Moscow Art Theatre

(1897 -)

by Trevor Jones
(October 1999)

Born in 1897 of the collaborative efforts of legendary director and producer Konstantin Stanislavski and Vladimir Nemirovich- Danchenko, the Moscow Art Theatre revolutionized the Russian stage. The practices and philosophies of Stanislavski in particular have had an enduring impact on the character of modern theatrical directing and production worldwide. Dedication to truthful emotion on stage, careful research and preparation, specifically designed and historically accurate sets and costumes, innovative use of light and sound and a passionate social awareness in drama are all legacies of this paramount achievement in the art of theatre.

Begun as a vehicle to elevate the status of acting and theatre in Russia and to widen the influence of Stanislavski's naturalist and socially conscious teachings, The Moscow Art Theatre was Russia's first ensemble theatre and the first to deny allegiance to the fickle tastes of its patrons.

Despite Stanislavski and Nemirovich- Danchenko's steadfast faithfulness to their ideal image of the theatre, the Art Theatre was never allowed the luxury of unconditional admiration. After decades of rejection and derision from critics, the Art Theatre was glorified in the years during and following the Bolshevik revolution and became the model for Soviet theatre for most of the 20th Century. Incidentally, the Stanislavski System of acting was imposed as the official method to be taught in all Soviet theatre schools under the centralized Stalinist Soviet Union. While the suppression of artistic expression had become more pronounced in the Soviet Union, the Art Theatre's socialist realist vision of drama won the favor of prominent Soviet leaders, namely Lenin and Stalin. More recently, the period of perestroika, an economic strategy that attempts to unite the achievements of the scientific-technical revolution with a planned economy and to thus bring into action the entire potential of socialism, has emphasized the shortcomings of socialist ideology. The Art Theatre has come under criticism for rewritting history during this period and suppressing material that did not fit the heroic image of socialist realist theatre.

The Art Theatre and Stanislavski have nevertheless maintained an international reputation and have inspired the creation of other such legendary theatre groups as The Actors Studio and the Group Theatre.

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