- Vsevolod Meyerhold’s career began as an actor performing roles in Constantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre productions at the turn of the 20th century
- He left the Moscow Art Theatre in 1902 and moved on to directing plays, but was invited back by Stanislavski three years later to “experiment with nonrealistic styles, realizing that one approach could not work for every play” (Crawford)
- Meyerhold believed in a presentational style of acting, as opposed to Stanislavski’s representational style of performance.
- He was influenced by the physical nature of the Commedia dell’Arte, circus acts and pantomime.
Theory of Biomechanics
- Meyerhold believed movement to be the most powerful form of theatrical expression
- Biomechanics soon became the principle behind a non-realistic, stylised and movement-centred system of actor training developed by between 1913 and 1922
- Like Jerzy Grotowski’s poor theatre, in Meyerhold’s system the actor was paramount and central focus.
- It can be seen as an integral part of both actor training and performances, though the well-known “etudes” were never seen on stage during a performance and were relevant only as part of the actor training program
- His system of actor training differed with that of Stanislavski’s in which the actor first created a character from within (internal character creation)
- In contrast, Meyerhold’s system instructed the actor to develop a character from without, first employing external movements
- His actors were trained in gymnastics, circus movement and ballet.
Biomechanics in Practice
- Each movement in was important and deliberate – superfluous movements on stage were eliminated.
- For the actor this involved:
- preparation for an action
- the state of mind and body at the moment of action, and
- the reaction to what follows (Styan)
- The basic skills of a biomechanical actor were:
- playfulness and discipline (Pitches)
- Post-1917 (Russian Revolution), Meyerhold began to use industrial-type language, describing actor movement on stage in terms of efficiency.
- Meyerhold was influenced by the American industrialist Frederick Winslow Taylor, who believed a worker in a factory would be more efficient if he broke down his tasks into a series of separate actions.
- He interpreted Taylor’s concept of efficiency of action into an efficiency of actor movement for the stage.
- He was making direct links with Soviet-Marxist philosophy, connecting the efficiency of action in workers for means of production (labour) with the efficiency of movement for the actor in terms of means of expression.
- Biomechanics was perfectly suited to one of Meyerhold’s other theatrical achievements, that of scenic constructivism
- Constructivism was already a popular movement in the visual arts and he adapted its form for theatrical set design in many of the productions he directed
- Constructivist theatre sets typically included treadmills, ramps, catwalks, trapezes, turning wheels, multiple levels and machines
- The most famous Meyerhold production that showed the world both biomechanical acting and constructivist set design was The Magnanimous Cuckold (1922). Another well-known production was The Government Inspector (1926)
- Increasingly, his non-realistic, avant-garde, experimental theatre productions came under close scrutiny from government censors, as much of his work was risky and opposed to Stalin’s official policy for the arts, that of socialist realism
- Consequently, he was arrested and executed by firing squad in February 1940.
Pitches, J., Vsevolod Meyerhold, (Routledge Performance Practitioners).
Styan, J., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 3.
Crawford, J, Acting: In Person and in Style.
Brockett, O., History of the Theatre.
Rudnitsky, K., Russian and Soviet Theatre.