‘Anton Pavlovich’s Garden Club:’ Anton Pavlovich’s orchard brought into the 21st century

November 13, 2020

UPDATED: 11/13/20, 7:08 P.M.

Sometimes the best way to see something is to hear it. “Anton Pavlovich’s Garden Club” is a podcast adaptation of Anton Pavlovich Chehkov’s play “The Cherry Orchard,” written by Nate Rtischev ’21 and directed by Lauren Komer ’21. This podcast adaptation of a Russian classic effectively, and sometimes literally, remixes its plot in complex, entertaining and sometimes downright bizarre ways.

A lot of work went into this project, even before the semester had begun. When asked about the process of developing the production, Komer recalled how “[Rtischev] approached me in the summer wanting to do an adaptation of The Cherry Orchard. We weren’t sure at that point how it would manifest,” she wrote to The Brandeis Hoot in an email. They knew that they didn’t want to use Zoom theater, as they were “unsatisfied” with the results of virtual shows. That is why they went with a podcast-style approach. 

“A lot of the Zoom theatre we had seen looked extremely artificial and very few people were acknowledging the ridiculousness of it all,” Komer explained. “We thought the audio/podcast format would allow the audience to create their own visuals. We realized the audience’s imagination would be more powerful than anything we could create digitally.”

The creation of the script itself seems to have been a collaborative process between the production staff and the actors. Komer outlined the process. Rtischev would give her “a rough outline of a narrative and a theme,” Komer would run through exercises with the actors and then she and Rtischev would “refine what the actors created into a structured script for each act.”

Despite the somber nature of the story, there is still plenty of fun to be found in each episode of the podcast. Afterall, Chekhov originally wrote “The Cherry Orchard” as a farce. Komer and Rtischev continue this tradition of comedy by including “commercials and interview segments as a wink and a nod to the traditional podcast format,” Komer wrote to The Hoot. “It was a way of being meta-theatrical and poking fun at the podcast structure.” 

As a listener, I was definitely surprised when the first episode seemed to divert into a fake advertisement, especially when I realized that the advertisement itself was helping to move the plot along.

There are significant differences between a theater production taking place on stage and one taking place virtually, especially when the virtual production is structured like a podcast. “I’ve never directed a podcast before and this is my first virtual production,” Komer wrote. “The biggest challenge is how digital rehearsals limit the exchange of energy between actors. And many of the traditional exercises I use to direct had to be adapted to suit the digital format.” 

Unlike a traditional production, where actors would all rehearse and obviously perform together, a virtual show allows for a little more flexibility. While all the actors recorded Act 3 together, Komer said there were “many moments in which actors were recorded separately.” She stressed the fact that she had the actors rehearse together as much as possible, adding that the rehearsals “definitely established a really amazing community despite the digital limitations.” 

Komer also highlighted that the sound effects of a podcast help make the format powerful, giving credit to the podcast’s sound designer, Addison Antonoff ’22. “By simply playing a sound we can transport an audience member anywhere,” Komer told The Hoot. “The audience member is an active participant in making the world come to life. And [Antonoff] … is so clearly aware of this. She creates such specific and moving sounds. Her work is truly breathtaking.”

The various sound effects, such as studio applause during a game show segment, included in each episode helped me visualize each scene despite the fact that it was all conveyed through audio. There are also many jingles added to the fake advertisements, once more paying homage to traditional podcast elements.

As of this writing, there have been three episodes of this podcast released, each one serving as a single act. While Act 1 is told linearly, Act 2 becomes less linear as it goes on, and Act 3 is… abstract, to say the least. When asked about the nonlinear nature of each episode, Komer provided insight. “From the very beginning, we knew that this story would become less and less linear,” she wrote. “[Rtischev] and I saw The Cherry Orchard as a kind of purgatory. The world and the narrative begin to dissolve until we’re immersed in a thematic and emotional soundscape.” 

She also added that the coronavirus pandemic and election season played a large role in the development of the non-linear aspects of each episode. “There was an overwhelming sense of grief that the cast expressed during our first table read,” Komer wrote The Hoot in an email. “The soundscapes we created in the latter episodes of the podcast encapsulate that emotional world. How do we grieve? How do we let go? How do we embrace a new reality?”

Each episode ends with an author’s note, explaining that the character “Firs” was excluded from the Act, but that he does have some kind of importance later on. When asked about those notes, Lauren admitted that when casting the show, they’d actually forgotten to cast the character, which is ironic, given what happens to him at the end of Chekhov’s play. Lauren alluded to that ending, but refrained from saying anything else out of a desire to keep the podcast’s ending a surprise.

“Anton Pavlovich’s Garden Club” definitely throws its listeners into the deep end of the pool, offering no explanation for its format or plot. Komer suggests that all listeners read the original play, saying, “With any adaptation, it helps to know the original.” She also expressed hope that the podcast would expose more people to Chekhov’s work.

“Anton Pavlovich’s Garden Club” is a fascinating adaptation that captures the essence of its source material and transposes it into a new medium for a new audience. Both its cast and crew should be commended for tackling such a complex play and making it more accessible. By tying Chekhov’s exploration of growing up and leaving the past behind to the overwhelming feelings of grief brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, “Anton Pavlovich’s Garden Club” creates something truly thought-provoking, and it is a pleasure to listen to.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article misspelled Komer’s last name as Kromer.

Menu Title