As founder of the first acting “System”, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre (1897-), and an eminent practitioner of the naturalist school of thought, Konstantin Stanislavski unequivocally challenged traditional notions of the dramatic process, establishing himself as one of the most pioneering thinkers in modern theatre.
Stanislavski developed an interest in opera as well as drama and in 1884 he had his voice trained and considered becoming an opera singer. In 1886, he became Chairman of the Russian Music Society and the Society benefited from his energy and business experience.
Before the realistic drama of the late 1800s, no one had devised a method for
achieving believability in a character. Through their own talent and genius, individual actresses and actors had achieved it, but no one had developed a system whereby it could be taught and passed on to future generations. The person who did this the most successfully was the Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski.
Stanislavski proposed a new system for acting and has written many books about preparation and characterization. He created seven steps to building a character;
1.Who am I?
2.Where am I?
3.When is it?
4.What do I want
5.Why do I want it?
6.How will I get it?
7.What do I need to overcome?
These seven questions are to recognize the purpose of your character and your movement on stage.
Using the Moscow Art Theatre as his conduit, Stanislavski developed his own unique system of training wherein actors would research the situation created by the script, break down the text according to their character’s motivations and recall their own experiences, thereby causing actions and reactions according to these motivations. The actor would ideally make his motivations for acting identical to those of the character in the script. He could then replay these emotions and experiences in the role of the character in order to achieve a more genuine performance. The 17th Century melodrama Tsar Fyodor was the first production in which these techniques were showcased.
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He was involved in both traditional theater (using stylized, nonrealistic techniques) and the emergence of the modern realistic approach. By closely observing the work of great performers of his day, and by drawing on his on acting experience, Stanislavski identified and described what the great actors of his time did naturally and intuitively. From his observations he compiled a series of principles and techniques, which today are regarded as fundamental to both the training, and the performance of actors and actresses who want to create a believable character onstage. We might assume that believable acting is simply a matter of being natural; but Stanislavski discovered first of all that acting realistically onstage is extremely artificial and difficult. He wrote:
“All of our acts, even the simplest, which are so familiar to us in everyday life,
become strained when we appear behind the footlights before a public of a
thousand people. That is why it is necessary to correct ourselves and learn
again how to walk, sit, or lie down. It is essential to re-educate ourselves to
look and see, on the stage, to listen and to hear.”
Stanislavski coined phrases such as “stage direction”, laid the foundations of modern opera and gave instant renown to the works of such talented writers and playwrights as Anton Chekhov. His process of character development, the “Stanislavski Method”, was the catalyst for method acting- arguably the most influential acting system on the modern stage and screen. Such renowned schools of acting and directing as the Group Theatre (1931- 1941) and The Actors Studio (1947-) are a legacy of Stanislavski’s pioneering vision.
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Using this system, Stanislavski succeeded like no producer or director before him in translating the works of such renowned playwrights as Chekov, whose writings were aptly suited to his method. With their social consciousness and emphasis on the importance of imagery and theme rather than plot, they were blank canvasses on which Stanislavski could exercise his artful hand.
Stanislavski clearly could not separate the theatre from its social context. He viewed theatre as a medium with great social and educational significance. During the civil unrest leading up to the first Russian revolution in 1905, Stanislavski courageously reflected social issues on the stage. Twelve years later, during the Red October of 1917, Bolshevism had swept through Russia and the Soviet Union was established. In the violence of revolution, Lenin’s personal protection saved Stanislavski from being eliminated along with the Czar Dom. The USSR maintained allegiance to Stanislavski and his socially conscious method of production and his theatre began to produce plays containing Soviet propaganda.
Stanislavski was not a political creature and under the Soviet regime he continued with his work, although he acknowledged to Nemirovich (in 1922) that audiences could no longer relate to Chekhov’s plays because of the recent events that they had lived through. From 1918-20, he became increasingly involved with the Opera Studio at the Bolshoi, producing Eugene Onegin in 1922. In 1923, he toured America with his company with great success.
In 1918 Stanislavski established the First Studio as a school for young actors and in his later years wrote two books. His theories and methods have had far reaching effects through his publications including: My Life in Art (1924), An Actor prepares (I936) and Building a Character (1950).
... Such renowned schools of acting and directing as the Group Theatre and The Actors Studio ... development, the "Stanislavski Method", was the catalyst for method acting- arguably the most influential acting system on the modern stage and screen. ... views and wanted to produce plays that dealt with important social issues. The Group Theatre disbanded in 1941 and ...
All have been translated into over 20 languages. Method acting, which evolved in the USA in the 1930s, was based on his teachings.
In 1928, while on stage, he had a massive heart attack and somehow managed to complete the scene before staggering off. He was lucky to survive. “You can die on stage but you can’t miss an entrance,” he had once said. Because of his ill health, he gave up acting to concentrate on producing and teaching. In 1936, he set up a new studio to train actors and directors. In this new studio Stanislavski was determined to develop a more naturalistic mode of acting and demanded a more psychological approach to character development. He was aware of the dangers of naturalism in acting – incoherence and obscurity – and his goal was to produce the appearance of reality within the accepted norm – realistic conventions of the theatre. Through his earnest professional and educational leadership, Stanislavski spread his knowledge to numerous understudies, leaving a legacy that cannot be overstated, and will always be a part of theater, acting, and screenplay.
Quotes By Stanislavski
“The program for our undertaking was revolutionary. We protested against the old manner of acting and against theatricality, against artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation on the stage, and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star system which had been a bad affect on the cast, against the whole arrangement of plays and against the poor repertoire of the theatres.” – Stanislavski
“The revolution thundered in and made its demands on us. There began a period of new explorations, of reappraisal of the old and the search for new ways. At a time when the new for the sake of the new and the negation of everything that had come before held sway in the theatre, we could not reject out of hand all that was fine in the past … This link with the past and the eagerness to move to an unknown future, the searching quests of the new theatre – all this helped to keep us from succumbing to the dangerous ‘charms’ of formalism … We did not succumb; instead we began our quest for new ways, cautiously but doggedly.” – Stanislavski
The very essence of Contemporary Theatre is that is such a diverse realm of performance art. Many different playwrights have contributed to this post World War Two theatre that instead of keeping to just one narrow genre it was able to branch out to cover all aspects and views of an ever transitional modern society. Theatrical pieces from this time period have ranged from Existentialism, pioneered ...
“Let the wisdom of the old guide the buoyancy and vitality of the youth; let the buoyancy and vitality of the youth sustain the wisdom of the old.” – Stanislavski