The Studio without Dmitry Brusnikin: our memories of the great director and teacher

The Studio without Dmitry Brusnikin: our memories of the great director and teacher
On August 9, it was announced that Dmitry Brusnikin had died. Brusnikin, actor and director, head of the Praktika Theatre, died from heart failure at the age of 60. Find out more about his roles, work as a director, his plays and students in this article.

It is not an overstatement to say that Dmitry Brusnikin is known all across Russia. TV viewers remember him in Russian TV shows like St. Petersburg Mysteries and Turetsky March, and theatre goers associate his name with experimentation. In addition, the Dmitry Brusnikin Studio, which brings together his students from the Moscow Art Theatre School, produced one of the most talked about projects in the Russian theatre world in years, bringing a completely new audience to theatres.

It all started with Chekhov

Dmitry Brusnikin was born in Potsdam into the family of a military man. During his time at school he had to transfer from one school to another about a dozen times — and every time he needed to find new friends and get used to new conditions. He learned to accept change and make the best of it. He did not know then how useful these skills would be when he became the head of one of Moscow’s most famous theatres and the teacher of many talented actresses and actors.

At first Dmitry Brusnikin was going to dedicate his life to a profession which, as he was constantly told, would always earn him a living, and in 1973, he entered the Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology in Zelenograd. That’s where his older brother was studying. However, his intuition had other ideas. This hunch was proven correct a year later when he met the director and the cast of the local National Theatre.

His new bohemian acquaintances were very different from the people Brusnikin was used to seeing in his life, mostly his father’s friends and his fellow soldiers, pragmatic and strict people. The theatre showed him something new, and when he started performing on stage himself, he realized that he finally found what he had been looking for.

In 1976, Dmitry Brusnikin and his friends, also aspiring actors, moved to Moscow to study under the teacher and actor Viktor Korshunov. He didn’t have any particular objectives — he just wanted to have fun and hang around with his friends. But Korshunov needed to take just one look to realize that Brusnikin was meant to be a star and his talent couldn’t be overlooked. He asked Brusnikin to read something aloud alongside with others given that he was already there. Brusnikin read an excerpt from Chekhov, his favorite author. Korshunov was impressed, and so was Brusnikin: he hadn’t expected so much courage and such a performance from himself.

“You should forget about your technical education,” said the teacher. There was no doubt for Brusnikin: the first thing he did on returning home was take an academic leave.

Efremov’s course and first roles

Stage setting, equipment, repair of sets and mechanisms — this is what constituted the young man’s work at the National Film Actors' Theatre (then National Film Actors’ Theatre and Studio) when he got there in 1977. At the time, he was just a stagehand. However, Brusnikin didn’t complain: first, he could attend plays for free, second, he could learn from theatre professionals at rehearsals for free, and third, he could make useful contacts and wait in the wings.

A year later, he decided this was not enough, he was afraid of getting stuck in this technical job and made up his mind to go to a theatre school. He applied to the Mikhail Schepkin and Boris Schukins Theatre Schools, and the Moscow Art Theatre School. The admission boards liked the talented young man just as much as Viktor Korshunov, and they were all interested in accepting him. He chose the Moscow Art Theatre School where Oleg Efremov who was already famous across the USSR, was enrolling students.

The first year was the happiest time. Brusnikin not only started studying the basics of his new profession, but also fell deeply in love with his classmate and his future wife Marina Sychyova. He also became friends with Roman Kozak.

In his second year, the young actor started performing on stage. He played the revolutionary Alexandr Ulyanov in Moscow Art Theatre play The Path, which was his first significant role. The rush of adrenaline before going on stage had a magical effect on him, and the applause threw him in ecstasy which again convinced Brusnikin that he had made the right choice.

How to discover stars

After finishing the course, Dmitry Brusnikin came to an understanding: he was ready to share his knowledge with others. What’s more, he was enlisted into the Moscow Art Theatre’s company which meant that he could combine practice (for himself) and theory (for his students). As a teacher he enrolled his own students in 1993, along with fellow teacher Roman Kozak. His graduates include Darya Moroz, Alexandra Ursulyak and Sergei Lazarev. Most of these people are very popular today.

Both his audience and his students adored him. The former loved his amazing performances in plays, such as Evgeny Bazarov, Wagon and Uncle Vanya, and the latter admired his patience and his talent at explaining things in a lively, clear way and with a sense of humour. In 2006, Brusnikin became a professor at the Moscow Art Theatre School.

Brusnikin as an actor

Brusnikin was a film actor as well: he played Red Army soldier Nikitin in the movie Detachment (1984) by Alexey Simonov, then he acted in Answering the Call of the Heart, The Champions and The Ice Hole.

After his playing Count Dmitry Shadursky (St. Peterburg Mysteries), people started recognising him on the streets. The actor himself didn’t like this character at first as he was used to playing other, more classical types of roles in the theatre.

Turetsky’s March, Law and Order, and Chief made him even more famous. In 2009, he was awarded the title of the Honored Artist of the Russian Federation.

Brusnikin as a director

Brusnikin enjoyed not only acting but directing plays as well. In 1990, he directed Moscow Art Theatre’s Cancer Ward based on Solzhenitsyn’s novel, then Demons based on the Dostoevsky novel, and the play called Platonov where he also played the main character. At the Chelovek Theatre he worked on a production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre – on a production of Fortinbras Becomes a Drunkard based on the play by Tadeusz Glavatsky. These were just a few of his projects as a director.

When Brusnikin was invited to become a film director, he couldn’t say no. He directed such movies and TV shows as Chekhov and Co., Detectives, Law and Order: Division of Field Investigation, Wife Available, Bloodhound, and Bloodhound 2. He also acted in many of these movies.

From Chelovek to Praktika

Brusnikin never stopped teaching. Although he loved this work with all his heart. It was very hard, but his efforts paid off. The Dmitry Brusnikin Studio was based on the teaching programme at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Three years ago, the whole troupe was accepted to the Chelovek Theatre, and Brusnikin became deputy artistic director of this theatre.

Last year, the studio actors became part of the Praktika Theatre troupe. In May 2018, Brusnikin became the theatre’s artistic director. He had many plans and talked a lot about them. New productions, collaborations with other studios — the plans he wanted to bring to life would be enough for several lives.

Brusnikin died on August 9. Today the theatre website has substituted the news section with a short statement: “Dmitry Brusnikin has passed away. He was our leader, our artistic director. We do not know how to talk about this, or how to write about it…”

News conference at the Praktika Theatre. 2018