Vaudeville Vanya

Idiots maybe, but they're family

Check out the summer lineup at St. Idiot Collective: They've got singing, dancing, magic tricks, a guy who walks on his hands … and Anton Chekhov.

The playwright whose work is frequently mistaken for solemn, somber literature is now free to make us laugh our asses off and have fun in the SIC inaugural production, Vaudeville Vanya.

J. Ed Araiza, a member of the Saratoga International Theatre Institute, aka SITI Company, directs this "adaptation/translation" of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya that he and the SIC company members have compiled from existing translations and spiked with vaudevillian elements.

"I thought, 'How do we make this different, keeping the integrity and the beauty of this story about family?'" explains Araiza. "'How do I marry all the talents that [these actors] have into a story about family?' And then one day it hit me like a thunderbolt: I want to do Uncle Vanya, but I think it should have music and comedy … Somehow, I just said aloud, 'Vaudeville Vanya,' and it stuck in my head."

Araiza worked with most of his 10 cast members when they were students at St. Edward's University, where he trained them in Suzuki and Viewpoints and directed them in The Medea Stories, The House, and c/o: The Grove, an original adaptation of another Chekhov play, The Cherry Orchard.

Many of Austin's busiest young actors – Lee Eddy, Jenny Larson, and Brent Werzner, among others – came out of the St. Ed's theatre program in the last decade. They developed such close relationships there, as artists and friends, that for years they've been itching to make more theatre together.

"This Idiot family? We're really a family," says member Adriene Mishler. "We spend a lot of time together."

So much so that they'll tag-team to finish a sentence – or when onstage, even the wildest actor's choice. And when this tight-knit crew of artists formed their own company, Araiza, with whom they have maintained an artistic relationship, was a natural choice to direct its first show.

"It was probably me and my big old Tex-Mex mouth," jokes the San Antonio native. "I probably said something like, 'I want to help in any way that I can.' This is such an incredible group of people, I want to see if I can offer them something that will help them maybe go even further than [the SITI Company has] gone."

So, can a company from Austin have the same effect on the world of theatre as the New York-based SITI?

"Well, that's the big damn deal. I don't know," Araiza responds. "But one of the reasons I want to support them is: Why should this talented group of people have to leave Austin to survive? Maybe they'll have to. I hope not. As a native Texan, I would wish that was not a necessity."

Company member Jason Newman says, "That's part of our reason for organizing the company: to allow ourselves to work together in Austin. Organizing together, we have a chance of seeing what's available, how far the community will support us."

Vaudeville Vanya runs through July 22, Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, at Arts on Real, 2826 Real. For more information, visit

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Vaudeville Vanya, St. Idiot Collective, J. Ed Araiza, Saratoga International Theatre Institute, SITI Company, Anton Chekhov, St. Edward's University, The Medea Stories, c / o:the grove, Lee Eddy, Jenny Larson, Brent Werzner, Adriene Mishler, Jason Newman

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