Pre-Show Preparation, Questions for Discussion, and Activities

Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions and activities to prepare for Emily Mann’s A Seagull in the Hamptons and to introduce your students to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and its intellectual origin, historical context, and themes, as well as to engage their imaginations and creativity before they see the production. The first three exercises below do not require reading Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull.  The remaining exercises are based upon a reader’s familiarity with the original text.  [We recommend the English language translations by Paul Schmidt and Laurence Senelick.]

  1. Profiling the Characters Before the Show.  Have your students read the “Character Profiles” section of this audience guide to familiarize themselves with the characters they will meet in A Seagull in the Hamptons.

    • Discuss with them what expectations they have of the play and its dramatic content based upon the character descriptions.

    • Have students brainstorm a list of themes and potential conflicts that could arise in and between
      characters in the course of the play given the descriptions of each character’s personality.

    • Ask students if any of the character descriptions remind them of a character they have encountered before in literature, on film, in a play or personally. 

    • Ask them to imagine what each character looks and acts like and how they might speak.  You can have your students take this one step further by having them go online to find photographs of people to cast in their own fantasy production of A Seagull in the Hamptons.


  2. Historicizing the Chekhovian Landscape. To prepare your students for Emily Mann’s A Seagull in the Hamptons, and to deepen their level of understanding of Anton Chekhov’s original play along with the period, place and culture which inspired it, have them research, either in groups or individually, the life, times and works of Chekhov.  Topics for a study of Chekhov and late-nineteenth century Russia and Russian culture might include:

    • Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
      • birth, family and education
      • adulthood, life and work
      • Melikhovo period: 1892–98
      • Yalta period: 1899–1904
      • death and legacy
    • The first night of The Seagull  (17 October 1896) at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in Petersburg
    • Moscow Art Theatre
    • Konstantin Stanislavsky
    • (Theatrical) Realism
    • Chekhov’s other masterworks:
      • Uncle Vanya
      • Three Sisters
      • The Cherry Orchard
    • Russian History (second half of the nineteenth century)
    • Intelligentsia/Russian Intelligentsia
    • Serfdom
    • The Romanov Dynasty
      • Nicholas I
      • Alexander II
      • Alexander III
      • Nicholas II

    Have your students teach one another about their individual or group topics via oral and illustrated (i.e., posters or PowerPoint) reports.  Following the presentations:

    • Ask your students to reflect upon their research process and discoveries.

    • Ask them to consider, given their newfound knowledge of the original play's historical context, what challenges an artist would face in attempting to adapt a play written for this time to a modern setting for a modern audience.

    Dueling (and Acting) Seagulls:  Putting A Seagull in the Hamptons and Chekhov’s The Seagull on their (Webbed) Feet.  To fully appreciate both Emily Mann’s artistry as an adaptor and Chekhov’s original play (and its complex characters, comedy, mood and attitude), break your students up into scene-study groups and assign them the same dramatic portions from Act II of A Seagull in the Hamptons (Seagull in the Hamptons play excerpt) and The Seagull to rehearse on their feet for presentation for the class.  Each group should divvy up parts and elect an “actor-manager” to run the rehearsal(s).  Following scene presentations (you might choose to have the Chekhov performed prior to Mann’s version), lead students in a discussion of their experience in performing both the contemporary adaptation and its Chekhovian predecessor.  Questions might include:

     

    What are the pleasures and challenges of performing in Chekhov’s original version?

    What was your experience of performing in the more contemporary version? 

    What insights regarding any of A Seagull in the Hamptons’s or The Seagull’s characters did you gain from putting or seeing them on their feet?

    What about the characters struck you as particularly realistic when performing the roles?

    Was there any moment that felt strange or awkward in bringing your character to life?

    Where do you think the comedy lies in either version?

    If you were required to perform in a production of A Seagull in the Hamptons or The Seagull, which version would you choose and which character would you be most interested in playing and why?

    On the Page:  Chekhov’s The Seagull, circa 1895.  Have your students read Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull in translation either aloud in class or as a homework assignment.  Following their reading, explore with them the various avenues of dramatic/dramaturgical and thematic reflection below through discussion and/or short answer and essay writing.

    Ask your students to make an annotated cast of characters list (on paper or on the board) in which they provide a detailed description of each character, including his or her occupation or personal pursuit, characteristics of personality, and relationship to the central characters of the play.

    Ask your students to collaborate (in large or small groups) on a ten-sentence play summary of The Seagull.  Note that a “plot” summary describes the play in terms of a sequence of events (e.g., this happens, then this, etc.).  They should write a “play” summary which considers the overall story or journey of the play and its key events and characters, themes, ideas, etc.  They can’t or shouldn’t mention everything; they only have ten sentences.  Summaries can be shared aloud and students can choose which summary most effectively captures the overall essence of the dramatic journey of The Seagull; students should be encouraged to indicate what made the winning composition an effective play summary.

    Ask your students to discuss the central themes of the play, which include:  generational conflict (between parents and children); the artistic experience (i.e., its splendors and miseries); artistic idealism vs. commercialism; facility/ability vs. aspiration and talent vs. lack of talent (i.e., purposeless talent vs. diligent mediocrity); accepting one’s lot vs. destroying one’s self; what is remembered vs. what is forgotten.  Have them select moments from the play in which these themes are dramatically presented.

    Ask your students if any of these themes seem more important to them than others.  Urge them to explain their responses.  Can they identify personally with any of these themes?  Ask them to provide examples from their own experience.

    Discuss other plays or works of literature your students have read or studied with similar themes.
     

    “Dear Diary:  So, here I am at Sorin’s estate and you won’t believe what just happened!...” After having your students read Chekhov’s The Seagull, have each of them select a pair of characters from the play—one old and one young (i.e., Konstantin Treplev and Arkadina, Nina and Arkadina, Nina and Trigorin, Konstantin Treplev and Trigorin, Medvedenko and Dorn, etc.)—and have them write two or three “diary entries” from each character’s perspective describing life (or vacation) out in the country.  Have them consider which happenings each character would know about from first-hand experience, what each would focus upon and how their perceptions and attitudes would differ.  Students should try as best they can to stay true to their characters’ personalities and to the general ideas and world of the play.  Students’ diary entries may be read aloud for the class’s pleasure and discussed for the merits of their content, attention to dramatic and character detail, and the imagination and originality of their authors.


  3. Envisioning The Seagull:  Design Collage Project.  Theatrical visual designers, such as those who create a play production’s scenery, costumes, makeup and lights, must find ways to communicate their preliminary design ideas to the director with whom they collaborate.  One form of visual communication is collage, in which cutout images and text, material/fabric and other small objects are glued to a piece of paper to symbolize the spirit of the play.  Ask your students make a design collage for Chekhov’s The Seagull.

    • First, students should read Chekhov’s The Seagull.  Instruct them to record their visual, intellectual and psychological/spiritual impressions of the play—its world, inhabitants, mood and theme—in words as they read.  In other words, they should document the images, ideas and feelings or emotions invoked in them as they experience the play through reading.

    • Next, students should think of ways to communicate their initial impressions visually, keeping in mind place, time, theme mood, style, color, texture, scale and movement.  They should seek out images online and in magazines, and collect small objects and fabric/material for their design collage.

    • They will need an 8½” x 11” sheet of paper (either colored paper or paper that can be painted), scissors, glue, additional colored paper for cutouts, and magic markers, colored pencils or paint for a background. 

    • Students should consider the placement of collage materials.  What do they intend to employ to grab the viewer’s eye?  How do they want the viewer to look at and experience the collage?

    • Educators might also opt to have their students create electronic collages by utilizing PowerPoint technology and images gleaned from the Internet.

    • Students should be given time to show their finished collages to the class and to explain how the objects, images and words in their collages express and symbolize The Seagull for them.

    • Please send any noteworthy collages to McCarter Theatre, Education Department, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ  08540; we would love to see them!