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Stanislavski’s System of Acting

By Yann, published on 12/01/2019 We Love Prof - IN > Arts and Hobbies > Acting > Learning More About Stanislavski’s System

“The best thing about acting is that I get to lose myself in another character and actually get paid for it… It’s a great outlet. I’m not really sure who I am – it seems I change every day.” -Leonardo Dicaprio

According to the Screen Actors Guild, there are over 100,000 active members worldwide who are either film or television performers.

That’s a lot of actors!

The previously mentioned figures go to show that there are over 100,000 recognised actors are working all over the world, bearing their soul performance after performance on the big screen, small screen or theatre stage.

While it is important to state that only a fraction of stage or film performers experience mainstream success, the artistry of lesser known actors can be seen in small underground theatres across most of the world’s continents.

The love of acting inspires many young performers to pursue a career in the performing arts no matter how little money they receive on their paycheck or how little recognition they receive from audiences and peers. 

Using acting as an outlet and remaining constantly curious by studying new acting methods has launched the careers of Hollywood legends.

Of all acting techniques and acting coaches, Konstantin Stanislavski and his System remain the most popular, even to this day. Superprof is here to show all interested ones the origin, the elements, where to study and celebrated actors who use the ever important Stanislavski system.

Origin of the Stanislavski System

theatre building Founded in 1898 by Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko, the Moscow Art Theatre is a legendary establishment. (Source: IZI Travel)

“Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors.” Konstantin Stanislavski

Stanislavski was born in 1863 to one of Russia’s most affluent families. His birth name was Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev, but in 1884 he adopted the stage name Stanislavski to conceal his theatrical work from his family. Nevertheless, in 1887 he received the approval from his father and became one of the most established members of the Russian theatre.

He always made careful notes and evaluated his work to improve consistently. As a consequence of his love for the theatre, Stanislavski, along with Vladimir Nemirovich Danchencko, founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. The theatre was highly influential in Russia, in Europe and the entire world.

While working at the Moscow Art Theatre, Stanislavski began an intense investigation of the actor’s process. He began to develop actor techniques such as psychological realism and eventually started to organise his acting techniques into coherent theories.

The first reference of Stanislavski mentioning his System dates back to 1909 when he incorporated the methods into his rehearsals. In 1911 after relentless persistence, the System was established as the Moscow Art Theatre’s first acting technique used in repetitions and stage performances.

Since the early 1900s, Stanislavski’s acting theories have been practised and applied by performers all over the world. He is the greatest and most influential of all modern theatre practitioners. 

The most important thing to remember about Stanislavski’s system is that actors are expected to inhabit the role they are playing. Stanislavski’s methods make the performances more realistic and are naturalistic.

Elements of the Stanislavski Method

The Stanislavski method dates back to the 1900s and has a few distinct features that have influenced other acting techniques. Nevertheless, the devices used in Stanislavski’s system are unique enough to distinguish correctly.

The Stanislavski method has seven steps to help actors build believable characters:

  1. Who Am I?
  2. Where Am I?
  3. When Is It?
  4. What Do I Want?
  5. Why Do I Want It?
  6. How Will I Get It?
  7. What Do I Need To Overcome?

I know the previously mentioned questions sound like some things a crazy person would ask! However, they are useful in helping actors create stage personas that are realistic.

Some tips to help actors apply Stanislavski’s methods include reading the script carefully to understand the character’s motivations, work out how your character would react in specific situations, and identify your character’s objectives and the things that are standing his way.

Some additional essential aspects of Stanislavski’s system include the following:

  • Realism in the Theatre: a fourth wall is established to enable the performers to present the actions realistically. Addressing the audience is a major faux pas. Everyday conversations and style of speaking with ordinary people to keep the acts on stage more realistic. No fairytale or fantasy plays are part of the Stanislavski system since the stage actors have to represent real settings,
  • Given Circumstances: these are the details an actor is giving about their character in the beginning,
  • Emotional Memory: the actors recalls a real experience where they felt a similar emotion. They borrow feelings from past events to create a realistic performance,
  • The Magic ‘If’: the primary question asked by an actor would be, ‘What would I do IF I was in this situation?’ This technique requires actors to put themselves in the character’s situation. Budding actors learning about the Stanislavski system perform exercises to become better equipped with the magic ‘if’ technique.

It is important to state that Stanislavski’s system or method should not be mistaken with the Method that was developed by Lee Strasberg.

Where to Study the Stanislavski Technique

Los Angeles is the home of show business Since Hollywood is the hub of the acting industry, there are various schools to learn acting techniques such as Stanislavski’s system. (Source: pixabay)

Since the Stanislavski technique is the world’s most renowned acting method, it can be studied in virtually any city or country around the world.

The United Kingdom has had celebrated actors for decades such as Sir Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellan and Judi Dench who have implemented Stanislavski techniques in their acting.

The following list demonstrates some of the most highly recommended institutes in the UK to study Stanislavski’s system:

  • The Actors Centre: this London-based acting school offers four-day workshops for actors who are new to the Stanislavski system or who want to explore it with further detail. In a safe group setting, instructors demonstrate to students the primary devices developed by Stanislavski. The price for the workshop is £120 and aims to support an individual’s talent and unique artistry,
  • Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA): RADA is one of the most distinguished performing arts school in all of England that offers long-term and short-term courses to pupils interested in the dramatic arts. One of the short classes is titled Stanislavski: Physical Action. It lasts five days, costs £855 and is intended for students 18 years and older who are interested in learning about how physical action can lead to a truthful fusion of character and situation. Practical exercises and scenes are completed to develop the physical aspects of a performance.

Since Hollywood is the hub of all show business, aspiring actors flock to Los Angeles to attend acting classes while waiting for their big break. Here are a few of the best acting schools in the Los Angeles area to study the Stanislavski system:

  • The Michelle Danner Acting Studio: one of the leading acting techniques taught at this school is the Stanislavski system. The acting coaches at the Michelle Danner Acting Studio are passionate individuals who demonstrate to aspiring actors the Stanislavski methods that can improve acting skills and increase understanding of the character. Students learn about different acting techniques and to form their toolbox of acting styles,
  • Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater: in the summer of 1934 in the city of Paris, France, Stanislavski worked with Stella Adler who sought his direction and advice to improve her performances. Soon after her experience with Stanislavski, Adler began to teach aspiring actors her techniques that were based on Stanislavski’s system. After teaching for many years at different venues in Los Angeles, Adler along with a few business partners founded the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater. There are many options for acting classes such as the two-year programme, the part-time programme and the youth programme.

Celebrated Actors Who Use the Stanislavski System

one of the best actresses One of the greatest actresses of her generation, Burstyn applies Stanislavski techniques in her performances. (Source: Visual Hunt)

“Every person who is really an artist desires to create inside of himself another, deeper, more interesting life than the one that actually surrounds him.” -Konstantin Stanislavski

The words penned in Stanislavski’s book, An Actor’s Work, have had a profound impact on plenty of twentieth-century performers who wish to perfect their skills of the acting craft.

Since Stanislavski is considered the father of modern-day acting techniques, many acting teachers have taught his System to aspiring actors. The following list includes some of the most famous actors who apply or who have applied elements of Stanislavski’s method in their performances:

  • Marlon Brando: taught by the Stanislavski inspired acting coach Stella Adler, Brando is known for his raw talent and unique sense of realism portrayed in his characters. Best known for playing Stanley Kowalski in a Streetcar Named Desire, Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront and Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Brando always went the extra mile to understand his character’s emotions, and this contributed to some of the most believable performances in cinematic history. His influence and presence was always felt in Hollywood, and in 1999 he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most important people of the century,
  • John Gielgud: one of the famous original practitioners of the Stanislavski system, Gielgud is one of very few performers who has reached EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony awards) status. His body of work has spanned eight decades, and he is considered one of the most excellent actors of all time. His realistic and humane performances are attributed to his knowledge of Stanislavski techniques,
  • Ellen Burstyn: known as an actress who has also sought the truth in her performances. Burstyn has made bold choices playing complex characters in realistic situations. The humanity she portrays in each performance makes her a perfect example of an actress applying Stanislavski methods to the best of her abilities. She has been lauded as one of the greatest actresses of all time and has won an Oscar for her performance in the classic drama directed by Martin Scorcese titled, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

The previously mentioned examples are just a few famous actors applying Stanislavski techniques in their bodies of work. Other Stanislavski trained actors include Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Julie Harris and Harvey Keitel.

Studying Stanislavski’s system will never be considered a waste of time or money since the techniques acquired are designed to create better actors who will continually impress casting directors and studio executives.

Additional acting techniques that can be studied in select institutions include the basics of classical acting, Meisner’s truthful acting devices, Bertolt Brecht’s revolutionary methods, and the practical aesthetics techniques that were developed in the 1980s.

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