Touring Tashkent with The Seagull Project

In April and May of this year, Seattle theatre company The Seagull Project made history when they traveled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to participate in the Festival of American Culture: Ilkhom East/West hosted by the Ilkhom Theatre. The Ilkhom was the first independent theatre in the Soviet Union; The Seagull Project was the first American theatre company to be hosted there.

The company received a hefty grant from the US Embassy in Tashkent to underwrite their stay, during which the company members led acting workshops, performed a rock concert and brought their production of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (first produced at ACT Theatre in 2013) to the Ilkhom stage—all while collaborating with Russian-speaking artists. Co-artistic director Gavin Reub shared some thoughts and photos from the company's trip across the world.

Ilkhom Group
The full company of The Seagull Project standing in the courtyard of the Ilkhom Theatre. We were in between rehearsals here, and quickly rushed to the basement theatre to begin transplanting our American production of The Seagull. We rehearsed in the conference room of our hotel for the first week due to the ongoing use of the theater.

Julie Briskman - Gavin Reub
Co-artistic directors Julie Briskman and I give a gift from Washington to the US Ambassador to Uzbekistan, George A. Krol.  The company was invited to the Ambassador's residence to celebrate their historic trip to Uzbekistan. There was food and drinks and they even busted out the Ambassador's grandfather's accordion.

John Abramson
Seagull Project member John Abramson (left) led a workshop with students and company members of the Ilkhom Theatre. We led eight workshops over the course of our trip on topics ranging from independent producing to the Suzuki method.

Seagull Project rock concert
As part of the Festival of American Culture, we held a rock concert of American music. The band, which included members of The Seagull Project and from the Ilkhom community, practiced for a few days and put on one hell of a show with full lights, fog and installation. The Ilkhom encouraged the community to dress up as American hippies which made for a surreal experience. They all seemed to have an amazing time.

Seagull Project dave white reading
We also presented what they call an "Improvisation," which is basically a staged reading with full tech, mics, a live band and a full audience. This particular production was special for two reasons: One, it was a brand new script by American playwright Dave White who traveled with us on a separate grant to Uzbekistan. Two, we got to work with a phenomenal quartet of Uzbek jazz musicians. The piece featured four of our company members and was directed by me and Seagull Project member Tyler Polumsky.

Julie Briskman
Here is company member Julie Briskman (right) at the Tashkent market talking with some very interested boys and attempting to haggle down a price. The market is a complete barter system where they will take both dollars and som (the local currency) if you play your cards right.

The Seagull Project
Here is the company fresh off the two-hour train ride to the ancient city of Samarkand, where we went on our only day off as a full company. It was about a four hour trip back because we didn't get the high speed train—although a few of us did get a nearly private cabin that reeked of cigarettes and was torn by years of napping heads. We drank beer out of tea glasses.  

The Seagull Project in Tashkent
Part of the company at our first mosque in Samarkand. We had just travelled through the building and managed to escape the surprise basement souvenir shop. We needed some time to take in the beautiful mosaic design that covered the city.

Noah Duffy - The Seagull Project
Here is company member Noah Duffy at one of the largest mosques in Samarkand with some of the locals. Noah seemed to be a bigger attraction than the mosques...

The Seagull Project
While teching the play we worked entirely with Russian speaking designers, so we had to work through translators and hand signals to communicate. Here we are at the end of Act 3: Trigorin (David Quicksall, right) and Arkadina are about to leave for Moscow. Trigorin has fallen for the young Nina (Alex Tavares, left), and they have made plans to run off together once they both reach Moscow. You can see new pieces of our set here, conceived in Tashkent. The beautiful glowing curtain provides a silhouette for the forgotten flowers and you can barely see that Alex was pregnant during the trip (and still played the most beautiful Nina I have ever seen).

Director John Langs giving notes at the end of a long day of tech. This was the day before we opened and we had only gotten through the first three acts (it turns out it's hard work with language barriers and alien space). We finished the show just in time for the performance the next day. 

The Seagull Project - curtain cal
Curtain call after our final performance of The Seagull. It is customary there to take many, many bows—the company probably bowed ten times on our first night. During the bows, a woman came to hand actors large bouquets of flowers and a older Russian woman came up with a very old journal on Chekhov that she gave to the company.

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