Fairground Booth Book – New Chapter -News

fairground BoothFinishing one of the most difficult chapters of  The Fairground Book and researching the film simultaneously. The chapter concerns Blok and Meyerhold’s legacy and in particular the legacy of The Fairground Booth in Russian and world theatrical history. This is a difficult subject to tackle as it is all a question of interpretation and quite subjective although I have tried to use referenced argument to get my point across. However this is not the main thing to consider since the purpose of the book is to be an introduction to The Fairground Booth rather than a definitive interpretation so the approach has to be looser and maybe even a bit experimental to find a way into the material.

comeddie benois

Benois – Italian Comedy -1905

There is not much material to go on and very little can be found on this play and on Russian theatre generally so I have to rely on my own judgement. What happens is that The Fairground Booth is referenced and mentioned in various works, often in passing. Its never occurred to anybody that The Fairground Booth was a major turning point in Russian and world theatrical history.It didn’t exactly turn Stanislavsky’s method on its head but Blok and Meyerhold’s little “balagan” certainly brought down Stanislavsky’s fourth wall. The book will explore not just the play itself but the background and context in which the play was received and will be part of The Russian Documentary Film Series


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Dostoevsky and The Fairground Booth

fairground Booth

Planning an extra chapter about Dostoevsky and the Fairground Booth in the book Blok, Meyerhold and the Fairground Booth thefairgroundbooth.com. Its come about due to further research into the symbolist painters of the time who were involved with theatre set design and theatre in general in Russia and Europe: Benois, Somov,Golovin and more particularly Dobuzhinsky. He designed sets for The Devil’s Play, and an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Dobuzhinsky also designed the frontispiece for Blok and Meyerhold’s play The Fairground Booth.

Dobuzhinsky's illustration for the set of "The Devil's Play"

Dobuzhinsky’s illustration for the set of “The Devil’s Play”

This chapter and section will give an extra depth to the discussion about The Fairground Booth. It will also serve one of my intention which is to put the play in the wider context of Russian and European literature.

Attached are the frontispiece for The Fairground Booth and the set design for the fist part of  The Devils Play by Remizov
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thefairgroundbooth.com michaelcraig.copernicusfilms.com
#Dobuzhinsky #thefairgroundbooth

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Music, Blok, Gogol and “The Tempest”

fairground Booth collage 2

In an article by James David Jacobs about Shakespeare and music he writes

“The Tempest stands at the crossroads of theatrical history: between the Renaissance and the Baroque, between the Elizabethan theatre of the imagination and the Jacobean spectacle, between the primacy of the word and the primacy of sensory entertainment”.

Similarly The Fairground Booth was written and performed at the threshold of a new epoch in 1906 in Russia.

The common link between these plays is music. It’s no coincidence that at the same time these upheavals were taking place in England, the art form known as opera was being born in Italy (the first operatic masterpiece, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, was premiered in 1607.) And it is not an accident that The Fairground Booth appeared at the junction between two epochs and the beginning of what we understand as the modern era.

One of the most remarkable aspects of The Tempest is how aware it is of its own historical position, how consciously Shakespeare bids farewell to past trends and welcomes new ones, reinventing himself even at the end of his career. This is particularly evident in his use of music and sound cues, which are integrated into the text in an unprecedented way.

There are many places where the music takes over, and whole scenes are performed in mime and dance, or, most remarkably, with the characters themselves just standing there listening to the music along with the audience.

Many of the settings of Romeo and Juliet, for example, could just as easily refer to the older tragic love stories Shakespeare himself drew on when writing that play. James David Jacobs continues “But The Tempest is truly a world Shakespeare himself created, and it is no coincidence that it is the least dated of Shakespeare’s plays, the one that requires the least translation for a modern audience”.

And one of the main reasons for this is that it is the play in which he puts the most trust in the power of music“. It is on this point that I must disagree. Shakespeare was much indebted to the commedia dell’arte even to the point of using the enchanted island motif, a long time element of the commedia dell’arte. It is the musicality of the play and its improvisory quality which allows Shakespeare to freely explore themes which appear timeless.

In the course of writing about Blok and in particular the musicality of The Fairground Booth many new aspects of the play have come to the surface. Andrey Bely in his book about Gogol “Gogols Masterstvo (Artistry)” talks about rhythm in Gogol’s writing in particular about the idea of a story/song in literature. He maintains that there is no one work of Gogol which does not contain a musical principle and if we take heed of this then it opens up a whole depth of the social tendency in Gogol’s work nonetheless in a latent condition. Exploring Gogol may seem like a digression but it was with Gogol’s The Government Inspector that Meyerhold brought to fruition the lessons and techniques he had developed through his collaboration with Blok in The Fairground Booth. The Government inspector pointed the way to a new theatre in Russia something which both Blok and Meyerhold wanted to achieve.

The soul of music – is a naive, realistic interpretation of a subject and is displayed not  only in Gogol’s unsuccessful tales. Bely points out that the key to the interpretation of Gogol’s is buried in the musicality of his writing- the music of the composition. – “listening to music it is as if the soul possesses one wish only – to explode”. In the tone and rhythm and the rise and fall of sounds is encapsulated a whole way of life. For Bely one cannot easily call it rhythm but for sure it is an echo and such rhythm would never enter the head of a poet with a pen in their hand. In this is the unseen riches of sounds of the early work of Gogol, maintains Bely which speaks of everything.

But what relevance does this have in the context of a discussion of The Fairground Booth and The Tempest. Gogol was the first Russian author to explicitly embark on such an abstract and non literary, non textual approach to writing, literature and creating meaning outside of the text. It is no accident that Meyerhold shunned the historically accurate and classic approach to the play Government Inspector and turned it into a masterpiece of almost Avant-garde dimensions. Meyerhold’s Government Inspector was a direct and unreserved descendant of The Fairground Booth which will be discussed in the next section of this book. Rhythm and movement was everything for Meyerhold and it might be fair to say that he unlocked the unrevealed treasures of Gogol’s play which the author had himself perhaps intended but the acting style and understanding of theatre did not at that time exist to unlock the full scope of its satirical possibilities. In his book about Meyerhold, Edward Braun quotes from Emanuel Kaplan’s book “Meetings with Meyerhold” who describes the moment when it is announced that the Government Inspector is arriving soon and which illustrates Meyerhold’s “orchestration” of Gogol’s “score”.

“Then suddenly, as though on a word of command, at the stroke of a conductors baton, everyone stirs into agitation, pipes jumps from lips, fists clench, heads swivel. The last syllable of Revisior (The Government Inspector) seems to tweak everybody. Now the word is hissed in a whisper, the whole word by some…..The word Revisior is divided musically into every conceivable intonation….blows up and dies away like a squall”.

The additional information given to the audience in this episode is imparted musically and does not depend on the written words in the play. When Kaplan talks about a squall it is not a tempest as such but it is close enough for our purposes to understand that Gogol had come up with something new and Meyerhold had unearthed it but it had taken almost a whole century for the theatrical world (certainly in Russia) to catch up with Gogol. Information is not given in just what is said but is part of an energy which like electricity is passed through a conductor and is charged with a new energy it is transformed from something raw into something concentrated and reconstructed.

The play becomes an instrument, an accumulator of an energy which is transformed into another instrument and sound and rhythm is what issues from this instrument. As Bely points out, the influence of an author becomes loaded with images which depend on their possibility or capability to be modified or metamorphosed: In the consciousness of an epoch the author is defined twice over – as part of a collective which makes a certain demand and the collective itself accepting the authors proposal to cooperate with him in his own epoch and reach across time.

The similarities between Blok’s world and Gogol’s world are manifest. Gogol is full of sudden arrivals and disappearances and this is no less evident in the Inspector General which is reflected in the tragic carnival of The Fairground Booth. Harlequin’s leap through the window at the end of the pay could be compared Khlestnikov’s escape into nowhere in The Inspector General. The metaphysical space opened numerous possibilities to Meyerhold for his later work.

This becomes immediately apparent in Meyerhold’s The Government Inspector but the seeds for the Government Inspector were sown in his collaboration with Blok in the Fairground Booth. The Fairground Booth was an accumulator of theatrical energy which drew from the past and present to point the way to the future. All of Meyerhold’s and not just Meyerhold but other directors like Vakhtangov ,Tairov, Eisenstein and Mayakovsky were directly influenced by Blok’s play. We will come to the inheritance of The Fairground Booth and its vast imprint on the history of Russian Theatre as well as Opera later but for now the hints given by Andrei Bely point to a common undercurrent in both the Fairground Booth and The Tempest and why the Tempest was so important to Blok. Lying below the surface of both plays a “full fathom five” is metamorphosis – a “sea change” in what was understood to be theatre. For Shakespeare The Tempest coincided with a new epoch of exploration across continents which ushered in a new consciousness of what it meant to be human a specifically capitalistic consciousness for Blok the mechanisation of life demanded that humanity begin a a new journey and this would be reflected in theatre. In Shakespeare’s Tempest, The pearls that were his eyes are the same empty eyes reflecting out from Columbina’s white face, a “mirrored emptiness” and both images reflect the wreckage of one epoch and the beginning of another. It is no accident that one of the central metaphors of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland which draws heavily from The Tempest was also used to illustrate the division between one epoch and another.

The musicality of the play is like the masks of the commedia dell’arte which also convey additional information visually,independently of the text. In the commedia certain information could still be derived from the costumes and clothing of the actors. Audiences knew what members of the various social classes typically wore, and also expected certain colours to represent certain emotional states. Regardless of where they toured, commedia dell’arte conventions were recognized and adhered to.

The Fairground carnival atmosphere of Blok’s play recalls the Petrushka perfomances. Like many branches of popular theatre Petrushka made simultaneous use of of resources which modern western high theatre more often than not kept separated. Petruska could be a drama pageant and musical all in one take. According to Catriona Kelly in her book “Petrushka”, usually the Petrushka was preceded by music on a barrel organ and cymbal’s were used to mark the hero’s entrance and other dramatic moments. More importantly from the point of view of our discussion, during the play the hero would talk against the barrel organ music and this meant that although the text was spoken it observed and coincided with music patterns and rhythm, as Kelly observes it could sound like dub poetry or rap. This would not have been and could not have been lost on Blok who as a poet would have been acutely aware of the rhythmic possibilities of the spoken word and images.

Later Pierrot speaks, his voice is like the first peal of a bell. When he recounts how he and Harlequin mock Columbine when she falls as a cardboard doll into the snow filled ground, the snow falls like silver droplets. One can almost hear the soft muted ringing of the swirling snow like a mass of atomised liquid, metamorphosed into particles of sound, crystal atoms of swirling sound. There is the sound of Harlequin laughing, accompanied by the tinkling of (sleigh) bells and witnessing all of this Pierrot laughs with delight. Incidentally we have already spoken how Poe was an influence on Blok and Meyerhold and the Fairground Booth and once again the scene recalls the bells of the victim of Poe’s hero from “The Case of Amontillado” which adds a macabre brushstroke to the scene – but of a tragic comic tone.

The whole of this scene has a silver musicality and rhythm – The speech itself reads and sounds like musical accompaniment to itself, to the text and words themselves. This occurs in Shakespeare in the sense of the musicality of speech almost independent of the meaning of the words, creating a new meaning a double meaning and kind of accompaniment, not as background however, creating new layers of meaning and understanding, a separate philological context without words but which speak of things and emotions difficult to express in words alone. In this is the real greatness of theatre to conjure images and emotion from out of nowhere and from nothing so to speak and yet establish a presence which gives such images a reality and being, with gestures and the theatrical poetic of sound and gesture. It is this capacity which Blok and Meyerhold revealed the theatrical possibilities of theatre itself by returning to a theatre of the past and in so doing unmasking its potential and depth.

And so we return to The Tempest

Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twanging instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That if I then wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak’d
I cried to dream again.
(Caliban, Act III scene ii)

Shakespeare’s text, especially in the Tempest which is the most musical of Shakespeare’s plays, is like the “sound and rhythm  which hums about our ears – and sometimes voices” – The text does not convey the content of the world as we see it and it conveys something more than is contained in the words and structure of the sentences and this is common to The Fairground Booth and The Tempest. This idea was a new departure for theatre at the time and it gave Meyerhold the opportunity to explore new approaches and possibilities in theatre. That is that meaning could come from something other than the text or words written on paper. something similar had already happened with Chekhov where the pauses and the gaps in the text where as important as the text itself leaving space for actors pauses gestures and looks.

Saint-Saens writes: Music begins where the words ends; it expresses the unutterable……The point is that at certain moments music becomes speech it expresses anything;the text becomes secondary and almost unnecessary.

In relation to theatre this is tantamount to heresy and certainly was so at the time but the sense of musicality in theatre created rhythm and rhythm created movement and movement implies freedom. More importantly this freedom allows a freedom to interrupt and this involves the audience, inviting them to participate directly with what is going on in the performance. They are not spoon fed a text or a message, they have to participate in order to understand what is going on and this involves a level of self understanding of ourselves and the world of being, something which every theatrical practitioner from Stanislavsky, to Artuad to Grotowski and Brook point to as the essence of theatre and its task. A straight forward narrative text is not enough in this context. This brings us back to the unfinished or open-ended quality of The Fairground Booth. Blok would have been aware of Vruble’s work as a painter. Many of his pieces seem incomplete or unfinished and this was a quality that artists applied to their work at the time. Vruble would leave part of the canvas empty or untouched or open. He maintained he did not want to make a direct copy of reality or nature but rather he wanted to establish his relationship or emotional responses to the phenomena. Something similar could be said to be happening to theatre at the time and in particular with Blok’s and Meyerhold’s intentions of allowing the audiences self understanding to take its course. The point is that in both cases, with Vruble and The Fairground Booth, it is the inner world which is referenced as much as the outer reality.  The ability for free interpretation by both the audience (viewer in Vrubles case) and the artist is emphasised.

The danger is that such a tend can be abused and be dissolved into an abstract hazy experience which can mean anything. However with Blok and Meyerhold and moreover Shakespeare this was not the case.

Another image is born from  sound perhaps indistinct and seemingly formless but it creates an emotion transparent in form a delicate organism and creates a sort of distance sometimes close some times far away, an echo if you like reflected and refracted through time and space.

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Time Not Wasted

downloadNot much done the last few days but all not lost. Yesterday spent a few hours on The Fairground Booth documentary. I have been working on semi computer generated sequence mostly made up of composited layers. I began it a few months ago and left it on one side. Came back  to it yesterday with fresh ideas and energy. Seems to be working better. Need to add some more layers and work them into the overall composition. The book about The Fairground Booth is going OK. Almost completed the Tempest section and as far as I can tell it is working out. Quite long but I feel like its good progress and I know where I am going. As part of this section I have been preparing a separate part about Musicality in FB and will publish it as a post and then incorporate it into the book itself maybe in a slightly expanded form. I always feel as if I am not getting enough done but it isn’t true I think. Also today worked on a documentary to be shot in Ireland and Russia. Preparing locations for Dublin and more ideas have occurred to me as a consequence. Had idea for filming at Dublin Harbour which will fit together with other footage already shot in Moscow.

After getting a new computer it has clarified how to use the two main sites that I post on. There are two main sites Copernicus Films and Michael Craig Blog. I have been at a lose as to how to integrate these sites or at least how to allocate posts and use the sites more efficiently. One way forward is to use the Copernicus films sites for purely work purposes, ie attracting clients and fee paying work. The Blog will be for publicising my own films and creative work, DVDs, downloads etc. There are other related sites as well and the division will be less strict than I am suggesting here but it is a good way forward in the development of my online presence.


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Fairground Booth book news

fairground Booth


Fair Booths on Admiralty Square, St. Petersburg – Konstantin Makovsky, c.1869

A pause in the writing of the book about the play The Fairground Booth which was written by Alexander Blok and staged by Meyerhold as more time is spent on the script for the documentary film of the same subject. Finally put together a draft which still needs a great deal of work to distill it down into something manageable but at least the process has started. One of the characteristics of this project is that firstly I am writing a book, two scripts and editing (for the time being) a documentary film simultaneously. Plus The Fairground Booth project has to be integrated into the over all Russian Theatre Documentary Film Series which already has three films available and completed: “Meyerhold Theatre and the Russian Avant-garde”, “Stanislavsky and the Russian Theatre” and “Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre“.

All these elements will compliment each other and inform each other to hopefully provide a rich and fairly comprehensive introduction to this play and moreover to this particular time in Russian theatrical history. Working at the same time on marketing strategies and trying to form alliances with publishers and institutions which may be interested in such a project.

Now about to embark on the underlying theme of Shakespeare’s Tempest which was a big influence on Blok. Even though this influence is not immediately apparent in the play, it is definitely there embedded in the fabric of the play. The tempest and Shakespeare in general was a huge influence on Blok and it is almost inconceivable that Blok would not have this play in mind while writing his own first theatrical work .

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#Blok #Meyerhold

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Step by step

fairground BoothWell into the Fairground Booth project  by Copernicus Films and Michael Craig with meetings planned and book going ahead step by step. Excellent progress on this project. Going through the Shakespeare section which is a specific component of Blok’s play. With regard to this project there is a feeling that I have broken through a barrier which seemed to be holding up progress but in fact this was just my imagination. With each project one reaches a plateau. While traversing the level and horizontal path it feels like little progress is being made but this is self evidently an illusion and even talk of plateaus and peaks is misleading.

There probably is no right way of describing the process and the answers you seek and solutions you want do not come straight away. However you find that you are asking the same questions as other practitioners of theatre have asked. What is theatre and what is acting and who am I. Directors actors and theoreticians have asked these questions over and over and their answers and thoughts are illuminating and inspirational, so there is plenty of help out there for whatever you may be searching for. Next week will be a key meeting for the project. There are back ups but this meeting is important.

+Russian Theatre Documentary Series

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Moving on


Moscow late evening

After the last bit of writing here things have moved on. Got down to completing a whole section of The Fairground Booth book – the section detailing The Apocalypse and The Fairground Booth. Not a bad bit of progress and all ready to start the next section about Blok and Shakespeare. I wanted to move through things chronologically but instead I started again somewhere a bit further on. The in between sections I will deal with later.

Talked with an acquaintance who I met at the Irish Embassy. We are cooperating at a number of levels but it might be possible to cooperate on The Fairground Booth. Preparing a letter to send to him based on the discussion we have had earlier

A few weeks ago filmed at the Vvedensky cemetery where Field is buried. Cold snowy weather perfect for what I wanted. Tried out the new slider which I have. Worked OK and got some very evocative footage. May come in handy in the future.

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fairground BoothHaving a difficult time with The Fairground Booth book for the Russian Theatre film project. Every time I make a new start I seem to run into a brick wall. Unable to move forward at all or find any kind of rhythm with the writing. has been going on for some time now and I’m not sure what the problem is. A complete lack of flow or even a desire to write or work on the project. The desire is there in fact but there seems no will or it may be the other way round. Even that I cant determine.  Its almost like I don’t want to complete the book and yet I know that I do. Very strange sensation or set of circumstances. Don’t know what to do. Maybe its a question of simply doing more work. Need to find a way into it to enjoy it again like I did at the beginning. Maybe I am starting at the wrong place. Maybe I should start with the Tempest part and work backwards.

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Russian Theatre documentary series

fairground Booth collage 2As I finish the book about the Russian Theatre film series +Russian Theatre Documentary Series work already gathering pace on the whole Fairground Booth side of the series. Possible locations being lined up in March for a film version of  the a play itself. The Fairground Booth and editing going ahead with the documentary film about The Fairground Booth project which will be an integral part of the Russian Theatre Documentary series.

The book about the Fairground Booth is also taking shape almost simultaneously. Its too early to make any predictions but two years ago when I was working on the film Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre I could not have predicted that this work would be moving along. It just seemed much to far into the future. Now that Vakhtangov and the Russian Theatre is released a path has cleared to make progress on this part of the project.

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New books on Russian theatre in the pipeline

BiomechanicsAfter the successful launch of Encounters with the Russian avant-garde two more books are in the pipeline. Both of them will be about Russian theatre and connected with the Russian Theatre documentary series. The first book is already two thirds into the first draft and should be ready for publication in the early spring. It will chronicle the making of the series, the vagaries and joys of filming in Moscow and Russia, how the series  was conceived, came together, was filmed and where it is going.

Three films are complete and hopefully another two will add to the series. Shooting and some preliminary post production already underway. Script for one film already complete as well. The second book is a much more ambitious project about one of the seminal plays of the early twentieth century. The scope will be broad and speculative but I hope will be a start in explaining some of the themes of Russian theatre in the early twentieth century.

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