Moscow Art Academic Theater

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Moscow Art Academic Theater


(full name, M. Gorky Moscow Art Academic Theater; MKhAT), a Soviet theater that has made a great contribution to the development of Russian national theater and world theater. Its founders’ goal was to create “the first rational, moral, popular theater” (K. S. Stanislavsky, Sobr. soch, vol. 5, 1958, p. 175) to “serve the intellectual needs of modern audiences” (VI. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, Izbr. pis’ma, 1954, p. 119).

The Moscow Art Academic Theater carried out major reforms embracing all aspects of theater—the choice of repertoire, the direction, the acting, and the organization of daily theatrical activity. It was at this theater that the first system of dramatic instruction was worked out.

The theater opened on Oct. 14 (26), 1898, with A. K. Tolstoy’s Tsar Fedor loannovich. The production was marked by historical accuracy and an understanding of the spirit of the time. The theater’s original company was drawn from graduates of V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko’s dramatic class at the School of Music and Drama of the Moscow Philharmonic Society (O. L. Knipper, I. M. Moskvin, V. E. Meyerhold) and from amateur actors of the Society of Art and Literature, who had been directed by Stanislavsky (M. P. Lilina, M. F. Andreeva, V. V. Luzhskii, A. R. Artem). V. I. Kachalov and L. M. Leonidov joined the company later.

The full flowering of MKhAT was associated with the staging of plays by A. P. Chekhov and M. Gorky, which reflected the moods of the democratic intellectual vanguard. Chekhovian lyricism, gentle humor, nostalgia, and hope were expressed in the staging of The Sea Gull (1898), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), The Cherry Orchard (1904), and Ivanov (1904). On the eve of the Revolution of 1905–07, the theater and Gorky fought together against social injustice in Smug Citizens (1902), The Lower Depths (1902), and Children of the Sun (1905). Gorky’s plays and Ibsen’s drama An Enemy of the People (1900) determined the sociopolitical direction of the theater.

The staging of plays by Chekhov and Gorky led to the development of a new type of actor, able to render a subtle psychological portrayal of the hero. Also introduced were principles of direction aimed at integrating the acting and creating a mood, a general tone of action, and appropriate set design (artist V. A. Simov). Means of expressing the inner content of everyday speech evolved. For the first time in world theater, the stage director was recognized as the creative and ideological interpreter of dramatic works.

After the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07 and the reaction that came in its wake, the theater devoted itself to symbolic drama (Andreev’s Life of Man and Hamsun’s The Play of Life, 1907) and to universal philosophical problems (Shakespeare’s Hamlet, 1911). The production of Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird in 1908 was permeated by the poetic feeling of a fairy tale.

Unable to find what it sought in contemporary drama, the theater turned to classical works. The best productions of this period were Griboedov’s Woe From Wit (1906), Gogol’s The Inspector-General (1908), Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1909), Ostrovskii’s Even a Wise Man Stumbles (1910), an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1910), Moliére’s Le Mariage forcé and Le Malade imaginaire (both in 1913), and Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Death of Pazukhin (1914). At the same time, a creative crisis took place because a “theater that devotes itself exclusively to a classical repertoire . . . risks . . . becoming academically dead” (V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, ibid.).

The Great October Socialist Revolution helped the theater to overcome its crisis. V. I. Lenin, who held the theater in high regard, commented to A. V. Lunacharskii that “if there is a theater of the past that we must save and preserve at any cost, it is, of course, the Art Theater.” In 1920, MKhAT became an academic theater. In its artistic disputes with members of the Proletarian Cultural and Educational Organization and LEF (Art’s Left Front), the theater maintained that the realistic method would best further the development of theater and an understanding of contemporary life.

Studios were established in the theater; in the studios, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko instructed the actors in the principles that they had developed. In 1924 a group of young actors and actresses from the studios joined the theater. These stage artists included A. K. Tarasova, O. N. Androvskaia, K. N. Elanskaia, V. S. Sokolova, A. O. Stepanova, A. P. Zueva, N. P. Batalov, N. P. Khmelev, M. N. Kedrov, B. N. Livanov, V. Ia. Stanitsyn, M. I. Prudkin, A. N. Gribov, M. M. Ianshin, V. A. Orlov, I. Ia. Sudakov, N. M. Gorchakov, and I. M. Kudriavtsev. Together with other actors who joined the theater later, such as B. G. Dobronravov, F. V. Shevchenko (1910–20), M. M. Tarkhanov, and V. O. Toporkov (1920’s), they became the outstanding artists of the Soviet stage.

Having enlisted the services of young writers, the Moscow Art Academic Theater began developing a Soviet repertoire. It staged Trenev’s The Pugachev Revolt (1925), Bulgakov’s Days of the Turbins (1926), Kataev’s Embezzlers and Squaring the Circle (both in 1928), Leonov’s Untilovsk (1928), and V. Ivanov’s The Blockade (1929). The staging of Ivanov’s Armored Train 14–69 in 1927 marked an important point in the development of the theater and of Soviet theater in general because of the play’s politically passionate re-creation of the revolutionary era. Reflecting the establishment and development of Soviet society and the development of the new man and new interpersonal relations, the theater staged Afinogenov’s Fear (1931), Korneichuk’s Platon Krechet (1935), Trenev’s Liubov’ Iarovaia (1936), and Leonov’s The Orchards of Polovchansk (1939).

The classical repertoire, which included Ostrovskii’s Fiery Heart (1926), Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro (1927), and an adaptation of Gogol’s Dead Souls (1932), was given a new, sociologically more profound interpretation. Bearing in mind the Leninist analysis of the work of L. N. Tolstoy, the Moscow Art Academic Theater in its innovative production of Resurrection emphasized the novel’s accusatory tendencies. The staging of Anna Karenina (1937) revealed the heroine’s tragic conflict with the haughty and cold aristocratic society. The theater’s production of Gorky’s play Enemies (1935) was an important landmark in the development of socialist realism. The new production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters in 1940 was distinguished by simplicity and poetic truth.

In the 1930’s the Stanislavsky method reached full development, and the teaching methods and directing techniques of Nemirovich-Danchenko acquired greater depth. The characteristic features of MKhAT’s productions—the fusion of the truthful, lifelike, and authentic development of action with a philosophical attitude and ideological incisiveness; daring characterization; and supreme inner emotionality combined with restrained yet powerful stage presence—became firmly established. In 1939, M. N. Kedrov completed the experimental production of Molière’s Tartuffe, which Stanislavsky had begun. Stanislavsky’s last endeavors in the theater formed the foundation of the preparatory work for the staging of Kron’s Distant Reconnaissance in 1943.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the Moscow Art Academic Theater staged such patriotic plays as Korneichuk’s The Front, Simonov’s The Russian People, and Kron’s Officer of the Navy. In the 1942 staging of The Kremlin Chimes, V. I. Lenin was portrayed for the first time on the MKhAT stage by A. N. Gribov. Important productions took place in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s: Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (1947), an adaptation of Dickens’ Dombey and Son (1949), and L. N. Tolstoy’s Fruits of Enlightenment (1951). In 1956 there was a revival of The Kremlin Chimes, with B. A. Smirnov in the role of Lenin. The theme of the power and strength of the people and of the Bolshevik Party was developed in Pogodin’s play Third Pathétique (1958). Leonov’s The Golden Carriage (1957) was devoted to the moral choices faced by man.

The best productions of the 1960’s and the early 1970’s included an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1960), Kilty’s Dear Liar (1962), Shatrov’s The Sixth of July (1965), Gorky’s Egor Bulychev and the Others (1964) and The Last Ones (1971), Bokarev’s The Steel Founders (1972), and Zagrádnik’s Solo for a Clock With Chimes (1973).

In 1932, MKhAT was renamed the M. Gorky Moscow Art Academic Theater. It was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1937 and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1938. In 1923 the theater established a museum, with two branches: the House-Museum of K. S. Stanislavsky and the Memorial Apartment of V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. The V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko Studio-Workshop was founded in 1943. The theater has toured Europe, Asia, and America many times since 1906.

In 1974 the theater’s company included People’s Artists of the USSR O. N. Androvskaia, M. P. Bolduman, A. P. Georgievskaia, A. N. Gribov, A. P. Zueva, A. P. Ktorov, P. V. Massal’-skii, B. Ia. Petker, M. I. Prudkin, B. A. Smirnov, V. Ia. Stanitsyn, A. O. Stepanova, and M. M. Ianshin; People’s Artists of the RSFSR K. N. Golovko, I. P. Gosheva, L. I. Gubanov, N. I. Guliaeva, V. S. Davydov, N. N. Zasukhin, G. I. Kalinovskaia, A. M. Komissarov, T. I. Lennikova, Iu. L. Leonidov, S. S. Piliavskaia, L. V. Pushkareva, O. A. Strizhenov, P. G. Chernov, and M. V. Iur’eva; and People’s Artist of the Lithuanian SSR L. V. Ivanov. In 1970, People’s Artist of the RSFSR O. N. Efremov became the theater’s principal director.


Efros, N. Moskovskii Khudozhestvennyi teatr; 1898–1923. Moscow-Petrograd, 1924.
Markov, P. , and N. Chushkin. Moskovskii Khudozhestvennyi teatr: 1898–1948. Moscow, 1950.
Moskovskii Khudozhestvennyi teatr v sovetskuiu epokhu: Materialy i dokumenty. Moscow, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Moscow Art Academic Theater , also called (until 1920) Moscow Art Theater, Russian Moskovsky Khudozhestvenny Akademichesky Teatr or Moskovsky Khudozhestvenny Teatr.