Thursday, February 14, 2013

Finding Inspiration in Chekhov

Russian Humor

“Russian writer Anton Chekhov has been an inspiration and source for our works,” Richard Alger says. “Chekhov’s writing connects humor and pathos. We really embrace that and find ways to inject even more humor, beyond what’s there.”

In Track 3, three sisters and their brother are stranded in a provincial town where they long for some ideal, which is Moscow. They are waiting and looking for something outside of themselves to give them happiness, but in reality, the answer is within them.

“There are some great interjections from characters who comment on or break up what people are saying,” relates Alger. “Someone will say they want to go to Moscow, and another person in a different room will yell out ‘That’s nonsense!’

“We’re taking a story that is somewhat of a soap opera, with lots of melodrama and very touching moments, and giving it a surprisingly lively adaptation that keeps moving all the time. The audience can see how beautifully woven the relationships are between the characters.” In the tradition of Theatre Movement Bazaar, Track 3 also utilizes singing and dancing.

“Our hope is to inspire people to read the original Chekhov,” says Tina Kronis. ”And for those audience members who have read Chekhov, to engage with our storytelling and be ready for its energy.”
Artist and Mechanical Engineer Seem Unlikely Pairing, But Create Incredible Theatre Experiences

Maybe it seems like fate: Tina Kronis and Richard Alger first set eyes on each other at an New York audition in the mid-1990s. They quickly became friends. But romantic feelings didn’t stir until they worked together artistically at an off-Broadway warehouse on 39th Street where the Theatre of the Body Festival was being hosted.

It seemed an unlikely attraction at first: she was a choreographer and director; he was a mechanical engineer and writer. But their creative passions led them to collaborate and create what is now known as Theatre Movement Bazaar, the Los Angeles-based performance company.

“We were on the same page, even though we came from very different backgrounds,” says Kronis.  “But we are able to meet in the work at hand. That’s where we find common ground. It’s great.”

At the festival in New York City, Alger asked Kronis to do a production with him. Then she introduced him to silent clowning. They developed her piece, just the two of them, with mask, movement, clowning, mime and good times. The piece was called Cornography—a mix of corny things (the clown part) and choreography. Kronis’ time with Mummenschanz, the renowned Swiss-based mask theatre troupe, helped fine-tune the early works she and Alger developed.

Kronis and Alger married and then honeymooned by taking Cornography to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mary Brennan, writing in The Herald, said Cornography’s “sense of humor is rooted, securely, in fine clowning and skilled mime.”

After the pair returned to the United States, they eventually moved to Los Angeles and began to partner with other kindred artistic souls, like Sacred Fools Theater Company. That’s where Kronis and Alger started plumbing the depths of Anton Chekhov’s works, beginning with an adaptation of Three Sisters as Chekhov’s Sisters and followed by an adaptation of The Seagull. Alger wrote and was involved with lighting and set design; Kronis directed and choreographed. [Theatre Movement Bazaar brought its adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a work called Anton’s Uncles to Studio SCR in 2012.]

“We both wanted to prepare material that could be explored in a multi-faceted way,” Alger says.

Tina Kronis and Richard Alger
Their confidence and partnership growing, in 2000, Kronis and Alger officially formed Theater Movement Bazaar. Their vision was to grow beyond their two-person performing team and develop an ensemble and train the members in the Kronis-Alger method of storytelling.

Helming the company has been creatively rewarding for Kronis and Alger. In 2007, they performed again as a duo—backed by the ensemble players—in Monster of Happiness, a love story based on the myth of Adam and Eve that examines a cornerstone of the American Dream: the pursuit of happiness. In real life, the experience started off without much happiness: Alger was hit by a car and by the time Monster premiered, he played his scenes by sitting around a table. That incident prompted the company to develop and weave multi-media into its shows and the high-tech angle stayed true to their first meeting in New York City.

“We share not only a great compatibility, but a willingness to experiment and think about ways to revitalize theatre,” she says. Alger’s background in engineering and film helped deepen that sense of fearlessness in experimenting.

“Our creative relationship is built around our strengths,” she adds. “After all this time, we continue to surprise each other and challenge each other,” says Kronis of the key behind their creative partnership. “When Richard writes something, it’s like a piece of music to me. I get to take that “music” and bring it to life—flesh and blood—with the actors.”

Kronis adds that the ensemble isn’t playwright-driven. “Text is just one level,” she explains. “The direction is one level, the music is one level and we interweave it all. That’s at the core of Theatre Movement Bazaar.”

About Theatre Movement Bazaar

Theatre Movement Bazaar is dedicated to creating original performance works. The company merges elements of dance, text, cinema and media from many different sources to create provocative theatrical storytelling with an emphasis on physical action. The company strives to reinvigorate the theatre for contemporary audiences.

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