On February 20, 2019, the New York Society for General Semantics was pleased to host a book launch for Acting Chekhov in Translation: 4 Plays, 100 Ways (New York: Peter Lang, 2019) by Robin Beth Levenson.
Dr. Levenson is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. She received her PhD from New York University, an MFA from the University of California, Riverside, and has presented at conferences on translation and communication studies at the University of East Anglia, England, the American Literary Translation Association, the New York State Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association, the City University of New York League of Speech Professors, and the international Stanislavski Symposium at the University of Malta. She has acted professionally in Los Angeles and New York on stage, film and via voiceovers. Her research explorations include how language influences thought and behavior, and the nature of performance.
Michael Plugh, Professor of Communication at Manhattan College and a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Society for General Semantics moderated the event, which included a conversation, discussion, reading, book signing, and reception with refreshments.
From the author:
From the publisher's blurb:
My teacher Stella Adler said, “I am a student by nature. I am a scholar as well as an actress.” Ideally, actors do practical research on their roles; they are “script interpreters.” I’m a scholar and an actor as well. But this book does not presume to “interpret” Anton Chekhov’s work definitively, or to assess which translations of his plays in English are the “best.” It is, rather, an exploration of how practitioners and scholars may approach script analysis when the play is in translation. Interpretation is up to the individual production, and to the audience. Chekhov’s plays provide useful examples for this examination of the playscript.
The actor’s granular explication of theatre texts—as playwright Lee Blessing notes in his blurb for my book—means we must explore all possible avenues of meaning and behavior in creating a role, based on just the written dialogue we are given. This practice of the actor is significantly related to the ideas of General Semantics. Korzybski’s idea of “time-binding” says “Time-binding is something we do. [In order to] deliberately, consciously change [or], improve our way of being, we have first to be awake to What? How? and Reasons for doing what we are doing.” This too is what the actor does, which results in his Actions on the stage. The actor must be “Awake” to all aspects of the script in order to discover its underlying meanings.
With 145 translations I discovered, the book describes the nature of translation for the stage, the notion of Action, Chekhov’s inimitable dramaturgy and his last four masterpieces that changed the path of modern drama, illuminating how our language determines our behavior.
Iconic Russian writer Anton Chekhov is recognized as the most translated and produced playwright in the world after William Shakespeare―that is, he is the most produced and most highly regarded modern playwright in English translation. Chekhov’s style models our behaviors and aspirations in alluring and intricate ways, unmatched in playwriting. His plays determined Realism in language and acting practice from the late 19th century to the present. Acting Chekhov in Translation: 4 Plays, 100 Ways explores the history of translation, contemporary and controversial approaches to stage translation, the notion of "action" from Aristotle to Adler (and beyond), and Chekhov’s inimitable dramaturgy. English translations, adaptations and versions of The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard are each considered from the actors’ points of view, from the page to the stage.
The nature of stage translation has recently undergone novel and provocative changes: how can someone who does not know the source language adapt or translate a play? It is done frequently, and the outcomes are investigated herein. For the translator as well as practitioners, understanding theatre craft is essential to producing playable and engaging productions. Differences in the language, punctuation, syntax, sound, rhythm, stage directions and what appears on the written page in various translations affect the work of the actor on the playscript.
The purpose of this inquiry is not to definitively evaluate or interpret Chekhov’s plays but to discover approaches to working on plays in translation and to determine practical tools we may use in the analysis of dramatic form, as well as human behavior. This book includes selections from 145 translations and translators of all four plays and a glossary of acting terms that helps describe concepts for practical script analysis.
It was a gathering and celebration that was dramatic and transformative!