Miami Theater Center is about to take a giant step into its future with a play first performed 111 years ago. But as with everything at MTC, 21st Century imagination will be wedded to theatrical tradition when the company opens its production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters on Saturday.
If you’ve never gone to the PlayGround Theatre in Miami Shores or haven’t driven down that stretch of Northeast Second Avenue lately, you might be wondering: What, exactly, is MTC? Based in the 1946 former movie house known as the Shores Theatre, MTC is a multifaceted organization that evolved from the family-oriented PlayGround, which artistic director Stephanie Ansin cofounded in 2005.
Three Sisters is the first major main stage MTCperformance offering for adults and older teens, with other productions scheduled through the season in the theater’s smaller SandBox space. MTCplayground will present two mainstage family theater productions, and the new MTCfilm run by O Cinema Miami Shores brings an ongoing series of movies, some aimed at contexualizing MTC’s live performances. MTCtraining offers classes for professionals, classes and camps for nonprofessionals and children. With all those activities, the not-for-profit MTC has become one bustling building, operating on a budget of just over $2.7 million for the current fiscal year.
Launching the rechristened MTC with Three Sisters accelerated the usual process Ansin and Fernando Calzadilla use when developing a production although most other theaters (particularly in South Florida) would envy the time — including two months of rehearsal — invested in their newest show.
“This is the fastest we’ve created a show,” says Ansin, the adaptation’s coauthor and director. “We wanted to do it to open the Miami Theater Center. So a year ago, I asked my sister-in-law [Tatsiana Yarashevich] to do a literal translation from the Russian original. We got that at the end of January.”
At first, Ansin and Calzadilla had considered staging various versions of Three Sisters, Chekhov’s masterpiece about restless sisters Olga, Masha and Irina, young women living in a provincial Russian town. They had a reading of Sarah Ruhl’s version last Thanksgiving, then read several others. Ultimately, they decided to create their own.
“We felt we needed to chew it up and regurgitate it our own way, knowing that every translation is an adaptation anyway,” Ansin says. “We read all those versions, looking for the essence.”
Calzadilla, who also designed the set, lighting and some of the costumes for the production, says their aim was to “… make it accessible, make it easy in the mouths of the actors and easily comprehensible for American audiences with no background in Chekhov.”
Adds Ansin: “And we wanted to do that without dumbing it down or relocating it to Hialeah.”
Three Sisters requires a cast of 14 (MTC also has two understudies) and some 150 costume pieces. Ansin and Calzadilla traveled to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, renting some of their costumes from past productions. Calzadilla fit the borrowed costumes to the MTC cast — all but two are South Florida actors — and designed the rest.