Seagull the musical or when a word is the key... Essay

Seagull the Musical or When a word is the key...

“When you’re working on an adaptation, the benefit is that audience come to see and they

already feel some attachment to those characters, they already have some expectations. The

challenge is that they’re also coming and feel ownership of that.”1 This quote of playwright Kate

Hamill interprets how challenging goal it may be to adapt a play, book or a movie for theatre

stage. However, an opportunity to bring to life a new performance, putting your own stamp on it

whilst being driven and motivated by vision of something yet unseen, have been the main factors

that encouraged me to choose the topic of adapting a random playtext into a musical theatre

genre. Because of being incredibly inspired by rich debate on one of our workshops and

considering it a perfect material for storytelling through music, I am presenting my own plan of

putting on a new musical theatre adaptation of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov’s The Seagull. In this

essay I am discussing the most important aspects of a new production with emphasis on

adaptation, music, directing and rehearsal process. By presenting my own ideas that popped into

my head during long-lasting research as well as supporting whole process of creating the piece

by words of experts from the field, I am giving general overview of a production that could one

day has its premiere on big stage. Ladies and gentleman, may I proudly present to you... Seagull

the Musical!

Thinking about what approach to choose and deciding what I wish to say by my version, I knew

that the good starting point will be to get as many opinions on adaptations of classic texts as

possible. Director Simon Stone on adapting Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard says: “The way I

approach adaptations is to treat these early modernist works as if they were already myths, which",

like other pieces of mythology, exist outside time or place.”2 Therefore, it is your choice of

environment and time period. If you see a picture in front of you while reading the play, you should

develop it. Importance of being familiar with the text is belief of Mike Poulton who states that “...

there’s the language. You have to know what every line means and every shade of meaning

1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTMUKbcZyKU Kate Hamill, Working in the Theatre: Adaptation, American

Theatre Wing, 24th January 2018

2 Simon Stone, Adapting a classic, Melbourne Theatre Company, 5th August 2013

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTMUKbcZyKU

existing under the line.”3 Influenced by opinions like this, I have decided to create musical theatre

piece where music, singing, dance and acting come from pure conversation. Main element of my

adaptation is strength of word and its connection to musical phrase or sound. My musical does not

contain songs as something that starts with first verse finishing in last chorus. Thoughts of my

characters are expressed through musical numbers as conversation that has no end but start of new

conversation. And in fact, it also links to history when in second half of 19th century and theatre

being everything but not realistic, naturalist Émile Zola said: “What I want to hear in the theatre

is spoken language.”4

Speaking of music and finding a tone for my performance, I touched a little bit upon the work of

Stephen Sondheim. Considering him as a perfect example of putting lyrics and music together

whilst still supporting characters’ thoughts and motivations, I enclose brief description of his style:

“If the actions and thoughts of a character affect changes of tempo and key, then an analysis of

how a character comes to act or think is just as important... … as is a melodic or harmonic

analysis.”5 Next technique that I found helpful was Description/Analysis method introduced to us

on one of our lectures of textual studies. Firstly, you write description of the scene (what happens)

and then you write analysis of the same scene (why is it happening, what impact it has on you, on

audience). This system allows you to see similarities and find any potential metaphors within the

text.

I combined these approaches and came up with a scene where I could experiment with different

meanings in particular. It is the opening of the play where we see Masha and Medvedenko walking

through space, talking to each other. The Seagull is story set in Russian country estate dealing with

hunt for personal happiness of an individual as well as drama representing revolutionary ideas

about a need of “new theatre”. But it is not the main character that introduces the theme of being

unhappy in life. It is Masha and that is why my beginning would be presented with her as a narrator",

through her eyes. Therefore, I can avoid typical opening number of may musicals with group-song

of all characters. She would bring the theme and later in plot somebody else could employ it as

his/her own theme culminating in all characters singing same theme {maybe in different rhythms",

3 Mike Poulton, How to think like Chekhov or Turgenev, The Spectator, 30th November 2013

4 Émile Zola, Naturalism on the Stage, Playwrights on Playwriting: from Ibsen to Ionesco (Toby Cole, 2001), 1881

5 Steve Swayne, How Sondheim Found His Sound, The University of Michigan Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-472-03229-7",

page 3

keys, words} in finale of the show. This is the idea of using theme as a something what can differ

people, but connect them in their state of mind. I have already tried to find the topic by using

Description/Analysis method and highlighting the line that speaks most for whole scene. It was

Masha saying “Even a beggar can be happy.” Then I used a little bit of what Sondheim used to do

with his musicals and I have tried to act/say the line many times. By listening to positions of words

in sentence and how high/low they seem to me when saying them, I tried to put them in specific

tones and rhythm. At that moment, I have invented first theme based on pure pronunciation of

words by human. And immediately, it was something original and easy-to-sing too because of

natural way of building the melody. I imagine whole opening scene going in this manner. Every

new theme – maybe conversation of gossiping people at rear stage - comes and flows to something

different, maybe mumbling of old Sorin who is just about to enter the scene.

In this production of a new musical Seagull, I would like to remain in tradition of Stanislavsky’s

acting method with lights, costumes and set all supporting naturalistic vision of this piece. What I

would like to give emphasis on, is directing and rehearsal process. The whole musical would be

created with workshops where the whole company could discuss some ideas and find nuances and

persona for characters in this new adaptation. The piano and musical director would be present in

the room. Once the creative team come up with final text, I imagine actors speaking their lines and

noticing natural pronunciation. In collaboration with a musical director, songs (musical numbers)

could be made on the spot enabling actors to find their own journey within the song resulting in

one big soliloquy. Once every single character finds his/her own “voice”, themes could then be

unified preserving main features of each other while giving rise to duets, trios or group songs.

“Musicals are like children. They are conceived out of an act of excitement, the pregnancy is

long, frustrating and rewarding, birth can be very painful, raising them is an act of collaboration

with many people and if you are very lucky, they will support you in your old age.”6 Seagull the

Musical with the concept described in lines above could be created only with determination and

willingness of all participants to create something truthful, meaningful. With musical numbers

coming from natural dialogue and being supported by narrative, body language and action, my

musical theatre adaptation promises to be honest, simple and clear. The adaptation which is not

6 Julian Woolford, How Musicals Work: And How to Write Your Own, Nick Hern Books Limited, 2012, ISBN 978 1

84842 175 2, page 3

trying to be a play yet still supporting the classic story. The adaptation which lives separately while

paying tribute to the original. Chekhov’s story with my rules of storytelling...

Dalibor Buranda

Level 4 Musical Theatre

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