3. The “Vaudevilles” of Chekhov: The Bear

Resources: Maquette, set and production imagery

Setting the Scene

The “Vaudevilles” of Chekhov: The Bear by Anton Chekhov with adaptations by Morwyn Brebner and Andrew Moodie

A Joke in One Act 

Elena Ivanovna Popova is the beautiful widow of a philandering husband. She has not left her house since his death, and tries to punish his departed soul with her extreme faithfulness. Grigory Stepahnovich Smirnov (the Bear) is owed a large sum of money by her late husband, and arrives to collect. He is desperate for it today; she can’t access the money until her accountant returns tomorrow. Worse, for Smirnov, is that she doesn’t seem to care about his impending bankruptcy. They quarrel, and it looks like a duel may be the next step, except that Smirnov becomes increasingly attracted to the fiery young woman. In his frustration he touches one of her chairs and it breaks in his large paw. This happens again. Fortunately for Popova’s furniture, the play ends in a kiss and a solution for both characters.

Dramatic use: The breaking of the three chairs happens interspersed through the play. They signify the growing frustration of Smirnov as Popova increasingly infuriates him, at the same time as she enthralls him.

The Challenge

As students brainstorm this props challenge they should be aware of and thinking about the following things:

Each chair must break in a different way, with a sound effect on each break emanating from the chair. For reasons of cost efficiency for the theatre, the chairs must be able to be put together again after each performance, and used many times.

Elements to consider

  • 5 chairs in Neoclassical Style: they are black and gold with upholstered seats
  • 3 must break onstage each night
  • 1 chair back breaks off in the actor’s hand
  • 2 other chairs can break any other way
  • Each chair breaks differently, leaving a chaotic mess
  • Actors must use the chairs in earlier scenes
  • Chairs must be used throughout 35 performances, plus rehearsals


  • The cost per broken chair must be kept to a minimum
  • The number of loose or broken pieces should be kept to a minimum
  • Chairs must be easy and quick to reset or replace
  • A realistic breaking-chair sound effect must be incorporated into the action

Student Activity

As a class or in groups discuss ways that this challenge could be undertaken as effectively and economically as possible.

Share all ideas as a class.


Explore the NAC’s solution to this props challenge. Remember…no peeking at the solution until your group or class is ready! ☺