(January 5, 1863–August 7, 1938) was a Russian theatre and acting
Sergeievich Alexeyev in Moscow to a wealthy family, he made his first
acting appearance at the age of seven. He took the stage-name Stanislavski
early in his career (possibly to preserve the reputation of his family.)
In some translations his name is written "Konstantin Stanislavsky".
In 1888, Stanislavski established the Society of Art and Literature
at the Maly Theatre, where he gained experience in aesthetics and stagecraft.
In 1898 he co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko.
The company's first production was Anton Chekhov's The Seagull. It was
at MAT that Stanislavski began developing, based on the realist tradition
of Aleksandr Pushkin, his famous "System" (often called the
"Method", though this is an inaccuracy; method acting was
developed from it). "The System" would later be adapted by
Lee Strasberg in the United States. Stanislavski's System focused on
the development of realistic characters and stage worlds. Actors were
instructed to utilise their "emotion memory" in order to naturally
portray a character's emotions. In order to do this actors were required
to think of a moment in their own lives when they had felt the desired
emotion and then replay the emotion in role in order to achieve a more
Stanislavski's System is a complex method for producing realistic characters;
most of today's actors, on stage, television, and film, owe much to
it. Using "The System", an actor is required to deeply analyse
his or her character's motivations. The actor must discover the character's
Objective in each scene, and Super Objective for the entire play.
One way of doing this was using Stanislavski's "magic if".
Actors were required to ask many questions of their characters and themselves.
For example, one of the first questions they had to ask was, "What
if I was in the same situation as my character?"
Stanislavski also had an impact on modern opera and boosted the works
of writers such as Maxim Gorki and Anton Chekhov.
Stanislavski survived both the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Russian
Revolution of 1917, with Lenin apparently intervening to protect him.
In 1918, Stanislavski established the First Studio as a school for young
actors and wrote several works: those available in English translation
include: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, Creating a Role, and
the biography My Life in Art.
born Jan. 5 [Jan.
17, New Style], 1863, Moscow, Russia
died Aug. 7, 1938, Moscow
Stanislavsky also spelled Stanislavski, original name Konstantin Sergeyevich
Russian actor, director, and producer, founder of the Moscow Art Theatre
(opened 1898). He is best known for developing the system or theory
of acting called the Stanislavsky system, or Stanislavsky method (q.v.).
Stanislavsky's father was a manufacturer, and his mother was the daughter
of a French actress. Stanislavsky first appeared on his parents' amateur
stage at the age of 14 and subsequently joined the dramatic group that
was organized by his family and called the Alekseyev Circle. Although
initially an awkward performer, Stanislavsky obsessively worked on his
shortcomings of voice, diction, and body movement. His thoroughness
and his preoccupation with all aspects of a production came to distinguish
him from other members of the Alekseyev Circle, and he gradually became
its central figure. Stanislavsky also performed in other groups as theatre
came to absorb his life. He adopted the pseudonym Stanislavsky in 1885,
and in 1888 he married Maria Perevoshchikova, a schoolteacher, who became
his devoted disciple and lifelong companion, as well as an outstanding
actress under the name Lilina.
Stanislavsky regarded the theatre as an art of social significance.
Theatre was a powerful influence on people, he believed, and the actor
must serve as the people's educator. Stanislavsky concluded that only
a permanent theatrical company could ensure a high level of acting skill.
In 1888 he and others established the Society of Art and Literature
with a permanent amateur company. Endowed with great talent, musicality,
a striking appearance, a vivid imagination, and a subtle intuition,
Stanislavsky began to develop the plasticity of his body and a greater
range of voice. Praise came from famous foreign actors, and great Russian
actresses invited him to perform with them. Thus encouraged, Stanislavsky
staged his first independent production, Aleksey K. Tolstoy's The Fruits
of Enlightenment, in 1891, a major Moscow theatrical event. Most significantly,
it impressed a promising writer and director, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko
(1858–1943), whose later association with Stanislavsky was to
have a paramount influence on the theatre.
Nemirovich-Danchenko followed Stanislavsky's activities until their
historic meeting in 1897, when they outlined a plan for a people's theatre.
It was to consist of the most talented amateurs of Stanislavsky's society
and of the students of the Philharmonic Music and Drama School, which
Nemirovich-Danchenko directed. As the Moscow Art Theatre, it became
the arena for Stanislavsky's reforms. Nemirovich-Danchenko undertook
responsibility for literary and administrative matters, while Stanislavsky
was responsible for staging and production.
The Moscow Art Theatre opened on Oct. 14 (Oct. 26, New Style), 1898,
with a performance of Aleksey K. Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich. But
Stanislavsky was disappointed in the acting that night. He found it
to be merely imitative of the gestures, intonations, and conceptions
of the director. To project important thoughts and to affect the spectators,
he reflected, there must be living characters on stage, and the mere
external behaviour of the actors is insufficient to create a character's
unique inner world. To seek knowledge about human behaviour, Stanislavsky
turned to science. He began experimenting in developing the first elements
of what became known as the Stanislavsky method. He turned sharply from
the purely external approach to the purely psychological. A play was
discussed around the table for months. He became strict and uncompromising
in educating actors. He insisted on the integrity and authenticity of
performance on stage, repeating for hours during rehearsal his dreaded
criticism, “I do not believe you.”
Stanislavsky's successful experience with Anton Chekhov's The Seagull
confirmed his developing convictions about the theatre. With difficulty
Stanislavsky had obtained Chekhov's permission to restage The Seagull
after its original production in St. Petersburg in 1896 had been a failure.
Directed by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko in 1898, The Seagull
became a triumph, heralding the birth of the Moscow Art Theatre as a
new force in world theatre. Chekhov, who had resolved never to write
another play after his initial failure, was acclaimed a great playwright,
and he later wrote The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1903)
specially for the Moscow Art Theatre.
Staging Chekhov's play, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko discovered
a new manner of performing: they emphasized the ensemble and the subordination
of each individual actor to the whole, and they subordinated the director's
and actors' interpretations to the dramatist's intent. Actors, Stanislavsky
felt, had to have a common training and be capable of an intense inner
identification with the characters that they played, while still remaining
independent of the role in order to subordinate it to the needs of the
play as a whole. Fighting against the artificial and highly stylized
theatrical conventions of the late 19th century, Stanislavsky sought
instead the reproduction of authentic emotions at every performance.
In 1902 Stanislavsky successfully staged both Maksim Gorky's The Petty
Bourgeois and The Lower Depths, codirecting the latter with Nemirovich-Danchenko.
Among the numerous powerful roles performed by Stanislavsky were Astrov
in Uncle Vanya in 1899 and Gayev in The Cherry Orchard in 1904, by Chekhov;
Doctor Stockman in Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People in 1900; and
Satin in The Lower Depths. Both as an actor and as a director, Stanislavsky
demonstrated a remarkable subtlety in rendering psychological patterns
and an exceptional talent for satirical characterization. Commanding
respect from followers and adversaries alike, he became a dominant influence
on the Russian intellectuals of the time. He formed the First Studio
in 1912, where his innovations were adopted by many young actors. In
1918 he undertook the guidance of the Bolshoi Opera Studio, which was
later named for him. There he staged Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's Eugene
Onegin in 1922, which was acclaimed as a major reform in opera.
In 1922–24 the Moscow Art Theatre toured Europe and the United
States with Stanislavsky as its administrator, director, and leading
actor. A great interest was stirred in his system. During this period
he wrote his autobiography, My Life in Art. Ever preoccupied in it with
content and form, Stanislavsky acknowledged that the “theatre
of representation,” which he had disparaged, nonetheless produced
brilliant actors. Recognizing that theatre was at its best when deep
content harmonized with vivid theatrical form, Stanislavsky supervised
the First Studio's production of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
in 1917 and Nikolay Gogol's The Government Inspector in 1921, encouraging
the actor Michael Chekhov in a brilliantly grotesque characterization.
His staging of Aleksandr Ostrovsky's An Ardent Heart (1926) and of Pierre-Augustin
Caron de Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro (1927) demonstrated increasingly
bold attempts at theatricality. His monumental Armoured Train 14–69,
V.V. Ivanov's play about the Russian Revolution, was a milestone in
Soviet theatre in 1927, and his Dead Souls was a brilliant incarnation
of Gogol's masterpiece.
While acting in The Three Sisters during the Moscow Art Theatre's 30th
anniversary presentation on Oct. 29, 1928, Stanislavsky suffered a heart
attack. Abandoning acting, he concentrated for the rest of his life
on directing and educating actors and directors.
The Stanislavsky method, or system, developed over 40 long years. He
tried various experiments, focusing much of the time on what he considered
the most important attribute of an actor's work—bringing an actor's
own past emotions into play in a role. But he was frequently disappointed
and dissatisfied with the results of his experiments. He continued nonetheless
his search for “conscious means to the subconscious”—i.e.,
the search for the actor's emotions. In 1935 he was taken by the modern
scientific conception of the interaction of brain and body and started
developing a final technique that he called the “method of physical
actions.” It taught emotional creativity; it encouraged actors
to feel physically and psychologically the emotions of the characters
that they portrayed at any given moment. The method also aimed at influencing
the playwright's construction of plays.
As founder of the
first acting "System", co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre
(1897-), and an eminent practitioner of the naturalist school of thought,
Konstantin Stanislavski unequivocally challenged traditional notions
of the dramatic process, establishing himself as one of the most pioneering
thinkers in modern theatre.
phrases such as "stage direction", laid the foundations of
modern opera and gave instant renown to the works of such talented writers
and playwrights as Maksim Gorki and Anton Chekhov. His process of character
development, the "Stanislavski Method", was the catalyst for
method acting- arguably the most influential acting system on the modern
stage and screen. Such renowned schools of acting and directing as the
Group Theatre (1931- 1941) and The Actors Studio (1947-) are a legacy
of Stanislavski's pioneering vision.
Like all pioneering
thinkers however, Stanislavski stood on the shoulders of giants. Much
of the thought and philosophy Stanislavsky applied to the theatre derives
from his predecessors. Pushkin, Russia's original literary hero and
the father of the native realist tradition, wrote that the goal of the
artist is to supply truthful feelings under given circumstances, which
Stanislavski adopted as his lifelong artistic motto. - Polyakova, Elena;
born Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev in Moscow on January 5, 1863, amidst
the transition from the feudal serfdom of Czarist Russia under the rule
of Peter the Great, to the free enterprise of the Industrial Revolution.
More than one hundred years prior, Konstantin's ancestor Alexei Petrov
had broken the chains of serfdom that bound the family and gained immediate
status and wealth as a merchant. By the time Konstantin was born, the
Alexeyev business of gold and silver thread production had made the
family name well known throughout the world.
Silver and gold
were not the only interests of the Alexeyev family. While Konstantin
was still very young, the family organized a theatre group called the
Alexeyev Circle. Throughout his ascent to a major role on the stage,
Konstantin maintained obligations to his family business, organizing
shareholder meetings and keeping the accounts in order. However, his
preoccupation with all aspects of theatrical production eventually made
him a leading member of his family's theatre group.
Reared by a wealthy
and generous father, Konstantin was never short of funding in his early
stage performances. Ultimately, in order to escape the stereotype of
the prodigal son and to be mindful of the reputation of his family,
at the age of 25, Konstantin took the stage name Stanislavski. In the
same year he established the Society of Art and Literature as an amateaur
company at the Maly Theatre, where he gained experience in ethics, aesthetics
and stagecraft. As he progressed independently, Stanislavsky began to
further challenge the traditional stage approach. In 1898, in cooperation
with Vladimir Nemirovich- Danchenko, Stanislavski founded the Moscow
Art Theatre, Russia's first ensemble theatre.
"The program for our undertaking was revolutionary. We protested
against the old manner of acting and against theatricality, against
artificial pathos and declamation, and against affectation on the stage,
and inferior conventional productions and decoration, against the star
system which had been a bad affect on the cast, against the whole arrangement
of plays and against the poor repertoire of the theatres." - Stanislavski
Using the Moscow Art Theatre as his conduit, Stanislavski developed
his own unique system of training wherein actors would research the
situation created by the script, break down the text according to their
character's motivations and recall their own experiences, thereby causing
actions and reactions according to these motivations. The actor would
ideally make his motivations for acting identical to those of the character
in the script. He could then replay these emotions and experiences in
the role of the character in order to achieve a more genuine performance.
The 17th Century melodrama Tsar Fyodor was the first production in which
these techniques were showcased.
"How does an actor act? ... How can the actor learn to inspire
himself? What can he do to impel himself toward that necessary yet maddeningly
elusive creative mood? These were the simple, awesome riddles Stanislavksi
dedicated his life to exploring. Where and how to 'seek those roads
into the secret sources of inspiration must serve as the fundamental
life problem of every true actor' ... If the ability to receive the
creative mood in its full measure is given to the genius by nature",
Stanislavski wondered, "then perhaps ordinary people may reach
a like state after a great deal of hard work with themselves - not in
its full measure, but at least in part." - A Method to Their Madness:
The History of the Actors Studio
Using this system, Stanislavski succeeded like no producer or director
before him in translating the works of such renowned playwrights as
Chekov and Gorki, whose writings were aptly suited to his method. With
their social consciousness and emphasis on the importance of imagery
and theme rather than plot, they were blank canvasses on which Stanislavski
could exercise his artful hand.
could not separate the theatre from its social context. He viewed theatre
as a medium with great social and educational significance. During the
civil unrest leading up to the first Russian revolution in 1905, Stanislavski
courageously reflected social issues on the stage. Twelve years later,
during the Red October of 1917, Bolshevism had swept through Russia
and the Soviet Union was established. In the violence of revolution,
Lenin's personal protection saved Stanislavski from being eliminated
along with the Czardom. The USSR maintained allegiance to Stanislavski
and his socially conscious method of production and his theatre began
to produce plays containing Soviet propoganda.
"The revolution thundered in and made its demands on us. There
began a period of new explorations, of reappraisal of the old and the
search for new ways. At a time when the new for the sake of the new
and the negation of everything that had come before held sway in the
theatre, we could not reject out of hand all that was fine in the past
... This link with the past and the eagerness to move to an unknown
future, the searching quests of the new theatre - all this helped to
keep us from succumbing to the dangerous 'charms' of formalism ... We
did not succumb; instead we began our quest for new ways, cautiously
but doggedly." - Stanislavski
In 1918 Stanislakski established the First Studio as a school for young
actors and in his later years wrote two books, My Life in Art and The
Actor and His Work. Both have been translated into over 20 languages.
Through his earnest professional and educational leadership, Stanislavksi
spread his knowledge to numerous understudies, leaving a legacy that
cannot be overstated.
"It was with a feeling of deep emotion and joy that we entered
Stanislavski's house: a tall old man with snow white hair rose from
the arm chair to greet us. It was enough for us to converse with Stanislavski
just 5- 10 minutes to come away feeling like a new born person, cleansed
of all that might be 'bad' in art." - Khmelyov
In 1938, just before World War II, Stanislavski died holding on to the
ideal of a peaceful, socially responsible world. A world completely
engulfed in the experiences and interchange of works of art that people
of every nation would identify with and cherish.