If acting is your passion, and you want to know more about it, the Stanislavski method is an important approach for every actor and their career. Among the different acting techniques, all are based or have been influenced by the Stanislavski system.

This article will review the history of the Stanislavski method, its main concepts and the pillars or techniques that sustain it.

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History of the Stanislavski method

Konstantin Stanislavski, also written Stanislavsky, was a Russian theatre practitioner that developed the Stanislavski system in the first half of the twentieth century. It is called a system because he developed a holistic and psychological approach to acting. Where all parts of the conscious and subconscious behaviour or emotional experience are taken into account and complement or are complemented by the physically grounded part of a character.

Stanislavski performed and directed as an amateur until the age of 33, he then co-founded the world-famous Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898. Through the MAT, he established his reputation and promoted the new Russian drama of his day in Russia and around the world.

Throughout his career, Stanislavski submitted his acting and direction to a severe and rigorous process of artistic self-analysis and reflection. When he finally came to organize his techniques into a coherent, systemic methodology, he built them on three major strands, the director-centred, the actor-centred and the Naturalistic staging. All of which, he created through different companies, actors, and theatres.

The first references of his system appeared in 1909, while he incorporated his techniques into his rehearsal process, many actors of the MAT resented Stanislavski for using them as an experiment and laboratory to perfect his system. His method and the Stanislavski system was later officially adopted in the rehearsal method in 1911.

Main concepts of the Stanislavski method

Because the Tanislavski method is holistic and complex, it is important to understand the language and concepts that Stanislavski himself used to define his technique. Here is a list of the main concept that we will review.

Experiencing the role

This exercise constitutes the inner, psychological aspect of a role, where the actor's individual feelings and personality prepare the actor for a performance based on experience, thus allowing it to experience the role.

Given Circumstances

The ensemble of the circumstances given to the actor by the playwright, screenwriter but also the choices made by the director, designer and other actors. All these elements will be incorporated into a performance called the given circumstances.

Magic if or Imagination

This concept describes the ability to imagine oneself in a set of fictional circumstances and to envision the consequences and reactions of finding oneself facing that specific situation in terms of action. It is essential to have fully grasped the meaning and elements of the given circumstances to be able to properly imagine the magic if.

An artist and in this case an actor without imagination can not thrive. Imagination is what brings any art alive. Other methods such as Uta Hagens's method are also great advocates of imagination. In this technique, the main tool is the if, which sets the possibilities of imagining scenarios and circumstances for anything.

writing a script
Screenplays include dialogue, action words, and other necessary aspects, but using one's imagination is key to bringing the script alive. Source Unsplash

Attention

This is a difficult aspect for actors, where should they focus or look while acting? To address this, the technique relies on the actor having a point of attention, this will help the actor stay in the scene and away from the audience. Another way of applying this technique is to create a circle of attention with the help of different objects, lights or other actors. This circle of attention is able to move with the actor in the scene.

Tasks and Action or Units and Objectives

The task or sequence of tasks is a problem, entrenched in the given circumstances of a scene, that the character needs to solve. A scene can have several tasks, where the given circumstances are constantly evolving. As a result, a sequence of tasks will form the line of action, which unites the different units or 'bits' of tasks.
Tasks have also been identified as 'objectives' by Elizabeth Hapgood's English translation. Thus, a sequence of tasks will lead to a major objective in a scene.

In other words, action simply means doing something, which is way more difficult on stage than it might be on a rehearsal. Every action serves a purpose in the task sequence to bring the right emotions in you and then transmit it to the audience.

Emotional Memory

Emotion memory consists in recalling a past event of your own life that is similar to the given circumstances, this in order to get to the points that move you, allowing you to create new feelings for the scene.

Method of Physical Action

To complement all the psychological and emotional sides of his system, Stanislavski elaborated the physically grounded rehearsal process called the method of physical action. This is where the active analysis of the magic if and experiencing the role would use the given circumstances to improvise and use the physical world to take action.

Truthfulness

Once you have mastered all the above techniques, you will be able to create faith, doing your action with full conviction without going overboard is the delicate balance to make your audience believe you as much as you believe yourself.

As an actor, you have to put life into all the imagined circumstances and action until your sense of truth is satisfied and create faith in what you are doing.”- Stanislavski.

The pillars of the Stanislavski method

Experiencing the Role, Given Circumstances, Magic if, Task or Objective, Action, and Physical Action

The Stanislavski system is a concise yet flexible formula for actors to understand and apply the different elements of his technique. The aim of this system is to help actors transform into their characters by using the psycho-technique. These pillars are meant to pave the way for the actors into their character and into the scene. These elements are all equally important and even interchangeable, they are only taught sequentially to organize and structure an actor's path to their character.

An essential aspect of the Stanislavski technique is that it demands great effort and self-exploration. This will result in creating a truthful performance, where real emotions are brought up.

Why you should study the Stanislavski system?

Stanislavski's system has since then been used, this means that his method and techniques have been proving the efficiency of the technique for over a hundred years!

Regardless of your level or ability, if you are looking to create something and feel, this system is a helpful tool for everyone. It will enrich your acting experience and will help you unlock certain skills you are lacking, whether on the psycho-emotional or physical side.

“In the language of an actor, to know is synonymous with to feel.”–Konstantin Stanislavski

For learning more about Stanislavskis system search here on Superprof:

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Cloé

Franco-Mexican freelance writer. I love writing about philosophy, poetry and social justice. Hope you enjoy my articles!