Michael Chekhov’s work as director

Authored by: Liisa Byckling

The Routledge Companion to Michael Chekhov

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  May  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415710183
eBook ISBN: 9781315716398
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506867


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Michael Chekhov was a modern director of the type established in the second half of the nineteenth century. For thirty years he combined directing with actor training in many theatres and studios, and with literary work: writing scenarios in close collaboration with playwrights, who became members of his team; producing articles; and authoring one of the best autobiographies of a Russian actor. 1 “One of the most remarkable actors of our time, Michael Chekhov, ardently and passionately seeks new means of theatrical expression,” wrote Pavel Markov, a distinguished Moscow critic (Chekhov 1986: 2.492). As director of the Second Moscow Art Theatre (MAT 2) from 1924 to 1928, Chekhov sought to implement a new means of acting in his productions. He was guided by several creative principles: acting as collective work; a preference for classical repertoire as his dramatic choices; the use of adaptation techniques in creating scores of performances; and creating an ensemble of actors. His focus on actor pedagogy as the basis of directorial work went back to his teacher Stanislavsky’s tradition in directing. Chekhov’s great artistic pilgrimage stretched from Moscow to Los Angeles. 2 After leaving Russia he underwent three separate stages in his development: the period of directing, acting, and teaching in Berlin, Paris, Riga, and Kaunas (1928–34); the period of the Anglo-American Theatre Studio and professional theatre (1936–42); and, finally, acting in cinema, writing books, and teaching film actors in Los Angeles (1943–55). Being an émigré, he was often obliged to work with heterogeneous groups and in uncongenial cultural contexts; nevertheless, he always found sponsors and admirers of his talent.

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