The following are some interviews given by the director and the set designer for this production of Three Sisters. They give a really good insight into the production and why the director and designer chose to do what they did.
The Director- Scott Alderdice
Scott Alderdice has been knocking around the dark basements of the theatre world for more decades now than memory allows. Sometime back in the 1980s he graduated from The Victorian College of the Arts, School of Drama as a director and he has been involved in the industry on many levels ever since. These have included guest director for the Melbourne Theatre Company, Opera Australia and the Victorian Arts Council; and artistic director of the Riverina Theatre Company. In the latter capacity, and in ensuing freelance engagements, Scott wrote and directed several sell-out touring Theatre-in-Education productions and cabarets. In 1996, Scott took what was to be the first step in an ongoing association with the University of Southern Queensland as guest director of the Performance Centre's production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Scott stayed on at USQ, as Lecturer in Acting (now also Head of Theatre), directing numerous highly successful productions, including Richard III (1999), Good Woman of Szechwan (2003) and Hamlet (2004). At the beginning of 2005, Scott's passion was to write and direct the highly successful USQ's 2005 Children Theatre production of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Three Sisters is his latest directing endeavor.
What is your role as director?
All I can do is respond to the story personally. I believe a director doesn't have the right to shove their personal philosophy down anyone's throat. I just ask myself "how do I connect with the story?" and from my understanding I hope the audience can connect with it on their own level.
You've done a production of Three Sisters before. How does this production differ?
I was Assistant director, or Acting director, meaning I helped work with the actors, in 1983. But there is no way I see anything then as I do now. I view the play through different eyes. I see it as an enormously symbolic play and this is what I respond to.
How do you connect with a play that is 104 years old? Do you find a connection with the playwright?
It seems a lot of the great writers come to a time in their life when they use their deep knowledge of symbolism, of a collective unconscious symbolism and as a director I'm also at that time when I'm aware of all those things. So when you read Shakespeare or any of the great classical writers you see those symbols in use – the first thing you see when you read are these symbols. If you look at the play as a naturalistic story you'll find it would be soap opera and it's much more than that.
So how do you read the play personally?
I ask myself "what's the story saying to us now?" It's often viewed as a microcosmic epic story about the changes coming with the Russian Revolution when everything was obliterated. The leisured and gentry class could not see that under swell of disaffection, hunger and violence that was coming at them and it is often read this way through the characters. It is often thought that Chekhov wrote the play as a premonition, but if this is so then I still have to question what it's saying to us now, given our knowledge of what occurred. For me it became about our young generation now living in an extraordinary wealthy time but within this they are searching – they are alone, solitary and in a deep yearning for happiness. Look at things like ecstasy, a pill that literally makes you happy. It becomes a pill that feeds into this yearning. That's where Olga, Irena and Masha become the key to our time, they constantly thinking "surely I was born for a reason" until they realize that they can't find true peace and happiness. That's where the play really resonates.
How do you transfer all this to the rehearsal space?
In rehearsal period we are trying to figure out who are these creatures? I look at the three sisters as three dragonesses, the last of their species. They're doomed to die out but have to find meaning in their situation regardless. Furthermore their surrounded by lesser creatures who are trying to find their own self worth. Probably more than any other play I've done it's a process of questioning not answering. We constantly question "What's this mean?" Instead of looking at the style of theatre at the time we are looking at the greater existential, metaphysical and poetical elements. It's about connecting with the audience a long way beyond naturalism. So we are searching and questioning how these people are stuck in a time they can't escape. Although civilization was changing around them there is a sense of well being that we will always go on.
Throughout the process it's natural that the interpretation keeps changing. I'm not a director with vision; I use everyone in the process to collaborate. Working in the theatre is an evolutionary and organic thing. All you can do is start rehearsals with a particular point in the hope something far better than you thought is created.
How have you decided to connect with the audience?
We can connect by putting the play on the right stylistic level. The audience may think that's my story but the hugeness of the story links to a greater search for a path in life.
I don't think that you have a right to tell anyone a message through a play. But it becomes an opportunity to explore that universal yearning and searching. Hopefully questions like "What has meaning for us?" "Where is happiness and how do we get it?" will resound. The audience will identify with the characters sense of belonging. There is an instinct to identify where the home is inside the characters.
What is the stylistic level you've decided to put the play on?
There is a vampire quality in the play. There is a sense of timelessness, in which the characters live for an eternity. There's a sense of endless living and endless death and it's an unnatural thing to live beyond a normal lifespan. The style will reflect this cycle, a birth, life and death. It will reflect how these creatures go on with an agony of searching; it will reflect the solitary nature of their plight, how terribly alone they are.
How to…be a director
Get your students to look at a short scene from Three Sisters individually. Ask them to consider the dynamics of a scene. Do they instantly want to impose their own sensibilities on a scene? Or do they find a general way of reading the one scene? As a large group stage the scene and get the students to offer their suggestions as director. How many different ways of performing the one scene did you find?
Set Design – Chris Willems
Describe your design
What's your role as set designer?
To create a visual environment
How do you actively put the director's theme into play?
The director and I discuss early on how each of us see the play and work out what style, period and themes we see in the work. We then set about creating an environment which will serve the play, the actors and the production.
What is the central inspiration for your design and what does it say?
It's "Miss Havisham" from Charles Dickens in terms of visual imagery or Havishamesque – there is a strong sense of decaying.
What materials are you using?
Lots of soft materials
To create the ethereal effect
Split students into small groups (3-4) and get them to pick one person to be the set designer. Pick a short scene from three sisters and get the other students to rehearse it. Now get them to perform it in their groups for the set designer. After the performance the group must discuss what themes they see in the scene. Based on what they saw visually in the scene the set designer must get up with their group and paint a set doing their best to create "a visual environment" for the audience. It can be as realistic or abstract as they'd like.