It is actor/director André Stolz’s passion for Russian playwright Anton Chekhov that inspired him to present a Chekhov Festival 10 years ago. He believes it is time to revive that first leap of faith which turned out to be hugely successful even if it was done on a shoestring.
“In 2004, under the auspices of the Joburg Theatre, I presented the first Chekhov Festival at the Fringe Theatre. In two weeks a company of nine directors and 23 actors performed 11 short plays (five One- Acts and six adaptations of short stories),” he explains.
It all started when he discovered his hero as a Pretoria University drama student. When he first read The Cherry Orchard, it felt as if the part of the brother, also called André, had been written for him.
“I understood him perfectly,” he says. To further cement the obsession, he was cast in this role in his first professional performance. That started what has been a lifelong challenge to study and delve deeply into the playwright’s work and his life.
Not only did he bear the name of his favourite character, but Stolz looks the part and through the years, he befriended another Chekhov admirer, Reza de Wet, who will also be commemorated at the festival with a run of The Brothers, her examination of the Russian dramatist’s relationship with his brothers. Stolz has, through the years, directed a number of Chekhov and De Wet plays.
Chekhov, according to Stolz, is one of the greatest writing forces of modern times: a prolific short story writer who influenced many authors of the 20th century and who became the most performed playwright in the world – second only to Shakespeare. Chekhov has charmed and attracted many great actors, directors and theatre companies the world over for many decades.
This year is the commemoration of the 110th year of his death.
The first time around, he focused on the shorter works and now he will incorporate more mature works. It is a labour of love more than anything for the festival founder as well as everyone involved. It is a chance for directors and actors to work in classic productions and, because of a lack of funds, to try to achieve the impossible, explains Stolz.
They have again received the support of the Joburg Theatre with the festival running in the Fringe Theatre.
“It’s important that actors, especially those who find their lives dominated by soapies, be a part of something with substance.”
It’s all about telling stories and working with what they have, which isn’t much.
“It’s also a chance for young actors as well as audiences to see these plays.”
Time is money, something they don’t have, although sponsorship is welcomed, but that means the work is rehearsed at speed, but with focus.
“It’s not ideal,” says Stolz, “but it’s possible.” It also gives his favourite playwright a chance to gain new audiences.
Primarily he’s looking at (and nothing is yet finalised) Oppad (On the Road), which is an adaptation of a Chekhov short story.
Rach-maninoff was inspired by the tale to compose his Fantasy for Orchestra Opus 7. Thus the production will be a chamber piece with four actors and two musicians (Kutlwano Masote on cello and Zanta Hofmeyr on violin). This will be the flagship production.
Other works include Grief, to be directed by Lionel Newton casting two young actors; the Retief family (father, mother and daughter) will present The Trousseau; Sello Sebotsane will star in The Proposal; and The Sneeze will be reworked by Craig Morris as performance art.
Other plays include The Beauty, Rothschild’s Fiddle, Plots, His Wife and The Bet.
Some of the artists involved include Sello Sebotsane, Zethu Dlomo, Lynne Maree, Newton, David Butler, Kevin Smith, Masote, Gerard Rudolf, Riana Wilkens, Hofmeyr, Craig Morris, Greg Melville-Smith, Gustav Gerdener, Tessa Jubber, Ryan Dittman and Jaques da Silva.
There is no funding yet, but Stolz is waiting for positive responses from various sources (NAC, the Russian Embassy etc) and remains positive. Daily rehearsal expenses will be covered for everyone involved and the profits will be shared by the company.
The Chekhov fanatic is crossing fingers that he can pull this one off and that the playwright’s enthusiasts will support the Chekhov Festival 2014 which is scheduled to take place at the Fringe from June 4 to 16 with the final day a celebration of Youth Day.
Ten years ago, the festival was nominated in two categories for the Naledi Awards, Best Cutting Edge and Best Ensemble. Stolz knows they can pull it off again and already he has his sights set on a grand reading of Die Kersietuin (The Cherry Orchard) later this year which he hopes will turn into a fully fledged production.