Vsevolod Meyerhold

From Academic Kids

Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold (born Karl Kazimir Theodor Meyerhold) (1874 - 1940) was a Russian theatrical director, actor and theorist.

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Vsevolod Meyerhold

Life and work

Meyerhold was born in Penza on 28 January (9 February) 1874 into the family of a Russian-German wine manufacturer Emil Meyerhold. After completing school in 1895 he began the study of law at the Moscow University which he never completed. On his 21st birthday, Meyerhold converted to Orthodox Christianity, and accepted "Vsevolod" as an Orthodox Christian name. His acting career began when he became a student of the Moscow Philharmonic Dramatic School under the guidance of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre where Meyerhold later served as an actor.

Having left the Moscow Art Theatre in 1902, Meyerhold indulged himself in a number of theatrical projects, acting both as a director / producer and actor. The numerous projects of Meyerhold served as an arena for experiment and creation of new staging methods. Meyerhold was one of the most fervent advocates of symbolism in theatre, especially when he worked as the chief producer of the Vera Kommisarzhevskaya drama theatre in 1906-1907.

Meyerhold continued his search for theatrical innovation in 1907-1917, while working with imperial theatres in St. Petersburg, introducing classical plays in an innovative manner, and staging works of controversial contemporary authors like Fyodor Sologub, Zinaida Gippius, and Alexander Blok. In their plays Meyerhold tried to return to acting in the principles of Commedia Dell'Arte, rethinking them for the contemporary theatrical reality. His theoretical concepts of the ‘conditional theatre’ were elaborated on in his book On Theatre in 1913.

The revolutions in 1917 made Meyerhold one of the most enthusiastic activists for the development of the new Soviet Theatre, joining the Bolshevik Party in 1918, taking up posts with the Theatrical Council of the Bolshevik Government, and finally opening his own theatre, the theatre that bears his name until now. Meyerhold fiercely confronted the principles of theatrical academism, claiming them incapable of finding a common language with the new reality. Meyerhold’s methods of scenic constructivism and ‘circusisation’ of theatre were used in his most successful works of the time: Mayakovsky’s Mistery-Bouffe, Fernand Crommelynck's Le Cocu Magnifique, and Alexander Sukhovo-Kobylin’s Tarelkin’s Death. Mayakovsky collaborated with Meyerhold several times, and it is said that Mayakovsky wrote The Bed Bug especially for him; Meyerhold continued to stage Mayakovsky's productions even after the latter's suicide. The actors participating in Meyerhold’s productions acted according to the principle of biomechanics, the system of actor training that was later taught in a special acting school created by Meyerhold.

Meyerhold inspired revolutionary artists and filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein, whose films employed actors who worked in Meyerholds tradition.

His acting technique was opposite to Stanislavskis method acting. Where method acting melded the character with the actors own personal memories to create a characters internal motivation, Meyerhold connected psychological and physiological processes and focused on learning gestures and movements as a way of expressing outward emotion. He argued that people feel physically before they feel emotionally, so that by practicing and assuming poses, gestures, and movements, emotions will automatically occur. He developed a number of body expressions that his actors would use to portray specific emotions and characters.

An example of his style of acting can be found in the films of Eisenstein, who cast actors based on what they looked like and their expression, and who followed Meyerholds stylized acting methods. In Strike!, which portrays the beginnings of the Bolshevik revolution, the oppressive bourgeois are always obese, drinking, eating, and smoking, whereas the workers are athletic and chiseled.

Meyerhold was strongly opposed to socialist realism, and in the beginning of the 1930s, when Joseph Stalin clamped down on all avant-garde art and experimentation, his works were proclaimed antagonistic and alien to the Soviet people. His theatre was closed down in 1938, and a year later Meyerhold was arrested and imprisoned. He was brutally tortured and forced to make a confession, which he later recanted before the court. He was sentenced to death by firing squad on 1 February 1940. The date of his death is unclear; some sources say he was executed on 2 February 1940. He was cleared of charges posthumously in 1955.

See also


in English:

Texts by Meyerhold

  • Meyerhold on Theatre, trans. and ed. by Edward Braun, with a critical commentary, 1969. London: Methuen and New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Meyerhold Speaks/Meyerhold Rehearses (Russian Theatre Archive), by V. Meyerhold, Alexander Gladkov (ed.) and Alma Law (ed.), Routledge, 1996
  • Meyerhold at Work, Paul Schmidt (ed.), Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1996

Works on Meyerhold

  • Vsevolod Meyerhold (Routledge Performance Practitioners Series), by Jonathan Pitches, Routledge, 2003
  • Meyerhold: The art of conscious theater, by Marjorie L Hoover, University of Massachusetts Press, 1974 (biography)
  • Vsevolod Meyerhold (Directors in Perspective Series), by Robert Leach, Christopher Innes (ed.), Cambridge University Press, 1993
  • Meyerholds Theatre of the Grotesque: Post-revolutionary Productions, 1920-32, James M. Symons, 1971
  • Meyerhold: A Revolution in Theatre, by Edward Braun, University of Iowa Press, 1998
  • The Theatre of Meyerhold: Revolution and the Modern Stage by Edward Braun, 1995
  • Stanislavsky and Meyerhold (Stage and Screen Studies, v. 3), by Robert Leach, Peter Lang, 2003
  • Meyerhold the Director, by Konstantin Rudnitsky, Ardis, 1981
  • Meyerhold, Eisenstein and Biomechanics: Actor Training in Revolutionary Russia by Alma H. Law, Mel Gordon, McFarland & co, 1995

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