Savannah's Theatre Blog

The Stanislavski System

Posted in Uncategorized by Savannah on April 23, 2010

‘A technique for Realistic Acting’ (Alvin Goldfarb, Edwin Wilson – Theatre, The Lively Art, McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences./Languages. 2006.)

Who was Stanislavski?

  • Full name: Constantin Sergeyvevich Alekseyev Stanislavski
  • 1863-1938
  • Russian theatrical director, teacher and actor
  • Cofounder with Vladimir Nemirovic-Danchenka (Russian stage director, 1859-1943) of the Moscow Art Theatre
  • Directed and produced some of Anton Chekov’s (Russian short-story writer, dramatist-playwright, physician, 1860 – 1904) most notable plays including The Cherry Orchard
  • He ‘developed a modern method of acting that brought “believability” to the stage’ (Theatre, The Lively Art). Before ‘method acting’, the acting was stylized and unrealistic.
  • He wanted the performers to act truthfully and intuitively in order to create believable characters. This was to be done by the actor identifying with the character and the actor’s intuitive use of body and voice.
  • Also renowned as a director of opera

“The actor must first of all believe in everything that takes place onstage, and most of all, he/she must believe what he/she himself/herself is doing.”

Stanislavski believed this could be achieved by achieving the following:

1. The way the actor uses their body and voice has to be organic and convincing

2. The actor/actress has to believe what he or she is doing in the moment. If they don’t believe, then neither will the audience.

3. Keep the action going throughout the play. This means the actor must act even if they are not speaking. They must listen as intently as they speak.

4. Work with other performs in a scene and do not try to be a star. This is to work as an ensemble.

(information from Theatre, The Lively Art)

Stanislavski’s Techniques

Relaxation –

This does NOT mean relaxed as though you are made of jelly. It refers to being centred, prepared, calm and ordered. One must not be tense, but one must have controlled energy.

Analogy: A trampoline must have tension on the springs in order to function, but the movement produced is fluid.

Concentration and Observation

Performers should concentrate on some object, person or event whilst on stage or at the least, appear to. This helps the performer worry less about the audience (relaxation!) and more about the task oat hand.

Compare to a basketball player: When he/she is shooting, they are concentrating on making the shot; nothing else.

Importance of Specifics (supplementary actions; intentions)

An emphasis on concrete details. Find the traits of the character – what would they be doing? Then work from that.

Example. A woman waiting by the phone for results of a medical test, biting her nails and occasionally tapping her foot on the floor.

Example 2. A parent holding a phone, pacing, waiting for a child to come home.

The performer must also  be aware of the given circumstances (given in detail later on)

The Inner Truth

This deals with the characters thoughts and emotions. It can be in relation to external actions or internal emotion.

Activity Onstage

All activity onstage mus have a purpose… What? Why? How?

  • What: an activity is performed, such as opening the front door.
  • Why: The door is opened for the social worker who has come to interview a couple about adoption.
  • How: How is the door opened? Nervously, excitedly? This interview could determine their future…

Throughline of a Role

What is the character’s super objective? Or, what do they want more than anything else? What is their driving force?

Example. Harry Potter

His super objective is to defeat Lord Voldemort.

He does this by, ie. his objectives are:

  • Getting more people on his side
  • Finding the horcruxes
  • Destroying the horcruxes.

Ensemble Playing

Performers do not act alone. Shows such as ‘Friends’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ are ensembles where the actors work well as a team. Ensemble is a group where all players are of equal status.

Stanislavski and psychophysical Action (aka psychological gesture)

A character’s actions will lead to his/her emotions.

Around 1917, Stanislavski began to look at purposeful action, or psychophysical action. This means an action which has a purpose and leads to feelings about the action taken.

He believed that purposeful action undertaken to fulfill a character’s goals was the most direct route to the emotions.


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