The Art of Theater: Interview with Renowned Artist Amina Zhaman Part I

Amina Zhaman at IFFNY 2019 (Photo by Ivan Morales)

Amina Zhaman, Ph.D. is a renowned Circassian artist, writer, composer, film and stage director. In this exclusive NY Elite Interview Series (Part I, II, III) , Amina discusses her love for theater, film, and music.

NY Elite: Tell us more about an upcoming stage production “Stanislavsky/Chekhov” which is based on your new original play of the same title. How did you come around to the idea of putting it all on paper? And what is the story about in brief?

Amina Zhaman: My new comedy is inspired by the last meeting between Konstantin Stanislavsky and Michael Chekhov that the two world-famous actors had in Berlin in 1928. They discuss certain items of their acting methods which have become an apple of discord between the great master and his apprentice. Eventually, their eight-hour friendly argument turns out to be definitive to actors all around the world. While many future actors are about to study the profession according to the Stanislavsky system (or The Method), others will most likely learn the trade from the Chekhov system. It is, so to speak, two different sides of the biggest coin in the world of theater.

NY Elite: For you as a director, what is the primary focus for this theater play?

Amina Zhaman: I see their human relationship as the most important thing. There is a Chinese proverb that accurately describes them: “The teacher only opens the doors, and then you go on your own.” I’ve wanted to show both characters as extraordinary personalities in everyday life. It was impossible to take your eyes off of them, even when they were not on stage. Their deep reflections on the profession of an actor had a huge impact on the entire acting world. It’s high time that the whole world actually got to know Konstantin Stanislavsky and Michael Chekhov from a personal side, beyond just professional.

NY Elite: What impresses you the most about actors when you have to make your casting choices?

Amina Zhaman: First of all, I estimate their intelligence, acting skills and visual resemblance with the real prototypes. In order to play brilliantly in comedy an actor should have a great sense of humor, whilst playing a genius convincingly would require a congenial actor for the role.

NY Elite: How do you think this play can influence drama theatre?

Amina Zhaman: I hope the play “Stanislavsky/Chekhov” will have a great impact on the drama theatre across the world. In my comedy Stanislavsky and Chekhov are, for the first time ever, being introduced as characters. The future performers of the two main parts will get a chance to leave a legacy in the history of drama theatre.

NY Elite: What are your expectations for the play?

Amina Zhaman: As a director, I expect several productions of my play with different casts. I would love to work with the best actors in different countries and to give them an opportunity to play such dream roles as Stanislavsky and Chekhov. As a playwright, I am looking forward to the release of my book “Stanislavsky/Chekhov” in a bilingual format (Russian and English) in 2023. My comedy is universal, and I will be happy if it is translated into as many languages as possible.

NY Elite: When putting together such an intricate stage production as this one, what are the key factors for its eventual success?

Amina Zhaman: Original play, congenial cast, beautiful music, laconic set, vintage costumes, innovative lighting, and – last but not least – brilliant directing work.

NY Elite: Can you name a few works that you would like to bring to theater and why?

Amina Zhaman: I want to stage my favorite play of Eugene O’Neill All God’s Chillun Got Wings. It is so powerful! I would like to reflect the huge contrast between the world of children and that of adults, and to show how prejudice destroys the soul of an adult who used to be a kind child with an open mind. I read All God’s Chillun Got Wings at the age of 19, and it literally changed my life, which I split in two periods – before and after O’Neill. I’m sure that a great revival of this play could bring change in many other people’s lives as well.

I’d also like to stage Denis Zakharov’s drama Babe’s Lilies about broken friendship between American writer Truman Capote and socialite Babe Paley. Denis skillfully created the characters and wrote their dialogues. Following the author, a reader enters the world of the rich and famous, full of anything but human happiness. When staging this play, I would put emphasis on priceless friendship, rather than on the price of fame. Personally, I consider friendship the supreme form of love. Losing a close friend is a tragedy, for it is impossible to replace such a person.

Instagram: @aminazhamanofficial

Amina Zhaman’s children’s book KOALA MICHAEL illustration by Boris Lysikov cover by Kostya Syatko

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