Wandering Stars

Wandering Stars

Russian Emigré Theatre, 1905-1940

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263 pages, 17 photos

“This fascinating collection of essays reveals for the first time the extent and peculiar nature of Russian influence on American theatre. It takes us beyond the legendary links between the Stanislavski system and Method acting, to show us how a particular émigré culture kept itself alive, and how the notion of a Russian theatrical 'mystique' gained such popularity in America. Selenick's excellent introduction sets the stage for the performers who follow him, and theatre historians and aficionados both have reason to be grateful to him and his Russian and American collaborators.”—Paul Schmidt

Wandering Stars will be an indispensable tool to understanding the formative years of American acting theories.”—Patrice Pavis

“Selenick has put together a fascinating collection of rich material from knowledgeable contributors, which his own contributions do much to consolidate. This constitutes an important chapter in the history of modern theatre and incidentally throws much light upon the changing patterns of intercultural relations.”—Harry Levin, Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus, Harvard University

From the beginning of this century, wars, pogroms, revolution, and economic hardship have impelled Russian cultural figures to seek their fortunes abroad—and theatre people have been no exception. This movement was a windfall for Western Europe and North America, for often the most talented and exciting actors and directors put down roots in foreign lands. Their styles and messages were transmuted in the process, but the inspiration they provided was tremendous.

Now, Wandering Stars is the first book in any language to look closely at this theatrical emigration. Essays by Russian and American scholars and practitioners examine the ways in which the process of transplanting art distorted, magnified, or otherwise altered originals and how expectations on both sides led to disappointments and achievements. A particular strength of this collection is its attention to the question of the transmission of one culture to another.

The thirteen essays in Wandering Stars, originally presented at a landmark 1991 conference at Harvard University, approach a host of historical, cultural, and theatrical issues. The effects of the pioneer touring companies of Pavel Orlenev, Alla Nazimova, and, most significantly, the Moscow Art Theatre are traced. The fates of actors like Maria Germanova and directors like Theodore Komisarjevsky who settled in the West receive careful inquiry. The techniques and influences of charismatic teachers such as Michael Chekhov and Andrius Jilinsky are examined, and the fortunes of cabarets like the Chauve-Souris and experimental playwrights like Nikolay Evreinov are given careful study. In addition, essays analyze the fascination America has held for Russian artists throughout history and the problems which face any emigrant who tries to preserve the best of his or her culture in an alien environment.

With the continuing interest in interculturalism evinced in the academy, popular literature, and the media, Wandering Stars makes a vital and timely contribution to the ongoing inquiry and debate. This book should be of interest to all students of theatre and Russian life and all those with an abiding interest in the realities of a global society.