But the rest of us gradu ally came round to the idea. We could see the glare of the foot lights in our imagin a tion. Very soon the showing seemed attract ive, useful, almost vital. Our hearts beat faster at the thought of it. At first Paul Shustov, Leo Pushchin and I were very moder ate in our ambi-
tions. We thought of short sketches and frothy little comed ies. We thought that was all we could handle. But all round us the names of great Russian writers – Gogol, Ostrovski, Chekhov – and then of masters of world literat ure were being bandied about more and more confid ently, so that almost before we knew it, moder a tion was far behind us. Now we hankered after the Romantics, some thing in costume and verse. I was tempted by the role of Mozart in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri and Leo by Salieri. Pasha thought he might try Schiller’s Don Carlos. Then we started talking about Shakespeare and I opted for Othello.1 I settled for him because I didn’t have a copy of Pushkin at home, but I did have a Shakespeare. I was gripped with such a fever for work, such a need to get busy right away, I couldn’t waste time looking for a book. Pasha said he would play Iago. Today we were also told that the first rehearsal had been fixed for
tomor row. As soon as I got home, I shut myself in my room, settled back on the sofa,
opened my book rever en tially and began to read. But by page two I felt I just had to start acting. I couldn’t help myself. My legs, my hands, my face began to move of their own accord. I had to declaim the lines. And suddenly, there, in my hands, was a large ivory paper-knife which I stuck in my belt to look like a dagger. A towel was trans formed into a turban and the multi-coloured cord from the window-curtains served as a baldric. I fash ioned a robe and a mantle out of sheets and a blanket. An umbrella became a scim itar. But I didn’t have a shield. Then I remembered that next door, in the dining room, behind the cupboard there was a large tray that could serve me as a shield. The moment for battle had come. Thus armed, I felt like a proud, majestic, hand some warrior. But I looked
modern, smooth and polished. But Othello is African! There has to be something of the tiger about him. I went through a whole series of exer cises to try and discover the char ac ter istic move ment of a tiger. I prowled around the room, skil fully with slink ing steps, between the gaps in the furniture, hiding behind the cupboard, stalk ing my prey. In a single bound, I sprang from cover to fall upon my imagin ary enemy, repres en ted by a large cushion. I smothered it ‘like a tiger’ and crushed it beneath me. Then the cushion became my Desdemona. I embraced her passion ately, kissed her hand,
which I had fash ioned out of a corner of the cushion, then contemp tu ously flung her away, embraced her again, then strangled her and wept over her corpse. Some moments weren’t at all bad. I worked for five hours without noti cing. That’s not some thing you do
because you’re forced to! In moments of artistic inspir a tion, hours seem like minutes. This was clear proof that the mood I had exper i enced was indeed genuine inspir a tion! Before taking off my costume, I took advant age of the fact that every one
in the apart ment was asleep and slipped out into the empty hall where there was a large mirror. I switched on the light and took a look at myself. What I saw was not at all what I had expec ted. The poses and gestures I had worked out didn’t look at all like what I had imagined in my head. The mirror revealed an angu lar ity and an ugli ness of line in my body that I never knew I had. I was so disap poin ted my energy evap or ated.