The Director's Prism

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3357-0

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3356-3

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3355-6
Publication Date
August 2016
Page Count
344 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

The Director's Prism

E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Russian Theatrical Avant-Garde
Dassia N. Posner

The Director's Prism investigates how and why three of Russia's most innovative directors— Vsevolod Meyerhold, Alexander Tairov, and Sergei Eisenstein—used the fantastical tales of German Romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann to reinvent the rules of theatrical practice. Because the rise of the director and the Russian cult of Hoffmann closely coincided, Posner argues, many characteristics we associate with avant-garde theater—subjective perspective, breaking through the fourth wall, activating the spectator as a co-creator—become uniquely legible in the context of this engagement. Posner examines the artistic poetics of Meyerhold's grotesque, Tairov's mime-drama, and Eisenstein's theatrical attraction through production analyses, based on extensive archival research, that challenge the notion of theater as a mirror to life, instead viewing the director as a prism through whom life is refracted. A resource for scholars and practitioners alike, this groundbreaking study provides a fresh, provocative perspective on experimental theater, intercultural borrowings, and the nature of the creative process.

Illustrating cutting-edge developments in the evolution of the book, Northwestern University Press is pleased to announce the publication of The Director's Prism on Fulcrum. Combining a traditional print monograph with an innovative web-based archive of digitally-enriched source materials, Fulcrum is a publishing platform that helps publishers present the full richness of their authors' research outputs in a durable, discoverable, and flexible form. 

To view the source materials from The Director's Prism and learn more about the project, go to the Fulcrum website at

About the Author

DASSIA N. POSNER is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University.

“Posner explores the many ways in which Hoffmann’s literary fantasies prompted a theatrical revolution in Russia during the first decades of the twentieth century. Through close analyses of archives and directorial promptbooks, she illustrates the rich lines of influence among three of Russia’s most important avant-garde directors.” —Sharon Marie Carnicke, author of Stanislavsky in Focus

"In The Director’s Prism, Dassia Posner... not only authoritatively establishes Hoffman’s importance but also offers an insightful account of the complex webs of innovation and inspiration at the heart of the Russian and early Soviet theatrical avant-garde. The Director’s Prism convincingly establishes E. T. A. Hoffmann’s poetics as a central component of Russian modernist aesthetics, offering clear evidence for its place in the work of each of the directors in question, bridging the divide between pre- and post-revolutionary work. While the book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Russian theatrical avant-garde, Posner’s theorization of the concept of refraction makes it quite valuable for anyone interested in questions of artistic influence—especially as these are problematized by Modernism’s thirst for innovation." —Slavic and East European Journal

“The Director’s Prism is a splendid contribution to the history of Russian theater and more broadly to European and world theatrical and cultural history, combining expertise in various fields rarely found in a single scholar.” —Harlow Robinson, author of Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians: Biography of an Image

“Dassia Posner’s eloquently written book demonstrates originality and impressive research. It will be useful to a wide range of audiences, including academics and students whose research involves Russian theatre, European modernism, Russian modernist directors and the theater of the grotesque.” —Julia Listengarten, author of Russian Tragifarce: Its Cultural and Political Roots