Here you’ll learn about the Stanislavski system for actors through acting videos and sample Stanislavsky acting exercises you can try at home. This online acting class on Stanislavsky will help you decide if this is one of the acting techniques right for you.
Constantin Stanislavski (sometimes spelled “Konstantin Stanislavsky”) was a Russian actor and director from the beginning of the 20th century. His “system” was born out of a quest for realism in acting. His acting method both inspired and preceded the major acting techniques developed in America in the twentieth century. He is often referred to as the “father of Method acting”.
1) What is the Stanislavski system?
Stanislavski developed a lot of acting techniques that are commonly used by modern actors today. Here are a few highlights of the Stanislavsky system you’ll want to be familiar with as an actor:
The Magic If
What if what is happening to your character was happening to you? How would you feel? What would you do? From that simple question, an actor’s imagination is stimulated into believing the imaginary circumstances his character is in.
You can also use the magic if to make up details about the props you use on stage.
The Use of Objectives and Active Verbs
Stanislavsky actors try to find the super-objective of the play (i.e. the theme or driving force of the play). Then, they break down the script into objectives (what the character wants to accomplish), obstacles (what’s in his or her way) and actions (what are the different things the character can do to try to reach his objective). The Through-Line links all the units together into the super-objective. Using these acting methods helps you concentrate on the action rather then the emotion by making each objective an active verb.
For example, your objective could be…
The Need to Release Tension and Concentrate
Stanislavski believed that an actor cannot concentrate on the part if his body is tense. To demonstrate his point, he would have actors try to deliver lines or recall actions while lifting a heavy object. An actor should work on relaxation regularly so that he can limit muscular tension to what is needed to perform an action on stage.
In order to be relaxed and focused on stage, performers need to increase their capacity to concentrate. One way they learn to do that is by concentrating on a very small area at first and then widening the circle of concentration until it includes the entire stage. By practicing this exercise, one can deal with stage fright and avoid being distracted by the audience.
Stanislavsky students learned to access their own memories to call upon emotions needed to play certain scenes and acting roles, but unlike Method Actors, Stanislavsky actors also work “from the outside in”, accessing emotions through physical actions.
Stanislavsky students learned how to find their characters’ inner motives, but also how to explore the role from the outside through movement, voice, tempo, costume and make-up. For example, a student of Constantin Stanislavski would explore his character’s rhythm through repetition (by rehearsing his lines over and over until he discovered the right tempo).
2) What can you expect?
- Work on relaxation and concentration
Most Stanislavski classes will start with a brief relaxation session, followed by some concentration exercises. A beginning actor may do general concentration exercises while a more advanced actor may be asked to do sensory exercises or emotional memory exercisesthat help him re-create the given circumstances of the play he’s working on (for example, if his character has just been outside in the snow before the scene starts, the actor may do a sensory exercise to re-create the feeling of the snow).
- A lot of homework
When you study the Stanislavsky technique well, you’ll spend a lot of time using the magic ifto create full bios for your characters and to make up scenes that took place outside of the play. You’ll also spend a lot of time writing subtext for your scenes (i.e. breaking the scenes down into units and turning each unit into an action verb).
- Some improvisation
For example, you may be asked to improvise a scene that is not in the play but took place between your character and another.
- Physical and vocal training
Stanislavsky believed that acting starts with the actor’s body. Through a series of exercises and an introduction to the art of costumes and make-up, you will find your character’s physicality. A good Stanislavsky teacher will also teach you rhythm and tempo and recommend you take a speech class, a singing class and a dance class to support your acting training.
3) Sample Stanislavski Acting Exercises
- Imagination Exercise: Pick someone you don’t know and observe them. What do they look like? How do they walk? What are their maneurisms? Start to write their bio, using your imagination to create a backstory for this “character”, along with information on what they want, where they come from and where they’re going. All this should come from your imagination but be inspired by what you noticed about the person, just like you would be inspired by what you read in a play.
- Sensory Exercise: Let’s take the example of the snowy weather we mentioned earlier. The video below will guide you through a short sensory exercise to re-create through your 5 senses the feeling of what it’s like to be outside in the snow. You can watch the video once and then close your eyes and go through the exercise.
This is just a short condensed example to get you started. As a beginner, you would spend half an hour to an hour on a sensory exercise like this one.
4) Is the Stanislavski “system” for you?
Studying the teachings and methods of Constantin Stanislavsky is invaluable to a beginning actor because it will give you a lot of the basics you need:
- How to deal with stagefright and not be paralyzed onstage.
- How to avoid bad acting habits like faking emotion or overacting by learning how to be realistic onstage and on screen.
- How to create a character.
- How to understand and study other techniques (most modern acting methods are grounded in the Stanislavsky system).
The acting method of Konstantin Stanislavsky will help any actor get started, whether you want to do stage work or movie acting.
If you need help picking an acting school, you may find my new e-book, Become an Actor, helpful. I encourage you to click here to see how this step by step guide can help you.
5) Famous Stanislavski actors
Stella Adler, Gregory Peck, Marlon Brando.
The must-have Stanislavski books
Stanislavsky’s entire system is comprised in 3 books that complete each other and will be indispensable to you as you grow as an actor:
An Actor Prepares:
This is the first book to read that covers all the basics like the importance of relaxation and concentration and how to use the magic if.
Building A Character:
As its name suggest, this book has all the details on how to create a character, from physical and vocal work to understanding costumes and make-up.
Creating A Role:
Stanislavsky gives specific examples on how an actor is to approach a role and inhabit it, from the initial research to the physical embodiment of the character.
Each book is written as the diary of an imaginary student of Constantin Stanislavski’s that goes from beginning to accomplished actor. Hopefully, these 3 books will get you started on that journey!
From Constantin Stanislavski to Method acting…
Click here to find out about method acting and see more online acting classes.