Actor, librettist, poet, translator, professor, and Russian scholar Paul Schmidt’s translation of Chekhov’s work have been praised as “the gold standard in Russian-English translation.”
Throughout his career, Schmidt worked in both the academy and professional theatre, translating the complete works of poets Arthur Rimbaud and Velemir Khlebnikov as well as translating works by Gogol, Brecht, and Marivaux for production. He worked extensively with American avant-garde directors, including Peter Sellars, JoAnne Akalaitis, Elizabeth LeCompte, and Robert Wilson. With Wilson and Tom Waits, he write the libretto for an opera adaptation of Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
He did his first work with Chekhov with LeCompte, when she asked him to translate Three Sisters for the Wooster Group's 1990 theater piece Brace Up! Schmidt supplied the translation as well as performing Chebutykin in the initial production. Schmidt went on to translate all of Chekhov’s work for the theatre, looking for a language that actors would find playable and audience would relate to.
“Over and over,” Schmidt wrote, “we see Chekhov reducing action and dialogue to their simplest terms, to ensure his audiences’ identification with their own lives. He wanted the people onstage to be recognizably normal for the audience and to speak a language that the audience understood was theirs.