Marxists Internet Archive: Subjects: Marxism and Art: Literature: Children's Literature
"Merry Evenings" at the Art Theatre
Stanislavsky loved all forms of art and was a circus fan from early youth. He often reminded us of the circus performer's difficult and responsible work, one that can serve as an example for actors of the stage. He believed that the skill of the acrobats and riders, the courage and presence of mind of the animal-trainers and the ability to concentrate were all worthy of imitation.
In calling upon us to improve our technique, to master the art of mimicry, gesture, plasticity and co-ordinated movement on stage, Stanislavsky referred to the circus, where there were wonderful examples of all these qualities and discipline in art. It is common knowledge that the slightest deviation from the set order of most circus acts can lead to tragedy.
During the comic circus performances of the "Merry Evenings" at the Art Theatre Stanislavsky took the part of the circus manager, and the Manager's bell was law to all those participating in the show.
A great number of circus parodies were put on during the 1910-1911 season. The famous wrestler Van-Reel was present at one such performance. N. Podgorny, one of the actors in Stanislavsky's Studio, put on a mock wrestling match with him. We set up an "arena" on the stage and the Manager (Stanislavsky) took his place at one of the entrances. He was dressed in shiny black knee-boots, breeches, a vest and a top hat. This was his childhood dream (as we later learned from his book My Life in Art) come true. He held a staff and, as the emblem of his high office, a bell. The finishing touch of the threatening figure he presented was his stern gaze from under his bushy black brews. Actually, he was impersonating Albert Salamonsky, then director of the Moscow Circus.
The circus performance commenced. There was a "horse act" in which the "horses" were actresses of the Art Theatre, and Olga Knipper-Chekhova was one of them. At the barely audible tinkle of the Manager's bell the "horses" changed pace, did various turns and, in conclusion, bowed to the audience and trotted offstage. Next to appear was the Groom, dressed as a doorman. This was the famous Ivan Moskvin. He carried a large dustpan and broom and swept the ring.
I think that Stanislavsky's love of the circus prompted the young Studio actors to put on several skits entitled "The Circus" in which the participation of circus "animals" was mandatory. These skits were part of the Studio programme for quite a while; they made the students observe the ways and habits of animals. Stanislavsky was true to himself, for he wanted the actor to have a close affinity with life and nature, for therein lay the key to an understanding of realistic art.