Catherine Vidal on the creation of La mouette (The Seagull)

The company sitting at a long table with pages during a workshop.
The company during the workshop

Dear friends of French Theatre,

So many things have been considered, put in place and tried out for the production of La mouette (The Seagull) since I wrote to you last January that this brief letter won’t be enough to cover them all. (By the way, in order to make the best use of the space, I’m writing this on my computer rather than by hand as I did the first time!)

That said, here are a few highlights of what we’ve achieved:

There have been three workshops, thanks to French Theatre and Théâtre Prospero in Montréal. The first was held over a week in June, when we worked on Guillaume Corbeil’s adaptation—first by praising it, because Guillaume has done a remarkable job of restoring the oral quality of the text and bringing it closer to our own French; then by delving into it with the actors, reviewing the French translation and the original script (thanks to one of the cast members, Igor Ovadis, who was born in Kyiv) to make absolutely sure we didn’t miss anything.

The Seagull is about, among other things, intergenerational confrontation and, in its unconscious wake, supporting the younger generation. The ten-minute performance in Act I being the work of a young artist in the play (Treplev, who is keen to explore new forms), I wanted to share the stage and my financial resources, and entrust this scene to a young director. During the second workshop, Sophie El Assaad worked with Mattis Savard-Verhoeven and Madeleine Sarr on the performance of Treplev and Nina. I was delighted with what I saw at the end of our week of experimentation, and I can’t wait for you to see her work.

The third workshop has just ended: we read through the latest draft of the adaptation, which will be the closest to the final version (it will be fine-tuned right up to opening night!), and showed the cast the models of the set. We carried out tests to evaluate both the nature of the space and the dramatic impact of the acting. What I can tell you is that we’re all really looking forward to diving into rehearsals in November. We’re truly inspired by Chekhov’s play and Guillaume Corbeil’s adaptation.

We’ve also started working on a few texts to be read at a special evening, to which you’re all invited!

On Monday, December 4, in the Azrieli Studio, we’ll be presenting our 3D dramaturg’s notebook. What’s a dramaturg’s notebook? It’s a document compiled by a dramaturg, a summary of their research into related texts that shed light on the play they’re working on. It’s a kind of investigation into the origins, the themes, and the artistic and political significance of a text. The material we found around The Seagull is so rich and interesting that we decided to turn it into an evening “performance–reading.” And because I owe my love of Chekhov to an actor and teacher who introduced me to him at the Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal, it seemed only natural to invite special guest Patricia Nolin to join us for the evening.

On the program: Chekhov’s wonderful short stories; his correspondence about creating The Seagull; his meeting with Lydia Mizinova, who inspired the character of Nina in the play; his thoughts on the act of writing; his letters to his last wife (actor Olga Knipper); and the whiff of scandal that surrounded his plays.

Chekhov’s house was always full of guests. He had a sense of hospitality and fun that reflected his great human warmth and tremendous vital energy. It’s in that spirit that we want to welcome you! 

We look forward to seeing you on December 4!

Catherine Vidal

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