Konstantin Stanislavsky

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As founder ofthe first acting “System”, co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre (1897-), and aneminent practitioner ofthe naturalist school ofthought, Konstantin Stanislavsky unequivocally challenged traditional notions ofthe dramatic process, establishing himself asone ofthe most pioneering thinkers inmodern theatre.
Stanislavsky coined phrases such as“stage direction“, laid the foundations ofmodern opera and gave instant renown tothe works ofsuch talented writers and playwrights asMaxim Gorky and Anton Chekhov. His process ofcharacter development, the „Stanislavsky Method”, was the catalyst for method acting- arguably the most influential acting system onthe modern stage and screen. Such renowned schools ofacting and directing asthe Group Theatre (1931- 1941) and The Actors Studio (1947-) are alegacy ofStanislavsky's pioneering vision.
Like all pioneering thinkers however, Stanislavsky stood onthe shoulders ofgiants. Much ofthe thought and philosophy Stanislavsky applied tothe theatre derives from his predecessors. Pushkin, Russia's original literary hero and the father ofthe native realist tradition, wrote that the goal ofthe artist istosupply truthful feelings under given circumstances, which Stanislavsky adopted ashis lifelong artistic motto. Polyakova, Elena; Stanislavsky
Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky (Alexeyev) was born inMoscow onJanuary 5, 1863, amidst the transition from the feudal serfdom ofCzarist Russia under the rule ofPeter the Great, tothe free enterprise ofthe Industrial Revolution. More than one hundred years prior, Konstantin's ancestor Alexei Petrov had broken the chains ofserfdom that bound the family and gained immediate status and wealth asamerchant. Bythe time Konstantin was born, the Alexeyev business ofgold and silver thread production had made the family name well known throughout the world.
Silver and gold were not the only interests ofthe Alexeyev family. While Konstantin was still very young, the family organized atheatre group called the Alexeyev Circle. Throughout his ascent toamajor role onthe stage, Konstantin maintained obligations tohis family business, organizing shareholder meetings and keeping the accounts inorder. However, his preoccupation with all aspects oftheatrical production eventually made him aleading member ofhis family's theatre group.
Reared byawealthy and generous father, Konstantin was never short offunding inhis early stage performances. Ultimately, inorder toescape the stereotype ofthe prodigal son and tobemindful ofthe reputation ofhis family, atthe age of25, Konstantin took the stage name Stanislavsky. Inthe same year heestablished the Society ofArt and Literature asanamateaur company atthe Maly Theatre, where hegained experience inethics, aesthetics and stagecraft. Asheprogressed independently, Stanislavsky began tofurther challenge the traditional stage approach. In1898, incooperation with Vladimir Nemirovich- Danchenko, Stanislavsky founded the Moscow Art Theatre, Russia's first ensemble theatre.
“The program for our undertaking was revolutionary. Weprotested against the old manner ofacting and against theatricality, against artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation onthe stage, and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star system which had been abad affect onthe cast, against the whole arrangement ofplays and against the poor repertoire ofthe theatres.” Stanislavsky
Using the Moscow Art Theatre ashis conduit, Stanislavsky developed his own unique system oftraining wherein actors would research the situation created bythe script, break down the text according totheir character's motivations and recall their own experiences, thereby causing actions and reactions according tothese motivations. The actor would ideally make his motivations for acting identical tothose ofthe character inthe script. Hecould then replay these emotions and experiences inthe role ofthe character inorder toachieve amore genuine performance. The 17th Century drama Tsar Fyodor was the first production inwhich these techniques were showcased.
How does anactor act? How can the actor learn toinspire himself? What can hedotoimpel himself toward that necessary yet maddeningly elusive creative mood? These were the simple, awesome riddles Stanislavsky dedicated his life toexploring. Where and how to'seek those roads into the secret sources ofinspiration must serve asthe fundamental life problem ofevery true actor' Ifthe ability toreceive the creative mood inits full measure isgiven tothe genius bynature, Stanislavsky wondered, then perhaps ordinary people may reach alike state after agreat deal ofhard work with themselves not inits full measure, but atleast inpart. AMethod toTheir Madness: The History ofthe Actors Studio
Using this system, Stanislavsky succeeded like noproducer ordirector before him intranslating the works ofsuch renowned playwrights asChekhov and Gorky, whose writings were aptly suited tohis method. With their social consciousness and emphasis onthe importance ofimagery and theme rather than plot, they were blank canvasses onwhich Stanislavsky could exercise his artful hand.
Stanislavsky clearly could not separate the theatre from its social context. Heviewed theatre asamedium with great social and educational significance. During the civil unrest leading uptothe first Russian revolution in1905, Stanislavsky courageously reflected social issues onthe stage. Twelve years later, during the Red October of1917, Bolshevism had swept through Russia and the Soviet Union was established. Inthe violence ofrevolution, Lenin's personal protection saved Stanislavsky from being eliminated along with the Czardom. The USSR maintained allegiance toStanislavsky and his socially conscious method ofproduction and his theatre began toproduce plays containing Soviet propaganda.
The revolution thundered inand made its demands onus. There began aperiod ofnew explorations, ofreappraisal ofthe old and the search for new ways. Atatime when the new for the sake ofthe new and the negation ofeverything that had come before held sway inthe theatre, wecould not reject out ofhand all that was fine inthe past This link with the past and the eagerness tomove toanunknown future, the searching quests ofthe new theatre all this helped tokeep usfrom succumbing tothe dangerous'charms' offormalism Wedid not succumb; instead webegan our quest for new ways, cautiously but doggedly. Stanislavsky
In1918Stanislavsky established the First Studio asaschool for young actors and inhis later years wrote two books, MyLife inArt and The Actor and His Work. Both have been translated into over 20languages. Through his earnest professional and educational leadership, Stanislavsky spread his knowledge tonumerous understudies, leaving alegacy that cannot beoverstated.
Itwas with afeeling ofdeep emotion and joy that weentered Stanislavsky's house: atall old man with snow white hair rose from the arm chair togreet us. Itwas enough for ustoconverse with Stanislavsky just 5- 10minutes tocome away feeling like anew born person, cleansed ofall that might be'bad' inart. Khmelyov
In1938, just before World War II, Stanislavsky died holding ontothe ideal ofapeaceful, socially responsible world. Aworld completely engulfed inthe experiences and interchange ofworks ofart that people ofevery nation would identify with and cherish.
“Let the wisdom ofthe old guide the buoyancy and vitality ofthe youth; let the buoyancy and vitality ofthe youth sustain the wisdom ofthe old.” Stanislavsky
Trevor Jones and Bradley W.Bishop