In early 2013 Kelley Ristow had the idea to do a one-time production of a Chekhov play using the Backroom Shakespeare Project model--one rehearsal, no director, then perform it in a bar. ‘Three Sisters’ was the play of choice. Among many, Poppy Golland was cast in the show, mostly due to having been so openly eager with Kelley about her excitement for the idea. After the show Kelley said to Poppy, ‘I feel like this material deserves more than one night, more than one time of exploration--it’s super different than what BRSP is doing’. Poppy became obsessed with this idea, hounded down Kelley over the next few months, and finally at the end of the summer, the two met up to plan out how to put together a project where a bunch of people do one Chekhov play over the course of a year.
Once they convinced about 8 beloved and talented, fierce actor friends and colleagues (including founding members Skyler Schrempp and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) that this was not an insane idea but a fun and beautifully challenging one, they all met up in Poppy’s apartment to write their ideas on big pieces of paper on the walls. They brainstormed names for the project; debated over concepts for costumes or lack thereof, over venues and amount of rehearsal and whether all actors needed to play in every single iteration or not. They got excited together about the freaky thrill of performing this Russian guy’s intense work with way too little rehearsal, and what it would look like to throw gender out the window and let anyone play any part. They had no idea how it would turn out, and if anyone would care that they were doing it, let alone enjoy watching it. All they knew was that they were in the room because they cared about it, they were hot for the idea, and they were hungry to explore.
Four years later we have performed 4 of Chekhov’s plays, with 26 shows under our belt, at 13 different bars and venues, with over 70 Chicago actors. We now explore this work in venues that cater more to performance, including our new favorite place, the Hideout Inn (www.hideoutchicago.com). Each performance is scored by a musician. We are comprised of a consistent, committed group of individuals who all put hours and love into making this weird light come to life. In January 2017 we had a unified revelation that if we want to keep messing around with this format and material we have to step up and be more intentional. We are a constant work in progress, which the essence of our process reflects. The power in a progressing work is that it always strives to evolve.