A Personal View Of Chekhov – Day 8 FFF 2011


Did You Perform Chekhov In Sixth Grade?

Today was personal.

Number One Son and I head to Winter Park to watch Chekhov For Children. It’s a documentary about a group of sixth graders attending PS75 in Manhattan’s upper west side in the late 70’s. Their enlightened teacher decides they are capable of doing a two and a half hour performance of Chekhov’s dark and realistic masterpiece, Uncle Vanya. 

I’m drawn to this documentary because I suspect I will identify with the teachers and the students. I was the actor in middle school (which, in my day, was referred to as junior high school.) I always had the lead in the plays. I have no doubt I could have done Vanya when I was in sixth grade. Indeed, I won my sixth grade oratory contest by doing Marc Anthony’s famous soliloquy from Julius Caesar.

Then, as an adult, I used to teach theatre classes to youngsters. I recall the shocked expressions on my colleagues’ faces as I somehow got incredible, insightful and mature original scenes from youngsters.

I highly suspect I will be able to identify with both the teachers and the students in this film.

The documentary was well done and enjoyable. While it was not the masterpiece I was hoping for, it made for a reflective hour and a half of film watching. The documentarian was the lighting designer for the play. She had located and interviewed most of the principal actors and the teacher who staged the production.

You saw enough of the sixth graders’ performance of Uncle Vanya to appreciate the scope of the project and just how incredible these young actors were. And even if you aren’t into theatre, watching the interplay between the sixth graders then and hearing their adult versions now commenting on themselves is sure to evoke comparisons to your own school situations of long ago.

At the end of the movie, I found that my eyes had teared up, unexpectedly. Perhaps this film will sit with me long after I have finished watching.

Exiting the theatre, I discover three middle aged ladies discussing the film. They agree to an interview. “I liked it because it was a kid’s view and it took you back to your childhood, says someone who identifies herself as “a theatre goer” but whose friend outs her as “Mary.”

Mary then gives me permission to use her real name.  I ask her what she “goes back to.” “I was born and raised in Washington DC, in the city,” she explains, “and the homes we had were all close, the neighbors were close.” “Row houses,” chimes in her other friend, Laurie, attempting to be helpful.  “Row houses,” repeats Mary, “We used to go out and play ball in the park. The movie made me think about friends I hadn’t thought about in years.” Her voice trails off as she goes into a thoughtful reverie.

I ask Laurie for her thoughts. “I liked how the children were talking like adults. It made me feel like when I was 12. I still have the same feelings and I’m 55 now. It made me feel like the movie. It made me a little sad how some of the characters were like Chekhov characters. Life is sad sometimes,” She concludes with a note of deep sadness in her voice.

Teresa offers her viewpoint “I feel like all children should go through some kind of theatrical  presentation like that to show that there are other sides of the world beside their own family life. I grew up in suburbs so I didn’t have the city life. The fact that they were encouraged to perform this play that put them into a whole different world, an adult world, and in the future they could all look back into their 12 year old selves.  They all separated in life, just like Uncle Vanya, just like the play showed,” she concludes. 

It’s obvious that the documentary has created many moments of remembrance, contemplation and insight.

And isn’t that what great filmmaking is really all about?

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