Bagryana Popov – Gathering in place: Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the Australian landscape


Bagryana Popov

La Trobe University

Gathering in place: Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the Australian landscape

What do we leave behind, what do we hold onto and how do we imagine a future? These questions are at the heart of Chekhov’s plays. In Uncle Vanya, they turn toward people’s relationship with land, trees and deforestation. Chekhov was passionate about forests and aware of their ecological importance. In this paper, I will discuss the Uncle Vanya project; a site-specific, time-specific theatre project, which transplants Chekhov’s early environmentalist play into the Australian landscape, adapting it to place and local issues. This contemporary version of the play has been performed in five regional locations in Australia: in Victoria, NSW and SA, adapted anew in response to each place through an intricate process. Each performance of the play takes two days, as each act is performed at the time of day indicated in Chekhov’s stage directions. Audiences are invited into the play and place in an intimate, immersive way. Between acts, they interact with performers, are invited on walks in the surrounding landscape and to talks about ecological and farming issues of the region. Over six years, this project has been a series of deep encounters with places, landscapes and people, as the ensemble gathers each time to live, work and play in response to each house and landscape, welcomed by the host of each property. The project dissolves boundaries between performance and reality, between audience and performers. The register is one of intimacy and porousness, in an embodied experience of the landscape over time. This durational element has ethical implications, as it brings participants together in the present moment and invokes questions of the fragile present moment, hope and responsibility to the future. In my discussion, I will refer to the ideas of Mike Pearson on site in the creation meaning, and Gernot Bohme on ethics and embodiment. 

Dr Bagryana Popov is an award-winning theatre artist. She has collaborated with professional artists, students and communities, working as director, actor and performance maker. Her research interests include performance practice, embodiment, place and the experience of political repression. She is deeply interested in Chekhov’s plays and has directed Three Sisters, The Seagull and a reimagined dance-theatre version of The Cherry Orchard, titled Progress and Melancholy. Her site-specific, durational project Uncle Vanya transposed to the Australian landscape, co-produced with La Mama, was presented at the Adelaide Festival 2019. Dr Popov is a theatre lecturer and researcher at La Trobe University.