The American theatre is renown throughout the world for its acting and glamour. It has its beginnings in the early Eighteenth Century and was notably introduced by The Hallams in the year 1752. Though the acting at the time was noted to be above par, there was still room for improvement. Additionally, there was the lack of proper acting methods or procedures which would help actors to improve their acting. Although today the American theatre is widely known throughout the world for the production of thought provoking as well as entertaining plays, it should be noted that this is due to early pioneers of modern acting.
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One such pioneer is Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski. Many of the current thespians consider acting techniques before the innovation of Konstantin s universal system to be archaic. Close research, thus shall be paid to this revolutionary theory in this paper and this is necessary when focusing on the evolution of theatre to its current level. In early acting productions, especially those of social signifance, it is noted that most of the acting techniques were based on Stanislavsky s Moscow Art theatre. Hence, it can be said that most of modern acting ideas and practices were drawn from Stanislavsky.
This paper is therefore an in-depth analysis into the life of Konstantin Serseyevich Stanislavski. It will include research into areas such as his biography and the acting methods that he developed. Additionally, it will include research on how he influenced the acting industry both during his lifetime and after his death. Moreover, it will include his achievements as well as the contributions that he made towards modern acting. An understanding of the American theatre is essential for development of the film industry.
Konstantin (or Constantin) Sergeyevich Stanislavsky was born in Moscow on January 5th 1863 during the transition from the serfdom of Czar-ruled Russia under Peter the Great, to the free enterprise of the Industrial revolution. Stanislavsky s father was a manufacturer while his mother was born of a French actress. He is renowned for having impacted or influenced the acting process more than anyone else in the twentieth century.
His acting career began when Stanislavski was 14. At that time he joined a theatrical group known as the Alekyseyev circle in which he soon became the main attraction. During the late 1800s, his acting improved and soon he was producing and directing plays. For Konstantin, being brought up by a wealthy father meant that he did not experience financial hindrances during his early stage performance days. In 1885, at age 25, he adopted the stage name Stanislavsky and a while later, established the Society of Art and Literature at the Maly Theatre, where he got experience in ethics, aesthetics and stagecraft.
It wasn t long before he began to question and pose challenges to the traditional stage approach. In 1888, he formally married Maria Perevoshchikova who was a school teacher. She eventually became his devoted disciple and a gifted actress. She went by the name Lilina. In 1898, together with Vladimir Nemirovich Danchenko, Stanislavsky founded the Moscow Art Theatre, Russia s first ensemble theatre. Vladimir was responsible for administrative and literary matters while Stanislavsky catered for production and stage. In this capacity, he was not only stern, but also uncompromising in training of actors. He was strict on the genuineness of the performance on stage.
The theatre emphasized on a realistic presentation and attention to every minute detail of a production. Consequent productions became legendary under the careful, often autocratic, direction of Stanislavski, achieving classical status in the coming years. Apart from being an actor, a director, coach and a successful businessman, Stanislavsky was also a teacher.
Stanislavsky is renowned for developing the Stanislavsky system/method which is a theory of acting. In it, he explained that actors had to achieve an emotional identification with their characters, while at the same time remaining independent of the role in order to help it to the needs of the play. In a nutshell, Stanislavsky demanded the reproduction of genuine emotions at every performance in order to fully convey the character s emotions.
As both a director and actor, Stanislavsky showed an amazing subtlety in rendering psychological patterns and a rare gift for satirical characterization. He eventually became a dominant influence on the Russian elite of the time. In 1912, he founded the First Studio. This is where many of his innovations were adopted by many upcoming actors.
On October 29, 1928, Stanislavsky suffered a heart attack while acting in The Three Sisters during the Moscow Art Theatre s 30th anniversary. From then on, he put acting aside and focused on directing and educating actors and directors alike for the rest of his life.
Stanislavski died on August 7th 1938, just before the start of World War II, maintaining the ideal of a peaceful, socially ethical world.
Method acting can be explained as an approach to acting based on the idea that an actor should have an emotional identification with their characters. This is important to come up with an enticing film. For the purposes of production several methods have been applied in a bid to expound on film science.
Stanislavski viewed the theatre especially that of Russia to be one whose function is not only to entertain but to affect the audience directly with the life of the theatre.
Method acting strives to aid actors develop a sincere and deeply felt performances. Vital features of method acting are derived from the work of Konstantin. He formulated an approach that dealt with the psychological and emotional aspects of acting.
In his argument, Stanislavsky maintained that the core business for an actor was to be believable rather than to be understood. Stanislavsky implemented methods such as emotional memory to achieve this believable truth . In this case, he suggested that for a performer to get into character where he or she is expected to be frightened, the performer had to remember an occurrence in which they experienced fear, and physically reenact the fear that they felt when acting. Stanislavski further emphasized the need for an actor to take their own personality on stage when playing a character. This was in contrast to earlier methods of acting which encouraged the actor to become the character putting their emotions at bay.
Method acting is the most common approach by most modern actors. The actor tries to think and feel the same way as what the character would. Stanislavsky protested against the old manner of acting where emotional rhetoric and non-stylized props, sets and costumes were used. Instead, he chose to show a different form of drama realism. In this setting, the dialogue involved more of everyday speech.
Another distinct feature of method acting is that the actors perform to each other rather than to the audience. The play unfolds on stage in such a manner that to the audience, it is as if one wall to a house is transparent or invisible so they can see what is unfolding inside. Therefore, the actors perform without acknowledging the presence of the audience. In Stanislavsky s theory/method, the actor strives to achieve several objectives.
Firstly, the actor aims to project the character s actions making them seemingly natural and convincing. Secondly, the actor is supposed to portray the character s inner drive, that is, their aims or objectives. Third, develop the character convincingly. Then most importantly, the ability and willingness to work as a team with fellow actors.
Acting exercises and activities
Actors implementing the Stanislavsky system perform several exercises to generally improve their performance on stage. Relaxation exercises are primarily designed to help the performer to release tension and anxiety and to make the use of their limbs and voices effortless and fluid. Some actors achieve this through yoga. During yoga, the body and mind are in state of calm, balance and tranquility and this enables the actor to be whatever character they are required to be.
Concentration exercises are designed to help nurture the performer s ability to concentrate on an event, person or object on stage. Stanislavsky referred to the specific points of this focus as circles of attention . Actors focus on an object or position/location and afford it their utmost attention ignoring everything else. For this type of exercise, the actor can be done in numerous different ways. For instance, the actor can recite the alphabet backwards severally, or engage in a more challenging exercise that demands concentration.
Observation is an acquired skill. The performers are required to observe different people from various backgrounds and ages. From this observation, they are expected to analyze how the subjects go along their daily business and then incorporate those details into their performances. An actor can easily and frequently engage in observation exercises. For example, an actor can try to remember the model, color and number plates, gender and approximate age of the drivers of vehicles passing at a street or outside their apartment.
One such acting exercise developed by Konstantin Stanislavski was the Magic If Exercise. It basically requires the actor to question himself in order to proper assimilate the character s role that the actor will be playing. A sample of the exercise is as follows:
1. (Magic If) Sit, stand and walk with justification. (Sit by the window to see why there was shouting on the adjacent street. Sit in order to read the paper. Stand in order to better see the cause of shouting. Stand in order to stretch one s legs. Walk to take a walk. Walk to see what the commotion was all about.
Stanislavski influence on the film/theatre industry during his time
The Seagull a play produced by Anton Chekhov had been a failure in its original production in St Petersburg in 1896. However, and with a lot of challenges, Stanislavsky was authorized by Chekhov to restage it. Under Stanislavsky s and Danchenko s direction, The Seagull became a success, catapulting Moscow Art Theatre as a new force in the world stage.
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This led to the acknowledgement of Chekhov as a great playwright whereas after the failure of The Seagull during its debut, Chekhov had vowed never to write again. Consequently, after the success of The seagull , Chekhov wrote, The Three Sisters (1901) and the The Cherry Orchard (1903) exclusively for the Moscow Art Theatre. Were it not for Stanislavsky, it is safe to assume that Chekhov s career would have never made a come-back and the world would have been robbed of such a great playwright as Chekhov.
Apart from helping actors get in touch with the concept of showing genuine emotions and feelings on stage breaking from the old system where the actor kept strictly to the exact words and actions dictated on script, Stanislavsky s method of acting also demanded that they acknowledge the unsaid messages within the script. This in turn influenced playwrights like Chekhov to make a change in their mode of writing in order to accommodate more elusive emotionally engaging work.
In 1902 Stanislavski continued with his success streak when he staged Maksim Gorky s The Petty Bourgeois and The Lower Depths. Stanislavsky played several powerful roles including; Astrov in Uncle Vanya in 1899 and Gayev in The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov in 1904; Doctor Stockman in Henrik Ibsen s An Enemy of the People in 1900; and Satin in The Lower Depths. In these roles, Stanislavsky made yet another great contribution to theatre by being a great actor and setting the bar for young actors. He was shaping the world of acting not only as a director, but also as an accomplished actor in his own right. In 1912, Stanislavsky founded the First Studio and there, his models and ideas were undertaken by many young actors.
By 1918, Stanislavsky was managing the Bolshoi Opera Studio, which was later named after him. In 1922, he staged Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky at the Bolshoi Opera Studio which was accredited as a major reform in opera. Stanislavsky made tremendous contribution in not only stage theatre, but also through excellent performance at the opera, sparked what may be termed as a revolution in opera at the time.
Stanislavski realized that theatre was at its best when profound emotions content was in tandem with expressive theatrical form and oversaw the production of William Shakespeare s Twelfth Night in 1917 at the First Studio.
From 1922 to 1924, Stanislavsky and the Moscow Art Theatre toured Europe and the United States. During this tour, Stanislavsky went in the capacity of the director and leading actor. He also, of course as the founder, had an administrative position in the group. As Stanislavsky travelled the world and introduced his system wherever they toured, many expressed great interest in his system. Therefore, he also contributed greatly in helping spread his system across the world and creating awareness among the circles of film and theatre at the time. It was also during this time that he wrote his autobiography which he called My Life in Art.
Stanislavski went on to stage Aleksandr Ostrovsky s An Ardent Heart in 1926 and The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in 1927. The latter demonstrated very bold attempts at theatricality.
What proved to mark a milestone in the soviet theatre was Armoured Train 14-69 which was V.V. Ivanov s play about the Russian Revolution in 1927.
Stanislavski continued his experiments and more research on finding what he termed as a conscious means to the sub-conscious which basically meant the search for an actor s emotions. In 1935, with the advantage of modern scientific research on the interaction of the brain and the body, he started on his final approach called method of physical actions. This approach was based on emotional creativity. It demanded that the actors assimilate the character s physical and psychological emotions at any given time. This approach also had another impact. It influenced the playwright s writing and structuring of the play.
Stanislavsky s influence on the film/theatre industry after his time
After the death of Stanislavsky, his work was advanced by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio from the 1940s. The success of Stanislavsky s work was clearly shown in the fact that some of the most successful actors/performers even after his death, had been educated using his system, being Strasberg s students. Some of those now renowned actors include: – Al Pacino, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Alec Baldwin, and Dennis Hopper, just to name a few. Therefore, it is no assumption that Stanislavsky has had a tremendous impact on the film/theatre industry to this day.
When a comparison is done between Lee Strasberg and Konstantin Stanislavsky s method, it is noted that Lee s method is heavily influenced by Affective Memory. Stella Adler, who was taught the Method of Physical Action, introduced Lee Strasberg to the new system or method of physical action. Lee who understood the differences rejected the method. He insisted that acting was recollection of emotion. However, it should be noted that Lee Strasberg was based on Stanislavsky s approach. Lee was a student of Boleslavski, the founder of the American Laboratory theatre, who was originally taught by Constantine Stanislavski.
The famous actor Charlie Chaplin was quoted as saying that Stanislavski s book, “An actor Prepares”, tells what an actor needs to inspire himself or herself to profoundly express his emotions. Many other actors acknowledge that his books on acting preparation have been inspiring and his Universal Method has greatly impacted on their acting.
Based on Stanislavski s system, many more approaches have been formulated by scholars over the years. Many of these are just a variation of Stanislavsky s system. Nevertheless, they have factored in new trends and colossal changes in the film and theatre industry since the 20s while trying to improve and build on the ideas of Stanislavsky making his system a kind of a framework on which many more innovations are designed to serve specific demands in a performance, or to formulate universally sound approaches to better performance by actors. Research has been carried out on the various works of Stanislavski in an attempt to better understand and implement his universal system. The system which he innovated is also the basis for which many modern acting schools were formed.
Research has also shown that method acting is widely practiced among modern American actors. His theories are the used during study by many actors, some of who have become very successful. With Stanislavski s method acting approach still being taught in many acting schools his model is still very much in use in the modern world and has had impeccable effects on performance both in film and theatre.
His books are crucial reading materials for aspiring actors and are used in many acing schools. His works (plays and theatre films) are subject to critical study and analysis in modern acting and film-making schools.
His mansion in Moscow is currently a public museum and research centre containing the original manuscripts written by Stanislavski, his library collection and the collection of theatre costumes and stage sets used by Stanislavski.
Stanislavski s life was wholly emerged in acting. He devoted himself to perfecting his acting skills and of those around him. His mentors and coaches can be regarded as inspiring him and pushing him into visualizing and eventually realizing this dream.
Stanislavski not only produced a system that was adopted by actors the world over, he was also a revered playwright, actor as well as director. His notable works which are now classics, many of which were adapted into black and white films include:
Stanislasvski s single handedly changed the acting world by the introduction of seemingly simple methods. By many actors he is regarded as the father of acting. He taught actors the simple fact that in order to properly depict the character they are acting, it is necessary for the actor to fit himself in the actors shoes, thus his universal system. By the use of simple techniques, Stanislavski s was able to completely remodel how actors prepare for themselves.
His contributions to the acting world can indeed not be ignored for without him the current acting scene would not be as captivating as it is now. Thus, Stanislavski has contributed greatly towards the evolution of modern acting through his universal method. His books, his films, and his universal system have enabled actors to greatly improve their own acting and are highly regarded in the acting world.
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