Etude – the director's thought about life, expressed in action on stage

I. Sudakova


From the experience of the directing department

GITIS named after A. V. Lunacharsky



I began to collect material for the creation of this book on the advice of N. M. Gorchakov, Doctor of Arts, Professor of GITIS, director of the Moscow Art Theater, known to a wide audience of readers for his books: “Director’s Lessons of K. S. Stanislavsky”, “Director’s Lessons of Vakhtangov”, etc.

Nikolai Mikhailovich Gorchakov was my teacher in directing – at first I studied at GITIS on his course, then I worked as a young teacher under his guidance. Nikolai Mikhailovich suggested that I write down our practical exercises in sketches, excerpts, fixing, if possible, the very course, the process of work. “These notes may eventually form a useful methodological book,” he said. I followed his advice.

Quite a lot of time has passed since then. Over the years, I worked as a teacher on the course of the People’s Artist of the RSFSR, Professor N. V. Petrov, on the course of the Honored Art Worker, Professor A. A. Goncharov, and on the course of A. V. Efros. I was lucky for several years to observe classes with students of these most interesting and original directors, to work with them in direct contact, educating young directors of the Soviet theater. I have also accumulated my own fifteen years of experience at the directing department of GITIS.

I do not set myself the task of touching upon all the problems of directing art. Some important stages in the preparation of student directors at GITIS will not be covered in this book, just as the entire process of creating a play will not be shown. The reader will get acquainted only with the initial stages of education, with work on sketches and excerpts from works of drama in the first two years of students’ studies.

Each specific student group requires a special approach to it, creative contacts. Each course leader at GITIS has his own secrets and features of the learning process, which are inherent only to him, and they develop and change over time. Therefore, an attempt to formulate, write down a certain unshakable method of education, any final system of education established for all, is probably fraught with the danger of inertia. Nevertheless, the experience that has developed over the years of work of the directing department of GITIS can be useful for those who are engaged in amateur theatrical activities and manage a creative team.

I am very grateful for valuable comments and advice on my work on the book to Professor Alexei Borisovich Glagolin-Gusev, Head of the Directing Department of the Kharkov Institute of Arts, and People’s Artist of the RSFSR, Professor Leonid Fedorovich Makariev, Head of the Dramatic Art Department of the Leningrad State Institute of Theater and Music and cinematography.

I express my sincere gratitude to the professors of GITIS: the head of the department of directing Maria Osipovna Knebel, Yuri Alexandrovich Zavadsky, Irina Sergeevna Anisimova-Vulf, Iosif Moiseevich Raevsky and Matvey Alekseevich Gorbunov – the rector of the institute – for their help in creating this book.

I. S.



Etude – the director’s thought about life, expressed in action on stage

You cannot create a director by training alone, you need natural talent, great vitality, as they say, directors are born. But talent can gradually deplete, and intuition dry up, if they are not developed, not educated. Therefore, our task is to correctly guide a talented person, to help develop his talent. The more original the individuality of the future director, the bolder, more independent his thought, the more interesting his work. Therefore, the sooner it is possible to awaken the independent thought of a young director, the sooner his creative growth begins.

It is with reflection on life and people that directing begins, with observation of reality, with a comparison of characters, with an interest in human psychology, in its secrets and surprises. In order for the director’s thought to become flexible, mobile, it must be trained daily, hourly. The director-psychologist, the director who knows the human soul, can hope to win the trust of the actor. A director’s craft and its laws – this is the second, also very important, but still a secondary link in the formation of the director. Creating stage life, the director selects what is valuable for the embodiment of his thought, what expresses and proves it. If the goal of the artist is not to mirror life, but to intervene in it, to participate in it with his art, then he cannot act otherwise. For the sake of this responsible goal, they go into directing.

The enormous content and possibilities of the director’s profession begin to be revealed already in the first fifty-minute performances – etudes. The etude is a student’s invention, chosen by him, something very dear to him. A student, composing and performing an etude, defends his right to stage life, attracts all of himself, his thoughts, feelings, and more easily gets into the right stage feeling, remaining himself.

That is why directing training begins with etudes.

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If a performance is a sea of directorial possibilities, then an etude is the drop in which it is reflected. And in an etude, you can express your thoughts about life by means of the theater, intervene in life, participate in it with your art.

N. M. Gorchakov defined the study prepared by the students as the first performance in their life staged independently with a specific goal and animated by the idea of the director.

And if this is the case, then the first task of the teacher is to educate in his students courage, independence of thinking, otherwise all their performances will be wingless. Thought, imagination, its flight – this is the beginning of creativity. Not a step, not a word, not a gesture on the stage without the work of thought, without setting a goal and evaluating the results! Therefore, the content of the classes should meet the intention to teach students to express a certain thought-idea by directing and acting means through the organization of a short stage action –


An etude is able to excite the viewer, it is interesting when the thought embedded in it is transparent and contagious for the audience. Achieving a variety of topics in sketches, developing the student’s observation skills, drawing his attention to events close to him, exciting him, encouraging sincerity, a sense of humor, you can help a young novice director to express himself more freely and independently in his sketch. And even if at first the sketches, their dramaturgy are uncomplicated, sometimes even naive. If a student is sincerely passionate about a topic, really wants to speak about it, it is necessary to help him express himself, his feelings and thoughts in a short stage action – an etude. It is the student’s dedication to the topic that brings success in work.

I will give one example.

The student wanted to show in a small study what Lenin means for a person, an example of his life.

Table, chair, phone. On the wall is a portrait in a black ribbon. A man entered and approached the table. He took it, read it, turned some paper in his hands, looked at the portrait. I looked for a long time… The room was empty. Cold. The man read the paper, went to the phone.

– Send Petrov.

Sat. One. It’s cold in the room. Empty. The second one entered. He nodded silently. The first reads aloud on paper.

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– Mandate. By decision of the bureau of the plant’s party cell, Comrade Petrov was sent to work permanently in the Central Branch of the Cheka, at the disposal of Comrade Dzerzhinsky. January 26, 1924″.

The second is amazed and protesting: – Me?! In the Cheka?!

And the horns blared. One. Second. Fifth. Time has stopped. No Lenin. Listen standing. Silently. On the wall is a portrait in a black ribbon.

And then – silence. Petrov approached the table. For a long time, carefully folded the paper. Hid it in my pocket. He shook hands with the man at the table. And left.

Here, on a very small material of the sketch, a big theme sounded: life among people, life for people.

In the practice of GITNS, there is such a principle: usually, before starting directly to work on an etude, students perform a series of exercises that directly, organically lead them to an etude. These exercises gradually turn into an etude, ceasing to be just exercises. Often they are played as a game, so that tedious boredom does not reign. They practice individual elements of correct stage behavior – attention, observation, develop creative will, the ability to quickly engage in action and switch from one object of attention to another, the ability to focus on a given object: quickly and accurately grasp its main features and convey them vividly in words, figuratively, visually. In these exercises, students receive object lessons that listening and hearing, looking and seeing are not the same thing. Everyone listens to how one speaks, for example, but not everyone will hear the manner, melody, characteristic, speech defects of the speaker. Students begin to understand that to tell means to draw with a word, to ensure that the person listening to the story sees everything as the narrator sees it. Students learn to “tell the eye”, the partner’s thoughts, as K.S. Stanislavsky demanded, and not just his ear. Here, for the first time, some of them discover that they are bad at looking and seeing.

The objects in these exercises can be any object, a picture, an event, a person, a street, a house, music, a natural phenomenon, an incident – in short, everything that can be heard and heard, what can be seen and seen. The exercises also develop the imagination of students, their ingenuity.

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The same action, performed by all students in a row, is solved by each of them in his own way. For example, you need to enter a room. Each one does this on the basis of various proposed circumstances—whence, whither, and for what purpose he enters—strives to express all the circumstances in a precise action dictated by these circumstances.

The exercises also lead to communication with a partner (improvisation of a dialogue or a dialogue without words). Students in these exercises understand that the action on the stage always has a specific purpose. The impetus to action is “if if”. This means that one cannot take a single step on the stage without [.< fiction and the work of the imagination. Every action must have a justification. A number of exercises on the elements of the Stanislavsky system aims to train the creative will, attention, fantasy, muscle freedom, etc. Then all the elements of the system – action, attention, imagination, assessment of the fact, communication, possession of an object, internal monologue, action with a word, possession of tempo -rhythm – are mastered in the work on the study, passage, act of the play and, finally, the whole play.

Practice has shown that independent work reveals the student brighter and more fully, therefore it is advisable from the very first weeks of classes to instill in students the habit of everyday independent work. Independence awakens creative activity, increases the personal responsibility of the student.

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