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Matrix -- Stage Directing: Vakhtangov

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2006: Go.dot "fantastic realism", again? (From Dostoevsky to Beckett?) To Magic Realism?

Evgeny Vakhtangov (1883-1922), Soviet director. Vakhtangov was a student at the Moscow Art Theatre; and his most accessible pronouncements, in Acting: a Handbook of the Stanislavsky Method, compiled by Toby Cole (New York, Lear, 1947), leave the impression that he was wholly dedicated to Stanislavskis ideas. But he writes in 1921, Stanislavskis theatre is already dead and will never be resurrected. I am happy about this; and May naturalism in the theatre die! He believed that the time has come to bring theatricality back to the theatre (Evgeny Vakhtangov, compiled by Lyubov Vendrovskaya and Galina Kaptereva, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1982, pp. 141-2, 154), and to this degree sided with Meyerhold. But Meyerhold knows nothing about the actor (p. 141), and his work is here equally criticised. For Vakhtangov, theatricality involved self-consciousness on the part of the actor (which commended him to Brecht) and physical expressivity in equal measure. Indeed, it could be argued that, like Alexander Granowskis Moscow Yiddish Theatre, the Goset, Vakhtangovs work introduced what were virtually expressionist techniques into Russian theatre. [Twentieth-Century Theatre: A Sourcebook]

VAKHTANGOV Theatre (Moscow) & Turandot
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[Directors on Directing: A Source Book of the Modern Theater by Helen Krich Chinoy, Toby Cole; Bobbs-Merrill, 1963 (p.185-)]

APRIL 10, 1922

VAKHTANGOV: Meyerhold understands theatricality as a performance at which the audience does not forget for a single moment that it is in a theater. Stanislavsky demanded exactly the reverse: that the audience forget that it is in the theater, that it come to feel itself living in the atmosphere and milieu in which the characters of the play live. He rejoiced in the fact that the audience used to come to the Moscow Art Theater to The Three Sisters, not as to a theater, but as if invited to the Prosorov house. This he considered to be the highest achievement of the theater. Stanislavsky wanted to destroy theatrical banality, he wanted to put an end to it at once. Whatever reminded him of the old theaters, even to the slightest extent, he branded with the word "theatrical," this word having become a term of abuse in the Moscow Art Theater. To be sure, what he was berating was vulgar indeed, but carried away by the need for ferreting out vulgarity, Stanislavsky also removed a certain genuine, necessary theatricality, and genuine theatricality consists in presenting theatrical works in a theatrical manner. . . .

... Meyerhold is the only one of all the Russian directors who has the feel of theatricality. He was a prophet at one time and was not accepted. He was ten years ahead of his time. Meyerhold did the same thing as Stanislavsky. He also destroyed theatrical banality, but he did it with the aid of theatrical means. Stanislavsky in his enthusiasm for real truth, brought naturalistic truth to the stage. He sought theatrical truth in the truth of life. Meyerhold, carried away by theatrical truth, removed the truthfulness of feelings, and truth there must be in both--the theaters of Meyerhold and Stanislavsky. ...

Lev Vygodsky On the Problem of the Psychology of the Actors Creative Work. [ The Collected Works of L.S. Vygotsky, Vol. 6 ]:

"... A step toward separating the system from its concrete expression was taken by E. B. Vakhtangov, whose stylistic aspirations were so very different from the initial naturalism of the Arts Theater but who, nevertheless, was aware that his own system was an application to new stylistic tasks of the basic ideas of Stanislavsky.

This can be demonstrated with the example of Vakhtangovs work on the staging of Princess Turandot. Wishing to project from the stage not simply the content of the tale, but his own contemporary relation to the tale, his irony, a smile addressed to the tragic content of the tale, Vakhtangov creates a new content for the play.

B. E. Zakhava tells of a remarkable case from the history of the staging of this play: At the first rehearsals, Vakhtangov used this device. He proposed the actors play not the roles indicated in the text of the play, but Italian actors playing these roles ... For example, he proposed that the actress playing the role of Adelma play not Adelma, but an Italian actress playing Adelma. He improvised (in the theme, supposing she were the wife of the director of the troupe and the mistress at the opening, that she is wearing broken shoes, that they are too big for her and when she walks, they flap at the heel, slap the floor, etc. Another actress playing Zelima is an idler who does not want to act, and she does not at all hide this from the public (she wants to sleep) (1930, pp. 143-144).

Thus, we see that Vakhtangov directly changes the content of the play he is given, but in the form of its presentation, he depended on the same foundation that was put in place in the system of Stanislavsky: Stanislavsky taught that finding the truth of feelings on the stage is an internal justification of each stage form of behavior.

Zakhava says: Internal justification, the basic requirement of Stanislavsky, remains as before one of the basic requirements of Vakhtangov, only the content itself of these feelings is entirely different with Vakhtangov than with Stanislavsky ... If the feelings now become different, if they require different theatrical means of expression, still the truth of these feelings is as it was and will always be unchangeably the basis of the soil on which only the flowers of genuine great art can grow (ibid., p. 133).

We see how the internal technique of Stanislavsky and his mental naturalism come to serve completely different stylistic tasks, opposite in a certain sense to the one that they served at the very beginning of development. We see how certain content dictates a new theatrical form, how a system proves to be much broader than the concrete application it is given."

[ Vygotsky Archive : Play and its role in the Mental Development of the Child ] http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1933/play.htm

[ On Diderots paradox of the actor -- notes? ]

Avant Garde Theatre, 1892-1992 by Christopher Innes; Routledge, 1993 - 1: Introduction - 2: The Politics of Primitivism - 3: Dreams, Archetypes and the Irrational - 4: Therapy and Subliminal Theatre - 5: Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty - 6: Ritual and Acts of Communion - 7: Black Masses and Ceremonies of Negation - 8: Myth and Theatre Laboratories - 9: Secular Religions and Physical Spirituality - 10: Anthropology, Environmental Theatre and Sexual Revolution - 11: Interculturalism and Expropriating the Classics - 12: From the Margins to Mainstream Russian Theatre in THR Theory *

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Stylised theatre was necessary in order to break down and do away with theatrical vulgarity. Using stylised means to do away with theatrical vulgarity, Meyerhold arrived at an understanding of genuine theatre.

Carried away by real truth, Stanislavsky brought naturalist truth to the stage. He sought for theatrical truth in lifes truth. Meyerhold arrived at genuine theatre through stylised theatre, which he now rejects. But in his enthusiasm for theatrical truth, Meyerhold did away with emotional truth.

Emotion in theatre and in life is the same thing, although the means for conveying this emotion are different. A partridge is exactly the same whether it is cooked in a restaurant or at home. But in a restaurant it is cooked and served so that there is a theatrical flair about it, while at home it is something ordinary and domestic, not theatrical. Stanislavsky served up truth by means of truth, water by means of water, and a partridge was simply a partridge, while Meyerhold did away with truth altogether, that is, he retained the dish and the way of cooking it, but he served up paper, not a partridge. And the feeling was cardboard, too. Meyerhold was a master and knew how to serve things up in a masterful way, as in a restaurant, but you couldnt eat it. However, by breaking down theatrical vulgarity through stylised theatrical means, Meyerhold arrived at genuine theatricality, summed up in the following formula: the audience should not forget that they are in the theatre for a single instant. Through this approach, Stanislavsky arrived at the formula: the audience should forget they are in the theatre.

A perfect work of art is eternal. A work of art is one in which there is harmony of form, content, and material. Stanislavsky created something which harmonised only with the mood of Russian society during that era. Not everything contemporary is eternal but whatever is eternal is contemporary. Meyerhold never felt today, but he felt tomorrow. Stanislavsky never felt tomorrow, he only felt today. We need to feel, however, today in tomorrow and tomorrow in today.

When the Revolution began, we felt that art should not be the same as before. We had not yet found the real form that was needed, and that is why St. Anthony 1 had a transitory form. The next stage will be the quest for the eternal. In Chekhovs plays lifes means coincided with theatrical means. The theatrical means we are using now in St Anthonyexposing the bourgeoisiecoincide with lifes demands, todays demands. But this time will pass. The need to expose people will no longer exist, because socialism is not a society of the proletariat, but a society of equal, satisfied, well-fed people. When need ceases to exist, along with any concept of need, there will not be any necessity to expose the bourgeoisie. Thus, the means we have chosen will cease to be theatrical. We shall have to find genuine theatrical means. We shall have to find the eternal mask.

Stenogramme of Two Discussions between Vakhtangov and His Students (1922) [ Twentieth-Century Theatre: A Sourcebook by Richard Drain; Routledge, 1995 p.260- ]


The Vakhtangov Theater, 26 Arbat, Moscow, was named after Yevgeny Vakhtangov, a pupil of Stanislavsky, in 1926.
Lubumov (Taganka), Vysotski, Fomenko + [ Shchukin Drama School attached to Vakhtangov Theatre ]
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