It is with great sadness that we note the death of Professor Jean Benedetti the honorary patron of The Stanislavski Centre.
Professor Benedetti’s vision initiated the foundation of the centre in 2007, and his advice and support have been greatly valued over the past 5 years.
His work was both widely acknowledged and greatly appreciated by his many friends and colleagues. Below, some of these share their thoughts and recollections:
Professor Anthony Hozier, former Vice-Principal of Rose Bruford College, delivered the oration for the conferral of an Honorary Professorship in 2000. This is an extract from his speech on that occasion:
“It will be no surprise if I mention that Jean Benedetti was a star pupil of Rose Bruford herself forever winning plaudits and prizes during his years at College.
And, when he left, he immediately went on to a successful career as an actor (and director) in regional theatre, on tour, and also in the West End (He played the Dudley Moore part in the run of Beyond the Fringe at the Mayfair Theatre).
During this time he also established himself as a writer with an historical biography of the notorious Gilles de Rais, and a number of very successful plays for television both for the BBC and Independent Television.
What has always characterised his work, however, has been his international perspective.
Brought up in both France and England and he was equally at home in both languages. In time, he also gained a mastery of Italian, German and Russian, and he has translated plays and theatre works from four languages. Methuen has published his translations of plays by Georges Michel and Brecht, and Calder and Boyars his translations of plays by the absurdist playwright Arrabal. His version of Arrabal’s The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, was staged by Victor Garcia with Anthony Hopkins at the National Theatre, and it was at the National Theatre, during that great creative decade from 1964 to 1974 under Laurence Olivier, that he was adviser to Kenneth Tynan on European repertoire.
These were the achievements and qualities that he brought to the College when he returned to take up the role of Principal in 1970, and which he shared with students and colleagues.
As Principal, he taught acting, and directed regularly, often providing his own translations of plays from the international repertoire. He maintained close educational links for the students in Bourges and with the Paris Conservatoire and took productions abroad each year.
He was made President of the Theatre Education Committee of the International Theatre Institute in 1979 and continued to serve on ITI committees after he left the College in 1987. Since then, he has continued to advise and serve on committees and panels in the UK and elsewhere, as well as lecturing and publishing worldwide.
But it is as one of the leading Stanislavski scholars in the English-speaking world that he has deservedly won an international reputation, and is best known to most people here today.
His publications include the absolutely indispensable Stanislavski: An Introduction,
Stanislavski: A Biography, which is the best available to us in English, Dear Writer . . Dear Actress, a book based on the correspondence of Chekhov and Olga Knipper, The Moscow Art Theatre Letters, and, most recently, Stanislavski and the Actor,
which draws on material only recently available in Russia”.
(at this time, the biography of David Garrick had not yet appeared and the work on the new Routledge edition had not begun, Ed.)
Professor Anatoly Smeliansky, Dean of the Moscow Art Theatre School, and member of the Stanislavski Centre Advisory Board, enjoyed a long friendship with Professor Benedetti:
“Jean Benedetti was probably one of the most influential and famous researchers and translators of Stanislavski in the English speaking world in the last half century. His biography of Stanislavski was published and republished many times and it did not get old or outdated, his ‘Moscow Art Theatre Letters’ gave the first true understanding to the fate and destiny of that theatre. And of course the work of the past decade of his life, the new translation of Stanislavski’s major works, including ‘Actor: Work on Oneself’, this translation opened the soul of Stanislavski.
I am absolutely sure that Jean’s work will always be remembered in Russia, we will never forget it at the Moscow Art Theatre.
I was privileged enough to be his friend for many years, to enjoy his lively, sharp mind and his delightful sense of humour.
May his memory be eternal.”
Stanislavski Centre Advisory Board member, Professor Laurence Senelick writes:
“I first met Jean Benedetti (or Jean-Norman as he then styled himself) in October 1988 at the Colloque scientifique sur Stanislavski at the Théâtre de Chaillot in Paris. We exchanged compliments, he for my book on the Craig-Stanislavski “Hamlet”, I for his recent biography. I was also impressed by his fluent French, for he had been to school in Europe. Russian he had learned specifically to carry out his researches, which put him one up on most of the English-language writers on Stanislavski. We renewed our acquaintance the following month at the international Stanislavski conference at the Pompidou Centre.
In short space, we both found ourselves on the editorial board of the English-language Stanislavski edition projected by Routledge, and met at board meetings in the U.S. He was the only Brit on the board, the others being Soviets or Americans, but held his own with wit and expertise. When the various assignments were made, there was no question that he was the one to translate the texts on acting. His combination of work in the classroom, ability to read Russian, and shrewd intuition made him the ideal interpreter. He was not a scholar in an academic sense and had an imperfect knowledge of Russian culture, but his other qualifications were impeccable. He buckled down to the arduous task of rendering into English these thorny texts, whose special vocabulary required long months of argument and discussion with the other members of the team. When Routledge let the project lapse, he was not downcast for long but directed his energies to other publications about the Moscow Art Theatre and the Stanislavski system of acting.
Whenever I was in London, we would get together and thrash out the arcana of Russian theatre. He was the perfect host, finding splendid restaurants for our get-togethers (including one unforgettable Edwardian lunch at Rule’s). We also corresponded at length, and were equally cheered when Routledge decided to revive the Stanislavski publications under a new scheme. The task of translating not only the acting texts, but also “My Life in Art,” was Herculean; but he managed it with his usual flair. One of his most admirable qualities was the ability to render the Russian into idiomatic, highly readable English. He will be greatly missed and the field of Stanislavski studies will be deprived of one of its most fervent champions.”
Professor Bella Merlin will deliver the 2012 Stanislavski Centre/Routledge annual lecture:
“Jean’s contribution to theatre scholarship and theatre practice is immeasurable. When I was a doctoral student, I devoured his writings on Stanislavski, and could never have begun my own journey into analysing acting processes without the extraordinary work that Jean achieved. He paved the way incomparably. I met him just twice – both times at conferences, the first indeed being at Rose Bruford – and was awed by his knowledge and appropriately provoked by his discussion. He will be sorely missed, and eternally thanked.”
Marie-Christine Autant-Mathieu, director of research at ARIAS, Paris, is also a member of the Centre’s Advisory Board:
“Jean was a great specialist of Stanislavski and I remember the few (too few) opportunities I had to discuss with him in London, in his apartment, in Paris, during Stanislavski conference about Russian Acting, the System, Vakhtangov and M. Chekhov, about our mutual friends in Moscow and every time
it was a very deep discussion with humour and generosity. We have lost a friend, a rare scholar and a fine translator. His new translations have generated another opinion and comprehension of Stanislavski’s approach and thinking.
It is very sad news”.
Actor, director, RBC graduate and RBC Governor, Ben Thomas, recalled his time as a student:
“This is a great loss. But the memory of his inspiring contributions to our college helps to soften the sadness. I was lucky to have ‘Mr Benedetti’ as my Principal whilst studying at Brufords and his daring genius in casting me as Shylock for our 3rd Year tour of France transformed my confidence as a fledgling actor and subsequently my lengthy acting career which included many Shakespeare plays.
Hats off to Jean-Norman Benedetti !”