Category Archives: History


(Pavel Basinsky’s article appeared in Russia Beyound the Headlines, 3/2.)

While the younger Gorky considered Tolstoy almost a god, the great Leo had a strong interest in the new writer, even on the verge of obsessive jealousy. Musings on the very nature of God became a passionate bone of contention between the two extraordinary writers.

This year, Russia celebrates the 150th birthday of one of its most important 20th century writers, the stormy petrel of the revolution, Maxim Gorky. Russia Beyond publishes a translation of an extract from a new book by Pavel Basinsky “The Passion According to Maxim. Gorky: 9 Days After Death,” which is about the complicated relations between Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. The book will be published this March in Russian by Yelena Shubina publications, AST publishing (link in Russian).


Tolstoy’s first diary entries about Gorky were favorable. “We had a good conversation,” “a true man of the people,” or “I am glad that I like both Gorky and Chekhov, particularly the first one.” But from about the middle of 1903 there is a drastic – and even whimsical – change in Tolstoy’s attitude to Gorky.

“Gorky – there is a misapprehension,” Tolstoy writes on Sept. 3, 1903, adding angrily: “The Germans know Gorky, but they don’t know Polenz.”

But Wilhelm von Polenz (1861-1903), a prominent German writer of the naturalist school, could not compete with Gorky, who by 1903 had become famous in Germany with his play, The Lower Depths, which premiered at Max Reinhardt’s Kleines Theater in Berlin on Jan.10, 1903 under the title, Nachtasyl (Night shelter). It was staged by the well-known director, Richard Vallentin, who himself played Satin, while Reinhardt played Luka. The success of the German version of The Lower Depths was so overwhelming that it had 300 (!) performances in a row, and in the spring of 1905 its 500th performance was celebrated in Berlin.

It is silly and ridiculous to suspect Leo Tolstoy of envy, but there was a certain element of writerlyjealousy in this entry, and it’s not accidental that, while calling Gorky a “misapprehension,” he refers to the Germans. The runaway success of The Lower Depths, not just in Russia but also in Germany, had already reached his ears. Tolstoy had heard The Lower Depths in Crimea read by Gorky himself in manuscript form, and already then thought the play strange and couldn’t understand why it had been written. If the play had not been such a success, Tolstoy would simply have concluded that the young author had made the wrong creative choice. Even before then, he had upbraided Gorky for the fact that his peasants talk “too cleverly,” and that much in his prose was exaggerated and unnatural.

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Photos: Russia Beyond the Headlines



One of New York City’s most respected and notable acting teachers, ROGER SIMON, offers Stage Voices’ readers insight into the inner workings of an actor’s technique 


By Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher

“Plastic Values”–that’s what Nikos Psacharopoulos, my directing teacher at Yale School of Drama, called all of the things an actor comes into contact with on the stage: the props, costume pieces, sets, sound, and lights–the texture and feel, as well as the shape, color, and smell of those things when contact is made with them.  It’s not just the spoken words–and the relationships with other characters in the scene–but also the relationships with those items on stage that give a performance needed texture and dimension.  This means an actor is giving actual life to what otherwise are inanimate objects–and that life relates to the inner life of a character at the moment of contact.

Just the other day, I went to see a one-woman show:  The actor had talent, having not only written the work herself, but she also composed and sang her own songs.  On the tiny stage, she surrounded herself with one or two chairs and numerous costume changes and set pieces.  The performer then proceeded to play various roles from her life.  Throughout the performance, recorded sound effects were heard, which usually marked the end of one section and the beginning of another.  I watched the actor repeatedly take off her costume pieces and replace them, but nothing seemed to be happening, other than that a new scarf or hat was put on to indicate a new character.  The audience began to realize that we were only waiting for a costume change, rather than watching a character transform in front of our eyes.

The feel of that scarf going on–the smell and smooth, silky texture of it–should have conjured up the essence of a new character.  Then we would have been watching something exciting happening:  a transition that had real life to it–not simply a signal for a pause in the action.  How wonderful it would have been for the viewer to actually “see” and “feel” the actor make a transformation happen—to see Dr. Jekyll become Mr. Hyde!  When there was a taped sound effect–of a gavel banging, to signify the entry of the dominating father, for example–the actor failed to let that emotionally move her.  Her dominated, fearful daughter didn’t physically or emotionally grow, as she changed to the father’s role of judge or when she moved into the next scene. The same was true when the recorded sound of the surf took her from an interior setting to a beach.  Yes, we knew we were now on a beach because we heard it, but how wonderful it would have been to have had her actually visualize that beach, with all its sensuality, for a more fully realized and felt transition.

The actor has to do more than just put on new costume pieces or hear sounds, and so on.  He really has to allow himself to take on the new character during the process of giving “life” to that scarf or sound effect. Otherwise, the audience feels cheated.  And we should feel cheated, because the performance has stopped momentarily:  Actors need to find a character’s life in transition, too–not only before and after a scene change takes place. 

And those transitional moments, if fully realized–through the use of those props and set and costume pieces, lights, sound, and more–can be the most memorable and moving moments of a performance.  It’s often scary for actors to do this, particularly if they’re beginners, because they may feel the need not to be boring and to get on with the words–quickly doing the technical mechanics of putting on the new hat, in order to then become a new character.  But the irony is that if performers don’t take the necessary time to fully invest in allowing the “plastic values” to affect them, they truly will be boring!  Despite fears of an audience’s lack of patience, or the time limit of an audition,  it’s entirely necessary not to rush the process of making things happen.  That’s why people go to the theatre:  to see actors make things “happen.”  Particularly in the rehearsal process, taking the time needed to rehearse a scene or transition fully is essential, even if tightening occurs later. The audience will feel the captured life, because the actor has found it in the rehearsal process. If actors fail to be comprehensive, audiences might as well read the play in the library and try to visualize characters’ lives themselves.

So, I always say to my actors at The Simon Studio, here in New York City, “That’s why they pay us the big bucks! Take that needed time and make it happen!”  In our wonderful age of sound bites and the quick fix, we are, unfortunately, influenced by pressures to meet demands, particularly commercial demands and deadlines.  An actor or director has to be very careful not to rush the process by going immediately for results.

Roger Hendricks Simon is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Simon Studio.  For more details and class information contact Roger direct.   Ph: 917 776 9209 or email

Check back with Stage Voices next week to read the second part of Simon’s article.

(c) 2018 by Roger Hendricks Simon; edited by Tania Fisher.  All right reserved. 

Read Part 1 of this interview 

Photographs courtesy of The Simon Studio and Tania Fisher; from top:  Roger Simon,  The Simon Studio, Tania Fisher



(Deborah Cole’s article appeared on Yahoo, 2/18; via the Drudge Report.

Berlin (AFP) – Gay cinema pioneer Rupert Everett said his new biopic about legendary literary dandy Oscar Wilde captures him as a “Christ-like” figure who sacrificed himself for the future global LBGTQ rights movement.

Everett penned, directed and starred in his years-long passion project about the flamboyant 19th century Irish writer, “The Happy Prince”, screening this week at the Berlin film festival.

The 58-year-old British actor focuses in the film on Wilde’s self-imposed exile after serving two years’ hard labour from 1895 on “gross indecency” charges for sex with men.

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(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 1/25.)

He was a sex symbol, the Soviet Kurt Cobain whose star burned brightly and was soon extinguished. Unique in all ways, you won’t confuse Vladimir Vysotsky’s voice with any other: It will sear your soul.

Born into a poor family in Moscow in the turbulent year of 1938, Vladimir Vysotsky went on to become a very talented singer, songwriter and actor. Among his best roles in cinema are the police captain in the TV series, The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed; the White Army officer in Two Comrades Were Serving; and Don Juan in Little Tragedies. His most famous theater role was Hamlet at the Taganka Theater, Moscow’s progressive stage in the 1960s-1970s.

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(from Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 89

There was a time when Orson Welles was one of America’s biggest celebrities. 

In 1938, he made national headlines when the radio show he produced did a version of The War of the Worlds that was so realistic people actually thought the country was under attack by Martians. Then he went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane, which is still considered one of the greatest movies of all time. And he did all of this by the age of 26.

For his entire life though, Welles’s obsession was Shakespeare. He produced and starred in Shakespeare plays on Broadway and directed and starred in multiple versions of Shakespeare’s work on film, including Chimes at Midnight.

Our guest is Michael Anderegg, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of North Dakota and the author of Orson Welles, Shakespeare, and Popular Culture.

(Go to site)




Paul Robeson as Othello, 1944; photograph by Carl Van Vechten

(Callow’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 2/8.

Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary

by Gerald Horne

Pluto, 250 pp., $18.00 (paper)

No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson

by Jeff Sparrow

Scribe, 292 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Paul Robeson as Othello, 1944; photograph by Carl Van Vechten

When I was growing up in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, Paul Robeson was much in evidence, on records, on the radio, on television. His name was haloed with the sort of respect accorded to few performers. The astonishing voice that, like the Mississippi in the most famous number in his repertory, just kept rolling along, seemed to carry within it an inherent sense of truth. There was no artifice; there were no vocal tricks; nothing came between the listener and the song. It commanded effortless attention; perfectly focused, it came from a very deep place, not just in the larynx, but in the experience of what it is to be human. In this, Robeson resembled the English contralto Kathleen Ferrier: both seemed less trained musicians than natural phenomena.

The spirituals Robeson had been instrumental in discovering for a wider audience were not simply communal songs of love and life and death but the urgent cries of a captive people yearning for a better, a juster life. These songs, rooted in the past, expressed a present reality in the lives of twentieth-century American black people, citizens of the most powerful nation on earth but oppressed and routinely humiliated on a daily basis. When Robeson sang the refrain of “Go Down Moses”—“Let my people go!”—it had nothing to do with consolation or comfort: it was an urgent demand. And in the Britain in which I grew up, he was deeply admired for it. For us, he was the noble representative, the beau idéal, of his race: physically magnificent, finely spoken, fiercely intelligent, charismatic but not at all threatening.

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When Philip Astley and his trick riders performed in 1768 in a circle not a straight line in a field behind where Waterloo station is now, the idea of the circus ring was born. Matthew Sweet looks at the career of the impresario, his 42 foot diameter ring which is still the big top template and 250 years of circus with historian Vanessa Toulmin, performer Andrew Van Buren whose family have worked for 35 years to bring Astley’s name to greater public attention, writer Naomi Frisby whose research focuses on women’s bodies in relation to circuses and sideshows and Tom Rack, artistic director of NoFit State circus Circus250 is a celebration with events around the UK and Ireland.

Producer Torquil MacLeod.

Main Image: A performance in progress at theatrical manager and equestrian Philip Astley’s Amphitheatre, Surrey Road, London, opened in 1798. Photo by Edward Gooch / Getty Images.


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Ten contemporary cultural specialists look back at the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 on artists of the time – in film, theatre, poetry, dance and beyond.

Director and writer Richard Eyre appraises the impact of the Russian Revolution on the life and career of theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold. Initially, an enthusiast for the Bolshevik cause, he later fell foul of the system.

Part of Breaking Free: A Century of Russian Culture

Producer Alison Hindell
BBC Cymru Wales.

Eyre photo: Charlie Rose Show


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Vladimir Mayakovsky was THE poet of the Russian Revolution.

A revolutionary in his personal life as well as in his art, Mayakovsky sought to overthrow traditional practices and became the spokesperson for a radical new society. But the tensions and demands of speaking on behalf of the state would take its toll. In 1930 a nation went into mourning when Mayakovsky took a pistol and shot himself through the heart.

Ian Sansom has been reading Mayakovsky since he was a teenager, inspired by Mayakovsky’s uncompromising example as a total artist, prepared to sacrifice everything for his vision.

Ian travels to Mayakovsky’s birthplace in Georgia and speaks to poets, translators and academics who are seeking to keep Mayakovsky’s legacy alive. With rare archive recordings of Mayakovsky reading his own work, a Russian Futurist soundtrack from the period and on-location recordings from Moscow, Georgia and London, Ian attempts to resurrect the spirit of Mayakovsky.

Producer: Conor Garrett.



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The Essay, WB Yeats at 150 

Winner of the Nobel Prize in 1923, William Butler Yeats is a commanding presence in 20th-century literature and has inspired, and occasionally infuriated, successive generations of readers, writers, and performers ever since.

Marking the 150th anniversary of his birth on 13th June 1865, five of Ireland’s leading cultural figures reflect on their relationship with his work. The authors include novelist, John Banville, writer Fintan O’Toole and poets, Paul Muldoon and Paula Meehan.

In this edition, celebrated actor and director Fiona Shaw explains the lasting impact of her childhood introduction to the work of WB Yeats.

Producer: Stan Ferguson.