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Chekhov for the 21st Century. Carol Apollonio and Angela Brintlinger, eds. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2012, 349–54.       Remixing Chekhov Sasha Waters Freyer It  arrived  in  Iowa  by  mail  on  a  gloomy  afternoon  in  February  2006,  a  small,   lumpy   package   from   the   celebrated   New   York   writer   Phillip   Lopate.   I   tore   through   the   bubble   wrap.   It   was   The   Tape,   a   single   word—”Vanya”— inscribed   upon   its   label.   I   was   in   my   office   with   a   myriad   mundane   mid-­‐‑ semester  tasks  that  demanded  my  flagging  attention.  I  was  busy,  distracted,   but  felt  compelled  to  watch  just  a  few  minutes,  for  fun.  The  grainy  black-­‐‑and-­‐‑ white  images  hissed  to  life  on  the  VHS  deck.  “Drink  some  tea,  my  boy”—the   opening  line  of  dialogue  from  Anton  Chekhov’s  melancholy  play  about  bro-­‐‑ ken  adults  reckoning  with  the  disappointments  and  futility  of  their  middle-­‐‑ aged  lives,  spoken  by  eleven-­‐‑year-­‐‑old  Ayesha  Wilson.  “No  thanks,  I  don’t  feel   much   like   it,”   replies   the   rakish   Doctor   Astrov,   performed   by   sixth-­‐‑grade   heartthrob   Slim   Pritchett.   “Nurse,   how   long   have   you   and   I   known   each   other?”   he   asks   wearily.   How   long   indeed?   Ayesha   muses   that   it   has   been   “Eleven  years,  maybe  even  more.”   Nearly  thirty  years  after  this  video  was  taped,  I  am  watching  a  produc-­‐‑ tion  of  Uncle  Vanya  staged  by  New  York  City  fifth  and  sixth  graders  at  Public   School  75  in  Upper  Manhattan  under  Phillip  Lopate’s  patient  direction  and   occasional   coercion.   On   screen   it   is   June   of   1979,   and   the   children,   myself   among   them,   traipse   across   the   stage   at   the   Symphony   Space   Theater   on   Broadway   and   Ninety-­‐‑Sixth   Street   for   nearly   two   hours   “before   an   initially   indulgent  but  skeptical  audience,”  in  Lopate’s  words.1  (See   figure  27  in  the   gallery  of  illustrations  following  p.  210.)  In  a  1979  essay  titled  “Chekhov  for   Children”  Lopate  writes,  “Many  who  came  to  support  the  children  in  what   they   assumed   would   be   an   impossible   undertaking   were   rather   startled   to   find  themselves  pulled  into  the  original  drama  as  Chekhov  had  written  it  …   and  I  was  in  a  sense  the  most  surprised,  knowing  from  having  directed  the   play  how  catastrophically  it  could  have  gone”  (154).   Anton   Chekhov   was   thirty-­‐‑nine   years   old   when   Uncle   Vanya   was   first   staged  at  the  turn  of  the  last  century  in  Moscow;  Phillip  Lopate  was  thirty-­‐‑ seven   when   he   directed   the   play   on   the   Upper   West   Side   of   Manhattan.   In                                                                                                                             1  Phillip  Lopate,  “Chekhov  for  Children,”  in  Against  Joie  de  Vivre:  Personal  Essays  (New   York:   Simon   &   Schuster,   1989),   153.   All   quotes   in   the   article   come   either   from   this   essay  or  from  my  film  “Chekhov  for  Children”  (2010).  For  more  information  on  the   film,  see     350 SASHA WATERS FREYER 2006,  when  I  began  work  on  Chekhov  for  Children,  a  feature  documentary  film   about  this  production  and  its  aftermath,  the  children  of  the  1970s  who  per-­‐‑ formed  in  Lopate’s  Vanya  were  between  those  two  ages.  Chekhov  for  Children  is   a  love  letter  to  the  turbulent  New  York  of  our  childhoods  that  explores  the   interplay  between  art  and  life  for  a  dozen  friends  across  thirty  years.  The  film   draws   on   the   footage   of   the   original   performance,   plus   rare,   student-­‐‑made   Super  8mm  films  and  videos  courtesy  of  the  Teachers  &  Writers  Collaborative   in  New  York  City,  to  explore  Lopate’s  Uncle  Vanya  in  the  context  of  a  flourish-­‐‑ ing  arts  program  at  Public  School  75  (figure  28).  Weaving  together  archival   film  and  video  images  with  voice-­‐‑over,  Lopate’s  text,  and  interviews  with  the   now  middle-­‐‑aged  children,  the  film  both  revisits  Phillip’s  essay  and  continues   the  tale  he  set  in  motion.     “A  lot  of  these  kids,  they’re  never  going  to  become  artists.  What  do  you   see  as  the  ongoing  value  of  them  spending  this  time  and  so  much  attention  to   drawing?”   Teri   Mack,   a   member   of   the   Teachers   &   Writers   team,   queries   a   classroom   teacher   in   a   bit   of   footage,   circa   1975,   seen   in   the   documentary   Chekhov  for  Children.  The  image  is  the  creamy  black-­‐‑and-­‐‑white  of  old  Betamax   video.  The  young  teacher  is  Ruth  Lacey,  today  the  principal  of  an  alternative   public  high  school  in  Manhattan.  Lacey  answers,  “The  amount  of  time  that   they’re  spending  on  drawing  and  looking  is  the  same  approach  I  would  use   with  any  subject  matter.  I  mean  they’re  so  bombarded  with  visual  stimuli  that   it  seems  to  me  that  you  have  to  take  something  out  of  their  environment  and   make  them  focus  on  it  so  that  they...


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