Russian and Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold developed biomechanics for the theatre in the 1920s and 30s. This novel approach to actor training focused on stylised movement and physicality. Meyerhold’s exercises allowed the actor to become intricately aware of the body in space and time. Etudes were an integral feature of the new training system, though never intended for performance.
Meyerhold’s career began as an apprentice to Konstantin Stanislavski, acting in several Moscow Art Theatre productions at the dawn of the 20th century. Meyerhold soon found himself as the pre-eminent avant-garde revolutionary director in the Soviet Union, and his new system of actor training was deliberately at odds with the methods of his former mentor.
On a crude level, biomechanics encouraged the actor to create a character externally, from the outside in. Stanislavski’s system on the other hand taught actors how to create characters internally, from the inside out. Like Stanislavski’s training methods, Meyerhold’s biomechanics was more than a bag of tricks for the actor. It, too, was aimed at creating a better person.
Biomechanics was likely sourced from elements of Commedia dell’Arte, mime, circus, ballet, silent comedy, acrobatics, kabuki, gymnastics, and even sport. There was also a direct association with the constructivism movement in the arts, with three of Meyerhold’s productions employing constructivist sets. Meyerhold also linked his new system of actor training with Soviet-Marxist philosophy, relating the necessary economy of movement on stage to the production of labour, outside the theatre walls.
Ultimately, Meyerhold’s avant-garde and anti-realistic experiments in the theatre were too radical for the Soviet regime. He was executed by firing squad in February 1940, most likely on the order of Joseph Stalin, himself. – Justin Cash
Biomechanics for the Theatre
Comprehensive biography of Vsevolod Meyerhold and his career in the theatre as an actor and director.
A Meyerhold’s biography, accompanied by a few simple biomechanics exercises suitable for students.
Excellent biography of Vsevelolod Meyerhold with detailed accounts of his career and productions.
A detailed biography of Meyerhold and his achievements in Russian theatre.
Wikipedia entry on Vsevolod Meyerhold outlining his early life, career under communism, acting techniques and influence on 20th-century theatre.
Overview of Meyerhold’s major achievements in the theatre – useful for senior students.
Excellent essay carefully analysing Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics, his intentions and productions. Comprehensive coverage in easy-to-understand language. Great for senior theatre students.
Clear explanation of the purpose of function of biomechanics in actor training programs.
Useful outline of Meyerhold’s system and its links to Soviet-Marxist philosophy. Includes quotes from authors and academics.
Excellent research essay on the very beginnings of Meyerhold’s new actor training system, including several rare archival photographs of early poses.
Brief Wikipedia entry on Meyerhold’s system of biomechanics for the theatre.
Scholarly essay outlining Meyerhold’s system.
A personal reflection on working with biomechanics in actor training.
Brief entry on this highly physical form of theatre from Encyclopaedia Britannica.
A handy collection of articles from across the web, now gone, discussing this form of actor training.
A curated collection of resources from across the web on physical theatre.
A series of video resources on biomechanics explained.
University student essay on the importance of Meyerhold’s teachings on physical theatre.
Helpful article on the history of the theatrical methods of Vsevolod Meyerhold.
A brief overview of the nature of biomechanics from Wikipedia.
Excellent academic article on Meyerhold’s biomechanics and its links to the constructivist movement at that time.
1981 New York Times article discussing Meyerhold’s interest in dance, its influence on biomechanics, and the recreation of the constructivist set for The Magnanimous Cuckold at the Guggenheim Museum.
Academic thesis on the origins of biomechanics in Meyerhold’s work and the ability to use this form of movement to motion capture acting for film.
The thesis titled Towards a 20th Century History of Relationships between Theatre and Neuroscience discusses movement, physiology and Meyerhold.
An academic paper with three exercises using a stick and one etude exercise for biomechanics training.
A fantastic article from Teaching Theatre magazine is about a teacher’s regular use of biomechanics exercises in the classroom as a way of getting students away from scripts to better understand the physical nature of their characters.
A detailed description of Meyerhold’s career and theatre productions in a social and political context. Includes numerous biomechanics exercises suitable for students.
Key terminology for Meyerhold’s biomechanics and etudes.
Introduction to this form of actor training pitched at students, from the New South Wales Department of Education.
Background to Meyerhold and biomechanics includes a series of exercises suitable for students (p.39 onwards).