Case Study Addendum to My Dinner with Antosha: Notes from the country Doctor
by Adam Muskin

Chekhov once wrote ‘If you cry ‘forward’, you must without fail make plain in what direction to go’. In many ways, it would seem this statement is a microcosm of everything that went into and came out of ‘Antosha’, summing up all the positives and negatives in one fell swoop of the pen. ‘Antosha’ was born out of two things: the desire to further develop the company’s artistic independence (much like Chekhov’s aforementioned cry of ‘forward!’) and the desire to present the audiences of America with a clearer, firmer vision of what we believe theater to be; an interactive art form. We wanted to challenge what we saw as the tradition of ‘the play’ being the primary source of drama for the stage, and wanted to capitalize on the much larger world of Russian literature. Chekhov, viewed primarily as a playwright in America and contrastingly in Russia as a literary writer whose drama was secondary seemed the obvious place to begin.

During the summer of 2007, Studio Six was invited to their first residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and began reading and adapting a number of Chekhov’s short stories and novellas into smaller scenes or one act plays that we could stage much the way we had been exposed to them in Russia. What began as a triptych (three different short stories, to be staged by three different first time directors from within the company) ended up being reduced to two stories in what would become its final form; A meta-theatrical excursion into a space resembling a psychiatric ward where the patients and the audience were invited to participate in a seminar on ‘feelings’. The house was transformed from a black box into a white-room. The title ‘My Dinner with Antosha’ was selected, playing on Chekhov’s early pen name. Chekhov’s stories were ‘case files’ and the actors were really patients in the ward, acting out The Story of an Unknown Man (a Chekhov novella) to try and get them to ‘feel emotions’ that the outside world had deemed dangerous. The audience members were invited guests at the seminar, and instead of a program, each was handed a case study by the Chief Physician in charge of the experiment (played, ironically, by me) and his two nurses, complete with a questionnaire to be filled out and returned to us at the end of the show. During the course of the show, The Chorus Girl served as an interlude performed by the nurses, occurring during the middle of Unknown Man when one of the main characters could not go on due to the emotional overload.

The attack, as I saw it, was three-fold; we aggressively asked three, extremely pressing questions of ourselves and our audience. First, we wanted to ask ourselves whether or not we had the courage and resolve to boldly move forward and try to develop ourselves further as artists. Second, We wanted to present our audience with a story of an enormous love that had been spat upon and desecrated by a world of cynicism and apathy, to ask the audiences of New York if they could accept ramifications of agreeing with the cynical world of popular negativity in which we live. The third question came directly as a result of the second. We also wanted to challenge the audience to change their way of thinking about Chekhov, about theater, shake them out of their status-quo, asking them to participate with us in the process. We invited them to be active, not passive, to take part in the experiment along with us, to join us in feeling like they had just experienced something unique.

The results of our ‘experiment’ were of course mixed, and many impressions remain; did we ask too many questions? Did we ask too few? In the end however, I consider Antosha to have been a success; not because the performance was flawless or the directing dynamic and visionary ‘making plain what direction it wanted to go’ (this is, as it turned out in retrospect, furthest from the truth), but because it was a necessary, dangerous, and important step that we all had to take together in order to keep moving forward as a company of artists.

The process started and ended as a collective one, and it is for this reason that I still have trouble calling myself the director, for while it is easy and appropriate for me to take responsibility for Antosha’s inadequacies, I find it impossible to assume ownership of such an important, collective success. Such is, as I have come to understand in large part thanks to Antosha, the nature of directing.