I am Alisa Ivanova, Acting Teacher and Stage Director at St. Petersburg State Institute of Scenic Arts, one of the oldest and prestige Russian theatre schools.
I love travelling and teaching, so besides Russia, I staged and taught Acting in Austria, China, Great Britain, Denmark, Latvia, Peru, USA, and currently keep doing that.
My key interest is special creative state of mind which let actors to be totally authentic on stage. Stanislavsky named that condition «the actors’ paradise». For more than twenty years I look for the practical tools to let the actor to get into the «paradise».
In my search I combine the concepts of Stanislavsky, practices of M. Chekhov’s Method, discoveries of N. Demidov. The latter is my favorite now. Actually this web is mainly devoted to Demidov and his system of Acting. Following the Demidov’s ideas I created the training «The Magic of Acting» which gives actors a chance to slide into mysterious world of the character’s life.
Nikolai Demidov, his life and heritage
Written by Andrei Malaev-Babel
In 1884, Nikolai Demidov was born in the town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, the
son of Vasily Demidov – a playwright, respected by Alexandr Ostrovsky, and an
artistic director and founder of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk Popular Theater. From
an early age, Nikolai was immersed in theater life.
As a child, Demidov suffered from debilitating illness that confined him
to a wheelchair. The boy attempted suicide, yet, as a result of the mysterious
coincidence (or perhaps the inevitability of fate), he emerged out of the ordeal
completely unharmed. Demidov searched for a way out of his seemingly hopeless situation and developed his own set of gymnastic exercises, the regular use
of which not only led to his recovery but, subsequently, to European records in
weightlifting. Having successfully completed high school, Demidov enrolled in
1907 in the Moscow University’s School of Medicine, where he concentrated on
Beginning in his early years, Demidov exhibited unorthodox thinking and
organizational skills, as well as the ability to see things from an unusual perspective. At the age of twenty, Demidov established an Ivanovo-Voznesensk branch
of the St Petersburg Athletic Society. There he developed and successfully applied
his first program of individualized physical and spiritual training for athletes.
Friendship with Stanislavski’s closest associate, Leopold Sulerzhitsky, led to
Demidov’s introduction to Stanislavski in 1907. Their acquaintance developed
into a close collaboration that lasted for more than thirty years.
After graduating from the university in 1913, Demidov started practicing
at the Pletnyov Clinic in Moscow, specializing in psychiatry. He studied yoga
and homeopathy. The legendary Russian doctor Pyotr Badmaev introduced
Demidov to Tibetan medicine. It is Demidov who is responsible for the introduction of yoga principles to the teachings of Stanislavski.
Demidov was present at the birth, formation and development of the
System. He assisted Stanislavski in gathering and organizing scientific data and
analyzing the results of his experimentation and research. As early as 1911,
Demidov supplied Stanislavski with detailed accounts of his own experiments
that he conducted with his brother Konstantin, a noted actor. These original
experiments in the application of yoga and other spiritual teachings to acting
established the foundation of the Demidov School. They are featured in the
fifth and final book of the Demidov heritage, dedicated to the so-called “higher
aerobatics.” Among other discoveries Demidov shared with Stanislavski in the
early 1910s are the techniques of preserving freshness and spontaneity in the
actor’s speech and its internal imagery, as well as discoveries on the workings of
the creative subconscious.
Stanislavski had grown to appreciate Demidov’s many unique gifts: his
knowledge – since childhood – of the theater world, his diverse yet fundamental education, his scientific and philosophical mind. Demidov’s methodical
thinking, as well as his bright and vivid imagination, coupled with his gifts for
research and teaching, have proven quite useful to Stanislavski’s experimentation. In 1911, Demidov began working with Stanislavski as his assistant, and in
1919, at the insistence of Stanislavski, he left the medical profession and devoted
himself to the theater.
In 1926, Stanislavski gave the following reference to Demidov:
I have known Nikolai Demidov for 15 years. This is a selfless enthusiast, and
a man full of genuine love and dedication to the art. From the time we met,
he became so interested in theater and, in particular, the internal (psychological) acting technique, that he entirely devoted himself to art. All these years,
he has been helping me develop this rich and complex aspect of the actor’s
work. At the moment, I think, he is one of the few who knows the “system”
in theory and practice. He has spent four years in my studio as an opera director and teacher. For two years, he led the Moscow Art Theater School2
(after Sulerzhitsky and Vakhtangov), cultivating actors and conducting classes in the
“system.” (Demidov 2009: 460)
Demidov was also one of the first three original teachers (next to Sulerzhitsky and
Vakhtangov) of the Stanislavski system, trained and recognized by Stanislavski
himself. The results Demidov achieved with the Moscow Art Theater students
made Stanislavski (1999: 167) proclaim, “Our school, prepared by Demidov,
must carry God in it.”
The other head of the Moscow Art Theater, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, also expressed his views on the significance of Demidov and his
teachings. In 1929, Nemirovich wrote:
Everything we have discovered at the Moscow Art Theater, has been broadly
developed in Demidov’s teachings. Besides, having used our observations and
discoveries as his foundation, Demidov, nevertheless, did not restrict himself to
mere development and improvement of what he received at the MAT; he has
been constantly moving forward, and he still does, finding things new – things
that will enrich the theater schools of the future and the very science and theory
of the psychology of the creative process. (Demidov 2009: 462)
Moscow Kamerny Theater’s artistic director Alexander Tairov referred to
Demidov as a “rare teacher-pedagogue, capable of awakening love toward true
art within the actor and teaching the actors genuine, virtuoso inner technique”
(Demidov 2009: 461).
The Demidov legacy was clearly established in 1910, when he began his
experiments in the heightened spheres of the actors’ creativity. However, the
foundation of the Demidov School, its basics, had to wait for over a decade.
In 1922, while in his tenure as the head of the Moscow Art Theater School,
Demidov developed a new type of stage études. By the early 1930s, along with
his students, he had an opportunity to test the new technique with several groups
of young actors. Stanislavski, when presented with the results of a two-month
Demidov training course, asked Demidov to serve as an editor of his book, An
Under Demidov’s influence, Stanislavski significantly reworked his book,
most notably adding the last chapter, “The Subconscious and the Actor’s Creative
State.” However, failing health and other external circumstances interfered with
Stanislavski’s rewrites. Growing impatient with Demidov’s perfectionism and
high demands, Stanislavski completed his book with another editor. In the introduction to An Actor’s Work, Stanislavski wrote:
N.V. Demidov helped me tremendously both in implementing the “system”
and in creating this book. He gave me valuable suggestions, materials, examples; he shared with me his opinions on the book and exposed my mistakes.
(Stanislavski 1954: 8)
In the 1930s, Demidov began to put his own discoveries into writing. At the
time of Demidov’s death in 1953, his literary heritage consisted of five unpublished books: The Art of the Actor – Its Present and Future; Actor Types; The Art of
Living Onstage; Creative Artistic Process Onstage; and The Psycho-technique of the
Affective Actor [Tragedian].
In addition to working on his five books, Demidov remained one of
Moscow’s most popular acting teachers. Between the early 1920s and early
1940s, he served as a lead teacher and director at prominent institutions such
as Bolshoi Theater Opera Studio, Stanislavski Opera Studio, Moscow Kamerny
Theater and its school, Moscow Conservatory, Nemirovich-Danchenko Music
Theater, Stanislavski Opera Theater, Maly Theater’s Shchepkin School and
Glazynov Music School.
In 1941, Demidov combined two groups of his own students (from the
Maly Theater School and Glazynov Music School) to stage a performance of
Gorky’s play, The Last Ones. The triumphant premiere, promising the creation of
a new theater company, took place on June 21, 1941 – one day before the Soviet
Union entered the Second World War.
Despite the success of the Gorky play, and Stanislavski’s recognition of
the Demidov School, Demidov’s fate in Soviet Russia was tragic, following Stanislavski’s death and the country’s entry into the Second World War.
Stanislavski’s disciples, those in the positions of power, felt threatened by
Demidov’s independence and his innovations, which seemingly contradicted
the Stanislavski System. They used their authority to get Demidov fired from
the numerous Moscow theaters and schools where he directed and taught, and
they succeeded in erasing Demidov’s name from the history of Russian theater
for over sixty years.
During the Second World War, Demidov evacuated from Moscow to the
Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, where he became the artistic director
of the National Finnish Theater. It is there that Demidov created his directorial masterpiece – Nora, based on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. After a brief return to
Moscow, from 1945 to 1946, Demidov once again was forced into exile to the
north, to Sakhalin Island. Demidov’s health could not withstand the harsh conditions of the far north, and in 1948 he left Sakhalin for Buryat-Mongol Soviet
Republic, where he headed the National Buryat-Mongol Theater and its school,
as well as the Buryat-Mongol School of Musical Theater.
Demidov’s health continued to deteriorate, and in 1949 he was forced to
return to Moscow. Bedridden, he continued to work on his manuscripts, while
making futile attempts to publish at least one of his five books – The Art of Living
Onstage. Nikolai Demidov died in Moscow on September 8, 1953, leaving it to
his disciples, present and future, to publish his books and to carry forward his
Among Demidov’s students and followers are some of the leading actors,
teachers and scholars of the twentieth-century Russian theater, such as Nikolai
Plotnikov (Vakhtangov Theater), Boris Livanov (Moscow Art Theater) and
Maria Knebel (GITIS). The first abridged edition of Demidov’s manual, The
Art of Living Onstage, appeared in 1965, during the period of Khrushchev’s
“thaw.” It was secretly edited by Demidov’s assistant Vladimir Bogachov and
introduced by Livanov and Knebel. The publication of the near-complete fourvolume Demidov heritage, however, became possible only due to the efforts
of Demidov’s close student, and one of St Petersburg’s leading actors, Oleg
Okulevich, and his wife – noted St Petersburg scholar Dr Margarita Laskina.
The publication of Nikolai Demidov’s heritage, edited by Laskina, took place
in St Petersburg between 2004 and 2009. With this publication, the theatrical
community in Russia has become aware of Demidov’s crucial contribution to
the art of theater and of the groundbreaking nature of his School.