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The Stanislavski System (basis of Method acting)

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The Stanislavski System (basis of Method acting)

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  • June 12, 2004
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Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938), a Russian actor and director, devised a system which would allow an actor to "make the audience suspend their disbelief and believe utterly in the character on stage" by way of hard work and constant study. His System, the basis of the American "Method", is built around the theory that to completely deceive the audience, the actor must suspend their own disbelief and onstage become the character they are portraying. This he claims is made possible by training the actor, analysing the script, answering the Fundamental Questions and using creative imagination - the "Magic If".

The actor must train their body and voice, as even the strongest emotions can be conveyed by carefully judged, subtle movements. They must be strong and flexible if they are to respond to all the demands of the role, as physical movement and control is the key to an accurate representation. One such example is Marlon Brando, who in preparation for the stage (and later film) production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" underwent a rigorous and demanding physical regime and diet, in order to best represent the chauvinistic, aggressive Stanley.

Concentration, both mental and physical, is also extremely important under the System as it leads to a state of heightened awareness. In Drama class, I applied the `circles of attention' exercise, in which I focused on one spot on the ground and then slowly widened my focus until I was super-aware and conscious of the room. The actor must be an acute observer, so that they can act and react genuinely, creating the illusion of reality.

In An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski states "The actor must first of all believe in everything that takes place onstage, and most of all, he must believe what he himself is doing. And one can only believe in the truth." He proposed that this was possible through `emotion memory'. The actor must be able to recall past experiences which will allow them to understand...