Moscow Art Theatre
The Moscow Art Theatre is a theatre company in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 that the seminal Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n theatre practitioner
Theatre practitioner
Theatre practitioner is a modern term to describe someone who both creates theatrical performances and who produces a theoretical discourse that informs his or her practical work. A theatre practitioner may be a director, a dramatist, an actor, or—characteristically—often a combination of these...

 Constantin Stanislavski, together with the playwright and director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko
Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko
Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko was a Georgian-born Russian theatre director, writer, pedagogue, playwright, producer and theatre organizer, who founded the Moscow Art Theatre with his colleague, Konstantin Stanislavsky, in 1898.-Biography:Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko was born...

, founded in 1898. It was conceived as a venue for naturalistic
Naturalism (theatre)
Naturalism is a movement in European drama and theatre that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It refers to theatre that attempts to create a perfect illusion of reality through a range of dramatic and theatrical strategies: detailed, three-dimensional settings Naturalism is a...

 theatre, in contrast to the melodrama
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

s that were Russia's dominant form of theatre at the time. The theater, the first to regularly put on shows implementing Stanislavski's system, proved hugely influential in the acting world and in the development of modern American theater.


At the end of the 19th century, Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko both wanted to reform Russian theatre to high-quality art that was available to the general public. They set about creating a private theater over which they had total control (as opposed to trying to reform the government operated Maly Theatre
Maly Theatre (Moscow)
Maly Theatre is a drama theater in Moscow, Russia. Established in 1806 and operating on its present site on the Theatre Square since 1824, the theatre traces its history to the Moscow University drama company, established in 1756...

, a move which would have given them far less artistic freedom). On June 22nd, 1897, the two men met for the first time at the Slavyanski Bazar for a lunch that started at 2 PM and did not end until 8 AM the next morning. While Stanislavski’s approach to theater revolved around the acting process, Nemirovich was far more concerned with the literary, intellectual angle. Their differences proved to be complementary, and they agreed to initially divide power over the theater, with Nemirovich in charge of the literary decisions and Stanislavski in charge of all production decisions. Stanislavski interviewed all his actors, making sure they were hard working and devoted as well as talented. He made them live together in common housing for months at a time to foster community and trust, which he believed would raise the quality of their performances. Stanislavski's system, in which he trained actors via the acting studios he founded as part of the theatre, became central to every production the theatre put on. The system played a huge influence in the development of method acting
Method acting
Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances...


Stanislavski and Danchenko’s initial goal of having an “open theatre,” one that anyone could afford to attend, was quickly destroyed when they could neither obtain adequate funding from private investors, nor from the Moscow City Council.


The Art Theatre’s first season included works by Leo Tolstoi, Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

, and William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, but it wasn’t until it staged Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramatist and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics...

's four major works, beginning with its production of The Seagull in 1898, with Stanislavski in the role of Trigorin, that the theater achieved fame. This production was so successful that the theatre adopted the seagull as its emblem
An emblem is a pictorial image, abstract or representational, that epitomizes a concept — e.g., a moral truth, or an allegory — or that represents a person, such as a king or saint.-Distinction: emblem and symbol:...

. After Chekhov’s death in 1904, the theatre experienced a huge changeover; Chekhov had envisioned fellow playwright and friend Maxim Gorki as his successor as the Theatre’s leading dramatist, but Nemirovich and Stanislavski’s reaction to his play Summerfolk was unenthusiastic, causing Gorki to leave. He took with him Savva Morozov, one of the theatre’s main investors at the time.

Now in dire straits, the theatre decided to accept invitations to go on an international tour in 1906, which started in Berlin and included Dresden, Frankfurt, Prague, and Vienna. The tour was a huge success, gaining the theatre international acclaim. However, the sudden change in fortune did not completely quell the company’s internal strife; Stanislavski appointed friends to the theatre’s management without consulting Nemirovich and opened studios attached to the theatre where he began to implement his acting system, cementing Nemirovich’s fears that the theatre was becoming a mere extension of Stanislavski’s own ideas and work. The tension between the two led Stanislavski to abandon his duties as a board member and to relinquish all his power over policy decisions.

The theatre continued to thrive after the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

 of 1917 and was one of the foremost state-supported theatres of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, with an extensive repertoire of leading Russian and Western playwrights. Although several revolutionary groups saw it as an irrelevant marker of pre-revolutionary culture, the theatre was initially granted support by Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

, a frequent patron of the Art Theatre himself. Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhaíl Afanásyevich Bulgákov was a Soviet Russian writer and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times of London has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.-Biography:Mikhail Bulgakov was born on...

 wrote several plays for the MAT and satirised the organisation mercilessly in his novel Black Snow
Black Snow
Black Snow can refer to:* Black Snow , a 1990 Chinese film* A name used by wrestler Booker T* A comedy by Mikhail Bulgakov...

. Isaac Babel
Isaac Babel
Isaak Emmanuilovich Babel was a Russian language journalist, playwright, literary translator, and short story writer. He is best known as the author of Red Cavalry, Story of My Dovecote, and Tales of Odessa, all of which are considered masterpieces of Russian literature...

's Sunset
Sunset (play)
The play Sunset was written by Isaac Babel in 1926 and based on his short story collection The Odessa Tales.-Plot:The play is sent in Moldavanka, Odessa's Jewish Quarter in 1913...

was also performed there during the 1920s. A significant number of Moscow Art Theatre's actors were awarded the prestigious title of People's Artist of the USSR
People's Artist of the USSR
People's Artist of the USSR, also sometimes translated as National Artist of the USSR, was an honorary title granted to citizens of the Soviet Union.- Nomenclature and significance :...

. Many actors became nationally known and admired thanks to their film roles. However, the Civil War saw many of the theatre’s actors being cut off from Moscow, and the support it received from the government diminished under Lenin’s New Economic Policy
New Economic Policy
The New Economic Policy was an economic policy proposed by Vladimir Lenin, who called it state capitalism. Allowing some private ventures, the NEP allowed small animal businesses or smoke shops, for instance, to reopen for private profit while the state continued to control banks, foreign trade,...

. The subsidies it had come to rely on were withdrawn and the theatre was forced to survive on its own profits. By 1923, the MAT was in $25,000 debt.

The theater experienced further blows through the end of the 1920’s. Stanislavski’s heart attack onstage during a production of Three Sisters
Three Sisters (play)
Three Sisters is a play by Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov, perhaps partially inspired by the situation of the three Brontë sisters, but most probably by the three Zimmermann sisters in Perm...

in 1928 led to his almost complete withdrawal from the theater, while the Stalinist climate began to suppress artistic expression and controlled more and more what could be performed. A “red director” was appointed to the management by the government to ensure that the MAT’s activities were not counter-revolutionary and that they served the communist cause. As Russia began a period of rapid industrialization, so too was the MAT encouraged to increase production at the expense of quality, with more and more hastily produced plays going up each season. Plays had to be officially approved, and the Theatre’s artistic integrity started to decline. The theater was officially renamed The Gorky Moscow Art Theatre in 1932. Desperate not to lose support, Stanislavski tried to appease Stalin by accepting his political limitations on what could be performed while retaining his devotion to naturalistic theater. As a result, the mid-20th century incarnation of the Moscow Art Theater took a stylistic turn towards Socialist Realism
Socialist realism
Socialist realism is a style of realistic art which was developed in the Soviet Union and became a dominant style in other communist countries. Socialist realism is a teleologically-oriented style having its purpose the furtherance of the goals of socialism and communism...

, which would effect its productions for decades.

It was not until autumn of 1970 that Oleg Yefremov
Oleg Yefremov
Oleg Nikolayevich Yefremov was a Soviet/Russian actor and Moscow Art Theatre producer. People's Artist of the USSR , Hero of Socialist Labour ....

, an actor, producer, and former student of the Moscow Art Theater Studios who wanted Russia to once again be a major contender in the theater world, took over control of the theatre and began to reform it. By the time he arrived to save it, the company was made up of only 150 actors, many of whom were out of practice. Yefremov began to reinstate Stanislavski’s traditions, including emphasizing the importance of the studio and of the system, as well as interviewing every single candidate with special emphasis and attention placed on work ethic.

In 1987, the theatre split into two troupes: the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre (artistic director Oleg Yefremov
Oleg Yefremov
Oleg Nikolayevich Yefremov was a Soviet/Russian actor and Moscow Art Theatre producer. People's Artist of the USSR , Hero of Socialist Labour ....

) and the Gorky Moscow Art Theatre (artistic director Tatiana Doronina
Tatiana Doronina
Tatiana Vasilyevna Doronina is a popular Soviet/Russian actress who has performed in movies and the theater. She is generally regarded as one of the most talented actresses of her generation and was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1981....

). Oleg Tabakov
Oleg Tabakov
Oleg Pavlovich Tabakov is a Soviet and Russian actor and the artistic director of the Moscow Art Theatre.-Theatre career:...

 has been the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre's artistic director since 2000. The theatre is presently located just off Tverskaya Street
Tverskaya Street
Tverskaya Street , known as Gorky Street between 1935 and 1990, is the main and probably best-known radial street of Moscow, Russia. The street runs from the central Manege Square north-west in the direction of Saint Petersburg and terminated at the Garden Ring, giving its name to Tverskoy District...

, within walking distance of Red Square
Red Square
Red Square is a city square in Moscow, Russia. The square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod...


See also

  • MAT production of The Seagull (1898)
  • MAT production of Hamlet (1911-12)
  • Studio Six Theater Company
    Studio Six Theater Company
    The Studio Six Theater Company is a New York-based acting company, founded in 2006. Its members were all trained in the classical Stanislavsky method at the School of the Moscow Art Theatre , and they are the first group of American students to complete a full four-year course of study at the School...

External links

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