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'The Cherry Orchard' offers interactive performance event

In Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," moments of heartbreak follow on the heels of comic scenes. The play changes from moment to moment.

And in the production beginning Sept. 15 from Cornell's Department of Theatre, Film and Dance, changes will happen in other dramatic ways as the location and time of the performances move from one outdoor space to another each day.

"In developing this project, I was interested in the exploration of the acoustic, the accidental and the peripheral in performance," said Beth F. Milles, director of the play and associate professor of acting and directing at Cornell. "Dynamic, improvisational and humanly imperfect, the settings provide an interactive experience for our students, who will readapt to these four locations over the course of our performance schedule."

"The Cherry Orchard" is Russian playwright Chekhov's last play. It concerns an aristocratic Russian woman and her family as they return to the family's estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage.

"This play speaks to the inability to respond to change, to be flexible, which is something we all deal with," said Anya Gibian '12, who plays Varya, one of the daughters in the family. "The older generation is stuck in the past and unable to let go of what's long gone, and as a result, they can't adapt to the new pressures of society and they lose everything."

At the same time, the play offers lighter moments.

"Every moment in the play is meaningful and intense; there's nothing thrown away," Gibian said. "Heartbreak comes on the heels of a joke, joy and sorrow mix, just like in real life. You never know what the next moment will hold. You could laugh or cry or get angry or scared, you really never know."

James Miller '12 plays the part of Petya Trofimov, a student and friend of the family.


The performances will take place from Sept. 15-18 and 22-25. Audience members are invited to bring blankets to enjoy the performances, which will take place at the following locations and times:

• 5:30 p.m., Sept. 15, Balch Hall Courtyard

• 5:30 p.m., Sept. 16, Balch Hall Courtyard

• 2 p.m., Sept. 17, Big Red Barn Urn Garden

• 3 p.m., Sept. 18, A.D. White House back lawn

• 5:30 p.m., Sept. 22, Arts Quad

• 5:30 p.m., Sept. 23, Arts Quad

• 2 p.m., Sept. 24, Big Red Barn Urn Garden

• 3 p.m., Sept. 25, A.D. White House back lawn

"To me the play is about human dignity, or the lack of it," Miller said. "The characters derive strength and pride from all kinds of sources -- often material, but also social or intellectual -- and respond fiercely, even cruelly when those foundations are challenged."

The performances' outdoor settings provide both challenges and opportunities for the actors.

Carolyn Goelzer, a visiting professor in the department and professional actor, will play the role of Carlotta, the family's governess, who appears in numerous costumes throughout the play and performs various magic tricks.

"I'm working to discover why she performs the tricks and for whom," Goelzer said. "Having our audience as collaborators will likely bring much to light, and I can't wait to be in dialogue with the Ithaca community as part of this brave production."

Audience interaction and experience is an important piece of the production for Milles.

"Performing the play in these beautiful spaces -- out of doors, vulnerable to the elements, open to the unexpected -- will offer a tangible visceral context for our audience and the piece," Milles said.

"The Cherry Orchard" also will include performances by the Cornell Klezmer Ensemble. Special seating is available for those who need it; contact the box office at 254-2787.

All performances are free. For more information about the performances, visit the box office in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, 430 College Ave., between 12:30-4 p.m. weekdays; 607-254-ARTS; or visit the department's website at

Kathy Hovis is manager of marketing and public relations for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance.

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