About Michael Chekhov

Michael Chekhov (1891 – 1955), nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov, is recognized as one of the greatest actors of the 20th century. In 1911, the young Chekhov auditioned for Constantine Stanislavsky and was invited to join the First Studio of the Moscow Art Theater. He worked with and was taught by Stanislavsky, Leopold Sulerzhitsky and Yevgeny Vakhtangov among others. Chekhov had a great talent for characterization and was a devoted observer of the creative process. Stanislavsky referred to him as his most brilliant student. When the First Studio became the Second Moscow Art Theatre, Stanislavsky invited Chekhov to become its director. Stanislavsky once told the English director Gordon Craig that if Craig wanted to know about his method, he should watch Michael Chekhov perform.

At the Moscow Art Theatre, the collaboration between Stanislavsky, Vakhtangov, Meyerhold and Chekhov led to a theater that was bold, expressive and imaginative. In their work they searched for objective principles that would lead to inspired acting. This investigation led Michael Chekhov to develop his psychophysical acting technique, incorporating the imagination and body as well as the intellect. Chekhov was warned to leave Russia at the height of his acting and directing career. His productions were too experimental for the Soviet regime and were labeled “alien and reactionary”. In 1928 Chekhov left Russia, never to return. He spent seven years in Europe acting and teaching as he moved from Germany, to France, to Latvia and Lithuania. He joined the Moscow Art Players, a company of Russian émigré actors who performed in the United States in 1935. Playing the role of Khlestakov in Gogol’s “The Inspector General’ to critical acclaim at New York City’s Majestic Theater, he was seen by Beatrice Straight who, in 1936, invited Chekhov to establish his Theater Studio at Dartington Hall in England.

In 1938, the threat of war with Germany caused the relocation of Chekhov’s Theater Studio to Ridgefield, Connecticut with George Shdanoff in the position of Associate Director. A professional theater company with a permanent acting company was formed called ‘The Chekhov Theatre Players’. They appeared on Broadway and toured to universities and colleges across America. In l942, the Studio was forced to disband because it lost its male members to the draft. Chekhov moved to Hollywood, California where he became an acting coach to the stars, acted in many films, published his book, To the Actor, and taught a group called The Drama Society. Some of the actors who studied with Chekhov in Hollywood were: Ingrid Bergman, Lloyd Bridges, Jack Colvin, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Joanna Merlin, Marilyn Monroe, Patricia Neal, Jack Palance, Gregory Peck, Mala Powers, Anthony Quinn, and Yul Brynner. Michael Chekhov died in Hollywood, California in 1955, before his work became widely known.

For a biographical understanding of Chekhov’s life and work MICHA recommends:

The Path of the Actor by Michael Chekhov, edited by Andrei Kirillov and Bella Merlin

Michael Chekhov by Franc Chamberlain

Michael Chekhov as actor, director and teacher in the West: From Moscow to Los Angeles by Liisa Byckling

 Bibliography of Chekhov’s books and related materials