Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Vladimir Nemirovitch-Dantchenko's My Life in the Theatre

Vladimir Nemirovitch-Dantchenko was a revolutionary force in the Russian theater for several decades.  Although he wrote excellent plays, his role as a co-founder of the famous Moscow Art Theater, and producer of some of the best Russian and European playwrights of the first part of the twentieth century, brought him enduring fame in the history of the modern theater.  His book, My Life in the Russian Theater, first published in 1936,  outlines his artistic creed, but, owing to its dignified prose and gentlemanly anecdotes, seems a bit dated now.  The fact that Nemirovitch-Dantchenko wrote the book on the eve of Stalin's Great Terror could not have encouraged free artistic expression or personal honesty.  At any rate, Nemirovitch-Dantchenko explains the mechanics of his partnership with Constantin Stanislavsky, and also describes the origins of the Moscow Art Theater in great detail.  On aesthetics, Nemirovitch-Dantchenko describes his dissatisfaction with the nineteenth century intelligentsia's narrow interest in liberalism and social problems. He also explains his resentment for playwrights who created characters for the sake of their favorite actors and subscribed to a whole set of unrealistic theatrical conventions. He insisted that great plays arose from "
familiar life" rather than the "familiar stage." Nemirovich-Dantechenko also supported literary genius and the dignity of the stage.  He and Stanislavsky also opposed the idea that the audience rather than the producer were the proper masters of the aesthetic experience. For instance, the director and producer no longer permitted theatergoers to enter the play after it had begun.  He also describes his enthusiasm for Chekhov, who recognized the importance of the quotidian context of his characters, avoided the deus ex machina and external effects in general, and created truthful depictions of human struggles with mortality and meaning. 

Some quotes: 

Grigorovitch:  "He is not worthy of kissing the trail of the flea which has bitten Chekhov!"

Another Coryphaeaus of Russian literature, Boborikin, said that he gave himself the pleasure of reading every day, without fail, a tale of Chekhov's.

A certain writer said:  "Talent is necessary for the writing of a play, but genius for its production."

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