chapter  33
7 Pages

Letters to the Vakhtangov and Habima Studios

Dear Konstantin Sergeyevich, I beg you to forgive me for bothering you with my letters, but I am

so miserable and having such a hard time that I can’t help but appeal to you. I will write of what I never told you out loud. I know that my earthly days are short. I know calmly that I won’t live long, and I need you to know, at last, how I feel about you, about the art of theatre, and about myself. Ever since I got to know you, you became the one I came to love fully,

whom I believed fully, by whom I began to live, and by whom I started measuring my life. This love and admiration I passed, intentionally or unintentionally, onto everyone who was deprived of knowing you personally. I thank life for giving me the chance of seeing you closely and even allowing me, from time to time, to associate with the worldclass artist that you are. And I will die with this love for you, even if you would turn away from me. I know nothing higher than you. In art I only love the truth you speak and teach. This truth permeates

not only that modest part of me that expresses itself in theatre but also the part called “man.” This truth breaks down the old me, day after day. If at the end of the day I don’t have time to become better, it is only because there is so much in me I have to defeat. This truth, day after day, guides my attitude toward people, my self-discipline, my path in life, and my attitude toward art. I consider, thanks to this truth I received from you, that art is our service to the highest in everything. The art cannot and should not be a property of a group, property of certain individuals-it is a national heritage. Service to art is service to the people. An artist is not a treasure that belongs to only one group-he

is a national treasure. You once said, “The Moscow Art Theatre is my civil service to Russia.” This is what entices me; me-a little man. It entices me even if I am not destined to do anything and if I do nothing in the end. In this phrase of yours is every artist’s Nicene Creed. As for my attitude toward myself, I do not believe in myself; I

like nothing about myself, never dare to think of anything bold, and consider myself the least of your students. I feel ashamed before you for my every step, and I always consider myself unworthy to show my work to you, the One and the Unreachable. This is, in short, what I have in me. Presently the young people I worked with, and whom I taught to

love what I learned from you and Leopold Antonovich,1 are coming to you. These young people stopped believing me. I do not know what they tell you, and how they tell it. I don’t know what they say about me and my feelings for you. I write to you now so that you will know the truth, so that you

can see that I “don’t have a swelled head,” so that you can receive an impression about me directly from me. If you trust me, if you believe that one has no need to act against one’s conscience when his days are numbered, if you believe that I am disinterested in my appeal to you, then you will also believe in what I say next. My every step and my every deed, connected with you, are illuminated with an indispensable and unchanging demand of purity, modesty, and regard for your name, from myself and the others alike. I was against showing you the excerpts, and now I am against showing you other works, as they are not worth your attention. I ask you to give me two years’ time to create the face of my group. Please allow me to bring you a performance (not excerpts, not the accounts of work), in which both the spiritual and artistic entity of the group will reveal itself. I ask these two years, providing I am capable of working, in order to show you my true love for you, my true admiration for you, and my boundless devotion to you. I ask you to believe that I don’t have any thoughts whatsoever-of career, desire to serve some important role, or of any kind of daring. All I need from you is a little trust-not in my abilities, no, but in the

purity of my intentions. Loving you, Ye. Vakhtangov

November 10, 1920, All Saints’ Rehabilitation Resort

Esteemed Vsevolod Emilyevich, I am seriously ill, and cannot come to you in person, although I have

an immense desire to spend even a brief moment in your company; you are so busy. I ask you to receive my young friends-students, members of the Studio council of what is now the Third Studio of the Moscow Art Theatre. I have loved you as an artist for a long time. I loved your work in The Puppet Booth, The Strange Woman, and Columbine’s Scarf. I have long sought an opportunity for a communication, and so, in case you might be interested, this communication is possible via the Third Studio. The people here are young, wonderful, and unspoiled by any “theatrical” traditions. Our people know how to be enthusiastic, and they know how to be excited in a good way. Perhaps, you will want to stage something with such people; perhaps, sometime you will come to talk to us … Please accept my greetings, With feeling of sincere respect for you. Ye. Vakhtangov

From Vendrovskaya 1959

August 8, 1921

Dear Simochka, Your note at the Habima Studio touched me to tears. Do understand

it literally. I believe you; I believe you and thank you. I too want everything to be well. I wish that next year we would all be friendly and attentive, and

tolerant of each other’s shortcomings, and extraordinarily demanding of each other and of our theatre ethics-especially where we meetonstage and in rehearsals. I crave-yes, this is the word-crave working to the point of utter

exhaustion. I foresee new theatrical horizons. I imagine that in Hamlet2 I will again discover a new form. I nd it

important, most important, that the Studio cherishes its mistakes and deviations from its course, as without these nothing can be discovered.