I spent the summer of 1976 in Bloomsburg with mostly Northwestern graduates mostly from the first class I had taught the full three-year acting course. This is a letter I got in the spring anticipating their arrival.
David, could you have copies made of the enclosed material and distribute copies to people who are coming. I feared if I sent it to some member of the group it might seem preferential treatment. I don't want to waste any time getting started. No one tells me the date when they will all assemble here. Can you initiate a response? These are people who are coming:
[A list of seven people -- DD]
I know you are busy, I hate to trouble you, but ----
Lucy insisted I go to NY for one day with a friend who was driving up -- I went, saw two of the Norman Conquests plays [by Alan Ayckborn -- DD] and had dinner with Paula and Dick [Prentiss and Benjamin -- DD] and their wonderful two year old son -- Fabulous!
I find myself in a panic about the summer. On the one hand I welcome the opportunity to work but seven new people and only eight weeks, sixteen sessions, thirty two hours ----- madness! What can be achieved? In the middle of the night a stern voice says "Cancel it! There's still time!"
I wonder about your work, but think of no suggestions. Do teach with joy!
In order to lose no time of our brief summer session come prepared to start work on the first day of our meeting on "Cherry Orchard". Prepare one of the following passages from the play. Avoid making it a finished production; keep it in the work-rehearsal stage. Work alone, or with others.
Trofimov-Anya: end of Act II
Anya-Varya: Act I dialogue
Trofimov-Lopahin: Act IV
Lopahin -- Opening of Act I
Lubov -- Act II "Oh my sins! I have thrown away money -----
Gaev -- Act I, the bookcase
The key to Chekhov is the essential of all true acting: truthfulness of response, of total response (Words spoken are only the vocalized part of the response). To arrive at these responses create the world of the drama, respond to the people of that world, respond to the significant elements of the environment. Bring to the moment the essential associations which are heightened, intensified by the moment of the drama (homecoming, departure, imminence of change).
Through responses to environment, to people, motivate the thought behind lines, overflowing lines, never spoken, more important than the vocalized thought. This unspoken thought, response, carries the drama to its final moment: the sound of the ax.
Every moment must reveal the inner action of the Chekhov drama: a great orchard has become unproductive; the owners of the Cherry Orchard have become unproductive. What happens to their world? To Russia? What similarity do you find in your world (school, theatre). Find life studies from, in, your world (Bring to all drama a concern -- the concern that motivates Chekov.)
The play is a comedy. The dramatist views his world, his people, his Russia from a distance. He loves his people, his country; but from a distance he sees incongruities which are comic. Not farce comedy, not belly-laugh comedy but thoughtful comedy based on love and understanding and concern for the world in which we live. You love your mother but she can't balance a check book; your father is a great guy but putting up storm windows he falls off the ladder, or breaks the glass. Lopahin is a fine man, a highly competent merchant but he can't say "Varya, marry me". Lubov is a lovely person, everyone loves her, but money slips through her fingers, as does life, love, happiness.
These are comments to start your creative minds going in the right direction. Focus on truth. Chekhov drama is realism, but in its high selectivity it becomes poetic realism. Think about it, read about it.
In this group were the first of those who, two years later, created The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble which continues successfully today. The BTE is preparing to celebrate its Thirty-Fifth Anniversary.