Vakhtangov, Evgenii Bagrattionovich
Born Feb. 1 (13), 1883, in Vladikavkaz, now the city of Ordzhonikidze; died May 29, 1922, in Moscow. Soviet director and actor.
Vakhtangov was the founder and from 1913 the director of the so-called Students’ Dramatic Studio (subsequently known as the Mansurovskii Studio). In 1921 it became the Third Studio of the Moscow Art Theater, and since 1926 it has been known as the Vakhtangov Theater.
Vakhtangov’s father was the owner of a tobacco factory. In 1903, Vakhtangov enrolled at Moscow University in the department of natural sciences. (Later, he transferred to the department of law.) From 1901 he took part in amateur dramatic groups as an actor and producer. Vakhtangov was strongly influenced by the Moscow Art Theater. During these years he published stories and articles about the theater in the Vladikavkaz newspaper Terek.
In 1909, Vakhtangov enrolled in A. I. Adashev’s theater school in Moscow. (His teachers were L. A. Sulerzhitskii, V. V. Luzhskii, L. M. Leonidov, and V. I. Kachalov.) After graduating from Adashev’s school in 1911, he was accepted as a member of the Moscow Art Theater. He participated in productions of L. N. Tolstoy’s The Living Corpse (the Gypsy), Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird (Sugar), Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Second Actor), Andreev’s Thought (Kraft), and other plays. Vakhtangov became an active promoter of the ideas and system of K. S. Stanislavsky, and he took part in the work of the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theater. A keen, incisive stage sense, which resulted from the performer’s deep penetration of the psychic life of the character, was clearly manifested in the roles played by Vakhtangov (Tackleton in The Cricket on the Hearth, based on a story by Dickens, 1914; and the Fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, 1919), as well as in the productions staged by him at the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theater, including Hauptmann’s Commemoration Masque (1913) and Berger’s The Flood (1919, with Vakhtangov playing Frezer).
From the very first years of Soviet power Vakhtangov sincerely and ardently responded to the demands of the revolutionary epoch. Acknowledging the new higher responsibility of the artist, Vakhtangov asserted that the theaters “must abruptly change something in their way of life.” The artist must create with the people: “not for them, not for their sake, not beyond them, but with them” (Zapiski: Pis’ma: Stat’i, 1939, pp. 199, 201). In 1919, Vakhtangov became the head of the directors’ section of the Theatrical Division of the People’s Commissariat of Education.
Vakhtangov’s diverse work as a director developed with unprecedented activity after the Revolution. The theme of the antihuman quality of bourgeois-petit bourgeois society, which had already been revealed in The Flood, was further developed in satirical productions of Chekhov’s The Wedding (1920) and Maeterlinck’s The Miracle of St. Anthony (second stage edition, 1921), which were produced in Vakhtangov’s Studio. The motif of the grotesque unmasking of the world of those who have power, as contrasted with the life-asserting principle of the people, was uniquely interpreted in the staging of the tragedies Eric XIV by Strindtberg (First Studio of the Moscow Art Theater, 1921) and The Dybbuk by Anskii (Habima Jewish Studio, 1922). Vakhtangov aspired to find “modern methods to present a play in a form that would have a theatrical resonance” (Zapiski: Pis’ma: Stat’i, p. 258), and this trait found its brilliant embodiment in his last production. Permeated with the spirit of a bright affirmation of life, Gozzi’s play Turan-dot (Third Studio of the Moscow Art Theater, 1922) was recognized by K. S. Stanislavsky, VI. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, and other theater figures as an extremely important creative triumph that enriched the art of the stage and blazed new paths in the theater.
Fundamental to Vakhtangov’s work as a director were a concept of the indissoluble unity of the theater’s ethical and aesthetic purpose, unity between the artist and the people, and a keen feeling for the quality of the contemporary, which would correspond to the content of the dramatic work and its artistic characteristics and determine an original stage format. These principles were continued and developed in the art of Vakhtangov’s students and followers—the directors R. N. Simonov and B. E. Zakhava and the actors B. V. Shchukin, I. M. Tolchanov, and others.
WORKSZapiski: Pis’ma: Stat’i. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
REFERENCESZakhava, B. E. Vakhtangov i ego studiia, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1927. (Contains a bibliography.)
Zograf, N. Vakhtangov. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Khersonskii, Kh. Vakhtangov. Moscow. 1963.
Besedy o Vakhtangove: Zapisany Kh. P. Khersonskim. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Gorchakov, N. M. Rezhisserskie uroki Vakhtangova. Moscow, 1957.
Evg. Vakhtangov: Materialy i stat’i. Moscow, 1959. (Bibliography.)
Simonov, R. S Vakhtangovym. Moscow, 1959.
B. I. ROSTOTSKII