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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Seagull to premiere next Wednesday

Granada Artist-in-Residence Katya Kamotskaia, with Mark Stevenson, will direct Anton Chekhov’s famous Russian play, The Seagull, opening Mar. 10 through Mar. 14. Performances begin at 8 p.m., except for Sunday’s, which begins at 2 p.m.

The Seagull, a Russian play written in 1894, was a revolutionary dramatic work. With elegant landscapes for backgrounds and love triangles, it may not seem like a comedy.

But it is. The plot works around two generations of people devoted to the stage, whether writing or acting for it. It embodies the cult obsession with drama at that time in Russia.

Kamotskaia, who was born and based in Russia, now works permanently at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasglow, Scotland as a director, acting teacher and lecturer. She brought her colleague, Mark Stevenson, from Scotland to help co-direct with her.

Bella Merlin, Kamotskaia’s former student in Russia, is currently a professor of acting at UC Davis. It was through their communication that Kamotskaia was invited to become a Granada artist. Knowing that The Seagull was a favorite of Kamotskaia’s, Merlin suggested the piece and Kamotskaia willingly complied.

Although she has never directed The Seagull before, Kamotskaia said she has “worked with the text a lot, analytically.”

She said her favorite part of directing The Seagull is “seeing when [the actors] are working together, breathing together and feeling the characters.”

Kamotskaia said the process of creating the play is “about going through this immediate experience. It’s difficult – a huge effort, emotionally.”

Six of the 12 actors are Master of Fine Arts students. Five are undergraduate students of various majors, and Merlin herself acts in the play.

“The most challenging part of directing is that most of the cast are already trained as professionals, and have their own ways,” she said. “They tell me my ways are different, and I have to make sure they don’t fall into their habits.”

Cast member and senior history major Hannah Glass said, “I liked getting to work with everyone. It’s an intimate cast and gives you the chance to explore the characters.”

Brett Duggan, an MFA student who plays Shamrayev, said, “[The best part] is to work with Katya, it’s a very playful rehearsal process.”

MFA student Michael Davison, who plays the male lead Trigorin said, “Working with a Russian director on a Russian-written play is great. I love the dynamic of playing with a faculty member and an undergraduate student, it’s really fun.”

Because the cast had the whole quarter to prepare for the production, every aspect of the play is at a very high level of quality – including the sets.

MFA student of scenic design Jamie Kumpf said the set design process was a long one.

“We have to talk with the director to figure out an overlying concept, abstract or real,” Kumpf said. “Or, if the director has any idea of what the scenery should look like, we have to get that information right away.”

For this play, Kumpf and her team of eight or nine scenic crewmembers drew ideas from the play’s original setting.

“We took inspiration from Russian paintings,” Kumpf said. “It’s very realistic, in this case.”

The design process took an entire month and a half. Building to the set took another month.

“It’s a lot of work, definitely a process,” Kumpf said. “But collaborative art is always an adventure.”

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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