Summer Acting Class Explores the Works of Anton Chekhov

Tania Thompson
 | Jun 25, 2020
Anton Chekhov by Osip Braz (1898).
Michael Matthys

About Michael Matthys

Michael Matthys has been an acting teacher for a dozen years at institutions including San Diego State University, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Stella Adler Academy and the Actor's Studio of Orange County. Among his leading theatre roles are Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Treplev in The Sea Gull, Treves in The Elephant Man, Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard, Alan in Equus, Levin in Anna Karenina and, most recently, Mike Dillon in Good People. His television and film credits include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Saved by the Bell: The New Class,” “Profiler,” Full Blast, Destiny Turns on the Radio, BASEketball, Nightwatch and the House of Deadly Secrets (both on Netflix). His latest feature film endeavor is Stan the Man.

This summer in our Adult Theatre Conservatory, you’ll find a great opportunity to delve into one of the literary world’s most enduring writers: Anton Chekhov. The class is called “Playing Chekhov.”

“Chekhov is always a delight to study,” says teaching artist Michael Matthys. More than a century after his death, Chekov’s plays and short stories connect with people “because we come to admit that we have flaws and dreams, passions and desires, appetites and moods—just as his characters do.”

We caught up with Matthys, from a distance, to find out why he loves teaching this class, the continued draw that Chekhov has, what students will experience in the class and more.

Why does Chekhov have such a timeless draw for people?

Because his characters are so human. They are venting, complaining, lusting, falling in love, feeling futility or excitement just as we do now. And we see complete, nuanced human beings. You really feel for his characters.

What are hallmarks of his stories?

Well, the rise of the underling is one I am fascinated with. I’m speaking, of course, of the character Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard. Unrequited love is another theme I think many, if not most people, have experienced in their lifetime.

What will students experience & learn?

They’ll encounter the world of Chekhov and all of his characters. They will explore their own humanity through his rich characters and learn to bring a personal connection to them. They will get to have the experience, through acting, of living in turn of the 19th-century Russia—albeit with American accents!

Students will need two semesters of acting study to join your class—why?

I believe the nuances of Chekhov's work would be too difficult to digest for most beginning acting students. The character motivations and actions are not as cut-and-dried in Chekhov's plays as they are in many other scripts.

What do you like most about teaching this class?

It’s really just about engaging with Chekhov's writing and illuminating the four main plays for actors to work on.

When did you first encounter Chekhov’s writings—short stories, books, plays?

Probably in college, but my fascination with his work was cemented when I played Treplev in Garland Wright's renowned production of The Seagull at the Guthrie Theatre. I was straight out of grad school and couldn't have been more excited!

What’s on your Essential Chekhov reading list?

For me, really just the four major plays (The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters). I know a lot of people like his short plays and short stories, as well. I have worked on some of his short plays, but have not read many of his short stories or essays. Perhaps I should!

A study in the journal Science (2013) concluded that reading Chekhov (or other literary fiction) helped people perform better on tests that measured empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Do you find truth in this?

Absolutely! Literature gets the brain going—you are exposed to other ways of thinking and being. If you consider carefully what you are reading, you can't help but grow.

Let’s sit you down for tea with Anton Chekhov. What would you two talk about?

Wow, if I had the chance to chat with Anton, I think I would want to hear about his life, particularly his work as a doctor and his travels and how that informed his work. I would love for him to regale me with stories from his life!

Learn More About This Class