The Stanislavski System (Part 1)

Retrieved and adapted from “Theatre, the Lively Art”

What makes good acting? How do we act well? What makes some actors more watchable than others?

We are all drawn to acting that is compelling, truthful and believable. If Arthur Miller was right and the stage really is so much like life, then the best works are naturally the ones that best imitate and inspire real life. Russian actor and director Constantine Stanislavski sought to answer those questions – the same ones that haunt us all as actors as we try time and again to reach that unattainable state of perfection in our craft. Stanislavski spent years studying the great performers of his time and reflecting on his own acting experiences in order to find those answers. He realized that gifted performers were able to execute actions and emotions on stage in a way that is natural and intuitive – in other words, organically. They believed in everything that took place on stage, and most of all, they believed in what they themselves were doing; they were at one with their characters. After all, without a deep sense of conviction and belief, acting becomes superficial and bad. 

In this installation of 5 parts, we are going to examine the Stanislavski system, a series of technique compiled to bring out the very best in your acting. Stanislavski had a few broad aims in mind with the system. He wanted it to:

  • Make the outward behavior of the performer consisting of gestures, voice, rhythm of movements, etc. natural and convincing
  • Have the actor convey the goals and objectives of the character (or in other words, the inner needs of a character)
  • Make the life of the character onstage both dynamic and continuous. (People do not stop living in real life but some actors only emphasize the high points in their performance, and the life of the character stops in between.)
  • Develop a strong awareness of ensemble

More often than not, the audience is quick to detect falsehood. It takes the untrained eye only a few minutes to determine whether they like a performance. Stanislavski was very interested in analyzing human behavior and he believed that this consciousness and sensitivity to human behavior must be brought over to the stage to prevent pretense. Over the next few articles, we’ll explore some of Stanislavski’s Techniques – the essentials for a truthful and convincing performance.