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Vanya Sonia Masha EDUCATION


Study Guide Contents Timothy Bond Producing Artistic Director Syracuse Stage and SU Drama

3.) Production Information 4.) Introduction 5.) Letter from the Director 6.)

820 E Genesee Street Syracuse, NY 13210 www.SyracuseStage.org

About the Author

7.) About the Play 9.) Glossary 10.) Context and Discussion 12.) Elements of Teaching Theatre 14.) Topics for Discussion and Resources 16.) References

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Director of Educational Outreach Lauren Unbekant (315) 443-1150

Manager of Educational Outreach Kate Laissle (315) 442-7755

Group Sales & Student Matinees Tracey White (315) 443-9844

Box Office (315) 443-3275

Vanya Sonia Masha BY

Christopher Durang DIRECTED BY





John Iacovelli

Suzanne Chesney

Dawn Chiang

Jonathan R. Herter



Stuart Plymesser*

Celia Madeoy


Timothy Bond

Jeffrey Woodward

Producing Artistic Director

Managing Director



Harriet Bass



Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is presented by special arrangement with Robert A. Freedman Dramatic Agency, Inc., New York, NY September 24 - October 12, 2014


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audience etiquette BE PROMPT Give your students plenty of time to arrive, find their seats, and get situated. Have them visit the restrooms before the show begins! RESPECT OTHERS Please remind your students that their behavior and responses affect the quality of the performance and the enjoyment of the production for the entire audience. Live theatre means the actors and the audience are in the same room, and just as the audience can see and hear the performers, the performers can see and hear the audience. Please ask your students to avoid disturbing those around them. Please no talking or unnecessary or disruptive movement during the performance. Also, please remind students that cellphones should be switched completely off. No texting or tweeting, please. When students give their full attention to the action on the stage, they will be rewarded with the best performance possible.

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As you take your students on the exciting journey into the world of live theatre we hope that you’ll take a moment to help prepare them to make the most of their experience. Unlike movies or television, live theatre offers the thrill of unpredictability.

GOOD NOISE, BAD NOISE Instead of instructing students to remain totally silent, please discuss the difference between appropriate responses (laughter, applause, participation when requested) and inappropriate noise (talking, cell phones, etc).

With the actors present on stage, the audience response becomes an integral part of the performance and the overall experience: the more involved and attentive the audience, the better the show. Please remind your students that they play an important part in the success of the performance!

STAY WITH US Please do not leave or allow students to leave during the performance except in absolute emergencies. Again, reminding them to use the restrooms before the performance will help eliminate unnecessary disruption.


Dear Educator, Live theatre is a place for people to gather and experience the joys, triumphs, and sorrows life has to offer. The Syracuse Stage Education Department is committed to providing the tools to make learning in and through the arts possible, to address varied learning styles and make connections to curriculum and life itself. It is our goal in the education department to maximize the theatre experience for our education partners with experiential learning and in-depths arts programming. Thank you for your interest and support! Sincerely,

Lauren Unbekant Director of Educational Outreach



yracuse Stage is committed to providing students with rich theatre experiences that explore and examine what it is to be human. Research shows that children who participate in or are exposed to the arts show higher academic achievement, stronger self-esteem, and improved ability to plan and work toward a future goal. Many students in our community have their first taste of live theatre through Syracuse Stage’s outreach programs. Last season more than 30,000 students from across New York State attended or participated in the Bank of America Children’s Tour, artsEmerging, the Young Playwrights Festival, and our Student Matinee Program. We gratefully acknowledge the corporations and foundations who support our commitment to in-depth arts education for our community.


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CHRISTOPHER DURANG “PLAY THE COMEDY FOR REAL. Exaggerated acting … is fun, but it wears out its welcome and it never achieves that mixture I like of comedy and seriousness underneath. A lot of comic acting comes from playing the stakes for real, and with great intensity.” - Christopher Durang www.christopherdurang.com


hristopher Durang received a BA from Harvard and an MFA from Yale School of Drama. His first professional production was The Idiots Karamazov co-authored with Albert Innaurato and performed at Yale Repertory Theatre. The show featured then Yale student Meryl Streep. He first came to public attention with the off-Broadway review Das Lusitania Songspiel, a collaboration with his friend, actress Sigourney Weaver, who also appeared in the original production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Durang’s work as a playwright includes A History of American Film, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You, Beyond Therapy, Baby With the Bathwater, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and Laughing Wild.

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As an actor, Christopher Durang has appeared in the films The Secret of my Success, Mr. North, The Butcher’s Wife, Housesitter, and The Cowboy Way. Since 1994, he has been co-chair with Marsha Norman of the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program at the Julliard School. PHOTO: Above, Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times PHOTO CREDITS: David Hyde Pierce, Sigourney Weaver, Kristine Nielsen, and Billy Magnussen in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike from the Broadway Production.


VANYA: A gay man in his fifties, living in a comfortable country house in Bucks County Pennsylvania with his sister Sonia.

MASHA: Their sister, also in her fifties. She is a successful movie actress who rarely visits her siblings.

NINA: A sweet young thing visiting her aunt and uncle next door. She’s star-struck.

SONIA: His adopted sister in her early fifties. She and Vanya cared for their now deceased parents in this house. Sonia, who has never really left home, is regretful of missed opportunities.

SPIKE: Masha’s new boytoy, he’s young, good-looking, self-absorbed and not very bright.

CASSANDRA: The African-American cleaning lady who is given to prophetic pronouncements. She also dabbles in voodoo. SYRACUSE STAGE EDUCATION

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Vanya and his adopted sister Sonia live a quiet life in a country home where they grew up. Their peaceful if monotonous life is disturbed when their movie star sister Masha arrives with her young, handsome and dim boyfriend Spike. She plans to sell the house, for which she has been paying the upkeep. When Nina, the niece of a neighbor, is drawn into the circle, the Chekhovian cast is complete. They all attend a costume party and Vanya is inspired to stage an avant-garde play he has written.

SONIA: If everyone took antidepressants, Chekov would have nothing to write about.

VANYA: Yes he would. He would have adjusted. He would have written a volume called Happy Stories for Happy People. SONIA: I wouldn’t want to read that. - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

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Madie Polyak PHOTO: Jim Scherzi

glossary CAA: A big influential Hollywood talent agency. Cassandra: Princess of Troy cursed to be able to see the future but unable to make others believe her because she appears to be mad. She’s taken as a concubine by Agamemnon in The Oresteia. Dorothy Parker: A writer known for her caustic wit. She wrote criticism, poetry, short stories and screenplays. Hayley Mills: British child star of wholesome Disney films in the 50s and 60s. Howdy Doody: TV puppet show of the 1950s. Howdy was a freckle-faced marionette interacting with other puppets, host Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle the clown. Hummel Figurine: Ceramic painted figurines showing children at play based on the drawings of German nun Bertha Hummel. Once found in nearly every middle-class home, they’ve now become very collectible. The Imaginary Invalid: Moliere’s last play. Ingmar Bergman: Swedish filmmaker with a dark vision and an excellent repertory company of actors. Smiles of a Summer Night, a gentle farce, is one of his few comedies. Kukla Fran and Ollie: Early 1950s television show for very young children featuring hand puppets and sweet-voiced Fran Allison.

Maggie Smith: Popular British actress now appearing in Downton Abbey. In the film version of Neil Simon’s California Suite (1978), she plays an actress nominated for an Oscar squabbling with her gay husband. Smith won an Oscar for her performance. Meisner repetition: Acting exercise part of the training espoused by Sanford Meisner. Merchant Ivory: Ismail Merchant and James Ivory produced and directed prestigious films from 1961 to 2007. Their work was often adapted from literary novels. Neil Simon: one of the most produced American comic playwrights. His plays include The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. Norma Desmond: The central character in Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard, a delusional (and murderous) silent film star attempting a comeback. “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille,” is the last line of the film. Old Yeller: A classic Disney film about a frontier family and their faithful dog. The Oresteia: The trilogy by Aeschylus following the murder of King Agammenon by his wife and her lover and their revenge killing by their son, Orestes.

Pirandellian: Referring to the work of Sicilian playwright Luigi Pirandello. In his classic Six Characters in Search of an Author, actors become indistinguishable from the roles they play. The Reluctant Debutant: a stage comedy now considered an example of bland 1950’s entertainment. Señor Wences: a Spanish ventriloquist who was a frequent TV guest of Ed Sullivan. Son of Flubber: A 1963 Disney fantasy about an inventor starring Fred MacMurray, a sequel to The Absent-Minded Professor (1961). Stanislavsky: The Russian father of method acting. Stanley Kowalski: The brutish male lead character in Tennessee Williams’, Streetcar Named Desire originally played by Marlon Brando. WaWa: In the pivotal moment of the play The Miracle Worker, eight-year-old Helen Keller who has been deaf and blind from an early age remembers her baby-talk word for water.

Ozzie and Harriet: 1950s and 1960s television starring this real life married couple and their sons David and Ricky. Nothing much happened, but the laugh track found everything hysterical. Perry Como: Singer who hosted a popular TV show. He was known for his friendly relaxed manner.


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CH KHOV Chekhov, a major literary and theatrical influence, was a physician by education, but wrote plays and short stories. His short plays are comic and often resemble burlesque sketches. His full length plays, which chronicle the disintegration of the landed class on Russian country estates after the freeing of serfs, are masterpieces of psychological realism, presenting complex characters who appear to be living their lives before our eyes. In their very human foolishness, they are both melancholy comic, and strangely noble at the same time. In one of the most important turns in theatre history, the original 1896 production of The Seagull was a resounding failure. In 1898, it was revived at the Moscow Art Theatre, this time directed by Konstantin Stanislavski, the progenitor of a style of acting he called his “method.” This staging was very successful, and this production marked the beginning of an evolution in acting style. When Stanislavski’s productions of Chekov were later seen in the U.S., the passion for “method” acting was born.


1860 - 1904


1868 - 1959

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Olga Leonardovna Knipper-Chekhova was a Russian Empire and Soviet stage actress. She was married to Anton Chekhov in 1901. Knipper was among the 44 original members of the Moscow Art Theatre when it was formed by Konstantin Stanislavski in 1898. She played Arkadina in The Seagull (1898), played Elena in the Moscow premiere of Uncle Vanya (1899), and was the first to play Masha in Three Sisters (1901) and Madame Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard (1904).

By May 1904, Chekhov was terminally ill with tuberculosis. Chekhov’s body was transported to Moscow in a refrigerated railway car for fresh oysters and was buried next to his father at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg.

Vain and pompous Serebryakov, a retired professor returns to his country estate with Yelena, his second wife, who is young and beautiful. The estate, which had belonged to his deceased first wife, is occupied by her mother and brother, who manage the farm, and the professor’s daughter, Sonya. The brother, Uncle Vanya, has always sent most of the money earned by the farm to Serebryakov, keeping very little for himself. A frequent visitor is cynical doctor Astrov. Astrov and Uncle Vanya both fall for Yelena, who dismisses them. Sonya loves Astrov, who ignores her. When Serebryakov announces he’s selling the estate,Vanya shoots at him with a pistol, but misses. After the professor and Yelena leave,Vanya wants to commit suicide by taking morphine, but is persuaded give up the idea.

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Actress Irina Arkadina and her lover, writer Trigorin, arrive at her brother’s country estate, where grown son, Constantin Treplev, lives. He is a reminder of her age. The son has written an experimental play which is performed on an outdoor stage. The play features Nina, the daughter of a rich neighbor, with whom he is in love. Masha, the daughter of the estate’s manager, secretly loves Constantin. Trigorin seduces Nina and would have had an affair if circumstances were different. Konstantin attempts suicide with a pistol, but the bullet merely grazes his temple. Two years later, the family is gathered again. Trigorin has abandoned Nina and gone back to Arkadina. While most of the group is in another room playing lotto, Nina appears at the door. She is distracted and compares herself to a seagull that Konstantin had shot two years earlier. She leaves and Konstantin goes outside. There is a gunshot. He has killed himself. Chekhov described The Seagull as a comedy.

A year after the death of their father, an army officer, the Prosorov sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina, are finding life difficult in the provincial town where their father was stationed. They and their married brother Andrei dream of returning to the Moscow of their youth. The sisters’ only amusement comes from the company of army officers stationed in town. Andrei’s wife, Natasha, takes over the household and is dismissive of her sister-in-laws’ wishes. Masha, who is also married, begins a flirtation with Vershinin, an army officer with an ill and suicidal wife. Irina, the youngest, who bemoans that she has “forgotten the Italian words for window and ceiling,” desperately agrees to marry a man she does not love, but he is killed in a duel. The army camp is closed, leaving the sisters still dreaming of Moscow, but unable to move.

Madame Ravenskaya, who resolutely lives in the past, returns from Paris to the realization that her country estate and beloved cherry orchard must be sold to pay her debts. In the course of the play she realizes that the orchard symbolizes all the misfortune her family has caused others. Finally, the orchard is sold to Lopakhin, the son of one of her family’s former serfs.

Chekhov’s Plays – A Crash Course to References SYRACUSE STAGE EDUCATION

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elements of drama PLOT

What is the story line? What happened before the play started? What does each character want? What do they do to achieve their goals? What do they stand to gain/lose? THEME

What ideas are wrestled with in the play? What questions does the play pose? Does it present an opinion? CHARACTER

Who are the people in the story? What are their relationships? Why do they do what they do? How does age/status/etc. affect them? LANGUAGE

What do the characters say? How do they say it? When do they say it? MUSIC

How do music and sound help to tell the story? SPECTACLE

How do music and sound help to tell the story?

Other Elements: Conflict/Resolution, Action, Improvisation, Non-verbal communication, Staging, Humor, Realism and other styles, Metaphor, Language, Tone, Pattern & Repetition, Emotion, Point of view.

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Any piece of theatre comprises multiple art forms. As you explore this production with your students, examine the use of:



At its core, drama is about characters working toward goals and overcoming obstacles. Ask students to use their bodies and voices to create characters who are: very old, very young, very strong, very weak, very tired, very energetic, very cold, very warm. Have their characters interact with others. Give them an objective to fulfill despite environmental obstacles. Later, recap by asking how these obstacles affected their characters and the pursuit of their objectives.


How are each of these art forms used in this production? Why are they used? How do they help to tell the story?

elements of design LINE can have length, width, texture, direction and

curve. There are 5 basic varieties: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved, and zig-zag.

SHAPE is two-dimensional and encloses space.

It can be geometric (e.g. squares and circles), man-made, or free-form.

FORM is three-dimensional. It encloses space

and fills space. It can be geometric (e.g. cubes and cylinders), man-made, or free-form.

COLOR has three basic properties:

HUE is the name of the color (e.g. red, blue, green), INTENSITY is the strength of the color (bright or dull), VALUE is the range of lightness to darkness.

TEXTURE refers to the “feel” of an

object’s surface. It can be smooth, rough, soft, etc. Textures may be ACTUAL (able to be felt) or IMPLIED (suggested visually through the artist’s technique).

SPACE is defined and determined

by shapes and forms. Positive space is enclosed by shapes and forms, while negative space exists around them.


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Satire is a work of art in which human folly is held up to ridicule. Parody is imitation of a given form for the purpose of humor. Television comedies such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, and SNL often do parodies of other familiar works. Sometimes those parodies are also satires. Durang doesn’t write in the style of Chekhov, but very consciously refers to the Russian playwrights work. IS VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE SATIRE OR PARODY? IF IT’S A SATIRE, WHAT ASPECTS OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR ARE MADE FUN OF? Sonia, like the characters in Chekhov’s plays, has regret for the way her life has turned out. IS SHE JUSTIFIED IN HER ANGER? IF YOU COULD SPEAK TO HER, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE? If you have siblings, imagine them and yourself at the age of fifty. WHAT WOULD YOUR CONVERSATIONS BE LIKE? ABOUT WHAT CHILDHOOD INCIDENTS WOULD YOU REMINISCE OR DISAGREE? Review the sad story of Cassandra from the Greek myths. HOW IS CASSANDRA THE HOUSEKEEPER LIKE HER OR UNLIKE HER? CAN YOU THINK OF A TIME WHEN SOMEONE WHO SEEMED CRAZY WAS REALLY CORRECT IN HIS OR HER PREDICTIONS? Did you feel anything for the characters? IF YOU COULD ADVISE ANY OF THEM, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

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Hidden between the laughs in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike are a number of themes and ideas, some more developed than others. Create a satire using a piece of literature, a popular television series or a movie as inspiration. Write a dramatic scene or a short story in the style of an author you admire. Write a letter to a literary character offering advice on his or her situation. Write a review of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Consider theatrical as well as literary elements. Consider style, themes, characters, setting as well as acting, direction, and design.


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REFERENCES: The play and Christopher Durang: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanya_and_Sonia_and_Masha_and_Spike https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/Vanya-Sonia-Masha-Spike/ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/theater/reviews/vanya-and-sonia-and-mashaand-spike-at-lincoln-center.html http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/theater-review-vanya-and-sonia-and.html http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/26/theater/newsandfeatures/26dura.html http://observer.com/2013/03/the-seagull-flies-again-christopher-durang-brilliantlybrings-chekhov-to-bucks-county-and-the-mound-builders-exposes-some-uncomfortable-truths/ http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/11-2012/sigourney-weaver-and-christopher-durang-creator-an_63848.html Anton Chekhov: http://www.shmoop.com/cherry-orchard/summary.html

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http://www.theatredatabase.com/19th_century/three_sisters.html http://www.online-literature.com/anton_chekhov/ http://plays.about.com/od/plays/a/chekhovfunny.htm http://www.mccarter.org/vsms/pages/chrischat.html


Video resources: A short interview with Christopher Durang and David Hyde-Pierce: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uH1spBFx7SE&feature=youtube_gdata A one hour presentation by Christopher Durang: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxyEW2yIbj0 Anton Chekov, a short intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKKYtByZlx8


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Profile for Syracuse Stage

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike Study Guide  

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike Study Guide  

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