Somehow I asked Maria Osipovna Knebel to read a part of these notes. Joking, she said that she only objected to one page. On that page I had described how, having argued with some actor, I gave him his directions via Maria Osipovna. Meanwhile, Ms. Knebel was my chief director.
“Is it possible,” she said, laughing, “that all you remember about me is that I was a good messenger?” But I’m not writing a memoir and, I admit, don’t even like to read them; I decided to write, after all, a “professional” book. And to not write anything about Knebel, except for that one page – that’s just ridiculous. All that so-called professionalism, you could say, came from her. But forget about professionalism. I remember a completely different side of our work– an ostensibly “unprofessional" side. I was then working in a small theatre, where the director was a single famous actor. When people showed him a scene, he would remain silent for ten minutes after the end of the showing, scaring everyone with a weighty pause, and then would declaim something that, compared to that silence, was surprisingly meaningless. Then I would tell myself: now remember, please, one simple rule for your entire life: don’t make a self-important face when you don’t have anything to say; and if you do indeed make such a face, then you’d better express some thought or another.
But why bring up Knebel here, you ask? Because in a different theatre – of which she was already the artistic director – whenever she was shown something, the final sentence of the excerpt or show wasn’t even finished when Knebel’s voice rang out, telling us what she did and didn’t like. And a beautiful analysis followed, before which really did come, let’s suppose, a very considerable and meaningful face. But it seemed to me that Maria Osipovna was even in childhood never taught to make such meaningful faces. A loaded pause after a showing probably seemed tactless to her. For everyone knows what it means to show your work to someone else,but not everyone wants to think about it when the conversation isn’t specifically about him.
It’s apparent that Maria Osipovna was raised otherwise. And this upbringing was passed on to her students, together with the knowledge of what professionalism means. But my God, how much more intelligent and subtle this professionalism turned out to be. Maria Osipovna specifically didn’t teach that. She was elegant in and of herself, and this elegance of hers infected her students no less than her beautiful lessons in her craft.