The Stanislavski System (Part 3)

Continuing from our previous article, here are two more techniques from the Stanislavski System. Many actors use this system to develop a structure to help them prepare their scenes and characters. The goal? To create a performance that is as truthful and organic as possible.


Stanislavski stresses the importance of concrete details. That is, actors should not be ambiguous when expressing a feeling or an action. Stanislavski notes that in life, people communicate emotions in specific and tangible ways (e.g. an anxious woman twists a handkerchief, an angry boy throws a rock at a trash can). By playing specific and concrete actions on stage, the actor’s work becomes real, compelling and believable. Similarly, the actor should strive to understand the given circumstances of his or her character with specificity. The questions – in what kind of space does the event take place? Formal or informal, public or domestic? How does it feel? What is the temperature? The lighting? What happens before the scene? What do you expect will happen after your scene? All these must be answered in concrete terms.


This technique is unique to Stanislavski’s principles. Inner Truth, as its name suggests, is interested in the characters’ internal, invisible and personal worlds, their deepest thoughts and feelings. For instance, plays by Anton Chekhov such as The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard have much to do with unsaid thoughts and feelings, more so than what the character chooses to show or externalize. Truth in real life is recognized to be different from truth on stage; yet, the actor is expected to portray the character genuinely, and to believe in the imagined world of the character. In order to harness the inner life of the character and achieve a sense of Inner Truth, Stanislavski introduced the idea of ‘the magic if’. Using this conjunction, actors are able to visualize almost every scenario and their responses to them (e.g. ‘If I had great talent…’ ‘If I became rich and famous…’). The nature of ‘if’ taps on the actor’s imagination and self-awareness to create a sense of conviction and personal investment in the imaginary circumstances on stage, bringing about an authentic performance.

Our next article will examine the fundamental questions used to determine purposeful action on stage and explain what the through line of a role is – some of the most useful and innovative techniques in the system.

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