An Actor Prepares’ by Constantin Stanislavski
Because I’m usually immersed in web stuff, it’s interesting to read a text whose ideas are still relevant to its target profession 70 years on. It was mostly a more enjoyable read than I expected — it’s written as if by a student of acting, reporting on a year of training. It makes clear how much more there can be to acting than just “pretending to be someone else”. Unfortunately I kind of lost it around two-thirds of the way through, when he starts talking about transmitting “rays” to each other, and things get a bit hazy and repetitive. Maybe that stuff makes more sense when the preceding chapters have been properly absorbed and used. (Also see my notes on Sanford Meisner on Acting and Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting.) Note by the Translator
The author is most ready to point out that a genius like Salvini or Duse may use without theory the right emotions and expressions that to the less inspired but intelligent student need to be taught. What Stanislavski has undertaken is not to discover a truth but to bring the truth in usable form within the reach of those actors and producers who are fairly well equipped by nature and who are willing to undergo the necessary discipline. 1. The First Test
3 First lesson: turn up to rehearsals on time!
5 If rehearsal seems stilted, the same old stuff, change something: setting, privacy, mood, etc. 2. When Acting is an Art
13 Ideally an actor should be carried away in his part, by the subconscious (as long as it carries him in the right direction). But it’s impossible to control the subconscious without destroying it. 14 You must “live the part” by “actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and every time you repeat the process of creating it.” 15 “Plan your role consciously at first then play it truthfully.” “We must assimilate a psychological technique of living a part, and that this will help us to accomplish our main object, which is to create the life of a human spirit. We must then “express [the life of a human spirit] in a beautiful, artistic form.” 16 The body must be up to it.
18-20 Another method: the “art of representation.” The original preparation of a role is good and true but subsequent performances are fixed, cold copies of its external representation without feelings. We prefer that each performance must be fresh and felt. 19 Be careful when rehearsing with a mirror — teaches you to watch the outside, not the inside. 22-23 The school of the art of representation says the stage is too poor in resources to create life, so we must use these conventions. It may delight you but won’t move you. Its form is interesting rather than content. “Your astonishment rather than your faith is aroused.” 24-6 Mechanical acting: acting with clichés. Shaking fist for revenge, putting hand over heart to express love. Peasants spitting on floor, military men clicking heels. Tearing hair in despair. Clichés will fill every spot in a role that’s not solid with living feeling. But it still takes work to achieve mechanical acting. 27-9 Over-acting: using the first stereotypes, rubber stamps and first impressions that leap to mind, without even sharpening or preparing them for the stage. Common in beginners and can grow into the worst kind of mechanical acting. 29 “Never allow yourself externally to portray anything that you have not inwardly experienced and which is not even interesting to you.” A character built on stereotype cannot grow. 31
“Now remember firmly what I am going to tell you: the theatre, on account of its publicity and spectacular side, attracts many people who merely want to capitalize their beauty or make careers. They take advantage of the ignorance of the public, its perverted taste, favouritism, intrigues, false success, and many other means which have no relation to creative art. These exploiters are the deadliest enemies of art. We have to use the sternest measures with them, and if they cannot be...
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