2012-03-11
2012-03-23

Meyerhold Vsevelod Emilevich

(1874–1940), a Russian of German origin: director, artistic director and actor; one of the most important theatre creators of the twentieth century. He trained as an actor with Vladimir I. Nemirovich-Danchenko in Moscow. He was a member of the Moscow Art Theatre from 1898 (including roles as Treplev in the legendary version of Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, 1989). In 1902 he left the company in protest against its naturalistic approach and instead founded his own Society of New Drama which operated in provincial towns and cities (plays staged include Stanisław Przybyszewski’s Śnieg [Snow]). In 1905 he was invited by Konstantin S. Stanislavsky to run the Studio on Povarskaya Street, although it closed soon after. Meyerhold took over the role of chief director at the theatre of the great actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya, where he was able to develop his program of ‘conditional theatre’ (works including Maurice Maeterlinck’s Sister Beatrice, 1906). In 1908 he began collaborating with the imperial theatres in Petersburg, quickly becoming one of the most outstanding and influential theatre artists of his generation. At the same time, he carried out artistic experiments in performances staged at small theatres and in collaboration with, among others, the Studio on Borodinskaya Street where he worked on reviving the tradition of folk theatre (see the manifesto The Fairground Booth, 1912). Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, he sided with the new regime and became the leading figure of the theatrical avant-garde, which was connected with Russian constructivism. From 1923 he led his own Meyerhold Theatre in Moscow (which was nationalised in 1926). His best-known performances (The Magnificent Cuckold by Fernand Crommelynck, 1922; The World Turned Upside Down, an adaptation of Marcel Martinet’s Night, 1923; D.E. by Ilya Erenburg and B. Kellerman, 1924; Forest by Alexander Ostrovsky, 1924; The Government Inspector by Nikolái Gogól, 1926; Woe from Wit by Alexander Griboyedov, 1928; The Bedbug by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1929) are examples of a completely new approach to all elements of the theatre, beginning with a radical departure from the principle of staging texts, by abandoning imitation in acting (biomechanics) and employing innovative concepts of space (three-dimensionality, abandoning illustrative decorations), light and music, by basing the work of the director on montage. From the early 1930s he found himself under ever stronger attack, with a significant critique coming from the Party organs in the second half of the decade. Shortly afterward, he was removed from his own theatre which was subsequently closed down in 1938 (Stanislavsky then employed him at the Opera Theatre). He was arrested on 20 April 1939 and executed by firing squad in Moscow on 2 February 1940. He was rehabilitated in 1955, while the gradual rediscovery of his achievements contributed to the reinforcement of the revolutionary changes taking place in the theatre of the second half of the twentieth-century, influencing almost all of the outstanding artists of the period. Grotowski became acquainted with Meyerhold’s achievements during his studies at GITIS, where Grotowski is said to have had access to the classified archives documenting his performances and ideas. Without doubt Grotowski’s early performances were inspired by them, as were those staged at the Theatre of 13 Rows (particularly Cain and Mystery Bouffe) and elsewhere (particularly Faust). We can also see Meyerhold’s influence in later performances (for example Akropolis). However, Meyerhold’s influence on Grotowski seems to run deeper than merely more or less direct stylistic, aesthetic or compositional references. It is evident in his treatment of the fundamental elements of the theatrical arts: his relationship to the text, which he treats as material for working on; basing the dramaturgy of the performance on montage and contrast; his relationship theatrical space; the relationship between the text and the actor’s actions; the relationship between actors and audience. In truth, Grotowski referred much more often and much more directly to Stanislavsky, but nonetheless it seems that it was indeed Meyerhold whom he regarded as a master of directing. Evidence of his significance for Grotowski can be found in the latter’s 1965 response to a survey by the monthly Teatr, where Grotowski answered the question ‘whose portrait would you hang in your office?’ by indicating that Meyerhold would be first in line as a ‘martyr of the theatre’, whose ‘quite literal torturing to death stemmed, it would seem to me, from the fact that he did not want to present beautiful people against beautiful backgrounds in the theatre’. (‘Czyj portret?’, wypowiedź Jerzego Grotowskiego w ankiecie [Whose portrait? Grotowski’s survey response], Teatr, 21 (1965), 1–15 November, p. 140).

Bibliography: 

Eugenio Barba: Dziadkowie i sieroty, przeł. Monika Gurgul, „Didaskalia” 2003, nr 54–56, s. 17–21.

Robert Leach: Meyerhold i biomechanika, przeł. J. Krakowska, „Dialog” 2002, nr 3, s. 156–169.

Wsiewołod E. Meyerhold: Przed rewolucją, przełożyli Andrzej Drawicz i Jerzy Koenig, wstęp i wybór Jerzy Koenig, noty A. Fiewralski, Warszawa 1988.

Wsiewołod E. Meyerhold: Korespondencja. 1896–1939, przeł. E.P. Melech, Warszawa 1998.

Spotkania z Meyerholdem. Wybór wspomnień, Warszawa 1981.

Katarzyna Osińska: Klasztory i laboratoria. Rosyjskie studia teatralne: Stanisławski, Meyerhold, Sulerżycki, Wachtangow, Gdańsk 2003.

Katarzyna Osińska: Świadkowie i świadectwa. Polska recepcja Meyerholda do roku 1939, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2001, z. 3–4, s. 49–77.

Katarzyna Osińska: Teatr rosyjski XX wieku wobec tradycji (kontynuacje, zerwania, transformacje), Gdańsk 2009.

Zbigniew Osiński: Tradycja Meyerholda w Polsce (po roku 1945): Jerzy Grotowski, Jerzy

Jarocki, Tadeusz Kantor, [w:] tegoż: Grotowski. Źródła, inspiracje, konteksty, t. 2: Prace z lat 1999–2009, Gdańsk 2009, s. 109–156.

Nikołaj Piesoczynski: Wsiewołod Meyerhold. Teoria względności, przełożyła A. L. Piotrowska, „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 2001 nr 3–4, s. 5–48.