Tag Archives: Mikhail Shchepkin

Mikhail Shchepkin house, Moscow

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No, it’s not Tomsk. It’s smack dab in the middle of Moscow, a long block from the busy thoroughfare known as Prospekt Mira (Peace Prospect), the metro stop named after that prospect, and a stone’s throw from the Olympic Sports Complex, the rounded roof of which you can see looming in the low sky in a couple of photographs below. Today we’re looking at the old, wooden home in which Mikhail Shchepkin, the great Russian actor of the 19th century, lived for the last four years of his life, from 1859-1863. There are still a few wooden structures left in Moscow, but this is surely one of the biggest and most interesting, in part because of the good shape it’s in and in part because of the history attached to it. The street here was named Third Meshchanskaya Street when Shchepkin was resident; it has been called Shchepkin Street since 1962. As several of the photos show here, the structure is rather under siege from less attractive, less ornate, more imposing modern buildings. It does look a bit out of place among its neighbors, I must say, but that only makes you appreciate it more. Especially when you step through the gate and see the house from the inside courtyard (the first two photos in the final block below). The address here is house No. 47. These days the official address also has a “building 2” attached to it.
Still, having said all these nice things about this building as one of the few such remaining in Moscow, the truth must also be told. Shortly after Shchepkin’s death the house passed into the hands of a family that significantly reconfigured the facade, and not only the facade. It was given a facelift with stone columns and detailed, fanned bas reliefs that lasted until the late 1990s when the additions and changes were removed and the building, more or less as Shchepkin knew it when he lived here, was restored. You can see photos of what the building looked like from 1865 to the late 1990s at the wonderful Know Moscow website. Today the structure houses a museum honoring Shchepkin, as well as a working theater company called the House Theater at the Shchepkin House, run by a very cool cat, Anatoly Ledukhovsky.

IMG_9100.jpg2 IMG_9104.jpg2IMG_9103.jpg2Shchepkin (1788-1963) had something wonderfully warm about him.  You can see that a little, perhaps, in the statue of him that I wrote about here back in May. He was plump enough that you know he enjoyed his food, and surely his drink, too. And there was something in his sad sack face that oozed generosity and understanding. Indeed, he was so willing to help out anyone in need of it that any house he lived in – this one included – was usually full of guests. Often enough they were people Shchekpin didn’t even know. He just wasn’t the kind to turn away a fellow human in need. Maybe this came to him naturally, as the son of a serf who, against all odds, became famous and at least financially independent, if not wealthy. He would never have been given the opportunity to study acting or to become a professional actor if the master who owned him and his family had not recognized the young man’s talent. Shchepkin began by acting in the home theater of his master Volkenstein and then began working in various provincial cities. He played his first theatrical role ever in 1800 in Alexander Sumarokov’s comedy The Lady Cut-Up. Afterwards he is reported to have said that on stage he “felt so good, so happy” that he “couldn’t describe it.” He was not officially given his freedom until 1822, when he was 34 years old. Shortly thereafter he was invited to work in Moscow and, in 1924, he joined the Maly Theater, one of Russia’s two top dramatic playhouses, the other being the Alexandrinsky in Petersburg. By that time Shchepkin had established an enviable reputation as a comic actor. During the next few decades, when he was Moscow’s leading actor, he also exhibited his genius for dramatic and tragic roles. Alexander Herzen defined Shchepkin’s greatness by declaring he was the first person in Russian theater to be “nontheatrical.”
I have drawn some of this latter information from the Chronos biography site.

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Mikhail Shchepkin Monument, Moscow

IMG_8788.jpg2I’m happy to show you this monument to the great 19th century Russian actor Mikhail Shchepkin that you can only see if you have friends at the Shchepkin Institute. It stands inside the closed courtyard among the classrooms, rehearsal halls and performance spaces of this great acting school, one of two in Moscow that are named after actors. The Shchukin Institute, named for Boris Shchukin, is affiliated with the Vakhtangov Theater. The Shchepkin, located right behind the Maly Theater is affiliated with this, the oldest drama theater in Moscow. Traditionally, each September 1 all the students and teachers gather around the monument to begin the new academic year. The Maly, incidentally, took in two of Vsevolod Meyerhold’s top actors – Mikhail Tsaryov and Igor Ilyinsky – when the Meyerhold was closed in the late 1930s and Meyerhold himself was murdered shortly thereafter. Both Tsaryov and Ilyinsky taught acting for decades at the Shchepkin.

IMG_8787.jpg2IMG_8789.jpg2Shchepkin is generally considered the beginning of the great line of Russian actors that lead to Konstantin Stanislavsky’s theory and practice of being lifelike on stage. He is also the origin of one of the most-quoted phrases in Russian theater: “Theater for an actor is a cathedral. It is his sanctuary! Your life, your honor – it all belongs irrevocably to the stage, to which you have given yourself. Your fate depends on these boards. Treat this cathedral with respect and make others respect it, perform with religious fervor or get out.”