Black Swan was scheduled to hold its opening night of The Cherry Orchard in the Heath Ledger Theatre this evening but unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, had to postpone the season entirely.
The Cherry Orchard is Anton Chekhov’s last great masterpiece. In the play, Madame Ranevskaya - fresh out of love and money after a failed romance - returns to the family farm in Manjimup where, faced with impending bankruptcy, the vast and beautiful cherry orchard is soon to be auctioned off against her mounting debts. It’s time to call in the family.
Black Swan’s adaptation by Adriane Daff and Katherine Tonkin is described as “A Country Practice meets The Royal Tannenbaums”, a family dramedy steeped in Australiana and 1980s nostalgia. The company were fortunate enough to continue to work with all artists and creatives during this time so the ensemble of 12 actors and 3 creatives and a Stage Manager across four states with Artistic Director Clare Watson and Assistant Director and Resident Artist Ian Michael, commenced a creative development via Zoom.
Assistant Director, Ian Michael, shared his reflections on this experience:
“And so we live. Sometimes we come together. Something brings us together. And some days we are alone. But it’s those days together, that remind us why we live. Or, maybe it is - how. How we live. To know that we are not alone. That is why theatre matters to me.” - Richard Nelson.
I feel like this quote couldn’t be truer to the time and world we find ourselves in right now. The same could also be said about doing a creative development on a play over Zoom.
Over the past month, I have been fortunate enough to be the Assistant Director on the adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard by Adriane Daff and Katherine Tonkin. Along with Clare Watson, the cast, and creatives, we started a process that began as a somewhat challenging time: with unstable connections, muted microphones, frozen screens, children running in and out, pets seeking attention; we soon realised that our own circumstances were very much resonating with The Cherry Orchard, as we found ourselves, like the characters, desperate to communicate and connect with one other.
As artists do, we adapted to this new process and embraced it as our own, one that would serve the work in immeasurable ways. The hours spent together each day became essential to all of us during this time - to connect, to imagine, to find community, to laugh, to cry, to reach out and to give this adaptation everything that we could. We shared language, stories, songs, feelings fears and our homes. And, as the days and weeks went on we unpacked the text and the characters through full reads of the play, discussions, and one-on-one character sessions, with actors being an integral part of the development process that allowed us to find the layers in the text and analyse the characters with time that you usually wouldn’t get in a four week rehearsal.
Katherine and Adriane have done a stellar job of adapting a story that has been told thousands of times to feel new but still very true to Chekhov and the energy the cast bring to the world and the people was a real triumph of the process. As an audience, you know exactly what the world is and when; the characters are complicated, hilarious, lonely, flawed and find themselves in a place and situation that some find sanctuary in and some feel imprisoned by. They not only lifted the words off the page but transferred them through the screen as well, which is so satisfying when at times this online world doesn't feel enough.
The hours spent together felt like they were over in an instant but also felt like an eternity, kind of like that feeling between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve when nobody knows what day of the week it is. But what I do know is that I can’t wait for the day when we can sit together and share this work and so many stories with you all.