By Kenneth Jones
24 May 2004
Gister's specialty and passion as a director and teacher over the years has been Russian master Chekhov. The May 24 performance will benefit The Actors' Center, where Gister is a teacher and board member.
Actress Lynne Bolton told Playbill On-Line the idea for the presentation came about in a simple way: Gister hand picked a group of mostly former students who knew the way he worked, to explore The Seagull in a reading situation. Bolton offered her Greenwich Village apartment for an initial reading. She said the December 2003 reading had a magical quality to it.
"The energy was so amazing and overwhelming," Bolton said, "that 11 people sitting in the room said, 'This is something we all want to commit ourselves to.'"
Bolton and actress Megan Wyler started to explore ways they might produce a lean production of it, perhaps in a classroom or small theatre space.
Almost six months later, they earned not-for-profit status, got a private donor and a corporate grant, and rented a week at Off-Broadway's Second Stage. The resulting White Heron collective, Bolton said, may well present other texts with Gister in the future.
The Seagull translation for the May run is by Robert Corrigan.
The cast of The Seagull includes Lynne Bolton, Rob Campbell, Tom Flynn, Bruce MacVittie, Jayd McCarty, Chris Messina, Paul Niebanck, Paul O'Brien, Larry Pine, Kimberly Ross, Ed Setrakian, Kate Udall and Megan Wyler.
The set design is by Jack Flanagan, with lights by Aaron Copp, sound design by Rima Fand and costumes by Pilar Limosner. Sascha Connor is stage manager.
Gister has been a leading figure in professional theatre training since the mid 1960s. Co-founder of the League of Professional Theatre Training Programs, advisor to the National Endowment for the Arts, and co-chair of the training panel of the Theatre Communications Group, Gister has played a significant role in the nurturing and development of most of the major theatre training programs in this country.
An acting teacher of international stature, he has conducted workshops and master classes in England, Sweden, Russia and across the U.S. He is the former chairman of the acting department at Yale School of Drama and also served as associate dean for academic affairs.
At Yale, he directed all of Chekhov's plays as well as Michael Frayn's adaptation of Platonov entitled Wild Honey.
Gister said in a statement: "This play takes a gentle look at what it means to be an artist, particularly an actor or a writer. That question has been on my mind all my life. Therefore, the play involves me on many levels and that kind of richness challenges my creativity to the deepest point."
His colleague, Lloyd Richards, said, "Earle and I worked together at Yale for almost 20 years. Earle Gister is one of the foremost experts in this country on Anton Chekhov. It has been his life's study and work. Earle understands Chekhov's true meaning and the subtleties and intricacies of his plays better than anyone else, and he interprets them in a unique way. He is a master teacher and director, and The Seagull is his favorite."
Gister retired from Yale after losing his voice box due to cancer. Among the thousands of actors he has trained are Jane Atkinson, Rene Auberjonois, Rene Augesen, Dylan Baker, Angela Bassett, Julie Boyd, Kate Burton, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Danson, Rick Dutton, Robert Foxworth, Malcolm Gets, Paul Giamatti, Jay Goede, Susan Knight, Sanaa Lathan, Judith Light, Frances McDormand, Chris Noth, Michael Potts, Laila Robbins, Reg Rogers, Liev Schreiber, Richard Schiff, Michele Shay, Steven Skybell, John Turturro, Michael Tucker and Courtney Vance.
All performances begin at 7:30 PM. Tickets for the May 24 benefit are $50 with all other seats at $25. Reservations can be made by calling the Second Stage box office at (212) 246-4422 or may be purchased online at www.secondstagetheatre.com. Second Stage is at 307 West 43rd Street.