Konstantin Stanislavsky. My Life As Art. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, (this second edition was originally published in 1928)
Stanislavsky was born in 1863. As a child he was in a children’s theater production where he was to pretend to throw a piece of wood into a fire. He wondered why he should pretend, so he went close to the fire to throw the wood in for real. His clothing caught fire. The author notes this obstinacy demonstrated in his first theater appearance continued through his career.
The author worked in theater, including puppets and ballet, beginning in his youth. He studied theatrical acts and bought books about theater and costumes. He rehearsed the acts and tried making the costumes he saw. He observed people and drew acting material from what he saw.
Nadezhda Medvedeva was an early inspiration to Stanislavsky. He was impressed how her acting and mannerisms allowed people to believe things they could not see. He appreciated and emulated the expressionism and polish of actor Alexander Lensky. Numerous other actors were also influences on Stanislavsky’s acting.
Stanislavsky appeared on stage with his actor parents. He spoke and gestured too quickly and learned from those mistakes not to repeat them. He sought to present of stage a “feeling of true measure”. He imitated another actor, M.P. Sadovsky, including his walk and mannerisms. In doing so, he learned that the “feeling of true measure” was feeling accomplishment and appreciation.
Stanisklavsky attended a drama school that followed the old imperial theater school of teaching as taught by Mikhail Semyonovich Shchepkin. He writes the actors were trained “simply---and who knows---more correctly than today.” The first lesson was to govern one’s body. He taught one needs to look the part and to speak a part as it is meant to be spoken. He taught how to properly speak with correct diction.
Others attempted to teach in the style of Schcepkin by teaching there was a way to play a part and the actor must work until meeting that role. Stanislavsky believed that true talent was found from deep inside the soul. Instead of the traditional method of being taught how to portray a role. Stanislavsky believe an actor needed to learn a craft.
Acting students then were taught to imitate their teachers. Yet they did not learn technique nor how to develop talent and how to be convincing and artistic.
Stanislavsky discovered when performing his first tragedy that a mistake is enlarged compared to comedy or vaudeville. Yet a good performance can resonate and “shake the souls” of those in the audience.
Stanislavsky went on to appear in numerous plays. He achieved great acclaim for his talents. He used his knowledge of psychology in creating roles. He examined the subtleties of his roles and portrayed them. He writes that stage emotion is a form of hysteria and that emotions must arise internally.
An actor needs to know when to show strong emotions. There are roles when showing emotions at the wrong time can ruin the performance. An actor should feel from the soul when the emotions are wrong.
An actor finds acting is strained as the task increases, such as showing emotions when the actor does not feel the emotions. Inexperienced actors produce buffers preventing good performances.
Stanislavsky directed plays. He presented to the actors what he imagined the roles should be and the actors then imitated him. As a director, he sought to be true and sincere. He found that truth stimulates emotions which then produces creative intuition.
Stanislavsky described the joy of acting as, “What a happiness it is to feel, even in once in a lifetime, what a real actor must feel and do on the stage? It’s paradise for the actor, and I came to know it in the course of my work’ and having come to know it, I refuse to accept anythhing else in art.” He states that proper technique makes acting an art.
In teaching actors Stansilavsky found it is easier to destroy old bad habits than it is to learn something new.
Acting requires much preparatory work. An actor must present realism. At first, Stanislavsky knew how to act only by intuition. He then sought artistic feelings and emotions to create a spiritual realism. An actor must feel the material truth to achieve genuine art and outward realism. The goal is to achieve genuine artistic truth.
Acting with symbolism and impressionism is achieved in one’s superconsciousness, which exists beyond the ultra-natural. This must develop naturally so the super-consciousness is removed from its inner self in one’s soul.
The only correct line for actors is that of intuition and feelings which emerge from the un-consciousness. This line defines the spiritual and physical aspects of acting.
If a role is one involving social-political issues, the actor must be true to the role and not be concerned with the social and political issues. The old way of thinking is an actor needs talent and inspiration, and that is essentially all an actor needs. Stanislavsky argues an actor needs technique that arises from te super-consciousness.
The old acting method was to study the psychology of a role and to develop a spiritual connection to the role, sometimes with the use of alcohol and/or narcotics. Stanislavsky believes acting an an art that arises internally from one’s own inner inspirations. As Stanislavsky wrote, “Real art should teach how to rouse in oneself the superconscious nature for superconscious organic creation.” From there, an actor develops an inncer technique.
Stanislavsky’s acting method consists of 1.) one’s inner and outer work upon oneself, which involves creating a psychic technique leading to a creative mood that provides inspiration and 2.) inner and outer work on the role, which prepares an actor’s body to become the role by and presenting the role through one’s inner life. An actor studies the spiritual context of a meaning and finds its meaning.