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Stanislavski Method Although most filmgoers readily form opinions about acting, the subject of performance is one of the least analyzed aspects of film aesthetics. What exactly do actors contribute to film artistry, and how do they do it? Lee Strasberg (1899-1982), a teacher and theorist of acting and a leader of the Actors Studio, suggested that the most effective film performers were those who did not act. “They try not to act but to be themselves, to respond or react,” he said. This may be a debatable proposition in the sense that performers' images and roles are invariably constructed by such factors as studio publicity and genre codes, but it does relate to a central tenet of the Stanislavski Method: actors were not to emote in the traditional manner of stage conventions, but to speak and gesture in a manner one would use in private life. Konstantin Stanislavski, who was, director at the Moscow Art Theater, wrote a number of books on acting, the first of which, An Actor Prepares, was published in English translation in 1936. Before then, however, one of his students, Richard Boleslawsky (1889-1937), opened an acting school in New York and began teaching Stanislavskian principles (Boleslavsky went on to Hollywood and directed a number of films in the 1930s)” The first significant performance work drawing on Stanislavski's ideas was carried Out by the Group Theater, formed in New York in 1931. The Group's most famous Production was a play expressing the militant radical spirit of the 1930s, “Waiting for Lefty” (1935), by Clifford Odets (1903-1963), who became a Hollywood scriptwriter and occasional director. The Group did not last beyond the 1930s, but its influence continued in Hollywood and through the formation of the Actors Studio. After World War II, in the context of the Actors Studio, the Stanislavski Method was shorn of its radical Political connotations (the Group Theater became a particular target of anticommunist investigators) and emphasized an individualized, psychological approach to acting- The “Method” required a performer to draw on his or her own self, on experiences, memories, and emotions that could inform a characterization and shape how a character might speak or move. Characters were thus shown to have an interior life; rather than being stereotyped figures representing a single concept (the villain, the heroine), they could become complex human beings with multiple and contradictory feelings and desires. it was the ability to convey the complexity-indeed the confusion of inner feelings that made the Actors Studio-trained Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean such emblematic figures for the Postwar era. The most celebrated two character exchange in the history of American movies, a historian of Method acting, Steve Wineberg, has called the taxicab scene in “On the Waterfront”, with two Actors Studio alumni, Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy and Rod Steiger as Charley, his older brother. Terry discovers his brother's past betrayal, “I coulda been a contender” and Charley faces his own imminent death. Konstantin Stanislavski (1863- 1938) by Trevor Jones and Bradley W. Bishop As founder of the first acting "System", co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre (1897-), and an eminent practitioner of the naturalist school of thought, Konstantin Stanislavski unequivocally challenged traditional notions of the dramatic process, establishing himself as one of the most pioneering thinkers in modern theatre. Stanislavski coined phrases such as "stage direction", laid the foundations of modern opera and gave instant renown to the works of such talented writers and playwrights as Maksim Gorki and Anton Chekhov. His process of character development, the "Stanislavski Method", was the catalyst for method acting- arguably the most influential acting system on the modern stage and screen. Such renowned schools of acting and directing as the Group Theatre (1931- 1941) and The Actors Studio (1947-) are a legacy of Stanislavski's pioneering vision. Like all pioneering thinkers however, Stanislavski stood on the shoulders of giants. Much of the thought and philosophy Stanislavsky applied to the theatre derives from his predecessors. Pushkin, Russia's original literary hero and the father of the native realist tradition, wrote that the goal of the artist is to supply truthful feelings under given circumstances, which Stanislavski adopted as his lifelong artistic motto. - Polyakova, Elena; Stanislavsky Stanislavsky was born Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev in Moscow on January 5, 1863, amidst the transition from the feudal serfdom of Czarist Russia under the rule of Peter the Great, to the free enterprise of the Industrial Revolution. More than one hundred years prior, Konstantin's ancestor Alexei Petrov had broken the chains of serfdom that bound the family and gained immediate status and wealth as a merchant. By the time Konstantin was born, the Alexeyev business of gold and silver thread production had made the family name well known throughout the world. Silver and gold were not the only interests of the Alexeyev family. While Konstantin was still very young, the family organized a theatre group called the Alexeyev Circle. Throughout his ascent to a major role on the stage, Konstantin maintained obligations to his family business, organizing shareholder meetings and keeping the accounts in order. However, his preoccupation with all aspects of theatrical production eventually made him a leading member of his family's theatre group. Reared by a wealthy and generous father, Konstantin was never short of funding in his early stage performances. Ultimately, in order to escape the stereotype of the prodigal son and to be mindful of the reputation of his family, at the age of 25, Konstantin took the stage name Stanislavski. In the same year he established the Society of Art and Literature as an amateaur company at the Maly Theatre, where he gained experience in ethics, aesthetics and stagecraft. As he progressed independently, Stanislavsky began to further challenge the traditional stage approach. In 1898, in cooperation with Vladimir Nemirovich- Danchenko, Stanislavski founded the Moscow Art Theatre, Russia's first ensemble theatre. "The program for our undertaking was revolutionary. We protested against the old manner of acting and against theatricality, against artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation on the stage, and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star system which had been a bad affect on the cast, against the whole arrangement of plays and against the poor repertoire of the theatres." - Stanislavski Using the Moscow Art Theatre as his conduit, Stanislavski developed his own unique system of training wherein actors would research the situation created by the script, break down the text according to their character's motivations and recall their own experiences, thereby causing actions and reactions according to these motivations. The actor would ideally make his motivations for acting identical to those of the character in the script. He could then replay these emotions and experiences in the role of the character in order to achieve a more genuine performance. The 17th Century melodrama Tsar Fyodor was the first production in which these techniques were showcased. "How does an actor act? ... How can the actor learn to inspire himself? What can he do to impel himself toward that necessary yet maddeningly elusive creative mood? These were the simple, awesome riddles Stanislavksi dedicated his life to exploring. Where and how to 'seek those roads into the secret sources of inspiration must serve as the fundamental life problem of every true actor' ... If the ability to receive the creative mood in its full measure is given to the genius by nature", Stanislavski wondered, "then perhaps ordinary people may reach a like state after a great deal of hard work with themselves - not in its full measure, but at least in part." - A Method to Their Madness: The History of the Actors Studio Using this system, Stanislavski succeeded like no producer or director before him in translating the works of such renowned playwrights as Chekov and Gorki, whose writings were aptly suited to his method. With their social consciousness and emphasis on the importance of imagery and theme rather than plot, they were blank canvasses on which Stanislavski could exercise his artful hand. Stanislavski clearly could not separate the theatre from its social context. He viewed theatre as a medium with great social and educational significance. During the civil unrest leading up to the first Russian revolution in 1905, Stanislavski courageously reflected social issues on the stage. Twelve years later, during the Red October of 1917, Bolshevism had swept through Russia and the Soviet Union was established. In the violence of revolution, Lenin's personal protection saved Stanislavski from being eliminated along with the Czardom. The USSR maintained allegiance to Stanislavski and his socially conscious method of production and his theatre began to produce plays containing Soviet propoganda. "The revolution thundered in and made its demands on us. There began a period of new explorations, of reappraisal of the old and the search for new ways. At a time when the new for the sake of the new and the negation of everything that had come before held sway in the theatre, we could not reject out of hand all that was fine in the past ... This link with the past and the eagerness to move to an unknown future, the searching quests of the new theatre - all this helped to keep us from succumbing to the dangerous 'charms' of formalism ... We did not succumb; instead we began our quest for new ways, cautiously but doggedly." - Stanislavski In 1918 Stanislakski established the First Studio as a school for young actors and in his later years wrote two books, My Life in Art and The Actor and His Work. Both have been translated into over 20 languages. Through his earnest professional and educational leadership, Stanislavksi spread his knowledge to numerous understudies, leaving a legacy that cannot be overstated. "It was with a feeling of deep emotion and joy that we entered Stanislavski's house: a tall old man with snow white hair rose from the arm chair to greet us. It was enough for us to converse with Stanislavski just 5- 10 minutes to come away feeling like a new born person, cleansed of all that might be 'bad' in art." - Khmelyov In 1938, just before World War II, Stanislavski died holding on to the ideal of a peaceful, socially responsible world. A world completely engulfed in the experiences and interchange of works of art that people of every nation would identify with and cherish. "Let the wisdom of the old guide the buoyancy and vitality of the youth; let the buoyancy and vitality of the youth sustain the wisdom of the old." - Stanislavski The Stanislavski System A Technique for Realistic Acting (taken from the book, "Theatre, The Lively Art") Before the realistic drama of the late 1800s, no one had devised a method for achieving this kind of believability. Through their own talent and genius, individual actresses and actors had achieved it, but no one had developed a system whereby it could be taught and passed on to future generations. The person who did this the most successfully was the Russian actor and director Constanin Stanislavski. All of our acts, even the simplest, which are so familiar to us in everyday life, become strained when we appear behind the footlights before a public of a thousand people. That is why it is necessary to correct ourselves and learn again how to walk, sit, or lie down. It is essential to re-educate ourselves to look and see, on the stage, to listen and to hear. To achieve this "reeducation", Stanislavski said, "the actor must first of all believe in everything that takes place onstage, and most all, he must believe what he himself is doing. And one can only believe in the truth." To give substance to his ideas, Stanislavski studied how people act in everyday life and how they communicated feelings and emotions; and then he found a way to accomplish the same things onstage. He developed a series of exercises and techniques for the performer which had the following broad aims: 1. To make the outward behavior of the performer - gestures, voice, and the rhythm of movements- natural and convincing. 2. To have the actor or actress convey the goals and objectives-the inner needs of a character. Even if all the visible manifestations of a character are mastered, a performance will appear superficial and mechanical without a deep sense of conviction and belief. 3. To make the life of the character onstage not only dynamic but continuous. Some performers tend to emphasize only the high points of a part; in between, the life of the character stops. In real life, however, people do not stop living. 4. To develop a strong sense of ensemble playing with other performers in a scene. Let us now take a look at Stanislavski's techniques. Relaxation When he observed the great actors and actresses of his day, Stanislavski noticed how fluid and lifelike their movements were. They seemed to be in a state of complete freedom and relaxation, letting the behavior of the character come through effortlessly. He concluded that unwanted tension has to be eliminated and that the performer at all times attain a state of physical and vocal relaxation. Concentration and Observation Stanislavski also discovered that gifted performers always appear fully concentrated on some object, person, or event while onstage. Stanislavski referred to the extent or range of concentration as a circle of attention. This circle of attention can be compared to a circle of light on a darkened stage. the performer should begin with the idea that it is a small, tight, circle including only himself or herself and perhaps one other person or one piece of furniture. When the performer has established a strong circle of attention, he or she can enlarge the circle outward to include the entire stage area. In this way performers will stop worrying about the audience and lose their self-consciousness. Importance of Specifics One of Stanislavski's techniques was an emphasis on concrete details. A performer should never try to act in general, he said, and should never try to convey a feeling such as fear or love in some vague, amorphous way. In life, Stanislavski said, we express emotions in terms of specifics: an anxious woman twists a handkerchief, an angry boy throws a rock at a trash can, a nervous businessman jangles his keys. Performers must find similar activities. The performer must also conceive of the situation in which a character exists (which Stanislavski referred to as the given circumstances ) in term of specifics. In what kind of space does an event take place: formal, informal, public, domestic? How does it feel? What is the temperature? The lighting? What has gone on just before? What is expected in the moments ahead? Again, those questions must be answered in concrete terms. Inner Truth An innovative aspect of Stanislavski's work has to do with inner truth, which deals with the internal or subjective world of characters - that is, their thoughts and emotions. The early phases of Stanislavski's research took place while he was also directing the major dramas of Anton Chekhov. Plays like The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard have less to do with external action or what the characters say than what the characters are feeling and thinking but often do not verbalize. It becomes apparent that Stanislavski's approach would be very beneficial in realizing the inner life of such characters. Stanislavski had several ideas about how to achieve a sense of inner truth. one being the magic if. If is a word which can transform our thoughts; through it we can imagine ourselves in virtually any situation. "If I suddenly became wealthy..." "If I were vacationing on the Caribbean Island..." "If I had great talent..." "If that person who insulted me comes near me again..." The word if becomes a powerful lever for the mind; it can lift us out of ourselves a give us a sense of absolute certainty about imaginary circumstances. Action Onstage What? Why? How? An important principle of Stanislavski's system is that all action onstage must have a purpose. This means that the performer's attention must always be focused on a series of physical actions linked together by the circumstances of the play. Stanislavski determined these actions by asking three essential questions: What? Why? How? An action is performed, such as opening a letter (the what). The letter is opened because someone has said that it contains extremely damaging information about the character (the why). The letter is opened anxiously, fearfully (the how), because of the calamitous effect it might have on the character. These physical actions, which occur from moment to moment in a performance, are in turn governed by the character's overall objective in the play. Through Line of a Role According to Sstanislavski, in order to develop continuity in a part, the actor or actress should find the superobjective of a character. What is it, above all else, that the character wants during the course of a play? What is the character's driving force? If a goal can be established toward which the character strives, it will give the performer an overall objective. From this objective can be developed a through line which can be grasped, as a skier on a ski lift grabs a towline and is carried to the top. Another term for through line is spine. To help develop the through line, Stanislavski urged performers to divide scenes into unit (sometimes called beats). In each unit there is an objective, and the intermediate objectives running through a play lead ultimately to the overall objective. Ensemble Playing Except in one-person shows, performers do not act alone; they interact with other people. Stanislavski was aware that many performers tend to "stop acting," or lose their concentration, when they are not the main characters in a scene or when someone else is talking. Such performers make a great effort when they are speaking but not when they are listening. This tendency destroys the through line and causes the performer to move into and out of a role. That, in turn, weakens the sense of the ensemble - the playing together of all the performers. Stanislavski and Psychophysical Action A character's actions will lead to his / her emotions. (This is a tough one.) Stanislavski began to develop his techniques in the early part of the twentieth century, and at first he emphasized the inner aspects of training: for example, various ways of getting in touch with the performer's unconscious. Beginning around 1917, however, he began to look more and more at purposeful action, or what he called pyshophysical action. (An action which has a purpose, and leads to feelings about the action taken.) A student at one of his lectures that year took a note and noticed the change: "Whereas action previously had been taught as the expression of a previously- established 'emotional state,' it is now action itself which predominates and is the key to the psychological." (Read this next line carefully) Rather than seeing emotions as leading to action, Stanislavski came to believe that it was the other way around: purposeful action undertaken to fulfill a character's goals was the most direct route to the emotions. Example 1: A character is sitting at a dinner table. All of a sudden the character quickly stands up and throws the plate at the wall, thus causing more anger in the character. Rather than just trying to be mad, the character made an angry motion, throwing a plate, that made the anger greater. Example 2: Character A gives Character B a hug. Character A may now feel closer to the other character, and happier, since giving a hug.) Example 3: If you have ever seen the football player before a game who shouts, lifts weights, yells, or gets angry to psyche himself up before a game, that is psychophysical action.
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