- Meyerhold at Rehearsal: New Materials on Meyerhold’s Work with Actors
Intentionally or not, Vsevolod Meyerhold never wrote a book on his life in art. He might have accomplished that, had his life lasted till its natural resolution; however, Meyerhold’s mistrust of words, so characteristic of his aesthetics, makes a monograph an unlikely project in his career. His articles and letters are predominantly short pieces; their brevity also points, it seems, to the author’s inherent predilection for movement and action. “We confront him in his work,” Paul Schmidt wrote in his Introduction to Meyerhold at Work, “as we can never confront Stanislavsky, Brecht, or Artaud, because we have no canonical text to set between ourselves and him” (xviii).
Unlike a written text, however, a director’s “work” is an abstraction that exists only in and through historical inquiry. As regards Meyerhold, modern recreation of his stage practice has been complicated not only by common challenges of theatre history but political issues as well. When the ban on the director’s name was lifted in his country in the 1960s, scholars and archivists started their search for and restoration of files, documents, and correspondence that had been hidden by the state from the people and by a few people from the state. Despite Meyerhold’s formal political rehabilitation, the authorities stayed hostile to the memory of the artist who may not have spied for Japan 1 but had certainly been alien to mainstream Soviet art and “socialist realism.”
This context helps to understand why a collection of stenographic records of Meyerhold’s rehearsals, a primary source on the Master’s work in theatre, has been published in Russia only now, in the 1990s. 2 In Meyerhold at Rehearsal, theatre historians M. M. Sitkovetskaya and O. M. Feldman have brought together notes taken at rehearsals of nine productions over a period of thirteen years (1925–1938). In the editors’ words, these are “unique texts which have survived the closing of Meyerhold’s theatre and his arrest only by a miracle” (I: 5). In the foreword, the editors pay tribute to the late Konstantin Rudnitsky, the collection’s initiator and consulting editor, whose groundbreaking Meyerhold the Director was published in 1969. Although several fragments of Meyerhold’s rehearsals have appeared in print before, the significance of the present publication is not merely quantitative. 3 For the first time, students of theatre (and [End Page 15] all interested in Russian culture) can follow Meyerhold’s work in its routine, its continuity, and its evolution. Some productions are documented better than others, but their juxtaposition is at least as important as specific facts and details pertinent to each of the pieces in question. The tale of Meyerhold’s rehearsals contains, as it were, several narrative lines, and the collection’s rich and diverse material can be examined from various points of view. Meyerhold’s treatment of the dramatic text, his perception of music, and his interpretation of history in terms of theatre aesthetics are but a few recurring themes whose presence in rehearsal journals is most conspicuous. Yet as these and other issues emerge and are discussed in rehearsal process, they all reflect, or are related to, the ultimate content of this process—work with the actor. Meyerhold’s approach to playing and players is the collection’s focal point; the very scope of subjects that the Master chose to discuss with his performers, ranging from theatre history to literature and from painting to musical theory, indicates the fundamental—and sometimes underestimated—significance of the actor for Meyerhold’s theatre vision. Rehearsal journals of Meyerhold productions of the late 1920s and 1930s may be seen as his An Actor Prepares; they illuminate his desired ideal of acting as well as ways and means of approaching this ideal.
One of Meyerhold’s persistent concerns, reflected in rehearsal notes, was the eternal problem of the inside and outside, inner emotion and external technique. This dichotomy, central to theatre theory, practice, and training ever since Le paradoxe sur le comédien, has come into particular prominence in the twentieth century, largely due to the Meyerhold-Stanislavsky paradigmatic confrontation. It is, I believe, of...