Post-Show Questions for Discussion and Activities

Note to Educators: Use the following assignments, questions and activities to have students evaluate their experience of the performance of A Seagull in the Hamptons, as well as to encourage their own imaginative and artistic projects through further exploration of the play in production. Consider also that some of the pre-show activities might enhance your students’ experience following the performance.

  1. A Seagull in the Hamptons:  A Discussion.  Following their attendance at the performance of A Seagull in the Hamptons, ask your students to reflect on the questions belowYou might choose to have them answer each individually or you may divide students into groups for round-table discussions. Have them consider each question, record their answers and then share their responses with the rest of the class.

    Questions to Ask Your Students About the Play in Production

    1. What was your overall reaction to A Seagull in the Hamptons?  Did you find the production compelling?  Stimulating?  Intriguing?  Challenging?  Memorable?  Confusing?  Evocative?  Unique?  Delightful?  Meaningful?  Explain your reactions.
    2. What were the most compelling themes in the play? If you read The Seagull beforehand, did experiencing the play heighten your awareness or understanding of the play’s themes?  [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.]  What themes were made even more apparent in performance? Were there any other themes you could come up with that were pervasive throughout?  Explain your responses.
    3. Do you think that the pace and tempo of the production were effective and appropriate? Explain your opinion.

    Questions to Ask Your Students About the Characters

    1. Did you personally identify with any of the characters in A Seagull in the Hamptons?  Who?  Why?
    2. What qualities were revealed by the action and speech of the characters?  Explain your ideas.
    3. Did any characters develop or undergo a transformation during the course of the play?  Who?  How?  Why?
    4. In what ways did the characters reveal the themes of the play?  Explain your responses.

    Questions to Ask Your Students About the Style and Design of the Production

    1. Was there a moment in A Seagull in the Hamptons that was so compelling or intriguing that it remains with you in your mind’s eye?  Can you write a vivid description of that moment?  As you write your description, pretend that you are writing about the moment for someone who was unable to experience the performance.
    2. Did the style and design elements of the production enhance the performance?  Did anything specifically stand out to you?  Explain your reaction.
    3. How did the production style and design reflect the themes of the play?
    4. What mood or atmosphere did the lighting design establish or achieve?  Explain your experience.
    5. How did the sound design enhance your overall experience?
    6. Did the design of the costumes and makeup serve to illuminate the characters, themes and style of the play?  How?
  2. “Get[ting] Directly in Contact with Chekhov”:  Adapting/Transposing/Transforming The Seagull. Have your students read the “Interview with Emily Mann” in this audience guide to familiarize themselves with Mann’s interest in, reasons for and process of adapting Chekhov.

Theatrical adaptation involves the rewriting of a dramatic text, utilizing the original work as raw material.  Adaptation can entail the relatively straightforward transposition of a play’s original place and time with minor changes in character and/or dialogue necessary for the play’s new context—A Seagull in the Hamptons is this sort of adaptation.   Other approaches to adaptation involve extensive changes to text, narrative content and even meaning (e.g., cuts in text/dialogue, rearrangement of narrative/story, stylistic changes, a different dramatic focus, elimination/addition of characters or locations, a collage of foreign elements/texts, a different ending.  Lookingglass Theatre’s Lookingglass Alice and Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine are both this latter sort of adaptation.)

    Considering Mann’s A Seagull in the Hamptons

    • If your students have not already read Chekhov’s classic Russian comedy The Seagull, have them do so. (You might choose to use either Paul Schmidt’s or Laurence Senelick’s translation.)

    • Then ask your students to compare Emily Mann’s adaptation of A Seagull in the Hamptons with their experience of Chekhov’s original (in translation).  The following questions might be helpful as jumping off points:

      • How effective was the transposition of the play’s setting from a Russian country estate circa 1895 to a Hamptons beach house in the present day? 
      • Did these changes alter your perception or reception of the play, its characters, world and themes?  Explain your response.
      • Did some aspects of the adaptation work better than others for you?  Explain your response by providing examples.
      • Did experiencing the performance of A Seagull in the Hamptons give you a better understanding of or insight into Chekhov’s The Seagull?  Explain your response.
      • Would you be interested in seeing a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull for purposes of comparison?

    Considering Your Seagull

    • Get your students “directly in contact with Chekhov” through the process of writing their own simple adaptations of a dramatic moment from The Seagull.  Working in small groups, students should choose one of the following dramatic moments for present-day adaptation (or they may adapt a dramatic moment of their own choosing):

      • Act I: the dramatic moment just after the interrupted performance of Konstantin Treplev’s play beginning with Konstantin Treplev’s line, “Enough! Curtain!,” and ending with Dorn’s speech alone (which begins with, “I don’t know, maybe I’m confused or I’m crazy,” and ends with, “Oh, I think he’s coming this way”).

      • Act II: the dramatic moment in which Sorin enters with Nina and Medvedenko, beginning with Sorin’s line, “Are we?  Are we having fun?  Are we happy today, when’s all said and done?” and ending with Sorin’s line, “Yes, yes, this is awful…But he won’t leave, I’ll talk it over with him. (THEY leave.)”

      • Act IV, the dramatic moment in which Konstantin Treplev enters back into the drawing room from outside with Nina, beginning with Treplev’s line, “Nina!  Nina! It’s you…you…” and ending at the play’s end.

    • In addition to choosing a dramatic moment for adaptation, each group of adaptors should choose where they would like to set the play and should feel completely free to modify the characters and dialogue accordingly for the play’s new context.

    • Conduct readings of each adaptation followed by a class discussion (urge your students to focus their analysis and critique on the adaptations themselves and not the performances).  Ask your students if there was an adaptation that they thought was best.  Ask them to explain why it is that they found it to be superior to the other adapted dramatic moments.

     

  1. What’s So (Not) Funny?:  Chekhovian Comedy.  In the plays of Chekhov, comedy never actually manifests itself in jokes, zany characters, humorous situations, ridiculous behavior, ludicrous occurrences or happy endings (as it did in the popular stage comedies of his day, or does today in the popular comedies of stage and screen).  Comedy to Chekhov was less about structure, humorous ingredients and the provocation of laughter, and more about style, philosophy, the audience and recognition of the human condition. 

Ask your students to consider the two following quotations from Vera Gottlieb’s chapter on “Chekhov’s Comedy” from The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov:

“First of all I'd get my patients in a laughing mood - and only then would I begin to treat them.”  Chekhov's words sum up the motivation for his comedy: laughter as medicine, and a vital prerequisite for any treatment of his fellow human beings. Implicit is the sense that laughter—and comedy—are restorative, and that the objectivity and detachment which laughter may produce could inoculate us against such human diseases as pomposity, hypocrisy, self-centredness, laziness, or—the worst of all—wasting life…Chekhov's comedy is therefore not only a stylistic feature in his works, but is also a vital part of his philosophy. It is the point where content and form meet, the one usually inseparable from the other. And this, in turn, relates to the subject matter of his works…the daily lives of ordinary people. (Gottlieb, 228)

*   *   *
…the “comedy” lies in the disparity between aspiration and reality, or between desire and fulfillment. In most cases, there is little to stop the characters from doing what they want—except themselves.  And this, centrally, is where the keynote of Chekhov’s comedy lies. (231)

Lead your students in a discussion of their experience of A Seagull in the Hamptons in light of Gottlieb’s elucidation of the nature of Chekhovian comedy.   Questions might include:

  • When did you find yourself laughing during A Seagull in the Hamptons and what made you laugh?
  • Do you understand Gottlieb’s explanation of Chekhovian comedy, and can you appreciate it having read and/or seen one of Chekhov’s plays?  Explain your response.
  • Can you think of any moment from the play/performance that provides a good model for Gottlieb’s theses?  What is it?
  • Were there any moments in A Seagull in the Hamptons that you found to be comical in the popular (vs. Chekhovian) sense of the word?  Explain your answer.
  • What “human diseases” are plaguing the characters of A Seagull in the Hamptons and what might prove the proper treatment for each?
  • [Another approach to the preceding question is:  What does each individual character in A Seagull in the Hamptons want and what stands in his/her way of getting it?]

  1. A Seagull in the Blogosphere.  Either as a class or individually, have your students access McCarter Theatre's web site (www.mccarter.org) to post their thoughts about A Seagull in the Hamptons on McCarter’s Blog.  The blog has been designed to connect McCarter Theatre and its staff (production, literary, artistic, education, etc.) with subscribers, students, educators and anyone interested in reading and writing about theater, and it provides an up-to-the-minute forum for news and information on McCarter plays in pre-production, rehearsal, and performance.  Students can access the blog at www.mccarter.org/blog/index.php and select "A Seagull in the Hamptons" under "Categories" to read archived and recent postings, post questions and comments on previous bloggers' entries and share their own experience of the play.


  2. A Seagull in the Hamptons:  The Review.  Have your students take on the role of theater critic by writing a review of McCarter Theatre’s production of A Seagull in the Hamptons.  A theater critic or reviewer is essentially a “professional audience member,” whose job is to provide reportage of a play’s production and performance through active and descriptive language for a target audience of readers (e.g., their peers, their community or those interested in the arts).  Critics/reviewers analyze the theatrical event to provide a clearer understanding of the artistic ambitions and intentions of a play and its production; reviewers often ask themselves, “What is the playwright and this production attempting to do?”  Finally, the critic offers personal judgment as to whether the artistic intentions of a production were achieved, effective and worthwhile.  Things to consider before writing:

  • Theater critics/reviewers should always back up their opinions with reasons, evidence and details.
  • The elements of production that can be discussed in a theatrical review are the play text or script (and its themes, plot, characters, etc.), scenic elements, costumes, lighting, sound, music, acting and direction (i.e., how all of these elements are put together).  [See the “Theater Reviewer’s Checklist”.]
  • Educators may want to provide their students with sample theater reviews from a variety of newspapers.
  • Encourage your students to submit their reviews to the school newspaper for publication.
  • Students may also post their reviews on McCarter’s web site by visiting www.mccarter.org/blog and selecting “Citizen Responses.”