around 250), so they will all be very close to the actors.
This will make the audience feel more involved, and make the drama more realistic, personal, and believable. All costumes will be to date, and according to the stage directions and only natural make-up will be used. All male soldiers will be wearing military uniforms and civilian clothing. The pace of Act One will develop throughout, to prepare the audience for more tension and a climax in the following acts. In conclusion, I believe the relationship between the three sisters is the focus of Act One, and how they react to other people.
I believe the solution to making this play work theatrically is to use Chekhov’s idea of comedy and tragedy, to develop the naturalism of the play, as life often has highs and lows. The tragedy of the play creates tension and allows the audience to relate to characters, and then the comedy allows the audience to forget the problems and enjoy the play, as well as making the tragedy more obvious, and at times heartbreaking. To develop Act One I would continue to use Stanislavski methods to increase the naturalism of the play, and improve characterisation.