The Director's Prism

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3357-0

Cloth Text – $99.95

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

Finalist, 2017 Theatre Library Association George Freedley Memorial Award
Shortlist, 2019 Prague Quadrennial Best Scenography and Design Publication Award

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
"The Director’s Prism takes as its starting point the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann and his influence . . . Yet, the work is much more than that. Take the sections on Hoffmann’s influence away and this book would still have meaning and add new knowledge. Posner encourages us, like the directors that she examines, to see the role of theatricality in theatre. She creates an alternative lens through which we can examine how directors interpret text . . . As a director, the prism lens through which Posner shines a directorial light is both useful and meaningful: it also enables a clear frame in which we are able to re-examine these practitioners . . . Posner’s ability to draw on a variety of sources including promptbooks, diaries, reviews, government documents, and letters lies at the heart of the book’s strength. In a time where our assumptions are shifting in relation to Russian theatre practice, The Director’s Prism should be recommended reading for all." —Stanislavski Studies
“In her engrossing, impressively researched, and highly readable study . . . Dassia N. Posner . . . remind[s] readers . . . that Stanislavski was only one point of reference and that the vast diversity of the Russian stage offered varied inspirations . . . For practicing stage artists, students of modern theatre, and scholars, Posner’s The Director’s Prism, supported by a foundation of her wide-ranging research and piercing analysis, reveals the evolving role of the modern director, Russian style. Emphasis on the value of cross-cultural influences . . . and the complexity of the creative process, enlivens a book certain to inspire further experimentation and fresh research into a theatrical culture whose unique and astonishing diversity is, in itself, inspiring.” —Comparative Drama
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
The Director’s Prism is a work—at once multilayered and highly focused—about making theatre and making meaning . . . Posner expands and revitalizes our notions of three artists whose work remains poorly understood, due in large measure to 'the violent erasure of Meyerhold, the systematic discrediting of Tairov, and the periodic creative silencing of Eisenstein' and the resultant 'gaps and distortion in our understanding of their legacies.' . . . Her monograph has multiple strengths . . . while maintaining a scholar’s rigor throughout, the book has great value for both undergraduate and graduate level teaching.” —TDR: The Drama Review
"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 . . . 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

"Provocative... Posner’s book on the refraction of the ‘fantastical Romantic Hoffman’, informed by a depth of understanding of the context of revolutionary Russia and by meticulous original research, makes a valuable contribution to theatre history and to contemporary theatre study and practice." —Theatre Research International
“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

". . . highly original and successful . . . a truly exceptional source for theatre scholars and practitioners alike." —Theatre Survey