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History of the Stanislavski Method

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The Stanislavski method

Konstantin Stanislavski, (1863-1938), was born in Moscow, Russia, into a wealthy family who loved theatre. His grandmother was a French actress while his dad created a stage on the family’s estate. Stanislavski’s real name was Constantin Sergeyvich Alekseyev. Alekseyev, gave himself the stage name Stanislavski after an actor he’d met while acting with other drama groups. He started working in theatre at the age of 14, advancing to become a director of stage productions. Throughout his long life, he was an actor and later became a director and teacher. He dropped out of drama school after a few weeks of tutoring because, it was unrealistic and over-dramatic and this was a style he despised because it didn’t express human nature. [pic 1]

Stanislavski was a Russian director and actor who established a modern acting technique known as the ‘Stanislavski method’. He co-founded the Moscow Art theatre in 1897 and developed a performance process known as method acting, whereby characters are allowed to use their personal histories to express authentic emotion and create rich characters. ("Constantin Stanislavski", 2017) His new approach to acting which took years to develop incorporated a variety of techniques that was later known as ‘The Stanislavski System’ or ‘The Method’. As an actor, he saw a lot of poor acting which he termed as ‘artificial’. He wanted actors to work on character from the inside to bring out a real performance. Meaning, they had to get into character and evoke their past emotions while acting. The goal of this method of acting, was to portray natural people on stage.

Elements of his method

The Stanislavski System had elements which he mainly focused on when he was teaching. These are:

Magic if which involved asking oneself “what would I do if I were in this situation?” This was a good way of implementing natural reactions to the events happening in the story and be able to put oneself in the characters shoes. That wasn’t the only question. There were seven others which included:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What am I?
  3. Where am I?
  4. What time is it?
  5. What do I want?
  6. Why do I want this?
  7. How will I get what I want and what must I overcome to get it?

These questions helped the actor to think deeper about their character and got them be in character as much as possible

Re-education whereby actors must take into consideration their movement and conversations while on stage because, being in front of a large crowd can be very frightening given that not everyone is confident.

Method of physical action whereby the character’s actions play a huge role while on stage in order to demonstrate a release of required emotions.

Subtext is an unspoken meaning of a text. It mainly focuses on actions rather than what the character says.  Stanislavski believed that the character’s actions are much more important compared to what they say. An example is a man telling his wife “I love you” but his actions aren’t coinciding with what he said, showing that he doesn’t really love her.

Observation is one crucial method as he encouraged his students to observe others cautiously focusing on their personalities and physical behaviors. After studying people, he would dress up as an old man or a peasant and interact with the townspeople to be able to fit in. Stanislavski noticed everyone is unique in their own way therefore, he felt that characters should exhibit unique behaviors. He also encouraged actors to do the same and try fit in with their character’s traits in order to understand what to do while on stage, what to say and how to do and say it.

Realism includes trying to present the world as it is or rather, portraying real life on stage.

Naturalism is the belief that a human is molded by what they’ve learnt from their family and people around them (environment).

Emotional memory is one thing Stanislavski focused on mostly because, he never wanted actors to create a replica of an emotion but that they should truly feel the emotion. If a scene called for extreme grief, actors needed to put themselves in the mindset of the character's situation so that they genuinely experience the feelings of intense sadness. (The same goes for all the other emotions.) Sometimes, of course, the scene can so dramatic and the character so human that these intense emotions come naturally to the actor. However, for actors not able to connect with the character's emotional state, Stanislavsky advised performers to reach into their personal memories and draw upon a comparable life experience. (Bradford, 2017) 

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