Michael Chekhov visited Ridgefield for the first time on December 24, 1938.
who purchased the property of the former private boys' high
school and prepared it for new acting school-studio, brought Chekhov here on
Christmas Eve day.
He was enchanted with the wonderful location and beautiful site and houses.
On January 16, 1939, Chekhov's Ridgefield School was opened .
School was located on the top of a hill surrounded with poetic landscapes.
The 16 acre property and its two houses included a dormitory for students,
rehearsal classes, stage set and costume workshops and storages, and a
library. The former gym was transformed into a theatre auditorium. In
addition to the students who came with Chekhov from his school at
Dartington, UK, several American students were recruited.
Road to the Chekhov School site
Intensive work began immediately. Classes and rehearsal started early in the
morning; then, after a couple of hours break, continued until 8 p.m. The
Broadway opening of the Chekhov
Studio's first production The Possessed
was planned for October
, Chekhov's assistant and co-director, wrote the play
based on the novel by
. The stage design was made by Mstislav Dobujinsky.
opening was at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in
During the winter of 1939-40, the Chekhov Studio worked on two plays for the
summer tour - Twelfth Night and Cricket on the Hearth
(based on the Dickens story). According to The Playbill, "This tour, which
covered fifteen states, from Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the North
to Texas and Oklahoma in the South, proved successful in every way. They
went to territory seldom, and in some cases never before, traversed by
professional players." Thus the Chekhov Players brought to life Michael
Chekhov's general idea that the theatre is the best way to unify people. "An
amazing aspect of these new acting troupe on the American scene is the
maturity they have achieved in spite of their youth. There is real
conviction in their work…" – a critic wrote after the Chekhov Players'
performance at the Institute of History and Art in Albany, NY in October
"The Subway," a class improvisation at the Chekhov
Studio in Ridgefield
King Lear. (Clockwise) Hurd Hatfield (top center), Yul Brynner,
Beatrice Straight, Ford Rainey, and Mary Lou Tailor