Theatre of the Eternal Mask
Vakhtangov’s two nal discussions with students were meant to summarize the lessons of Princess Turandot. In these discussions, the dying Vakhtangov made the following statement: “The next stage of our work will be dedicated to the search for the eternal form … In time, the means we have chosen will cease being theatrical. We must nd the true theatrical means. We must nd the eternal mask” (see p. 153). The next stage of Vakhtangov’s work at his Studio was supposed to
be the production of Hamlet. We will never know how Vakhtangov’s Hamlet would have looked as we will never be able to fully recreate his vision of the Theatre of Eternal Mask. Presumably, his eternal mask would have absorbed the major principles of Vakhtangov’s method of fantastic realism as well as his vision of the Theatre of the Future. I am convinced that, with or without knowledge of Vakhtangov, the artists of today’s theatre continue to search for the eternal mask and experiment with it, each in their unique way. I spent the summer of 2008 teaching in London. As any theatre
professional, I tried not to miss a single performance that promised a rich theatrical experience. One of the most profound revelations of my London summer came from a new theatre company called the Factory. The company gathered a troupe of actors-extremely free and utterly equal-to perform an improvised version of Hamlet. The performance was held at a different location every weekend. The location, wherever it was (the production I saw was performed at a former church that housed a Steiner school and kindergarten), served as the Hamlet set. None of the actors gathered that evening knew what particular part they were about to play-the audience was asked to determine the casting at the top of every performance. Moreover, the space was recongured after each act. A new special conguration was set, and new conditions thrown into the mix by the ensemble director. These
conditions insured that the actors seldom knew where they were going to make their next entrance. As a result, those actors who were waiting for their cues, often lurked in the “house,” merging with the audience. Halfway through the production, the audience began to perceive them as friends. It seemed that at any moment an actor might ask an audience member, “Well, how was it? Good?” Another suggestion made by Vakhtangov in 1918 also came to my mind, as I watched this Hamlet:
Ideally, an actor should, together with his partners, analyze and digest the text and proceed onto the stage to create the character. This is [how it should be] in the ideal case, once an actor has trained in all the necessary techniques, or acquired skills. An actor must be an improviser. This is what we call talent.