Nick Benacerraf was doing his MFA in scenic design at CalArts in 2010 when he took a class with Chris Barreca that brought together students of design, directing, writing, and puppeteering. Benacerraf set out to design a model of The Seagull for class. “As realism has become the norm, the shock value of The Seagull has decreased,” Benacerraf began to think. How could he do the Chekhov play in a way that would surprise us today? The play has references and connections to Hamlet, doesn’t it? But instead of thinking about Shakespeare, Benacerraf began to think about Heiner Mueller’s Hamletmachine.
What if he staged The Seagull in an empty room, connected to a theater through a loading dock door? Konstantin’s play takes place through that door. Benacerraf says he wanted the audience to become “aware that they were in a play, part of a community of people arguing and obsessing about what exactly the correct aesthetic form is.” Actors would do warmups as the audience arrives, then begin to rehearse what appears to be straight Chekhov. After doing most of The Seagull, the work would transition to Hamletmachine.
Click through the gallery to learn more about the production and scenic design. Stay tuned for Part Two on the lighting, sound, and costume design for SeagullMachine.