Theatrical Education

Theatrical Education


a system of professional training for actors, directors, artists, theater scholars, and other persons involved in the theater.

Theatrical education originated in connection with the theater of ancient Rome (the school of Roscius, first century B.C.). In the eighth century A.D., the first theatrical educational institution was founded in China. In Europe during the Renaissance, acting was taught in theaters by actors and playwrights who directed theatrical companies. A well-integrated system for training actors was developed by prominent figures of the school drama, which became widespread in the 15th and 16th centuries in the educational institutions of Europe and in the 17th century in Russia.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, specialized theatrical educational institutions were founded in Paris, Vienna, Warsaw, and Florence. Important contributions to theatrical education in the 18th and 19th centuries were made by Préville and F. J. Talma in France, C. Macklin and D. Garrick in Great Britain, F. L. Schröder and J. W. von Goethe in Germany, and W. Boguslawski in Poland.

The crisis of the bourgeois theater that began in the second half of the 19th century was reflected in theatrical education, which was reduced to the teaching of traditional, conventional acting methods. Innovative methods for teaching acting were advocated by E. Zola and A. Antoine, who were critical of traditional theatrical education.

In Russia, the first theatrical school was founded in Moscow in 1673. A school for training actors was attached to the theater founded by Peter the Great in Moscow in 1702. An important contribution to theatrical education was made by the St. Petersburg Gentry’s College, where I. A. Dmitrevskii, one of Russia’s first theatrical pedagogues, was trained as an actor by A. P. Sumarokov.

The founding of public theaters in the mid-18th century engendered a need for a permanent theatrical school. In 1738 a court dancing school was founded in St. Petersburg; it became a theatrical school in 1779. Classes in drama, ballet, voice, and instrumental music were instituted at the Moscow Home for Foundlings in 1773, and in 1784 these classes were brought under the jurisdiction of the Petrovskii Theater. In 1809 they became the basis of the Moscow Theatrical School (now the M. S. Shchepkin Theatrical School), which offered classes in choreography, drama, instrumental music, and voice.

The development of realism in theatrical education was fostered by M. S. Shchepkin. In the 1850’s and 1860’s, progressive theatrical figures advocated improved teaching methods in theatrical schools, as well as specialized training for actors; they asserted that future actors should study the history and theory of the theater and of closely related branches of the arts. In 1867, E. I. Voronov, the director of the Aleksandrinskii Theater and an educator, wrote a draft proposal on the training of dramatic actors in theatrical schools, maintaining that an actor’s inner and outer qualities should be consistently developed. During the 1880’s, the playwright A. N. Ostrovskii was at the vanguard of efforts to reorganize theatrical education. Ostrovskii’s commentary On Theatrical Schools (1882) demanded that actors have a comprehensive professional training in addition to aesthetic taste. In accordance with plans projected by Ostrovskii, courses in drama were instituted at the Moscow Theatrical School in 1888; the instructors included I. V. Samarin, A. P. Lenskii, and G. N. Fedotova.

During this period, a number of theatrical schools were founded by public organizations and private individuals; they had divisions of ballet, drama, directing, and opera. Outstanding among these schools was the Music and Drama School of the Moscow Philharmonic Society (1883); its drama class was taught by V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. Nemirovich-Danchenko was concerned with the education of talented young actors, who he hoped would revive the theater. K. S. Stanislavsky, who held the same view, developed the first systematic method for training actors. Stanislavsky’s method, which was adopted in many theater studios, was an important influence on the development of theatrical education.

In the USSR, the development of theatrical education was fostered by such prominent theatrical figures as Stanislavsky, Nemirovich-Danchenko, E. B. Vakhtangov, V. E. Meyerhold, V. G. Sakhnovskii, A. Ia. Vaganova, I. N. Bersenev, L. M. Leonidov, M. M. Tarkhanov, N. M. Gorchakov, and V. O. Toporkov, as well as by M. M. Gabovich, E. P. Gerdt, and V. D. Tikhomirov. Outstanding contributions to theatrical education in the Union republics have been made by V. M. Adzhemian, V. M. Baliuna, A. A. Vasadze, A. A. Khorava, M. M. Krushel’nitskii, S. A. Ishanturaeva, V. M. Skliarenko, and G. P. Iura.

During the years of Soviet power, a system of higher and specialized secondary theatrical educational institutions and theater departments was established at conservatories and higher arts schools. Fields of study in the Soviet system of theatrical education include theater and motion-picture acting, musical comedy acting, the directing of drama, ballet, and musical theater, theater scholarship, technical aspects of staging, stage design, and the painting of stage sets.

In the 1960’s a system of training was initiated for actors, sculptors, and directors for puppet theaters, directors for circuses, variety theaters, and large-scale spectacles, and theater managers. Institutes of culture train directors for amateur groups, people’s amateur theaters, and large-scale productions presented by clubs. The B. V. Shchukin Theatrical School of the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow trains directors of people’s amateur theaters. The A. V. Lunacharskii State Institute of Theatrical Arts in Moscow, the Leningrad Institute of Theater, Music, and Cinematography, and the B. V. Shchukin School have actors’ studios. The All-Union State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow trains directors, artists, cameramen, and screenwriters, the department of journalism at Moscow State University trains television writers, and the Leningrad Institute of Motion Picture Engineers trains acoustics directors.

Actors who have completed a secondary theatrical education are trained at theatrical, choreographic, and musical specialized secondary educational institutions, at arts schools, and at circus and variety stage schools. Theatrical vocational-technical schools and some arts schools train specialists in makeup, properties, costumes, lighting, and stage design.

The curriculum for students majoring in theater studies includes courses in acting, stage speech, music, dancing, stage movements, makeup, and fencing. The course of studies for future directors includes the above subjects as well as directing, stage design, and music. Future ballet masters and choreographers study classical, traditional, and folk dance, piano accompaniment, stage design for ballet, and musical theory. Departments of staging offer courses in drawing, painting, and the composition and technology of stage design.

General subjects for students majoring in theater studies include courses in sociopolitical disciplines, the history of Russian, Soviet, and foreign theater and literature, and the history of music and of musical literature. Specialized courses are devoted to the contemporary Soviet drama, to directing and acting, and to the representational arts. Elective courses are given in Marxist-Leninist ethics, the history of arts that are related to the theater, and contemporary music, literature, and theater. Supplementary courses are offered in fencing, sports, and piano.

Students who wish to specialize in a second field, for example, the teaching of acting, stage speech, stage movements, or stage combat, take specialized methodological courses in higher educational institutions. The curricula of all courses of study include practical application (in the basic courses) and participation in actual productions (in the advanced courses). The students take part in mass scenes in professional theatrical productions, and work as stagehands, lighting technicians, costume men, and property men in school productions; they also study the organization of the professional theater. Students in advanced courses act in school productions and in professional theaters, and future directors take part in the work of professional and people’s amateur theaters. Students majoring in acting and directing take part in the staging of a play, those majoring in staging complete a diploma project, and those majoring in theater scholarship complete a research project.

Theatrical and theatrical arts higher educational institutions provide teaching assistantships and postgraduate training. Most theatrical institutes and some institutes of culture offer graduate training in theater studies.

Major contributions to the Soviet system of theatrical education have been made by the theatrical figures and educators Iu. A. Zavadskii, G. A. Tovstonogov, M. I. Tsarev, M. N. Kedrov, V. O. Toporkov, A. K. Tarasova, V. A. Orlov, I. M. Tumanov, B. A. Pokrovskii, Ts. L. Mansurova, B. E. Zakhava, R. V. Zakharov, N. I. Tarasov, A. M. Messerer, A. D. Popov, M. O. Knebel’, N. A. Annenkov, A. A. Khorava, O. I. Pyzhova, B. V. Bibikov, L. F. Makar’ev, V. Ia. Stanitsyn, V. I. Tsygankov, and I. M. Tolchanov.

In 1975, more than 9,000 students were being trained in theater studies at approximately 60 higher and specialized secondary educational institutions. Performers for musical theaters and philharmonic societies were also trained at conservatories and musical institutes and schools; stage designers and artists were trained at arts schools and higher educational institutions. Students from more than 80 countries were being trained in theater studies in the USSR.

Specialized theatrical schools in the other socialist countries include the Leipzig Higher Theatrical School (German Democratic Republic), the Krust’o Sarafov Higher Institute of Theater Art in Sofia (People’s Republic of Bulgaria), and the Institute of Theater and Motion Pictures in Budapest (People’s Republic of Hungary). Other specialized theatrical schools in the socialist countries are the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Havana (Cuba), the Arts Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw (People’s Republic of Poland), the I. L. Caragiale Institute of Dramatic and Cinematographic Art in Bucharest (Rumanian Socialist Republic), and the Academy of Arts in Prague (Czechoslovak Socialist Republic). Theatrical education in these countries is based on national theatrical traditions; the Stanislavsky method is widely used.

The capitalist and developing countries do not as a rule have independent theatrical schools. The training of actors, directors, and other specialists for the theater and motion pictures is generally conducted in theatrical companies, motion-picture studios, and departments of drama in conservatories or in university humanities faculties. Well-known theatrical schools include those in Canterbury (Great Britain), Strasbourg (France), Essen (Federal Republic of Germany), Stockholm (Sweden), and Brussels (Belgium).


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