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How confetti cannons, Jiffy Pop, and Hula Hoops ended up in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters

From left: Meryl Prendergast, Keely Craig, and Devon Whitney rehearse their roles in the Anton Chekhov play, The Three Sisters, directed at Northeastern by Russian director Igor Golyak. Photo courtesy of Lauren Scornavacca.

How do you turn the city of Moscow into a character for the stage?

When acclaimed Russian director Igor Golyak mused that perhaps the Russian capital should be turned into a living, breathing character in Northeastern’s performance of the Anton Chekhov play The Three Sisters, the challenge was one his student-actors had to figure out.

Golyak, trained in the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre, brought several such unconventional ideas to his direction of the Northeastern Department of Theatre’s performance of The Three Sisters, and encouraged the actors to do so, as well.

“Throughout the [rehearsal] process, he emphasized that he couldn’t do it all himself,” says Liam Hofmeister, a student studying theater who plays Ivan Romanovich Chebutykin in the play. Golyak “said he needed all the students to be active participants. He was interested in having us be co-collaborators,” Hofmeister says.

The play tells the story of a family living in rural, 19th-century Russia. Each member of the family is burdened by unrealized dreams and longs to return to the happiness of childhood in Moscow. Northeastern’s performance of the play runs through Sunday, April 7. Tickets can be purchased online.

Under Golyak and his internationally recognized team—which includes dancer Viktor Plotnikov, composer Jakov Jakoulov, and scenic designer Nastya Bugaeva—the play has been transformed into something unique to this cast, at this point in time, say Golyak and the students performing it.

“I was asking the actors to bring in their life experiences to their performance,” Golyak says. “Their current and contemporary take on life brings a unique element to this production. I’m asking them to find ways to express themes that are 120 years old in today’s world.”

That’s how a play written in 1900 came to include “confetti cannons, Jiffy Pop, Hula Hoops, and playing piano with your feet,” says Kate Franklin, a Northeastern student studying theater who plays Staff Captain Vassily Vasilyevich Solyony.

She also plays a new character introduced for this performance: the city of Moscow.

In Chekhov’s play, Moscow is mentioned frequently, and the idea of transforming the city into a physical character came to Golyak in a dream. Franklin, and costume designer Kelley Shephard, who is also a student studying theater,  made it a reality.

“[Golyak] told me on the first day of rehearsal that he’d had a dream that Moscow needed to be in the play, and we needed to figure out how,” Franklin says.

Without any information from the playwright about this character (because it wasn’t one until then), Franklin and Golyak set about building “Moscow” together.

“Most of the moments I’m on stage now were my ideas,” Franklin says, adding that that sort of creative freedom was “a really cool experience.”

The set design, too, is unexpected.

Bugaeva, who has also worked on projects with the Moscow Art Theatre, envisioned the characters trapped inside a candy wrapper, unable to escape, Golyak says. Bugaeva designed the set around this concept.

“Contemporary European theater is very imaginative and very inventive,” Golyak says, “something I believe is very important to this production in order to deal with the poeticism of the characters.”

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