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The Show Must Go On Komissarzhevskaia s 1909 Production of Stanis aw Przybyszewski s Gody ycia MICHAEL D JOHNSON UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS S peaking from a pragmatic standpoint before any traditional performance occurs on the stage or in any playing space certain events must have already taken place First the performer s will have chosen a piece of repertoire and its method and mode of expression including but not limited to the involvement of other actors Second the performer s will have also engaged specific personnel to take responsibility for costumes and wigs properties sets and lighting Third the performer s will have located a space in which to unfold the creative act preferably before a willing audience that will pay a charge so that the company may recoup any major financial outlays and enjoy a small profit Russian theatre history is filled with stories of productions that have met and sometimes surmounted obstacles such as these during the rehearsal period and have thus become part of the Russian theatrical canon Vera F Komissarzhevskaia 1864 1910 one of Russia s greatest actresses of the early twentieth century overcame many such obstacles in her illustrious career However perhaps no obstacle prepared her for the rebellion that occurred within her own company as she prepared to stage the premiere of Stanis aw Przybyszewski s 1868 1927 Gody ycia Pir zhizni Life s Banquet 1909 in the fall of 1909 seven years after her first acquaintance with his aesthetic views Tragically the role of Hanka in this play would become the last new role she was to prepare before her untimely death in February 1910 The relationship between actress Komissarzhevskaia and Przybyszewski is intriguing but has received relatively little scholarly attention 1 American scholars devote no more than passing notice to their possible creative relationship 2 For some theatre scholars Przybyszewski s plays do not even exist as a part of this actress notable career 3 However as we shall see Przybyszewski s aesthetics do resonate strongly in Komissarzhevskaia s life and work dating from early spring 1902 and continuing until her death An investigation into this 66 STUDIES IN SLAVIC CULTURES resonance will not only provide a fuller understanding of the movement of modernist aesthetics from Western Europe into Russian theatre at the beginning of the twentieth century but also the role played by major theatrical figures such as Komissarzhevskaia in the acceptance and transference of those aesthetics Komissarzhevskaia s reception of Pryzbyszewski s aesthetics began in 1902 and is associated with his pronouncements on the soul artist and art as expressed in Aforyzmy i Praeludia Aphorisms and Preludes the first section of his collection of essays Na drogach duszy On the Paths of the Soul 1900 Her conception of soul was not founded on a strict religious interpretation but rather a psychological one She eagerly accepted Przybyszewski s view that the true source of creative inspiration was a focus inward toward the soul not outward toward external reality This would lead to an interest in a character s psychological and emotional motivation Moreover Przybyszewski s belief in the sanctity of both art and the artist would move her to reject artistic mediocrity and set out upon new paths of artistic self exploration eventually breaking with naturalist theatrical conventions The comments that Komissarzhevskaia made in defense of her own production of Przybyszewski s new play Gody ycia provide additional evidence that this actress was conceptualizing and actively responding to if only on a personal level the Polish dramatist s prescriptions for improvements in the acting profession These comments also provide evidence of how Komissarzhevskaia understood Przybyszewski s dramatic theories and gives us a retrospective glimpse into her possible pragmatic use of Przybyszewski s works in the development of the actor s craft including her own The Polish essayist dramatist and novelist Stanis aw Przybyszewski first gained recognition in Germany where he popularized both the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and that of the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch After he moved to Krak w to become the editor of the journal ycie in 1898 the circle of young Polish writers and artists living there as well as Russian critics of the period began to acknowledge him as the head of the artistic current known as M oda Polska or Young Poland Contemporary Russian critics such as Pavel Kogan soon recognized Przybyszewski as one writer who along with Oscar Wilde and Maurice Maeterlinck influenced Russia s young growing modernist movement Kogan 98 100 4 Despite his popularity and notoriety this prolific Polish writer is almost forgotten today although his distinctive synthesis of metaphysics occultism eroticism PERFORMANCE 67 and aestheticism created great controversy in fin de si cle Russia Przybyszewski s dramas a transitional blend of naturalism and symbolism were marked by an absence of external action and a concentration on character psychology They frequently explored the themes of love and death guilt and retribution within the context of the changing sexual mores of the early twentieth century In his essay O dramacie i scenie On Drama and the Stage 1905 Przybyszewski sketched the major differences between the old drama before Ibsen and the new drama after Ibsen This work had originally been serialized in the Warsaw daily Kurjer Teatralny in 1902 and was eventually published in a Russian translation Its first Russian translation appeared as a short serialization in the influential Petersburg journal Teatr i iskusstvo in 1904 This leading trade weekly for individuals in the theatre profession which included articles about actors dramatists reviews and box office reports from throughout the Empire would have been obligatory reading for all actors including Komissarzhevskaia Rejecting the detailed stage directions of naturalists such as Hauptmann Przybyszewski preferred to think of the dramatic text as a stenogram or outline within which the actor could explore the battle raging within the soul It was this battle and not external events or circumstances which he believed to be the true source of dramatic action Przybyszewski also advocated the use of a simple set design and the use of character symbols an idea also advocated by Maeterlinck Przybyszewski recognized the need for an intelligent clairvoyant and truthful actor or artist creator who would be able


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