Ben Brantley’s been around. So it’s telling that the New York Times chief drama critic devoted a rhapsodically appreciative Dec. 2 Arts & Leisure column to the world theatre’s current mania for Anton Chekhov. “I can’t remember a year in the theatre as crowded with productions of Chekhov’s chronicles of lonely lives as 2012 has been,” Brantley announced, going on to inventory and comment on the year’s cascade of Vanyas and Seagulls—some “earnest, straightforward (and often star-studded),” others “desperately updated”—as well as its rarities (Classic Stage Company of New York City’s Ivanov, with Ethan Hawke) and extravagances (the Swiss company Compagnia Finzi Pasca’s circus-style tour de force Donka: A Letter to Chekhov at the Brooklyn Academy of Music). Brantley went on to note the advent of extra-theatrical Chekhov chat in New York, such as the New Museum’s recent panel “My Chekhov, Not Yours,” and Target Margin Theater’s “After Anton” series, and to anticipate some “antic riffs” on the Russian master’s oeuvre, due early in 2013.
It’s the last of these items that fascinates our own reporter, Ben Gassman (“Knocking Chekhov for a Loop,” page 82 of the print edition). On the heels of Annie Baker’s snug, we’re-all-in-this-together revamping of Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep this past summer, Gassman previews an intriguing pair of Chekhovian meditations—he calls them “stylized theatro-philosophical excursions”—due this month at the COIL festival in New York City, both helmed by women. “Why all the Chekhovs at this cultural moment? Maybe there’s something in the air,” Gassman speculates. He might do well to refer back to Brantley’s revelatory analysis, which zeroes in on social and cultural parallels between the playwright’s time and ours: fluctuating ideologies, the idleness of unemployment, generational friction and so on. Who says critics aren’t thinkers any more?
Then again, this annual oversized issue of American Theatre—with its Approaches to Theatre Training special section, devoted this year to “The Artist as Entrepreneur”—is chock full of ideas from great thinkers. We’ve collected a cadre of them to explore the theme of entrepreneurship, from multiple angles. Then, there are the other writers in this issue, who delve into their personal histories to offer insights about the ethics of inclusion (Naomi Wallace’s “Let the Right One In”) or to share a provocative, as-yet-untold slice of regional theatre history (Carey Perloff’s “The Perloff Years: Part 1”). And there’s more—reports from the field on such pertinent topics as stage nudity (“Baring It All”), social media in performance (“All the Media Is a Stage”) and the challenges of international collaboration (“Cost Effective”).
In short, this is a something-for-everyone issue, whether you’re aiming to retool your career aspirations, sharpen your point of view on contemporary issues or bask in the glow of reinvented Chekhov. It’s a working document for working artists and those who value them.