Vsevolod Meyerhold

Vsevolod Meyerhold

Penza, Penza Oblast, Russia
Death 2 Feb 1940 (aged 65)
Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Cenotaph Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia
Plot Section 17
Memorial ID 10064081 · View Source
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Director, Actor. Regarded as one of the most dynamic and original artists of 20th Century Theatre. He rebelled against naturalism on the Russian stage and sought a "pure" theatrical approach by synthesizing classical and avant-garde techniques. His aggressive individualism often put him at odds with his country's rulers and ultimately cost him his life. Vsevolod Emilevich Meyerhold was born in Penza, into a middle-class family of Prussian descent. Drawn to the stage from childhood, he dropped out of law school in 1896 and enrolled in acting classes taught by Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in Moscow. As a founding member of the Moscow Art Theatre (1898 to 1902) he played Treplev in that company's original staging of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" (1898) and appeared in the first-ever productions of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" (1899) and "Three Sisters" (1901), as well as in Maxim Gorky's "The Lower Depths" (1902). In time he grew bored with director Konstantin Stanislavsky's devotion to realism and left the MAT to form a provincial troupe under his leadership. His earliest notable ventures into non-realistic theatre were with plays by Symbolist authors Alexander Blok ("The Fairground Booth", 1906) and Leonid Andreyev ("Life of a Man", 1907), produced for Vera Kommissarzhevskaya's company and drawing inspiration from commedia dell'arte performance. From 1908 to 1917 he was a director at St. Petersburg's Imperial Theatres, where his attempted reforms of drama and opera thrilled the Russian intelligentsia but were met with hostility by the Czarist authorities; he described his efforts in the treatise "The Show Booth" (1912). He also directed two films (now lost) that had a profound effect on future Russian filmakers: "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1915), an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel, with Meyerhold in the role of Lord Henry; and "The Strong Man" (1915). With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 Meyerhold joined the Communist Party and from 1920 to 1921 he headed the theatre division of the People's Commissariat for Education, but his provocative revolutionary shows - especially Vladimir Mayakovsky's circus-like "Mystery-Bouffe" (1918) - were too "elitist" for Lenin's taste. In 1922 he opened his own theatre in Moscow. Here he began exploring his increasingly radical notions of staging, such as his theory of "biomechanics", with its emphasis on form and rhythm over realism and emotional content, and his use of Constructivist settings. His important productions of the period include "The Magnanimous Cuckold" (1922), "The Mandate" (1925), "The Government Inspector" (1926), and "Woe from Wit" (1928). Meyerhold exerted tremendous influence on Soviet Theatre in the 1920's, but he fell afoul of dictator Josef Stalin with his productions of Mayakovsky's satires "The Bedbug" (1929) and "The Bath House" (1930), which were sharply critical of the regime. After that he came under increasing official attack and his theatre was shut down in 1938. On June 13, 1939, at a meeting at the Actor's House in Moscow, Meyerhold gave a recklessly principled speech condemning Stalin's cultural policies, which he said betrayed the ideals of the revolution and destroyed art. One week later he was arrested by Stalin's secret police and tortured into confessing to a host of counter-revolutionary activities. During his imprisonment his wife, actress Zinaida Raikh, was brutally murdered on Stalin's orders. He was convicted by a military tribunal and shot on February 2, 1940. Historian Ian MacDonald noted, "Meyerhold had stood up to Stalin and the gangster retribution visited upon him was an expression of the dictator's special fury". As he awaited arrest, Meyerhold lamented that he had never staged anything by Shakespeare. "I want my tombstone to read, 'Here lies a man who never played or produced Hamlet'", he said. Sadly, Stalin even denied him a decent burial. His body was cremated and the ashes dumped into an unmarked mass grave at Moscow's Donskoi Cemetery. The location was not made public until 1991. There is a cenotaph for him at Raikh's gravesite in the Vagankovskoe Cemetery.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 9 Dec 2004
  • Find a Grave Memorial 10064081
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Vsevolod Meyerhold (10 Feb 1874–2 Feb 1940), Find a Grave Memorial no. 10064081, citing Vagankovskoye Cemetery, Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia ; Maintained by Find A Grave .