Cherry Orchard


> Intro

Kristian Smeds’s Cherry Orchard is the kind of cocktail the likes of which has not been shaken before in Europe. Classical Russian text, a very vigorous contemporary director from Finland, Lithuania’s legendary school of sensitive actors, Wiener Festwochen, one of the largest theatre festivals on the continent, and NO99 Straw Theatre meet.

In May of 2009, Smeds went to an old summerhouse near Vilnius with a group of Lithuania’s theatre people to try to find the contemporariness of The Cherry Orchard. “The environment where we found ourselves inspired us to converse among ourselves about things that were happening around us right then using Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard to assist us in this,” said the director during rehearsals. A great experiment began.

The nucleus of the experiment was time. Nobody rushed the actors to hastily throw together a professional role. On the contrary, they were given time and freedom to delve into the improvisations suggested by Smeds and from there to come up with something completely unexpected. Old theatre gurus are said to have quickly shed all old habits that they had acquired from the routine of theatre and now started cavorting about in the cherry orchard – in a place that in the opinion of Smeds is “a time and place that is intended for creative work, joy and anarchy; where people can feel, fantasise and live before the dawn arrives”.

The Cherry Orchard has been performed a limited number of times near Vilnius in the open air. Many festivals and major theatres all over Europe have wanted to show the play but thus far it has not been taken anywhere. Yet this summer, The Cherry Orchard will be performed one single time in Vienna within the framework of the Wiener Festwochen. And a direct, simultaneous broadcast of this performance will be shown at the NO99 Straw Theatre. Outrageous. Totally outrageous.

True, The Cherry Orchard has been performed earlier by way of a broadcast, but the stage production’s creative team will make important additions to the play for the NO99 Straw Theatre. Among other things, the play will have live music (musicians from Lithuania!) and a day before the performance, the video installation Living-of Cherry Orchard will be shown at the Straw Theatre. This includes recordings of The Cherry Orchard rehearsals and all other documentation that accompanied the completion of the stage production. It is simultaneously a mirror of the project and at the same time it is itself a part of the project.

All this together is very contemporary European theatre. It will be difficult to find a more important theatrical event in the hot summer of 2011.

> Duration

Approximately 3 hours with one intermission

> Time

L 28/05 22:00

> Language

In Lithuanian with Estonian subtitles

> People

Director: Kristian Smeds
Audio-visual Artist: Ville Hyvönen
Set Designer: Jūratė Paulėkaitė
Camera: Lennart Laberenz
Sound: Lauri Sepp

Actors: Vytautas Anužis, Juozas Budraitis, Paulius Budraitis, Aldona Bendoriūtė, Dainius Gavenonis, Virginija Kelmelytė, Irina Lavrinovič, Gytis Padegimas, Rasa Samuolytė, Benas Šarka, Jonas Vaitkus

> Press

The Cherry Orchard: Between the Room and a World

Today we again face the question:
Where can the artistic truth be born?
A truth that one could share
with others.
Kristian Smeds

In his article Utopia Sustained, the well-known contemporary theatre researcher Dragan Klaić relates the changes of the future theatre with transformations of a theatrical space. They should take place not in traditional theatre buildings, but in such locations where the limits between reality and artistic fiction, the stage and the audience would disappear. According to Klaić, this results from the need to return communal experience to the theatre, to turn it into a place of spiritual rather than aesthetic experience. This need is derived from the nostalgia for the times when theatre meant a great deal and would become a collective feast. What could return this kind of experience to the theatre today? It cannot compete with mass events taking place on city streets, squares and arenas. It means that a different space by itself is not enough. It is necessary to construct a different theatre machine that would help one to travel uninhibited in time and space. This machine should be built and operated by a creative community not lacking courage, the spirit of creative adventure and fantasy. It is also necessary that each member of this community would be able to share his or her experience with their partners and the audience through creative action. Probably then would the theatre as a place of common experience turn from a utopia into reality at least for a tiny moment.

In January 2006, the director Kristian Smeds began to rehearse a performance based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in Vilnius. The basic pieces of the set – a wardrobe, some chairs, and a rug – we found in an old summerhouse near Vilnius. During that visit Smeds jokingly suggested the idea of staging Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov: actors sitting amongst blooming trees would read the texts of Chekhov’s play, and at that time workers would cut trees with electric saws and take them away as timber waste… Later we used to return to the idea while discussing the situation of theatre and culture in general in Lithuania. Market laws that took root in the course of twenty years of independence have changed the place of culture and the mutual relations of people creating it. Ideological censorship was replaced by economic oppression. People working in the field of culture felt it particularly harshly in the period of economic crisis. The proper time for The Cherry Orchardhad arrived.

In May 2009, Kristian Smeds with a group of Lithuanian theatre artists began rehearsing The Cherry Orchard in an old summerhouse on the outskirts of Vilnius. Nobody was planning to cut down trees. Other means to convey the paradoxes of time were sought. Looking from aside, one could get an impression that the theatre artists assembled in the garden were simply having good time together. However, upon a closer look one could notice cameras registering every moment of the rehearsals and feel the tension hovering in the air…

Initially it was just a neglected garden in a Vilnius suburb with old fruit trees and a small summerhouse – part of the decaying landscape of Vilnius. It is being rapidly replaced by a new urban cityscape, whose traces can be seen in the suburbs as well. Such spaces can be found in many European cities. These are memory spaces, which became the prehistory of the “cherry orchard”. “It was the authentic environment that encouraged us to talk about what was going on currently in our life with the help of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. It is a layering of several time frames: an atmosphere that is several decades old shows through today, while the time of Chekhov’s play shows through the former”, Smeds said before the rehearsals.

Later the actors for the roles of The Cherry Orchard appeared: Ranevskaya – Virginija Kelmelytė, Gayev – Juozas Budraitis, Lopakhin – Jonas Vaitkus, Yepikhodov – Vytautas Anužis, Pischik – Gytis Padegimas, Petya Trofimov – Paulius Budraitis, Charlotta – Benas Šarka, Varya – Aldona Bendoriūtė, Anya – Irina Lavrinovič, Dunyasha – Rasa Samuolytė, and Yasha – Dainius Gavenonis. They were invited not to create the roles, as is customary in theatre, but to stay with their characters for a while, to read their texts, to tell others about them and themselves. The rehearsals began from reading the play at a large table standing outside under the blooming trees. Having arrived from Paris, the actress playing Ranevskaya, Virginija Kelmelytė, embraced their colleagues for the first time after a long separation and gave them small presents…

Theatre moved aside and gave way to life. For many actors it was the first experiment of this kind, and naturally a question arose how it would end. Smeds suggested a different method of work: “There are many actors among us who are used to working quickly and efficiently. Here they will be given a different possibility. As a director, I would like to offer the actors such conditions in which they wouldn’t have to hurry and would be able to enjoy the freedom of fantasizing together. Perhaps something interesting would be born out of this freedom…” Already during the first week of rehearsals and filming of The Cherry Orchard, the actors’ professional cautiousness disappeared, the senior ones cast away the burden of years and together with the young ones dived headlong into the whirlwind of improvisations suggested by director Smeds. It was then that the most unexpected solutions of the scenes of Chekhov’s play were born. Before long came an answer to the question what this “cherry orchard” was. In the words of Smeds, it was “the place and time for creative work, joy, and anarchy, when people can feel, fantasize and live before the doom”.

“The Cherry Orchard reflects what currently interests me most in theatre. It is being together with people, with actors. Sometimes the quality of time spent together is more important to me than the quality of work itself. While interpreting Chekhov, you always come across the concept of time. You must answer to yourself the question what time means in theatre and in life. That is why it is also important how you spend time together with Chekhov and people”, said Smeds after the spring stage of the rehearsals. “Being together with people” meant not only rehearsals, but also conversations about theatre, life, and the meaning of creative work yesterday and today, as well as the daily ritual of soup for lunch, and evenings at a fire… Out of all this the creative community of The Cherry Orchard was born, though some actors and well-known directors were rehearsing together for the first time.

A small group of theatre people and guests were able to see the first result at the end of May. According to the original plan, everything had to be presented outside. For that purpose several scenes of the play supposed to take place in the garden and the forest were prepared. However, several days before the presentation the rain began pouring down, and as the hope for better weather was lost, it was decided to invite the spectators inside the house. The actors sat down around a table in a small room, like on the first day of open-air rehearsals under the trees, lit fire in the fireplace and began reading the play. But it was already a totally different reading. The two-week period of work gave results – the performers of the roles of The Cherry Orchard had established instant rapport with each other. Even though holding books in their hands, they could freely improvise and communicate with each other while referring to the texts of Chekhov’s play. What remained to Smeds was to accentuate the main points and seat the audience, while the video artist Ville Hyvönen had to expand the action to other locations in the house with the help of filming equipment. Set designer Jūratė Paulėkaitė set up a large gallery of photographs of deceased Lithuanian and international artists behind the actors’ backs on the wall. Several dozens of seats for the invited audience were left in front of the actors. The circle of The Cherry Orchard increased.

The space of the room became a kind of stage connecting the living and the dead. The cameras registered and “broadcast” the action to the first floor of the house. There, in a “nursery” conjured from children’s drawings, books and old objects found in the house, several dozen spectators were seated. The action that had begun in a cosy room at a fireplace ended outside, where under the pouring rain all the actors and spectators observed the emotional monologue of Jonas Vaitkus – Lopakhin crowning the sale deal of the cherry orchard. After that the recording of Salomėja Nėris’ poem Our days are like feasts… read by actor Laimonas Noreika sounded from the inside of the house, which replaced the final remark by Firs in the play. Noreika was the first actor invited to the project of The Cherry Orchard to play the role of Firs. Unfortunately, he did not make it… Life lent a hand to the theatre and prompted creative solutions, while the audience became participants of this strange event.

After the first meeting of The Cherry Orchard with the audience it became obvious that the project must not end with the film. A need to develop what had been discovered arose. The concept of The Cherry Orchard as an attempt to turn a mirror to the Lithuanian theatre in order to capture its present time acquired a tangible shape. Then I asked Smeds what he as a foreigner saw in that mirror. “I can see a large variety of people – wise, experienced. But alongside I can see that they are lonely. Today the future of all of us is pretty much unclear – nobody knows what the world is going to be like in twenty or thirty years. In this situation I find it unacceptable to shut oneself in and occupy oneself with individual creative work only. I think that all of us lack visions, thoughts that we could share with each other and the audience. While working with the participants of The Cherry Orchard, I could feel how they treasure the possibility of communicating with each other, exchanging thoughts and opinions”.

The second meeting of the group of The Cherry Orchard took place in September. During the weeklong rehearsals the roles were further polished, and a new place of action was found – a large screen was set up in the garden among the trees. This place substituted for the first floor of the house. Thus two spaces of The Cherry Orchard were separated. The function of the first one in the room remained unchanged – it was the stage or the filming site. An improvised cinema theatre set up outside became an open-air venue for more than a hundred spectators. The entire process of creating The Cherry Orchard was exposed: the spectators inside the house could see live performance, while those sitting outside could watch the action taking place inside on the screen. This is how the two first acts of the play with an interval were enacted. The third act, which opened with Charlotta’s – Benas Šarka’s – tricks with fire and ended with the sale of the cherry orchard, like in spring, moved to the outside. The actors mixed among the audience, and everything turned into some kind of crazy party. The sense of community that was born in the final scene became the most important truth of this Cherry Orchard, which transcended the limits of artistic conventionality.

At the end of 2009, an invitation to take The Cherry Orchard to Ruhr came from the theatre biennial Theater der Welt held in Germany. The search for a suitable location took a long time, until finally it became clear that at the present stage it was impossible to move the project to another country, as it was too closely related with the space of the Vilnius garden. It was decided to present The Cherry Orchard for the last time in the same location and make a direct broadcast to Germany. The Lithuanian television and expressed the intention to participate in this project as well. On July 5th not only the audience assembled in the garden in a Vilnius suburb, but also Lithuanian TV viewers as well as public in Mulheim and Tallinn will be able to see live streaming of The Cherry Orchard . Will the room of The Cherry Orchard open to the world?

Audronis Liuga

> Links

The Cherry Orchard
Smeds Ensemble