The stage name was one of the commonplaces of the nine teenth-century Russian theatre. It might be adopted to replace an unfortunate or unglamorous surname, to elevate, to transform. Or, more rarely, it might permit a genteel actor to indulge incognito in what was then considered an unbecoming pursuit.
Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev adopted his stage name-Stanislavski for both of these reasons. His real surname was not only one of the most common in Russia, but also carried – in Moscow at least – the connotations of hereditary affluence. As a nine teenth-century commentator testifies: “So very rich were the Ale xeyevs that their wealth became a by-word. Anyone wishing to accuse another of arrogance would say: “Don’t think you’re an Alexeyev.” ‘In assuming his stage name, Konstantin Alexeyev was making a concession both to his family–whose traditions and proclivities were far removed from the acting profession–and to society at large. And the change of name also served to confirm his commit ment to the stage as a career. While amateur involvement with the theatre normally faded with youth, becoming nothing more than a memory, the sole member of the large Alexeyev clan to take acting really seriously showed no sign of cooling enthusiasm as time went by. He was twenty-two years old when he changed his name. The young amateur had made his debut on a ‘real’-as opposed to a domestic – stage in the autumn of 1881, in Sekretary ov’s small theatre, which was often hired out to non-professional companies.Elena Polyakova has had a long association with the theatre, as critic and historiographer, and has written widely on the Russian theatre, examining the director’s, actor’s and designer’s craft.A doctor’s daughter born in 1926 in the town of Kulebaki not far from Gorky, she entered the Lunacharsky Institute of Performing Arts on leav ing school in 1944. Having completed her studies in the Theatre Faculty, she was encouraged to embark on a research programme in the Theatre Faculty. She holds a doctorate in art studies.Her books include The Moscow Art Theatre: “Armoured Train 14-69” (1965), Stanislavsky the Actor (1972), Tolstoy as Dramatist (1978), a biog raphy of the painter, archaeologist, traveller and social activist, Nikolai Roerich (1973), and this critical study of Konstantin Stanislavsky, the di rector, actor and pioneer of modern stagecraft (1977); these later two were published in the Life in Art Series, by Iskusstvo Publishers. Her studies appeal to critics and non-specialists alike.Elena Polyakova holds a senior post in the Theatre Department of the All-Union Art Studies Institute, which is attached to the USSR Ministry of Culture.
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