Sitting across from Trent Creswell, class of ’14, on a sunny morning outside the Pub, no one would suspect any unusual levels of stress. He is articulate, open, and has a great sense of humor. As he lounges in the breeze with a smile, a passerby might remark, “Wow! That guy’s got it together!” But ask Creswell about the projects he has been devoting his time to this past year at SLC, and you will soon be asking, “How is this guy awake right now?!”
Along with his gig as guitarist for the band House Cat, Creswell is the director, co-translator, and star of a new production of Uncle Vanya, a play by Russian writer Anton Chekhov. Before discovering Chekhov, Creswell was strictly a fan of experimental theater, or as he describes, “just wild stuff, with no words.” Upon his first discovery of the late 19th Century play, he was less than impressed. “I thought it was weird,” admits Creswell. His feelings changed over time; “I don’t think I was old enough then…The more I read it, the more things happen to me, I understand it more.”
Creswell’s motivation to put the Russian masterpiece on stage grew from his group of Sarah Lawrence friends. He explains, “I had to do it because my friends are like all of the characters!” There was no audition process; Creswell simply asked each person to play a specific role. Most of the cast is made up of his House Cat bandmates. While reflecting on Creswell’s casting of himself as Uncle Vanya, he admits, “I wanted to see if I could be Orson Welles, and I think that I found out that I’m not Orson Welles.”
As modest as Creswell is, there is no denying the huge amount of effort he has put into the play. From the very beginning, Creswell and his close friend, Kelsey Kuehn, class of ’13, spent six months collaborating to create their own “bastardized” version of Vanya, pulling from twelve different English translations. “We basically wanted to find the ones that were the most funny, and the most sad, and try to combine them into the perfect version.” The finished product was also molded to fit individual actors. Creswell gives an example, “Alan Medina [class of ‘14] is really funny when he takes a pause and then says ‘Yes,’ so we added that into his character’s lines as much as possible.”
It has been a rough road for Creswell and Chekhov, who he refers to as his “harsh mistress”. As far as production goes, there has been almost no outside support for the independent project, which is completely separate from Creswell’s academic workload. The set is minimal, and the participants themselves provide all of the costumes and props. It doesn’t help that it is virtually impossible to direct your friends and yourself. “It’s hard to switch between the roles of director and friend,” says Creswell.
Whenever he gets stressed about the play, Creswell refers back to his earliest production notebook. Inside is written, “You must always remember that you’re doing the best play by the best writer of all time.”
According to Creswell, a great Chekhov play can “break your heart and make you pee your pants at the same time.” He also notes that Chekhov’s characters are “the most real people that anyone has ever written.” Creswell wants his audience to experience a full emotional spectrum through the course of the play, but also to gain a new appreciation for Chekhov. Creswell grins and says, “The truth is, I always want to talk about Chekhov, and I just want more people to talk about him with!”
Creswell’s production of Uncle Vanya will be performed this weekend, April 8th at 8 PM, and April 9th at 8 PM and 12 AM in the MacCracken dance studio. Seats are first-come, first-serve.
Visit the Facebook event page here.