Riga Through the EYES OF CHEKHOV’S

Theatrical adventure "Riga - Hollywood Bridge"

GET TO KNOW Mikhail Chekhov

The outstanding Russian actor, director and teacher Mikhail (Michael) Chekhov (1891-1955), a nephew of the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, is rightfully considered to be one of the founders of the Hollywood acting school: among his students there were Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner and many other movie stars. The influence of M. Chekhov can be seen in Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Depp’s manner of acting; Leonardo DiCaprio also recognizes M. Chekhov as his teacher. In the United States, M. Chekhov’s literary works have become textbooks for actors, and many Oscar-winning celebrities admit they studied his technique – the very technique that M. Chekhov began to structure and finalize in Riga, where he arrived on February 28, 1932, and then staged a number of plays, and also trained Latvian artists.

In his book “The Path of the Actor”, M. Chekhov remembers Riga with great fondness. Here he spent two happy years, making many friends and gaining followers. Furthermore, it was in this city that M. Chekhov’s dream to open his own theatre school finally came true. The premises for classes were provided by the Latvian Conservatory, there were almost 60 students, including accomplished artists, in particular ones from the Latvian National Theatre and Russian Drama Theatre (the former name of  Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre).

Chekhov’s time in Riga came to an end in 1934, when he ran into problems with extending his permit to stay in Latvia. Besides, M. Chekhov felt exhausted after working hard in Riga and also in Kaunas (Lithuania), and he needed a vacation. At the end of August 1934, M. Chekhov and his wife left for Italy, and the next “working” stop in his career was the Chekhov Theatre Studio in Dartington Hall, Great Britain. After guest performances in New York in 1935, M. Chekhov was offered to stay in the United States, but the actual reason, why he moved across the ocean, was the approach of World War II.

Chekhov arrived in Hollywood in 1943, when many young actors from his theatre were drafted into the army. There he found new students and began filming. Chekhov’s Holywood career reached its peak in 1945, when he earned an Oscar nomination for his role of psychiatrist Alexander Brulov in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Spellbound”.

Chekhov wrote from the United States, “Young Latvian actors I trained remain there in Riga. I have not lost touch with them. They write letters to me, and I experience their success with them. And even though Riga is far away, on the other side of the ocean, I still felt drawn to it.”

Today, Mikhail Chekhov’s name is widely respected by theatre and film professionals in Europe, the United States and Russia. There are universities that offer acting courses, based on Chekhov’s technique, theatres, studios and associations are being set up to work in accordance with Chekhov’s method. However, M. Chekhov remains little-known beyond the professional circle, including in Latvia. Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre wishes residents and guests of Riga would remember this amazing person, and one of the key components of the Theatre’s strategy in this regard is the interactive educational and entertaining project “Riga – Hollywood Bridge”, which includes the tour “Riga Through the Eyes of Chekhov’s”, tour of the Theatre, a short play about Mikhail Chekhov, and a brief actor training, based on M. Chekhov’s technique.

Find out more about Mikhail Chekhov on the website of Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre: www.mct.lv.

Take a part in interactive walk and get to know Mikhail Chekhov's favorite places in Riga.

The New Riga Theatre, before – The former building of the Daile Theatre

The New Riga Theatre, before –
The former building of the Daile Theatre

Private theatres (for instance, Smiļģis’ Theatre) experiment boldly and seek new ways of acting and staging.” (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Before leaving Riga in 1934, Mikhail Chekhov sent a very warm, heartfelt appreciation letter to Eduards Smiļģis. Even though no documents are available now to confirm this hypothesis, researchers still believe the two theatre visionaries were planning some joint creative project that, unfortunately, was not destined to come into being.

At that time (since opening on November 19, 1920), the Daile Theatre was housed in the building, designed by the architect Edmund von Trompowsky and constructed in 1901 for the Craftsmen Relief Society House. Later on, the interior was reconstructed, first to house a cinema, then a theatre.

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The area, enclosed by Brīvības Street, Tērbatas Street and Elizabetes Street Small Vērmane Garden and its restaurant

The area, enclosed by Brīvības Street, Tērbatas Street and Elizabetes Street
Small Vērmane Garden and its restaurant

Having lived for so many years in extremely modest circumstances in Russia without the right to leave, having forgotten that restaurants, dinner jackets, balls and parties ever existed and being no longer accustomed to convivial idling, I was suddenly confronted with all this when I was ‘abroad’ in the clean, cosy and lively city of Riga. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

At the beginning of the 19th century, the area was meant to be used for holding fairs and arranging a small city garden. In 1851, a monument to Governor-General of Riga, Marquis Filippo Paulucci, was erected in the garden. The inscription on the stele was extremely laconic, “In memory of October 23, 1812” – the day of Paulucci’s arrival in Riga.

At first, a pavilion was set up in the garden to sell refreshments and pastries, then beer became the highlight of the place, and the restaurant began to gain popularity, while successive tenants continued constructing and reconstructing the building. By 1906, it evolved into an attractive Swiss-style construction with a tower, terraces and stairs, designed by the architect Reinhold Schmaeling. The restaurant had its own orchestra and exhibition venue, while the garden, which had long been called Trilitch’s Garden (after the name of the first tenant), changed its name to Small Vērmane Garden. After World War I, the restaurant was rebuilt again, and in the 1930s, it acquired stained-glass lamp shades, depicting the celebrations of Lígo, i.e. the Summer Solstice Fest (designed by the artist Jēkabs Šķērstiņš) as by that time this place had become immensely popular with Latvians.

The restaurant was demolished in the late 1950s, when the building of the Cabinet of Ministers was being completed. Today, a copy of the monument to Marquis Paulucci can be found in Vērmane Garden.

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The house at 21-5 Merķeļa Street Where Mikhail Chekhov used to live

The house at 21-5 Merķeļa Street
Where Mikhail Chekhov used to live

My spirits revived. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Mikhail Chekhov and his wife Xenia managed to rent a flat not far from both the theatres he worked at: the Russian Drama Theatre and Latvian National Theatre. The windows overlooked the domes of the Nativity Cathedral; the best parks of the city were located nearby – it is not a coincidence that Merķeļa Street, formed in 1860, was originally called High Park Street. In 1885, it was renamed Marquis Paulucci Street, and during Chekhov’s first guest appearance in Riga in 1922, the Russian Drama Theatre’s event posters still gave the Theatre’s address as 13 Paulucci Street. In 1923, the street was named after the writer and activist Garlieb Merkel.

Building No. 21 was put up in 1911 by the architect Herberts Tīmers.

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13 Merķeļa Street The Riga Latvian Society House

13 Merķeļa Street
The Riga Latvian Society House

A successful period began. An invitation came from Riga for me to tour in the role of Khlestakov. I read the letter from the director of the Russian Drama Theatre, and I couldnt believe it. Indeed, it was only when I was in the railway carriage (catching up with my own being, which had long since arrived in Riga and was impatiently awaiting its physical double there) that I believed, what was happening, and was filled with joy. (…) I received an offer of permanent work as a director and actor from the managers of the Latvian State Theatre and the Russian Drama Theatre. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

The Riga Latvian Society House, as Mikhail Chekhov saw it and as we see it today, was built in 1909 on the site of the first building that had burned down. The new building was designed by the architects Eižens Laube and Ernests Pole. The Russian Drama Theatre began renting premises in the building in 1921, and the actor and director Mikhail Muratov, who was the Theatre’s artistic director at the time, reconstructed the auditorium at his own expense.

This is where Mikhail Chekhov performed in 1922 and 1931 and worked from 1932 to 1934, staging “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare, in which he played Malvolio, and “The Village of Stepanchikovo” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, where he played Foma Opiskin. He also played Freser in the play “The Flood” by Johan Henning Berger.

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4 Merķeļa Street The Riga Circus

4 Merķeļa Street
The Riga Circus

Even the circus in Riga is one of the best. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Mikhail Chekhov had a high opinion of not only the audiences in Riga, but also the cultural life of the capital of Latvia, including the quality of circus art.

The first touring circus troupes came to Riga at the end of the 18th century, and the first temporary wooden circus building was constructed in 1864 in Small Vērmane Garden (now the site of the Supreme Court and part of the current Cabinet of Ministers building), where European troupes performed each summer.

The Riga Circus is one of the oldest circus buildings in Europe. It was designed by the architect Jānis Frīdrihs Baumanis. Albert Salamonsky, a rider, equestrian acrobat, horse trainer, actor and  successful entrepreneur, became the first director of the Riga Circus. The first show took place on December 29, 1888.

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3 Aspazijas Boulevard The Latvian National Opera and Ballet

3 Aspazijas Boulevard
The Latvian National Opera and Ballet

(…) the chief manager (conductor) of the Opera made a proposal that I should stage “Parsifal” and offered me an unlimited period of time for the work and considerable resources. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Mikhail Chekhov’s successful debut as an opera director took place at the Latvian National Opera. The building was designed by Ludwig Bohnstedt and put up in 1860-1863 as the First Riga City German Theatre in a place, where Riga fortifications had been previously located. After a fire, the interior was created anew in 1887, according to the designs by Reinhold Schmaeling. At the same time, a local power plant was built nearby, on the bank of the Riga Canal, and connected to the central heating boiler room. Its tall chimney is still visible today. In 1919, the First City Theatre was transferred to the Latvian Opera troupe and renamed the Latvian National Opera.

Mikhail Chekhov staged “Parcifal” by Richard Wagner in 1934.

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The restaurant at the Rome Hotel (22 Aspazijas Boulevard) “The Roman Cellar"

The restaurant at the Rome Hotel (22 Aspazijas Boulevard)
“The Roman Cellar"

My hospitable hosts took me from one restaurant to another, during the day it would be the German Park [meaning the restaurant in Small Vērmane Garden], the Roman Cellar, at night – pubs in the basements with red-blue-yellow flashing lights. (…) People in restaurants recognized me, they shouted to me, “Mr. Chekhov, come to us, come sit at our table!” (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Up until World War II, the Rome Hotel was considered the best hotel in Riga. It was constructed after demolition of the city fortifications in 1878, according to a design by Kristaps Morbergs, and it was the first hotel in the city with telephone communication and electric lighting. The wealthiest and most famous guests of Riga stayed there.

The Roman Cellar restaurant at the hotel became widely popular (the legendary Riga restaurant Otto Schwartz, which had different owners and changed its location several times, could be, to a certain extent, considered the predecessor and successor to the Roman Cellar). Bankers and diplomats, gourmets and connoisseurs of unusual interiors (the restaurant was a labyrinth of halls and rooms, with their own names and decor) were regular patrons. One of the restaurant’s distinctive features was a pool with live fish, which was caught and prepared right before the patrons’ eyes.

In July 1941, shelling and fires destroyed almost all the buildings in the city block between Kaļķu, Vaļņu, Teātra Streets and Aspazijas Boulevard, including the Rome Hotel. Where it was formerly located, the Riga Hotel (now Grand Hotel Kempinski Riga) was built in 1956, while in 1992, the first five-star hotel in Riga, located at 28 Kaļķu Street, was named Hotel de Rome (renamed Hotel Roma in 2014) in memory of the original Rome Hotel.


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28 Kaļķu Street Café de l’Opera

28 Kaļķu Street
Café de l’Opera

Riga at that time was trying its best to emulate Paris, and I threw myself into that Paris with an unrestrained thirst for life. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

In 1926, the new owner of the Otto Schwarz restaurant, Christian Jurgenson, the founder of the joint-stock company Ch. Jurgenson – Otto Schwarz, bought the building on the corner of Kaļķu Street and Aspazijas Boulevard, where he was planning to, in line with the European tradition, open a café near the Opera House (there were no cafés near the Opera House at that time). Rigans came to appreciate both the idea and the relaxed atmosphere at Café de l’Opera (and soon began to call the café Švarcītis – “Little Schwartz” in Latvian). Business people used to visit the café before the dinnertime, while after the dinner, high society and Bohemia would take over, including writers Kārlis Skalbe, Jānis Akuraters, Pāvils Rozītis, artists Romāns Suta, Aleksandra Beļcova, Sigismunds Vidbergs and Niklāvs Strunke – and the latter ones would come not just for coffee, pastries and small talk, but also to secure new orders. This café reminded Mikhail Chekhov of the brighter moments of his Parisian period as well as delighted him with delicacies and pleasant meetings.

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2 Kronvalda Boulevard The Latvian National Theatre

2 Kronvalda Boulevard
The Latvian National Theatre

Riga is a theatre-loving city. The State Opera and Drama Theatres are of a high standard. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

After moving to Riga, Mikhail Chekhov staged his first play at the Latvian National Theatre: it was “Eric XIV”, where he also performed the title role. That was followed by “The Death of Ivan the Terrible”, based on the play by Alexei Tolstoy, and “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare. Playing the title roles in those productions, Mikhail Chekhov delivered his lines in Russian, while the other actors spoke Latvian.

The building of the Second Riga City Theatre, built in 1902, according to a design of the architect August Reinberg’s, was originally meant for the Russian Theatre, and it stayed there until 1917. From the autumn of 1917, Latvian troupes began to perform in the venue.

On November 18, 1918, the independence of the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in this building, and on November 30, 1919, the Latvian National Theatre opened with the premiere of the play “Into the Fire” by Rūdolfs Blaumanis.

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16 Kaļķu Street Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre

16 Kaļķu Street
Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre

After having seen old Prague, old Revel, the hidden corners of Paris, the wonders of Venice and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, I could now appreciate old Riga all the more. I recall it with affection and I still have the feeling that I lived there at one time in the dark little room in the attic, loved someone and did some of my own modest and secret business there that pervaded my whole life at the time. (Mikhail Chekhov. “The Path of the Actor”)

Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre (founded in 1883) is one of the oldest professional Russian theatres outside Russia. Just a few days into the opening season, the Theatre, originally housed at the Russian Handcraft Artel, moved to the building of the Russian merchant society Uley (Beehive in Russian), then to the Second City Theatre (now the Latvian National Theatre), which had been built specifically for the Russian troupe, then rented the premises at the Riga Latvian Society House, and finally returned to Uley, where it is located to this day. For many years, the Theatre has been known for its thought-provoking social and psychological plays, spectacular musical performances, unpredictable creative experiments with form, and academically ‘proper’ classical plays.

In 2006, the Theatre, previously known as Riga Russian Drama Theatre, reclaimed its historical name and acquired the right to be called after Mikhail Chekhov. In 2010-2011, the only museum of Mikhail Chekhov in the Baltic countries opened at the Theatre, featuring, among other things, a sculpture depicting the actor in the role of Khlestakov, a character of the play “The Government Inspector” by Nikolai Gogol.

In 2014, the Theatre won the International Theatre Audience Award “The Theatre-Lover’s Star” in the category “The Best Russian Theatre outside Russia”.

The Theatre’s repertoire includes Russian and world classics, and works of contemporary playwrights. Plays of all genres, including children’s plays and musical performances, are staged on the Theatre’s main and small stages. The Theatre actively tours and successfully participates in international festivals.

Mikhail Chekhov always had fond memories of Riga, and Mikhail Chekhov Riga Russian Theatre, in turn, is gratefully and meticulously preserving the memory of Chekhov and the “business that pervaded his whole life”. And even though Mikhail Chekhov has never appeared on this stage, his name has not only been inscribed in the history of the only theatre in the world, named in his honour, but also in its plans for the future.

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Daile Theatre - former building
Small Vērmane Garden
Mikhail Chekhov residence
The Riga Latvian Society House
The Riga Circus
The Latvian National Opera
“The Roman Cellar”
"Café de l’Opera"
The Latvian National Theatre
Mikhail Chekhov Theatre

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Take part in unique interactive entertainment and educational  project for adults and children. We invite you to walk across Riga – Hollywood bridge with us! An exciting adventure awaits you: a tour in the theater, a story-play about Mikhail Chekhov and a real acting training. It was in Riga that Mikhail Chekhov finally formalized and polished his method, after which Chekhov taught such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Yul Brynner and Elizabeth Taylor in the USA.




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