A Look at Stanislavki's System Part One
Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian theatre director and also an accomplished actor, who took a very serious line when it came to the profession of Acting. Although Stanislavski was born in 1863, and died in 1938; his teachings are still practiced to this day by many actors and directors and taught on acting courses around the world.
Constantin Stanislavski considered acting a serious profession that required high levels of dedication, and had great respect for actors. He formed the ‘system’ based on his observations of the best acting he had seen on the stage around Europe. Stanislavski’s System is a collection of techniques and exercises designed to help the actor to create a
truthful performance and believable character on stage. Stanislavski at the time considered this 'system’ as merely experimental. He believed if an actor follows his system the emotion the actor is aiming for would be achieved. Stanislavski believed the search for truth in theatre is the foundation of good acting.
“Truth on the stage…is whatever we can believe in with sincerity, whether in ourselves or in our colleagues”
Stanislavski, Constantin. Building A Character, Reed International Books Ltd, UK, 1988, Introduction
And that, in a sentence, is the centre of Stanislavskian acting
technique. Stanislavski didn’t initiate this quest for truth in the theatre, but he was the first to identify it as the aim of all good acting by codifying it into a system. Stanislavski developed the method of 'Emotional Memory’ in which the actor triggers their character’s emotions internally. This is when the actor would re-call a similar experience or emotion from their past to put into their character. Stanislavski believed
that an actor must take his or her own experiences and personality to the stage in order to create a believable character. Stanislavski thought that techniques were needed for an actor to produce realistic
emotions in a performance. Stanislavski observed that actors would not combine their physical and mental preparations for a role, and believed their characters were not emotionally and physically realistic.
To overcome this problem Stanislavski came up with 'The method of physical action’ which required actors to do an action or many to produce the desired emotion. Stanislavski considered emotions to come from the subconscious, so through this
method actors were able to control their subconscious emotions through actions. An example of this would be if a character is going to cry they would put their head in their hands, an action many would do automatically if they were about to cry. Stanislavski
believed that if an actor only does physical actions or only experience internal feelings then the performance will not be good. Stanislavski believed the two must go hand in hand, and without both the performance will suffer and not be believable.
Some other sections of the System I found particularly interesting include the 'Magic If’. Stanislavski believed in the truth of a performance. He believed a performance should
be so believable that it becomes truth to an audience watching. He gets the actors to ask themselves 'what would I do in if I were in the same situation as my character’ or 'what if I were in the same situation as my character’.
Actors were required to ask many
questions of their characters and themselves. By answering these questions as the character, Stanislavski believed the actions of the actor would be believable and therefore truthful. This also allows the actor to think more about his character, and discover more about them, in order to create a more complex and accurate performance.
This then led on to 'Motivation.’ The actors explore their character’s motivations.Stanislavski believed that an actor was influenced by their emotions to create their actions and the actor’s motivation comes from their subconscious will to perform those
actions.Stanislavski has described motivation as looking to the past actions of the characters as to why they completed physical actions in a script. Stanislavski believed that by exploring the character’s motivations - why they are doing what they are, a greater understanding of the character will be achieved. This led to the the study of a
character’s objectives. All characters are motivated by their objectives. Actors would study their character’s objectives. As in 'what does my character want’. His system involves many exercises including ‘an around the table analysis’ where the Director and
actors sit around a table and put forward their ideas and thoughts on the script and characters to form a clear understanding. His homework for actors would be to break
down scripts into sections or different objectives. He believed that when this is done, the desired emotion would be created. The actor must figure out their character’s objectives in every scene in the script.
Objectives are always dictated from the script and may be
simple as 'I want to make a cup of tea’ or much more deeper and complex 'I want to be accepted for who I am’.
Stanislavski believed that if an actor and a role connected there was no need for a system or techniques. This success, however, he believed would only happen once or twice in an actor’s life, or not at all. So the remainder of actor’s performances must rely on techniques. Stanislavski never lost sight of his ideals; truth in performance and love
for his art.
We look at some of Stanislaski’s system at Film Classes Dublin. For more information on our courses check out: