I’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.
Shchepkin 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.”