Getting to know the Three Sisters

5 July 2010

Three Sisters

On stage: Hillary scholars Calvin Petersen and Kate Davison in a scene from The Three Sisters.

Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters is a challenging play with a big cast. It spans five years and involves several complex storylines and equally complex characters.

Just the production for hardworking Sir Edmund Hillary scholars. In what she thinks is a first, Theatre Studies senior lecturer Gaye Poole has called in many of the Hillary scholarship Creative and Performing Arts students, plus extras, to stage The Three Sisters, this year’s major Hillary production. They’ve come from Theatre Studies, Music, Dance and Computer Graphic Design.

“For the theatre students, I wanted a play that would get all the actors involved at a deep level, and this play fits the bill because it doesn’t have one or two leads, it’s an ensemble piece,” says Poole who’s directing the play. “And the characters are highly individual, rich and idiosyncratic.”

Hillary scholars Calvin Petersen and Kate Davison are playing husband and wife. Peterson is Andrei, brother of the three sisters and Davison plays Natalya, looked down on by her sisters in law.

“Ms Poole has made sure we know and understand the play from start to finish,” says Davison. “We read the play together as a group in January but casting wasn’t done until May. We’d read and discussed it many times and all of us had tried out several of the parts. Each person brought something different to each role. You don’t get a lot of information about the characters, so you have to fill in a lot of gaps yourself and that’s a great challenge. But we were pleased once the roles were decided and could focus on the one part.”

“They did seem to enjoy swapping around roles and it deepened their understanding of the play as a whole,” says Poole.

“I needed to be sure the understood all the characters and what they got through over five years. I think it’s important to take things slowly – I call it a simmering process, and you tend to get much better work when actors have had to think long and hard about the work, not just learned the lines that they have to speak.”

And she says it’s common in the early stages of rehearsal for the students to explore. “It’s about figuring out the specific hopes and dreams of the characters and how they gradually abandon or lose those hopes.” She says some of the most interesting work is done with characters who are on stage, silent but listening. “All the characters still have to play their desires, actions, wishes but they don’t always articulate them directly.”

Petersen admits to being quite new to theatre but is relishing his role in the production. "It’s definitely good being able to discuss all aspects of the play and understanding different perspectives on characters and relationships. Building up to the performance, like we're doing, is quite unique for someone my age. Spending a whole year on one production gives us as actors a great opportunity to create a world that really engages the audience."

There will be five performances of The Three Sisters in late November.

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