The Director's Prism: E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Russian Theatrical Avant-Garde
Dassia N. Posner
The Director's Prism investigates how and why three of Russia's most innovative directors— Vsevolod Meyerhold, Alexander Tairov, and Sergei Eisenstein—used the fantastical tales of German Romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann to reinvent the rules of theatrical practice. Because the rise of the director and the Russian cult of Hoffmann closely coincided, Posner argues, many characteristics we associate with avant-garde theater—subjective perspective, breaking through the fourth wall, activating the spectator as a co-creator—become uniquely legible in the context of this engagement. Posner examines the artistic poetics of Meyerhold's grotesque, Tairov's mime-drama, and Eisenstein's theatrical attraction through production analyses, based on extensive archival research, that challenge the notion of theater as a mirror to life, instead viewing the director as a prism through whom life is refracted. A resource for scholars and practitioners alike, this groundbreaking study provides a fresh, provocative perspective on experimental theater, intercultural borrowings, and the nature of the creative process.
Nina Zarechnaia (Maria Roksanova) in act 1 of Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, Moscow Art Theatre (premiere: December 18, 1898; photograph from 1905 revival). Laurence Senelick Collection.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, self-portrait. Frontispiece to E. T. A. Hoffmann, Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner: Pages from the Diary of a Traveling Romantic, 2nd edition. Bamberg, 1819. Oak Grove Library Center, call number: 833.6 H71f. Courtesy of Northwestern University Library. Photo by the author.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, Kapellmeister Kreisler in Insanity (Berlin, February 1822). Drawing for the first edition of The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, volume 3. Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Art.f.23ga. Photo: Gerald Raab.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler in a Dressing Gown, After a Life Drawing by Erasmus Spikher (Berlin, January/February 1815). Original watercolor. Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, I R 65. Photo: Gerald Raab.
Title page for E. T. A. Hoffmann, Fantasy Pieces in Callot’s Manner: Pages from the Diary of a Traveling Enthusiast. Bamberg: C. F. Kunz, 1814. Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, L.g.o.1135/1. Photo: Gerald Raab.
Samuil Vermel as Pierrot in Pierrette’s Veil, by Arthur Schnitzler, music by Ernő Dohnányi, directed by Alexander Tairov (photo from the 1916 remount at the Moscow Kamerny Theatre). Photo: M. Sakharov & P. Orlov, 1917. Laurence Senelick Collection.
E. T. A. Hoffmann, parodic illustration (c. 1804, Plock) of the narrative structure of Laurence Sterne’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–1767). Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, L.g.o.391e/B19. Photo: Gerald Raab.
Sergei Sudeikin, cover for Nikita Balieff’s Chauve-Souris (The Bat) souvenir program. American season produced by F. Ray Comstock & Morris Gest. 1922-1923. Harvard Theatre Collection Souvenir programs, *2008T-415. Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Carl Friedrich Thiele, aquatint etching in sepia (Berlin, September 1820), after Jacques Callot’s Franca Trippa and Fritellino, from Balli di Sfessania (c. 1621). Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Sel.235a. Photo: Gerald Raab.