Konstantin Stanislavsky

How Stanislavski Reinvented the Craft of Acting

There is no definitive approach to acting, but the world-famous Stanislavski Method or System certainly comes close. Often heralded as the ultimate modern acting technique, it is used by actors and teachers around the world. In fact, the technique has become a critical part of any actor’s training. The method also provided the foundations of the famous techniques created in the United States by Lee Strasberg (method acting), Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner. We teach everything you need to know here at Open City Acting Studio, including online classes and we are going to give you an in depth overview of Stanislavki in this article.

This guide will provide an in-depth explanation of Stanislavski’s Method, including descriptions of the various elements of the technique, along with information about its history and its place in modern acting training.

What is the Stanislavski Method?

Konstantin Stanislavski developed his prolific acting technique in 19th century Russia. He was born into one of the richest families in Russia, which gave him the financial freedom to pursue amateur dramatics and experimental theater.

Stanislavski originally began his career as an amateur actor and director and in 1897, he created what would become the Moscow Art Theater, which was designed to be a “popular theatre” or a theater for the masses. During this time, Stanislavski found traditional acting styles too performative and over-the-top for his liking. He began to codify what he saw as ‘good’ or ‘naturalistic’ acting. These notes developed into a system and became what we now know as the Stanislavski Method.

Here are the five main elements of the acting method as they are taught in modern theatrical institutions.

Experiencing the Role

At the center of Stanislavski’s System lies the principle of ‘experiencing the role.’ Essentially, the concept of experiencing the role comes down to the actor feeling true emotions while on-stage or in front of the camera. These emotions should be analogous to those that the character is experiencing.

This concept of experiencing the character’s emotions was revolutionary in Stanislavski’s time. Prior to his system, professional actors were taught to represent emotions merely. In this traditional technique, the actor remains removed from the character, whereas with the system, the actor should begin to feel “as one with” the character.

Given Circumstances

The concept of given circumstances refers to the circumstances that are referred to within the script. This element of the technique is when the actor is asked to determine the who, what, where, when, and why for their character.

Stanislavski developed the following questions, which are designed to help the actor envisage their character’s circumstances, thereby bringing greater truthfulness to their performance. 

Who Am I?

Using the text, the actor determines details like name, age, location, education, likes, dislikes, and so on. Teachers of the system will often advise the actor to write down everything the character says about themselves and what other characters say about you.

Where Am I?

The actor notes the exact location of each scene, along with the character’s feelings about this location.

When Is It?

The actor determines the century, season, time of day, and so on. Details about time will give the actor information about the character’s current state of mind.

What Do I Want?

“What do I want?” Is the question the actor asks himself or herself to determine the character’s objective in the scene. Understanding the character’s objective helps the actor embody the character in an active way.

Why Do I Want It?

Understanding why the character wants what they want will give the actor the impetus to pursue their objective within the scene and commit to their actions.

How Will I Get It?

The actor determines the character’s tactical ‘gameplan’ within the scene. Actors will generally experiment with a range of tactical approaches in the rehearsal period.

What Do I Need To Overcome?

Finally, actors determine what the character obstacles are within the scene. Knowing the character’s obstacles will help the actor come up with useful tactics to try within the scene.

Magic If

Stanislavski created the term magic if to describe the actor’s ability to imagine themselves in the character’s given circumstances. First, actors practice imagining how they would act if they were in the character’s given circumstances. 

Many acting teachers will take their students through a series of exercises to develop their ability to imagine effectively and believably. 

Tasks and Action

Tasks, or objectives, are the character’s problems that they try to solve within each scene. Actors separate the scene into beats. Each beat holds a new task or objective. Each task leads to the next creating a ‘through-line of action.’

An action is an active approach the character takes in each beat. Actions should be framed as “I do x to you.” For instance, if the action behind the line “Will you marry me?” is “I seduce you,” the tactic will be very different from the tactic for “I ridicule you.” 

Method of Physical Action

This principle is designed to immerse the actor in the character’s given circumstances, making their performance nuanced and truthful. The actor begins by moving around the set in character, interacting with objects, and experiencing the character’s mundane physical actions. 

How to Apply the Stanislavski System to Your Script

Stanislavski’s system can be a wonderful tool for in-depth textual analysis.  

stanislavski system for acting

Begin by asking yourself the seven questions listed about to determine your character’s given circumstances. After answering these questions, you should have a good idea of your character’s “super-objective,” the overarching desire of the character over the course of the play.

The next step is to look at each of your character’s scenes individually. Each scene will have its own objective, and within each scene, there will be a series of beats, each of which has its own task.

For each task, write down a few action options. These are the tactics you may wish to try in rehearsal to get what you want. Once you get into rehearsal, say open and responsive. Be prepared to throw all of your predetermined actions out the window and respond naturally to your scene partners.

What Acting Methods Complement Stanislavski’s Technique?

The Stanislavski System was the first of its kind. Unlike acting techniques of the past, the Stanislavski System produced naturalistic performances, unlike anything the world had ever seen. Theater practitioners across the world were amazed by the results they saw. In the United States, several actors and acting teachers took his system on board and began to develop their own techniques around his principles. 

The Group Theater formed in New York in the 1930s. Notable members such as Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, and Stella Adler all went on to create their own methods that borrowed specific elements from the Stanislavski System. Their methods compliment Stanislavski’s, and many famous actors use a mixture of these methods to create their characters.

Lee Strasberg’s Method Acting

Lee Strasberg began his career as an actor in New York and he is one of a few pioneers credited with bringing the Stanislavski’s System to America. Strasberg was committed to realistic acting and for this reason, he was drawn to the elements of Stanislavski’s System that created true emotions in the actor. Eventually, using elements such as “magic if” and “emotional memory,” Strasberg created his own version of the system. For this reason, Strasberg’s method is also known as method acting. 

Meisner Technique

Meisner and Strasberg began their career together, however during their time at the Group Theater, they began to disagree about how to apply Stanislavski’s System. While both were interested in truthfulness on stage, Meisner was more interested in creating responsive, spontaneous actors. 

His technique uses a series of repetition exercises to get actors out of their own heads and habits. The Meisner Technique also employs improvisational exercises to ensure that actors are responding truthfully at the moment. 

Stella Adler

Stella Adler worked with both Strasberg and Meisner in New York. After which, she spent a few months studying with Stanislavski in Russia. When she returned to New York, she found that the approaches of Strasberg and Meisner had diverged too greatly from the Stanislavski System she knew.

Ultimately, Adler created her own version of the system too. The crux of Adler’s method is the imagination. Her focus is on developing the actors’ ability to imagine circumstances to generate real emotion. This makes her method much closer to Stanislavski’s than Strasberg’s.

Famous Actors Who Use the Stanislavski System

Most actor’s training programs teach the Stanislavski System to their students. Consequently, almost every working actor uses at least a few elements of the system in their work. Some examples of actors who are known for their use of the Stanislavski System include:

·       Marlon Brando

·       Gregory Peck

·       John Gielgud

·       Laurence Olivier

·       Stella Adler

·       Joshua Logan

·       Ellen Burstyn

·       Marilyn Monroe

Acting Studios Where the Stanislavski System Was Developed

Stanislavski’s system began in Russia in the early twentieth century, but Stanislavski continued to grow and develop his system at a few specific acting studios.

First Studio

The First Studio was the space in the Moscow Art Theatre that Stanislavski created in order to develop his system in 1912. During this time, Stanislavski designed the space to function as a theater laboratory. Here he could experiment and practice his concepts with colleagues. 

In addition, he worked with Russian actors Yevgeny Bakhtangov, Michael Chekhov, Richard Boleslawski, and Maria Ouspenskaya at the First Studio until 1923.

Opera Studio

Stanislavski created the Opera Studio in 1918 to teach members of the Bolshoi Theater and the Moscow Conservatory. His aim was to prove that his method was universally applicable to all forms of theater, including opera. It was at the Opera Studio that Stanislavski developed his concept of “tempo-rhythm,” which is all about determining a character’s unique musical rhythm or beat.

Opera-Dramatic Studio

Between 1935 and 1938, Stanislavski worked from his home. He aimed to create a cohesive company of actors and teachers to ensure his method would live on after his death. He solidified his method during this time and created a four-year timeline for future students of the system.

Where to Study Acting in the United States? 

Open City Acting Studio is known for the best acting classes in Los Angeles. Whether you are preparing for a film, play, creative work or just need to know how the business works, Open City has everything you need.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Konstantin Stanislavski’s System is, without a doubt, the most prolific and well-known technique. Almost every acting program will teach elements of the system, and almost every working actor uses the method to create their characters. His system has shaped the acting industry as we know it. 

The system revolves around a series of principles that can be used by actors to create real emotions and naturalistic performances. Actors determine their given circumstances by analyzing the textual evidence given in the script. They then break down the script into a series of beats and tasks. This codified script gives them an in-depth understanding of the scene’s trajectory and allows them the freedom to improvise and play within a strict framework.

Stanislavski’s system is still taught around the world to this day. If you are interested in studying the method, there is a wide range of schools all over the world that offer rigorous training in the system. 

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