Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper
I have been reading the wonderful correspondence between Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper.
He's the playwright, living mostly in Yalta, which is better for his fragile health (he has TB and will be dead in four years); she's onstage with the Moscow Art Theater, often performing in Chekhov roles. He tells her about his garden; she tells him about life in the theater. And you get the feeling going to the theater was quite a different thing in Moscow in 1900--- perhaps it still is. There's a huge sense of occasion. And the audience sometimes talks back in a way they rarely do now. One of Chekhov's characters in The Seagull has a good joke about going to see a famous basso profondo at the Moscow Opera who sang "bottom C," after which the bass from the local choir, speaking from the gallery, cried "Bravo, Silva," a whole octave lower. It would be the kind of thing you'd remember.
Knipper also writes Chekhov about a benefit performance of Seagull with a 4 year old boy in the audience, who talked the whole time. In the first act he said, for the whole house to hear, "Mummy, let's go into the garden and run about." Compliments to the realism of Stanislavski's set designer.
On January 13, 1900, they played Uncle Vanya and Knipper writes:
"After Act 4, in the midst of thundrous applause, we heard a voice calling for the director. Vishievksi was the first to realize what was happening and told us not to bring the curtain down. When the audience quieted down, an emotional voice rang out from the first circle, thanking us profoundly on behalf of Moscow audiences for everything they had experienced in the theater: that this had happened only previously at the Maly. Then a voice rang out from one of the boxes in the grand tier---'here's better, here's better!'
How do you like that?"
You'd think Chekhov liked it very well--who wouldn't? I'm sorry to my knowledge say this hasn't happened yet at THEATREWORKS-- but our audiences are occasionally heard from. One particularly lively night at The Mystery of Irma Vep, Lady Enid established such a rapport with the house that they felt almost if they were in the same room with her. When she entered distraught in the third act, wondering aloud if her mind had been affected, she looked out to the house in depair and a man's voice called out, "Do you wanna talk about it?" And of course she did. This has remained my favorite line, my favorite moment, of the whole production. And I think Olga and Anton would have liked it too.