Stanislavski grew up in one of the richest families in Russia, the Alekseyevs. He was born Constantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev – "Stanislavski" was a stage name that he adopted in 1884 in order to keep his performance activities secret from his parents. The prospect of becoming a professional actor was taboo for someone of his social class; actors had an even lower social status in Russia than in the rest of Europe, having only recently been serfs and the property of the nobility. The Alexeyevs were a prosperous, bourgeois family, whose factories manufactured gold and silver braiding for military decorations and uniforms. Until the Russian revolution in 1917, Stanislavski often used his inherited wealth to fund his theatrical experiments in acting and directing. His family's discouragement meant that he appeared only as an amateur onstage and as a director until he was thirty-three.
As a child, Stanislavski was exposed to the rich cultural life of his family. His interests included the circus, the ballet, and puppetry. In 1877, his father, Sergei Vladimirovich Alekseyev, was elected head of the merchant class in Moscow (one of the most important and influential positions in the city); that year, he had a fully equipped theatre built on his estate at Liubimovka, providing a forum for Stanislavski's adolescent theatrical impulses. After his debut performance there, Stanislavski started what would become a lifelong series of notebooks filled with critical observations on his acting, aphorisms, and problems. It was from this habit of self-analysis and critique that Stanislavski's system later emerged. The family's second theatre was added in 1881 to their mansion at Red Gates, on Sadovaya Street in Moscow (where Stanislavski lived from 1863 to 1903); their house became a focus for the artistic and cultural life of the city. Stanislavski chose not to attend university, preferring to work in the family business.
Increasingly interested in "living the part," Stanislavski experimented with the ability to maintain a characterization in real life, disguising himself as a tramp or drunk and visiting the railway station, or disguising himself as a fortune-telling gypsy; he extended the experiment to the rest of the cast of a short comedy in which he performed in 1883, and as late as 1900 he amused holiday-makers in Yalta by taking a walk each morning "in character". In 1884, he began vocal training under Fyodor Petrovich Komissarzhevsky, a professor at the Moscow Conservatory and leading tenor of the Bolshoi (and father of the famous actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya), with whom he also explored the co-ordination of voice and body. Together they devised exercises in moving and sitting stationary "rhythmically", which anticipated Stanislavski's later use of physical rhythm when teaching his 'system' to opera singers. Komissarzhevski provided one of the models (the other was Stanislavski himself) for the character of Tortsov in his actor's manual An Actor's Work (1938). A year later, in 1885, Stanislavski briefly studied at the Moscow Theatre School, where students were encouraged to mimic the theatrical tricks and conventions of their tutors. Disappointed by this approach, he left after little more than two weeks.
Instead, Stanislavski devoted particular attention to the performances of the Maly Theatre, the home of psychological realism in Russia. Psychological realism had been developed here by Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Shchepkin. In 1823, Pushkin had concluded that what united the diverse classical authors—Shakespeare, Racine, Corneille and Calderón—was their common concern for truth of character and situation, understood as credible behaviour in believable circumstances:
Stanislavski as the Knight in The Society of Art and Literature's 1888 production of Alexander Pushkin's The Miserly Knight.
The truth concerning the passions, verisimilitude in the feelings experienced in the given circumstances, that is what our intelligence demands of a dramatist.
— Pushkin's aphorism, 1830.
Gogol, meanwhile, campaigned against overblown, effect-seeking acting. In an article of 1846, he advises a modest, dignified mode of comic performance in which the actor seeks to grasp "what is dominant in the role" and considers "the character's main concern, which consumes his life, the constant object of his thought, the 'bee in his bonnet.'" This inner desire forms the "heart of the role," to which the "tiny quirks and tiny external details" are added as embellishment. The Maly soon became known as the House of Shchepkin, the father of Russian realistic acting who, in 1848, promoted the idea of an "actor of feeling." This actor would "become the character" and identify with his thoughts and feelings: he would "walk, talk, think, feel, cry, laugh as the author wants him to." A copy of Shchepkin's Memoirs of a Serf-Actor, in which the actor describes his struggle to achieve a naturalness of style, was heavily annotated by Stanislavski. Shchepkin's student, Glikeriya Fedotova, was Stanislavski's teacher (she was responsible for instilling the rejection of inspiration as the basis of the actor's art, along with the stress on the importance of training and discipline, and the practice of responsive interaction with other actors that Stanislavski came to call "communication"). Shchepkin's legacy included the emphasis on a disciplined, ensemble approach, the importance of extensive rehearsals, and the use of careful observation, self-knowledge, imagination and emotion as the cornerstones of the craft.
As well as the artists of the Maly company, performances given by foreign star actors—who would often come to Moscow during Lent (when Russian actors were prohibited from appearing)—also influenced Stanislavski. The effortless, emotive and clear playing of the Italian actor Ernesto Rossi, who performed major Shakespearean tragic protagonists in Moscow in 1877, particularly impressed Stanislavski. So too did Tommaso Salvini's 1882 performance of Othello. Years later, Stanislavski wrote that Salvini was the "finest representative" of the "art of experiencing" approach to acting.
The Society of Art and Literature
Stanislavski with his soon-to-be wife Maria Liliana, playing Ferdinand and Louise in The Society of Art and Literature's production of Schiller's Intrigue and Love in 1889.
By the age of twenty-five, Stanislavski was well known as an amateur actor. He made a proposal to Fyodor Sollogub and Alexander Fedotov (a theatre director and estranged husband of Glikeriya Fedotova) to establish a society that would unite amateur and professional actors and artists. The profits from his family's factory were particularly high in 1887–1888; Stanislavski decided to use the surplus 25,000–30,000 roubles to form the Society of Art and Literature, for which he had the Ginzburg House on Tverskaya Street converted into a luxurious clubhouse with its own large stage and exhibition rooms. Fedotov became head of the dramatic section, Komissarzhevski was the head of the operatic and musical section, while Sollogub was appointed head of the graphic arts section; the drama and opera sections each had a school. To research the curriculum of the society's drama school, Stanislavski spent the summer of 1888 studying the classes and performances of the Comédie-Française in Paris. The society's school was to offer classes in dramatic art, the history of costume, make-up, drama, Russian literature, aesthetics, fencing and dancing. The school opened on 8 October 1888 while the society itself was officially inaugurated on 3 November with a ceremony attended by Anton Chekhov. Under the auspices of the society, Stanislavski performed in plays by Molière, Schiller, Pushkin, and Ostrovsky, as well as gaining his first experiences as a director. With the guidance of Fedotov and Sollogub, Stanislavski finally abandoned the operatic conventions and theatrical clichés in his acting that he had mimicked from other actors' performances. He also became interested in the aesthetic theories of Vissarion Belinsky. From Belinsky he took his conception of the role of the artist, on which he based a moral justification for his desire to perform that accorded with his family's sense of social responsibility and ethics. At this time Stanislavski warned in his diary:
Young actors, beware of your female admirers! Make love to them, if it amuses you, but do not discuss art with them! Learn in time to listen to, to understand and love the bitter truth about yourselves! And get to know those who can tell it to you. It is with them that you should discuss art.
On 5 July 1889, Stanislavski married Lilina (the stage name of Maria Petrovna Perevostchikova), with whom he had just performed in Intrigue and Love. Their first child, Xenia, died of pneumonia in May 1890 less than two months after she was born. Their second daughter, Kira, was born on 21 July 1891. In January 1893, Stanislavski's father died. Their son Igor was born 14 September 1894.
When you play a good man,
try to find out where he is bad,
and when you play a villain,
try to find where he is good.
In 1889 in the society's production of Aleksey Pisemsky's historical play Men Above The Law, Stanislavski discovered his "principle of opposites," as expressed in his aphoristic advice to the actor: "When you play a good man, try to find out where he is bad, and when you play a villain, try to find where he is good." Stanislavski insisted that the actors learnt their parts thoroughly, almost entirely removing the prompter from the society's productions.
Stanislavski described his production of Leo Tolstoy's The Fruits of Enlightenment in February 1891 as his first fully independent directorial work. His directorial methods at this time were closely modeled on the disciplined, autocratic approach of Ludwig Chronegk, the director of the Meiningen Ensemble, whose productions of Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night, as well as a number of plays by Schiller, Stanislavski had studied enthusiastically during their second visit to Moscow in 1890. The Ensemble's general approach included historical accuracy in set, props and costumes and complex crowd effects achieved through a tightly drilled rehearsal process. Its use of off-stage sound to produce the illusion of a reality beyond the visible stage particularly impressed Stanislavski. Their productions demonstrated a model for artistic achievement with relatively unskilled actors that Stanislavski was to adopt for the early part of his career as a director. By means of a rigid and detailed control of the mise-en-scène, including the strict choreography of the actors' every gesture, in Stanislavski's words "the inner kernel of the play was revealed by itself." Whereas the Ensemble's effects tended toward the grandiose, however, Stanislavski introduced lyrical elaborations through the mise-en-scène that dramatised more mundane and ordinary elements of life, in keeping with Belinsky's ideas about the "poetry of the real":
Stanislavski as Othello in 1896.
Stanislavski uses the theatre and its technical possibilities as an instrument of expression, a language, in its own right. The dramatic meaning is in the staging itself. [...] He went through the whole play in a completely different way, not relying on the text as such, with quotes from important speeches, not providing a 'literary' explanation, but speaking in terms of the play's dynamic, its action, the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, the world in which they lived. His account flowed uninterruptedly from moment to moment.
Writing years later in his autobiography My Life in Art (1925), Stanislavski described Chronegk's approach as one in which the director is "forced to work without the help of the actor." Jean Benedetti suggests that Stanislavski's task at this stage was to unite the realistic tradition of the creative actor inherited from Shchepkin and Gogol with the director-centered, organically unified naturalistic aesthetic of the Ensemble's approach.
It was at this time that Stanislavski first met Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy re-wrote the fourth act of his The Power of Darkness along the lines of Stanislavski's suggestions in 1896. Tolstoy was another important influence on the development of Stanislavski's thought; his What Is Art? (1898) promoted immediate intelligibility and transparency as an aesthetic principle. On the eve of creating the Moscow Art Theatre, Stanislavski wrote of the importance of simplicity, directness and accessibility in art.
From 1894 onwards, as part of his painstaking rehearsals for Karl Gutzkow's melodrama Uriel Acosta and Shakespeare's Othello, Stanislavski began to assemble detailed prompt-books that included a directorial commentary on the entire play and from which not even the smallest detail was allowed to deviate in rehearsals. Stanislavski's Othello (1896) made a strong impression on the 22-year-old Vsevolod Meyerhold, who was later to work with him before becoming an important director and theatre practitioner in his own right. "The task of our generation," Stanislavski wrote at this time, is "to liberate art from outmoded tradition, from tired cliché and to give greater freedom to imagination and creative ability."
The Moscow Art Theatre
See also: MAT production of The Seagull and MAT production of Hamlet
In 1896 Stanislavski discussed with Nikolai Efros his ideas for a scheme to establish a network of touring theatre companies that would bring high-quality drama to the surrounding area of selected towns. He proposed to call them "open" or "accessible" theatres, in a bid to avoid alarming the authorities with their connection to the dangerously democratizing "popular theatre" movement that was spreading across Europe, spearheaded by Romain Rolland. In February 1897 Stanislavski joined Anton Chekhov, whom he had met on 15 February at a literary-musical evening, in an open public discussion on the creation of a popular theatre that was reported in the press. At this time he also helped to organise the first all-Russian conference on the theatre, whose keynote speaker, Yevtikhiy Karpov, urged the creation of a "Russian people's theatre."
Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founder with Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre, photographed in 1922.
It was Stanislavski's historic meeting with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko on 22 June 1897, however, that would create what was called initially the "Moscow Public-Accessible Theatre" but which came to be known as the Moscow Art Theatre (MAT). Their eighteen-hour discussion—lasting from lunch at 2pm in a private room in the Slavic Bazaar restaurant to 8am the following morning over breakfast at Stanislavski's family estate at Liubimovka—has acquired a legendary status in the history of theatre. Nemirovich was a successful playwright (whose work was performed by the Maly and whose play The Worth of Life had beaten Chekhov's The Seagull to win the Griboyedov prize, much to the author's dismay), critic, theatre director and acting teacher at the Philharmonic school (where he taught Vsevolod Meyerhold and Olga Knipper), who was also committed to the idea of a popular theatre. Their abilities complemented one another: Nemirovich needed Stanislavski's directorial talent for creating vivid stage images and selecting significant details, while Stanislavski needed Nemirovich's talent for dramatic and literary analysis, his professional expertise and his ability to manage a theatre. Stanislavski later compared their discussions to the Treaty of Versailles, their scope was so wide-ranging; they agreed on the conventional practices they wished to abandon and, on the basis of the working method they found they had in common, they worked out the policy of their new theatre. Together they would forge a professional company with an ensemble ethos that discouraged individual vanity, selecting actors from Nemirovich's class at the Philharmonic school and Stanislavski's amateur Society of Art and Literature group, along with other professional actors; they would create a realistic theatre of international renown, with popular prices for seats, whose organically unified aesthetic would bring together the techniques of the Meiningen Ensemble and those of André Antoine's Théâtre Libre (which Stanislavski had seen during trips to Paris). Responsibility was to be shared between them on the basis of their individual strengths, with Stanislavski overseeing production and Nemirovich in charge of the repertoire and literary decisions; each had a veto.
Given that Stanislavski's family's assets amounted to some 8 million roubles at the time, Nemirovich assumed initially that Stanislavski would fund the theatre as a privately owned business, but Stanislavski insisted on a limited, joint stock company. Stanislavski would only ever invest an initial 10,000 roubles in the MAT. To raise the rest of the theatre's 28,000 roubles launch capital, Nemirovich persuaded some of the directors of the Philharmonic Society to contribute, members of the board of the Society of Art and Literature also invested, but the theatre's principal shareholder was to be Savva Timofeievich Morozov, who invested 10,000 roubles. The company had 13 shareholders, who signed an agreement on 10 April 1898. With an annual salary of 4,200 roubles each, Stanislavski and Nemirovich were to represent the interests of the acting company in the business, though with the aim of transferring control to the actors eventually. The company consisted of 39 actors, 23 men and 16 women, 30% of whom came from Nemirovich's Phiharmonic class and 35% of whom came with Stanislavski from the Society of Art and Literature, with a total staff numbering 323. Viktor Simov, whom Stanislavski had met in 1896, was engaged as the company's principal designer.
At Pushkino in 1898, Vsevolod Meyerhold prepares for his role as Konstantin to Stanislavski's Trigorin in the Moscow Art Theatre production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull.
For want of suitable rehearsal space in Moscow, the company met in Pushkino, isolated 50 miles from the city. In his opening speech on the first day of rehearsals, 14 June 1898, Stanislavski stressed the "social character" of their collective undertaking: "We are striving to create the first rational, moral, and public-accessible theatre," he said, "and we dedicate our lives to this high goal." In an atmosphere more like a university than a theatre, as Stanislavski described it, the company was introduced to his working method of extensive reading and research and detailed rehearsals in which the action was defined at the table before being explored physically. Throughout June and July the company rehearsed productions of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, Sophocles' Antigone, Hauptmann's Hannele, Pisemsky's Men Above The Law, Lenz's The Tutor and Alexei Tolstoy's Tsar Fiodor Ioannovich. It was at these rehearsals that Stanislavski's lifelong relationship with Vsevolod Meyerhold began; by the end of June, Meyerhold was so impressed with Stanislavski's directorial skills that he declared him a genius. On his death-bed Stanislavski was to declare Meyerhold "my sole heir in the theatre—here or anywhere else."
In 1898, Stanislavski co-directed with Nemirovich the first of his productions of the work of Anton Chekhov. The MAT production of The Seagull was a crucial milestone for the fledgling company that has been described as "one of the greatest events in the history of Russian theatre and one of the greatest new developments in the history of world drama." Despite its 80 hours of rehearsal—a considerable length by the standards of the conventional practice of the day—Stanislavski felt it was under-rehearsed and threatened to have his name removed from the posters when Nemirovich refused his demand to postpone its opening by a week. Stanislavski played Trigorin, Meyerhold played Konstantin, and Olga Knipper played Arkadnia. The production's success was due to the fidelity of its delicate representation of everyday life, its intimate, ensemble playing, and the resonance of its mood of despondent uncertainty with the psychological disposition of the Russian intelligentsia of the time. To commemorate this historic production, which gave the MAT its sense of identity, the company to this day bears the seagull as its emblem. Stanislavski went on to direct the successful premières of Chekhov's other major plays: Uncle Vanya in 1899, Three Sisters in 1901, and The Cherry Orchard in 1904. Stanislavski's encounter with Chekhov's drama proved crucial to the creative development of both men. His ensemble approach and attention to the psychological realities of its characters revived Chekhov's interest in writing for the stage, while Chekhov's unwillingness to explain or expand on the text forced Stanislavski to dig beneath its surface in ways that were new in theatre. By 1922, however, Stanislavski had become disenchanted with the MAT's productions of Chekhov's plays—"After all we have lived through," he remarked to Nemirovich, "it is impossible to weep over the fact that an officer is going and leaving his lady behind" (referring to the conclusion of Three Sisters).
Stanislavski's 'system' is a systematic approach to training actors. Areas of study include concentration, voice, physical skills, emotion memory, observation, and dramatic analysis. Stanislavski's goal was to find a universally applicable approach that could be of service to all actors. Yet he said of his system: "Create your own method. Don't depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you."
Many actors routinely identify his system with the American Method, although the latter's exclusively psychological techniques contrast sharply with Stanislavski's multivariant, holistic and psychophysical approach, which explores character and action both from the 'inside out' and the 'outside in'.
Stanislavski's 'system' focused on the development of artistic truth onstage by teaching actors to "experience the part" during performance. Stanislavski hoped that the 'system' could be applied to all forms of drama, including melodrama, vaudeville, and opera. He organised a series of theatre studios in which young actors were trained in his 'system.' At the First Studio, actors were instructed to use their own memories in order to express emotion.
Stanislavski soon observed that some of the actors using or abusing this technique were given to hysteria. He began to search for more reliable means to access emotion, eventually emphasizing the actor's use of imagination and belief in the given circumstances of the text rather than her/his private and often painful memories.
The Method of Physical Actions
In the beginning, Stanislavski proposed that actors study and experience subjective emotions and feelings and manifest them to audiences by physical and vocal means. While in its very earliest stages his 'system' focused on creating truthful emotions and embodying them, he later worked on the Method of Physical Actions. This was developed at the Opera Dramatic Studio from the early 1930s. Its focus was on physical actions as a means to access truthful emotion, and involved improvisation. The focus remained on reaching the subconscious through the conscious.
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Stanislavski had different pupils during each of the phases of discovering and experimenting with his 'system' of acting. Two of his former students, Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, founded the American Laboratory Theatre in 1925. One of their students, Lee Strasberg, went on to co-found the Group Theatre (1931–1940) with Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, which was the first American acting company to put Stanislavski's initial discoveries into practice. Clurman and Strasberg had a profound influence on American acting, both on stage and film, as did Stella Adler, who was also part of the Group Theatre and who had studied briefly with Stanislavsky and quarreled with Strasberg's approach to the work.
Lord Laurence Olivier wrote that Stanislavski's My Life in Art was a source of great enlightenment" when he was a young actor.
Sir John Gielgud said, "This director found time to explain a thousand things that have always troubled actors and fascinated students." Gielgud is also quoted as saying, "Stanislavski's now famous book is a contribution to the Theatre and its students all over the world."
1) "One cannot always create subconsciously and with inspiration. No such genius exists in the world. Therefore our art teaches us first of all to create consciously and rightly. The more you have of conscious creative moments in your role, the more chance you will have of the flow of inspiration."
2) "The actor's task in verbal action [text] is to convey his inner images to the other actor. To do that he has to visualize what he is talking about so clearly that he makes the other actor see the picture he is creating with his 'inner eye' and in detail." [Inner Objects]
3) "Once you have established the contact between your life and your part, you will feel the inner push or stimulus."
4) "The moment you lose communication with yourself onstage is the moment when experiencing ends and playacting begins. So however many performances you give, whoever it is you are portraying, you must use your own feelings. Infringement of this law is tantamount to the actor murdering the character he is playing; depriving it of the pulsating, living human soul which alone gives life to a dead role ”
5) "Nothing is achieved without effort, only that which is achieved through effort is of value to the actor."
Stanislavski & The Moscow Art Theater: A Timeline
Stanislavski’s Life & Times In Convenient Timeline Form:
1861: Serfs Liberated; Russian actors no longer the property of feudal lords.
1863: Constantin Sergeyevich Alexeyv (“Stanislavski”) born into wealthy merchant family.
1874: Vsevolod Meyerhold born in Penza Oblast, Russia.
1883: Stanislavski briefly attends drama school but leaves before graduating.
1888: Appears in Les Plaideurs of Racine and Gogol’s The Gamblers, founds the Society of Art and Literature. Stanislavski continues to perform in Russia and on tour in Europe, becoming more famous as an actor.
Stanislavski as Othello 1896
1896: Stanislavski famously appears as Othello in black face. He is now one of the most prominent actors in Russia. Meyerhold studies at the Moscow Philharmonic Dramatic School under Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the eventual cofounder (with Stanislavski) of the Moscow Art Theater.
1897: Stanislavski meets Russian playwright Nemirovich. They found the Moscow Art Theater after a meeting that reportedly lasted from 2pm until 8am the next day.
Moscow Art Theater
STANISLAVSKI (Trigorin) & POKSANOVA (Nina) in The Seagull (1898)
1898: Moscow Art Theater opens on October 14th with Stanislavski’ production of Tolstoy’s Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich. In December, he directs and plays Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull. Meyerhold appears as Konstantin.
Meyerhold preparing for the role of Treplev
The success of this production makes both Checkhov and MAT famous throughout Russia, and the MAT adopts a picture of a seagull as their emblem.
Stanislavskiy (as Astrov) & Lilina (as Sonya) in Checkov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ (1899)
1899: Directs and appears as Astrov in the premier of Uncle Vanya. Stanislavski cites his foremost concerns as a director as being the actor’s “punctuality and backstage drunkenness”. Meyerhold works as an actor with Moscow Art Theater.
1900: Directs and appears as Dr. Stockmann in An Enemy of the People.
1901: Directs and appears as Vershinin in the premier of Three Sisters. Directs The Wild Duck later that year.
1901: Directs the premiers of Small People and The Lower Depths.
1903: Plays Brutus in Julius Caesar. This production precipitates an artistic crisis for Stanislavski that leads him to the method and research underlying An Actor Prepares.
1906: German tour of MAT. Artistic crisis beginning in 1903 hits its high point. Stanislavski takes a summer holiday in Finland where he begins to lay out his eventual ‘System’. Research continues through 1912, although no book is written yet. New system focuses on both external and internal method by which actors can live their roles, places the actor as the foremost contributor to the creation of the character (in contrast to his earlier style of absolute directorial authority).
1907: Directs Knut Hamsun’s The Drama of Life. Meyerhold moves to St. Petersburg and becomes a prominent actor and director in the Imperial Theater.
1909: Directs A Month in the Country.
Stanisclavski as General Krutitski in Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man
1910: Appears in Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man.
1911: Directs Hamlet at MAT. Widely hailed as a masterpiece. Designed by Edward Gordon Craig.
Edward Gordon Craig's set design for MAT's Hamlet
1915: Directs and appears in Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri.
1917: The Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin comes to power. Due to a close alliance with Lenin, MAT continues unperturbed. Many MAT actors win prestigious postings and awards from Soviet government. Meyerhold joins the Bolshevik Party.
1919: Meyehold diagnosed with tuberculosis. In vogue with 19th Century medicine, he is forced to head south where it is warmer. In his absence, and despite his close ties with Lenin, Meyerhold is replaced in his St. Petersburg post.
1922-23: American tour of MAT. Stanislavski becomes disenchanted with Chekhov’s plays and refuses to allow MAT to remount them. Meyerhold moves to Moscow and founds The Meyerhold Theater, focused on circus theatrics and a form of physical and emotional realism similar to Stanislavski’s system.
Founder of American Laboratory Theatre, Bolesław Ryszard Srzednicki February 4, 1889
1923American Laboratory Theatre founded by former students Moscow Art theatre Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya. Students included Harold Clurman, Lee Strassberg.
MARIA OUSPENSKAYA (1876 - 1949)
1924: American edition of My Life in Art, Stanislavski’s autobiography, published.
1926: Russian edition of My Life in Art.
Isaak Brodsky's portrait of Stalin, pre 1939
1927: Stalin takes power in Russia. Socialist Realism becomes the only permissible artistic style in The Soviet Union (the definition of which narrows considerably). MAT faces heavy censorship and the quality of their productions declines. Stanislavski’s nephew imprisoned in the gulags.
1928: Stanislavski suffers a heart attack on stage. This forces him to heavily cut back on the day-to-day work of MAT and leads him to begin seriously writing An Actor Prepares. However, he is unsuccessful in his attempts to quit smoking or drinking.
1931The Group Theatre founded. Heavily influenced by Moscow Art Theatre,
Photo of most members at the summer home at Pinebrook Country Club in Connecticut, circa late 1930s
Stanislavsky, and “method” acting. Included Harold Clurman, Lee Strassberg, Elia Kazan, Morris Carnovsky, Sanford Meisner.
1936: American edition of An Actor Prepares, translated by Jennifer Hapgood and published by Theatre Arts Inc. The war prevents the second two books of Stanislavski’s acting system from appearing; American Method Acting emerges for the assumption that Actor Preparesrepresents the sum total of the System. Awarded the People’s Order of the USSR, his system is absorbed by the Soviet arts world as a “realistic” method for theater, ignoring or censoring the spiritual and psychological aspects of Stanislavski’s system.
Konstantin Stanislavski in 1938
1938: Stanislavski hands control of MAT to Meyerhold, then dies of heart failure while rehearsing Tartuffe. Russian edition of An Actor Prepares.
1940: Meyerhold arrested by Soviet police. He is tortured until he admits to being both a British and Japanese Intelligence Officer (confessions he later recanted). He is sentenced to death by firing squad and executed the same year. MAT continues under heavy Soviet censorship but loses its artistic relevance until the 1970s.
1949: Building A Character – which focuses on the physical and external aspects of the system – released in the United States long after Method has incorporated only the psychological guidance of An Actor Prepares.
1961: Creating a Role released in the United States. Focuses on how the System can be applied to a variety of roles.