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Yermolova Theatre, Moscow Drama Theatre named after M. N. Yermolova (Moscow)

5/6 Tverskaya Street, Moscow (tel.: +7 495 629-00-31, +7 495 629-00-07, +7 495 629-06-79), Metro stations: "Okhotniy Ryad", "Teatralnaya", "Ploshchad Revolyutsii".

The Yermolova Theatre (the Theatre, for short) is situated in an ancient building; its facade is based on one of the largest, constructed in the 1830s, mansions in Tverskaya Street. The original (with some minor modifications) two-storey house with a mezzanine in its centre existed until 1897 when the merchant Postnikov rebuilt it, turning it into a shopping centre and opening a hotel in its higher floors.

In 1931–1938, the State Meyerhold Theatre was situated there. Within the walls of this building, the famous production of Alexandre Dumas' The Lady of the Camellias was created. This stage saw young actors who would later become famous, such as Igor Ilyinsky, Erast Garin, Zinaida Reich, Maria Babanova, Lev Sverdlin, Maksim Strauch and others. There, on 7 and 8 January 1938, the last two performances of the State Meyerhold Theatre, The Lady of the Camellias and Nikolay Gogol's The Government Inspector, took place.

If walls could speak, they would definitely tell their current owners and their guests a large number of interesting stories, would reveal many secrets and would answer numerous questions. These walls witnessed creative victories and achievements, sorrows and joys of the Theatre, which traces its history back to the remote year of 1925 when graduates from a studio at the Maliy Theatre led by Yelena Levashkovskaya, Sergey Aydarov and Nikolay Kostromskoy established a travelling theatre.

It was the young people's love of the work of the great Russian actress Maria Yermolova that prompted them to link their modest stage experiments with her name. They received her personal blessing for that.

Now, a portrait by Aleksandr Serov can be seen in the centre of one of the Theatre's lower foyers; framed in baguette, the portrait depicts Yermolova. Her name is legendary. Her work has entered the history of Russian acting art. She is a symbol of the actor's greatness. Paying no attention to the winds of change that storm outside, today, as decades ago, she strictly and attentively scrutinises the faces of those who come to watch performances of the theatre that bears her name.

Born in the age when theatre studios were rapidly developing, the Theatre went the way that was usual for young companies of the time, starting as a school, later becoming a travelling theatre, and finally turning into a resident theatre.

The young company very quickly won recognition of spectators and critics alike by working on club stages of Moscow and Moscow Region as well as touring all over Russia. The creative research during the first years of the Theatre's existence was reflected in its varied repertoire, which included everything, from light vaudevilles and unsophisticated melodramas to well-known classical works and contemporary, historical and revolutionary, plays. The Theatre successfully produced and performed Franz Lehar's musical comedy Frasquita and Nikolay Shapovalenko's melodrama Albina Megurskaya, Friedrich Schiller's Intrigue and Love and Leon Couturier based on the novella Story of a Simple Thing by Boris Lavrenyov.

Such young actors of the Theatre as Anna Dzyga, Edda Urusova, Mikhail Unkovsky, Valery Lekarev, A. Rutkovskaya, N. Maksheyev, T. Smirnova, M. Boreysha and others revealed their talents as early as in their first works.

Simultaneously, Maks Tereshkovich, one of the leading actors at the Theatre of Revolution, a talented and distinct stage director and a student of Fyodor Kommisarzhevsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold, founded the Lunacharsky Studio Theatre.

The actors of the Yermolova Theatre knew how to play, but they did not have a leader, while the Lunicharsky Theatre was headed by a real art director who knew how to lead a theatre. In 1933, the two companies merged into one and received a permanent place in Spartakovskaya Street. Having become the head of the theatre, Tereshkovich said: "We base own creative practice on the methods of Stanislavsky's system. What makes a production successful is not the director's tricks and not the super-complicated design, but rather the live actor. Without rejecting new methods of stage interpretation, we however focus on the actor's work."

The earliest productions of the Theatre, Aleksandr Ostrovsky's plays Poverty Is No Crime and The Last Victim, Boris Romashov's Fighters and Vladimir Kirshon's The Miraculous Alloy, clearly demonstrated that the young company had been evolving.

One of the first steps taken by Tereshkevich was to invite Maria Knebel, a student of Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, an actress at Moscow Art Theatre (MAT, for short); for a long time, she linked her fate with that of the Theatre. After Knebel joined the Theatre in the early 1930s and her creative union with Tereshkovich had formed, the Theatre entered its golden age.

This union not only helped the Theatre to come up with productions that were brilliant and rich in content, but also to develop common methodological principles for the actor's and the director's work on roles.

Their first joint production, The Art of Intrigue based on Eugene Scribe's play The School for Politicians, was commented by the Pravda newspaper as follows: "The "little theatre" has clearly demonstrated that the good theatrical taste has spread a lot and that even a theatre that has no large number of vivid and outstanding talents at its disposal can come up with a show that is exciting, entertaining and truly cultural."

Great success was also enjoyed by Aleksey Arbuzov's The Long Road staged by Knebel and by Honore de Balzac's The Stepmother staged by Knebel and Tereshkovich. In their evaluations of these productions, the critics of the time noted that the Theatre, despite being so "young", might be considered a significant phenomenon of Soviet culture. The Theatre's productions demonstrated the strong creative ability of the company.

Continuing its exploration of the classics of Russia and other countries, the Theatre turned to works by Maxim Gorky. Knebel's production of his play The Last Ones was an example of a profound, thoughtful and vivid interpretation of a classical work.

Simultaneously, Tereshkovich worked on a production of Vladimir Bill-Belotserkovsky's play The Storm. However, he had died before he managed to finish this work, which was continued by Azary Azarin appointed the chief stage director in March 1937. Being the year when Stalin's terror was at its peak, that year brought a lot of grief to Russia's people; however, that year became a crucial year for the formation of the young theatre.

In the summer of 1937, at the order of the authorities (as it was presented officially, though in fact it happened thanks to efforts by Knebel), the Theatre's company united with the company of the studio led by USSR's People's Artist Nikolay Khmelyov.

Sometimes, life is more theatrical than theatre itself. Azarin was buried on the day of the opening of the new, united Yermolova Theatre, in a new building in Pushkinskaya Street, and Knebel's production was called The Last Ones. Khmelyov was appointed the head art director of the Theatre.

In the first days after the union, Khmelyov addressed the company, saying the following: "I want to achieve an art of such a sincerity that one demonstrates only when one is left in the room alone or with a closest friend. I want a production where nothing would obstruct the actor and that would reveal with the maximum profoundness and truth the internal world of the human being as an artist..."

Continuing and developing what had been started by his predecessors, Khmelyov set himself a new task of creating a theatre of the actor, because he believed that "in dramatic art, the central figure is the actor; everybody else (e.g., the stage director or the designer) must be subordinate to the actor, because only this way the actor is able to convey to the audience the truth of life including realistic human emotions..."

It may well be that Khmelyov's acting works at MAT served as perfect material for students of the art.

One must note that Khmelyov, being truly excited with the theatrical search of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, brought already developed or emerging ideas to the Theatre; those were the ideas that were included in the famous Stanislavsky's system. All this helped to find new forms, heated the imagination and prevented from coming back to standard solutions.

It was in this direction that the creative research of the Theatre was conducted when finishing the work on The Storm. And these there the principles that defined the first productions done under Khmelyov's supervision. The productions of Gorky's Children of the Sun, Ostrovsky's The Poor Bride and Shakespeare's As You Like It, being essentially part of a standard repertoire, at the same time demonstrated that the company contains a number of remarkable actors.

The Second World War forced the Theatre's company to leave Moscow. The Theatre went first to the city of Makhachkala in the North Caucasus, later was evacuated to the Siberian town of Cheremkhovo and finally was moved to the town of Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Moscow Region. However, even during this extremely difficult time the Theatre's creative work was not interrupted. Having found themselves far from Khmelyov (in the autumn of 1941 he was appointed the head art director of MAT), the company concentrated its attention on the heroic and patriotic theme, which was vividly expressed with the productions of Konstantin Simonov's The Russian People and Lad from Our Town, Konstantin Lipskerov's and Aleksandr Kochetkov's Nadezhda Durova and others. After returning to Moscow in 1944, the Theatre turned to L. Levin's and Israil Metter's play Our Reporter that told about the courage of Leningrad's defenders.

As early as in 1939, Khmelyov invited Aleksey Lobanov to the Theatre to work on a production of the play Time and the Conways by John Boynton Priestley.

"Sublimity of thought and emotion! As well as clarity of their manifestation, that is, an amalgamation of the poetic and the mundane," this was the main principle of art for Khmelyov as well as for Lobanov.

However, it immediately became clear that Lobanov's work method was radically different from the one to which Khmelyov's students had become accustomed to. Lobanov insisted that the actors solve all their internal problems themselves, and during rehearsals they submitted everything that they had developed to his judgement. The actor Vsevolod Yakut recalled: "No sooner had Lobanov joined the Theatre, he used all his insistence, which was not his usual style with everything except the actual stage director's work, to eradicate everything that he considered to be a rudiment of our studio past, and he embarked on a course of professionalising the company. He radically reduced production time, and he did not teach us and take care of us at our every step."

Despite all their differences in the work method, Lobanov, just like Khmelyov, led the actors away from the abstract truth and was in search for a concrete truth of a concrete author and a concrete character.

In 1946, after Khmelyov's death (1945), Lobanov became the head director of the Theatre. His productions became a real breakthrough in the Soviet theatre of the second half of the 1940s and of the first half of the 1950s; in Moscow, they were discussed by everybody related to theatre. The epoch of Lobanov was the Theatre's golden age.

In Lobanov's productions, one could feel the live pulse of time. An infinitely acute sense of contemporaneity was present in them; this sense was inherent to Lobanov who was a true citizen of his country and a true man of his epoch. This unbreakable connection with contemporaneity was seen not only in Lobanov's stage interpretations of plays that reflected the present day, such as Leonid Malyugin's Old Friends, Anatoly Surov's Far from Stalingrad, Pyotr Vershigora's People with a Clear Conscience, Vera Panova's The Travelling Companions and Pyotr Pavlenko's Happiness, but also in his productions of works of classic drama such as Ostrovsky's Easy Money and John Fletcher's The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed. The connection was seen in the interpretation of the plays' philosophical and social meaning, in the creation of a live atmosphere of the time and in the fresh, innovative solutions to portrayal of characters.

Khmelyov laid the foundation of the actors' creative work, and Lobanov further developed them, making them stronger by the brilliance of his stage-directorial talent, which found its expression in the productions and in the performance of wonderful actors who contributed to the fame of the Theatre, such as Vsevolod Yakut, Ivan Solovyev, Leonid Gallis, Valery Lekarev, Fyodor Korchagin, Larisa Ordanskaya, Esfir Kirillova, Yelena Kononenko, Olga Nikolayeva and Dmitry Fiveysky.

The 1940s and the 1950s defined the Theatre's special place on the "cultural map" of Moscow. This was a theatre of intellectuals; it had its own voice, not a strong one, but clear; it had a special, noble style; it had even a repertoire of its own, which was considered a "heroic dead" in the time of universal unification.

For Lobanov, the 1954 production of Leonid Zorin's drama The Guests was a fatal one. The production was banned right after the first performance. At that time, not so many people from the authorities liked those who wanted to tell the truth from the stage by means of theatre. The playwright ended up in hospital and had to survive a storm of violent critique that raged on the pages of federal newspapers. The stage director lost his theatre, fell ill and passed away in 5 years.

In 1957–1970, the Theatre was headed by various stage directors, each interesting in his own way.

A high professional culture and sensitivity in his perception of the new were characteristics of L. Barpakhovsky; as a rule, his productions lived long lives. This is true also about one of his best works in the Theatre, a production of David Davurin's The Second-Class Wagon Train.

For more than ten years, great success was enjoyed by Eduardo De Filippo's tragicomedy Saturday, Sunday and Monday staged by Aleksandr Shatrin.

A lot of effort was contributed to the formation of the Theatre by Viktor Komissarzhevsky who had joined the Theatre as a member of Khmelyov's studio; a number of his productions for the Theatre included brilliant acting. Komissarzhevsky staged the play Pushkin by Andrey Globa. The vivid and likeable image of the great Russian poet (created by Yakut) attracted interest of a wide circle of spectators and ensured that the production would live a long stage life. Among the best works by Komissarzhevsky was the production Lieutenant Schmidt described by the Theatre magazine as follows: "The selection of historical documents is successful, and the documents are combined with the poetry by Boris Pasternak in a convincing manner. The lead actor fits his character well. It may well be that the part of Pyotr Petrovich Schmidt is Andreyev's most significant and talented recent work."

In 1970, Vladimir Andreyev, a student of Aleksey Lobanov and Andrey Goncharov, became the head director of the Theatre.

The posters of the Theatre, alongside the names of Aleksandr Ostrovsky, Jean Anouilh, Eduardo De Filippo, Konstantin Simonov and Friedrich Duerrenmatt, started featuring names of young authors such as D. Baleyev, Eduard Volodarsky and Olga Kuchkina. Ivan Solovyev staged the show Grammar of Love based on works by Ivan Bunin; this show would again appear in the repertoire of the Theatre decades later (German Entin's new version of 1991).

The Theatre's company were the ones to discover the playwright Aleksandr Vampilov: it was the Theatre's stage that saw first performances of productions based on works by one of the most interesting writers of the second half of the 20th century. The productions of Vampilov's plays Elder Son (1972), Last Summer in Chulimsk (1974), A Confluence of Consequences (1977) and Duck Hunting (1979) shaped an entire decade in the life of the Theatre, which tried, together with the author and the spectators who watched the performances, to understand the sources of human thoughts and feelings, to understand what love is and how it is born and to understand how one stops working out one's own destiny or, on the contrary, starts being its master.

George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House, Yury Bondarev's The Battalions Request Fire, Aleksandr Ostrovsky's Vasilisa Melentyeva, Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya... These productions contained everything: an intent interest to the study of the depths of the human soul and to the world of the individual; fullness of internal content; precise, thorough and detailed portrayal of characters; outstanding acting work; and reconstruction of the real life as seen through the prism of theatre.

During that period, superb actors of the older generation continued working on the stage and new names appeared: Aleksey Sheynin, Tatyana Shchukina, Tatyana Shumova, Aleksey Zharkov and Stanislav Lyubshin.

In 1985, Andreyev received an invitation to work at the Maliy Theatre, and Valery Fokin replaced him as the head art director of the Theatre. Fokin brought new actors, such as Oleg Menshikov, Viktor Proskurin, Tatyana Dogileva and others, to the company. His first production at the Theatre, that of Aleksey Buravsky's play Speak Out based on works by Valentin Ovechkin (1985), was openly a work of journalism and became a highlight of the season. The new drama, the acutely polemical style, the outstanding directorial solutions and the brilliant acting work including the productions of Edvard Radzinsky's play Sport Scenes of the Year 1981 (1986) and Vladimir Nabokov's novel Invitation to a Beheading (1989) made various people refer to the Theatre as the one that had caught the wind of change and the one that reflected contemporaneity. However, having submitted to the universal madness of the perestroika and having got into the whirlpool of social cataclysms, at the turn of the 1990s the Theatre was split in two parts, officially known as Moscow Yermolova International Theatre Centre and the Yermolova Theatre.

In 1990, Andreyev returned to become the head of the part of the company. It was acutely necessary to renew the repertoire. The Theatre started with short productions, performed on the small stage, such as Ivan Bunin's Grammar of Love, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Fateful Eggs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's A Gentle Creature, Leonid Zorin's Lost Plot and others. It was plays by Zorin, whose name was so intimately related with Lobanov's fate, that turned out to be so needed by the Theatre during that new, transitional stage of its existence.

In 1990, the Grand Stage was closed for repairs, which for three long years deprived the actors and the stage directors of the opportunity to work for a large audience. In 1993, the stage was reopened with a production of Ostrovsky's play Poverty Is No Crime.

In 1996, Andreyev's production of Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart marked a symbolic union of the two companies: for the first time in seven years, the stage of the Theatre saw actors of the Theatre Centre and the Yermovola Theatre perform together; those actors were Svetlana Golovina, Natalya Potapova, Aleksey Sheynin, Valery Yeryomichev, Viktor Sarakvasha, Viktor Pavlov, Vyacheslav Molokov, Boris Dergun, Lev Borisov and others.

Time teaches us to understand and to forgive: in 2000, the united company, which bore the proud name of the great Russian actress Maria Yermolova, celebrated the 75th anniversary of their theatre, recalling its difficult, but wonderful history.

Today, the building at 5 Tverskaya Street houses three stages: the Small Auditorium, the Grand Auditorium and the stage at the Theatre's museum. The repertoire of the Theatre contains productions of works by classical writers from Russia and other counties as well as contemporary authors. Each production features remarkable acting works and the created characters reflect the life of the human spirit. The Theatre fights for the human being, rejecting everything that humiliates it and advocating kindness, human truth and the truth of life. Lobanov used to say: "Truth is a continuous search for it."

Now the older members of the company work alongside the young actors. The continuity of generations has always been the Theatre's strong point. For the Theatre, the central topic has always been the ordinary individual with all his or her weaknesses, vices, conflicts, sufferings and happiness. The topics of good and evil, love and hatred, power and fate, which the Theatre has always addressed, are still there.

The first floor of the Theatre houses a museum: posters, costumes, photographs... Intelligent faces of talented people. When you look at the photographs, read the old programmes and posters, it seems to you that you can hear footsteps of those who created the Theatre, whose names became legends, who lived and died on the stage in the name of wonderful and eternal art. And it feels sad, because you can't peep behind the curtain of time to have at least a quick look at the legendary productions. However, you can always imagine how it was.

Today's company cherish their history and are faithful to the creative principles; and this is not only a tribute to the Theatre, but also a motivation for conquering new peaks of art, a means of survival in hard times that are not always favourable for any kind of stage activity.

There are people, like Khmelyov and Lobanov, whose significance become clearer every year. Life is changing, generations are changing, new productions are being created, new discoveries are being made. However, the memory remains unchanged. There is no present without the past. Nothing valuable can appear from scratch. This is why Yermolova's eyes on the portrait by Serov look so attentively after everybody who passes through the foyer of the Theatre. These eyes have seen both what makes one proud and what one would prefer to forget. She is a symbol of true art entrusted to the future. And it depends only on us what it will be and how we will use this precious gift.

Image Gallery (1)

Yermolova Theatre, Moscow Drama Theatre named after M. N. Yermolova