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Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerhold

Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerhold

The Russian director Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerhold (1874-1940/42) is noted for his stylistic experiments with nonrealistic performances in constructivist settings.

Vsevolod Meyerhold was born to German parents on Jan. 28, 1874, in Penza about 350 miles southeast of Moscow. Baptized Karl Theodore Kasimir, he changed his name in 1895, when he was converted from Lutheranism to the Orthodox Church. After a year of law at Moscow University, he studied drama at the Moscow Philharmonic Society, where one of the teachers was Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the future founder with Stanislavsky of the Moscow Art Theatre. Upon graduation in 1898 Meyerhold joined this company and in December played Treplev in the historic production of The Seagull. Never outstanding as an actor and opposed to Stanislavsky's naturalism, he left Moscow after 4 years to direct his own company.

Between 1908 and 1917 Meyerhold attracted international attention at the two St. Petersburg imperial theaters with his dazzling productions influenced by the conventions of commedia dell'arte and other nonrealistic theaters. Probably the most opulent spectacle ever seen on the Russian stage was his production of Mikhail Lermontov's Masquerade, which opened on the very day in February 1917 when the first shots were fired in the Russian Revolution.

Early in 1918 Meyerhold joined the Bolsheviks, produced the first Soviet play, Vladimir Mayakovsky's Mystery Bouffe, in September, and the following year was appointed head of the Theatrical Department in the Education Commissariat. In the postrevolutionary decade of the 1920s he became the leading Soviet exponent of antirealistic theatrical experiment. Daring constructivist productions of Aleksandr Ostrovsky's The Forest (1924) and Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector General (1926) inspired a host of reinterpretations of the classics. In 1913 he had published a collection of his articles, On the Theatre. Expounding even more radical theories, his Reconstruction of the Theatre appeared in 1930.

After Mayakovksy's The Bedbug (1929) and The Bathhouse (1930) were criticized by advocates of Soviet socialist realism, Meyerhold presented The Lady of the Camellias (1934) and The Queen of Spades (1935) somewhat more realistically. Nevertheless, the official attacks on his "formalism" continued, and on Jan. 8, 1938, the Meyerhold Theatre was liquidated. On June 5, 1939, at the All-Union Conference of Stage Directors, Meyerhold made a speech apparently defending the principles he had pursued throughout his career. Immediately after the conference he was arrested. Russian sources list the date of his death in prison as 1940 or 1942.

Further Reading

Selections from Meyerhold's writings are in Meyerhold on Theatre, edited and translated by Edward Braun (1969). Each chapter is prefaced with an informative introduction by the translator. Contemporary accounts of Meyerhold's productions can be found in Alexander Bakshy, The Path of the Modern Russian Stage (1916); Huntly Carter, The New Spirit in the Russian Theatre 1917-28, (1929); and Norris Houghton, Moscow Rehearsals (1936). □

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Meyerhold, Vsevolod Yemilievich

MEYERHOLD, VSEVOLOD YEMILIEVICH

(18741940), born Karl-Theodor Kazimir Meyer-hold, stage director.

Among the most influential twentieth-century stage directors, Vsevolod Meyerhold utilized abstract design and rhythmic performances. His actor training system, "biomechanics," merges acrobatics with industrial studies of motion. Never hesitating to adapt texts to suit directorial concepts, Meyerhold saw theatrical production as an art independent from drama. Born in Penza, Meyerhold studied acting at the Moscow Philharmonic Society (18961897) with theatrical reformer Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. When Nemirovich cofounded the Moscow Art Theater with Konstantin Stanislavsky (1897), Meyerhold joined. He excelled as Treplev in Anton Chekhov's Seagull (1898). Like Treplev, Meyerhold sought new artistic forms and left the company in 1902. He directed symbolist plays at Stanislavsky's Theater-Studio (1905) and for actress Vera Kommissarzhevskaya (19061907).

From 1908 to 1918, Meyerhold led a double life. As director for the imperial theaters, he created sumptuous operas and classic plays. As experimental director, under the pseudonym Dr. Dapertutto, he explored avant-garde directions. Meyerhold greeted 1917 by vowing "to put the October revolution into the theatre." He headed the Narkompros Theater Department from 1920 to 1921 and staged agitprop (pro-communist propaganda). His Soviet work developed along two trajectories: He reinterpreted classics to reflect political issues and premiered contemporary satires. His most famous production, Fernand Crommelynck's Magnificent Cuckold (1922), used a constructivist set and biomechanics. When Soviet control hardened, Meyer-hold was labeled "formalist" and his theater liquidated (1938). The internationally acclaimed Stanislavsky sprang to Meyerhold's defense, but shortly after Stanislavsky's death, Meyerhold was arrested (1939). Following seven months of torture, he confessed to "counterrevolutionary slander" and was executed on February 2, 1940.

See also: agitprop; moscow art theater

bibliography

Braun, Edward. (1995). Meyerhold: A Revolution in the Theatre. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Rudnitsky, Konstantin. (1981). Meyerhold the Director, tr. George Petrov. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.

Sharon Marie Carnicke

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Meyerhold, Vsevolod

Vsevolod Meyerhold (fəsyĕ´vəlŭt mē´ûrhōlt), 1874–1940?, Russian theatrical director and producer. Meyerhold led the revolt against naturalism in the Russian theater. Working with the Moscow Art Theater, he experimented with his own directing ideas until the outbreak of the Revolution. Meyerhold was a member of the Bolshevik party, and as head of theatrical activities for the state he directed the first theater to specialize in Soviet plays. He was among the earliest advocates of the theater of the absurd. In his avant-garde productions he employed various grotesque elements, pantomimes, and acrobatics, emphasizing the plays' visual, nonverbal aspects. He produced Bolshevik propaganda dramas, using bare constructivist settings and formalized scenery, and eliminating the curtain. Meyerhold directed his actors according to his principle of "biomechanics," reducing the actors' individual contributions to a minimum, in the interests of the play as a whole. His work eventually became unprofitable, and the state discontinued his subsidy. He was an outspoken opponent of socialist realism. A victim of the Soviet purges, Meyerhold died under circumstances that remain unclear; the date of his death is open to question.

See Meyerhold on Theater, ed. by E. Braun (1969); biography by M. L. Hoover (1974); J. M. Symons, Meyerhold's Theatre of the Grotesque (1971).

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