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THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES: POSITIONING STANISLAVSKY IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY BY RANDI REAMS A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelo r of Arts U nder the sponsorship of Dr. Nova Myhill Sarasota, Florida May 2011
ii Contents Abstract.iii Introduction.....1 Stanislavsky's Career in the Context of Political and A rtistic Revolutions of the Early Twentieth Century...6 Misunderstanding the Stanislavsky System in the United States...........................................30 Beyond History: Engaging th e Stanislavsky System.... .....54 Conclusion......92 Works Cited....95
iii THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES: POSITIONING STANISLAVSKY IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY Randi Reams New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT This thesis examines the circumstances surrounding Konstantin Stanislavsky's development of the Stanislavsky System of actor training throughout the early twentieth century, and subsequently atte mpts to trace popular misunderstandings of the System in twenty first century American consciousness with the intention of dispelling such misunderstanding. It then attempts to continue the work of creating a holistic interpretation of the Stanislavsky's technique through further engagement with the System from theoretical and practical perspectives for the purpose of advocating further readings of the System. Dr. Nova Myhill Division of Humanities
1 Introduction Konstantin Stanislavsky lived from January 17, 1863 to August 7, 1938. Throughout his life, he bore witness to "profound scientific and social changesas the nineteenth century became the twentieth century," and nowhere were these changes more pronounced than in his own country (Carnicke Pathways" 11). He experienced first hand a number of significant political and artistic revolutions. He saw "realism's overturn of nineteenth century histrionics" and "modernism's rejection of realism" as well as his own country's "political move from mona rchy to communism"(Carnicke "Pathways" 10). Much of the continuing confusion surrounding his oeuvre in the U.S. can be traced back through these monumental changes in human thought. As his own memoir, My Life in Art explains: My eyes have witnessed the co ming of electric projectors, railroads, and express trains, automobiles, aeroplanes, steamboats, submarines, the telegraph, the radio, and the 16 inch gunI have lived a variegated life, during the course of which I have been forced more than once to chang e my most fundamental ideas. (3) This simple quote carries what is perhaps the greatest key to my understanding Stanislavsky's life and work, both of which were fundamentally shaped by these political and artistic movements. Stanislavsky's lifelong searc h for truth on stage was also a search for some truth of the human condition. Played out before a backdrop of tense ideological polarities and monumental passions, his career reflects the early twentieth century impulse to reject binary reasoning and conse nsual realities in favor of exploring philosophical boundaries and discovering a more encompassing (if fragmented) definition of universal truth(s). Modern scholars would do well to write with an eye to Stanislavsky's statement above, because although the full breadth of his experimentation does contain the wealth of contradiction his system is often criticized for, it is precisely a focus on those seemingly irreconcilable aspects of Stanislavsky training which may yet yield us richer, more comprehensive pi ctures of both the system and the man himself. Taken together, even the most disparate parts of Stanislavsky's work produce a narrative that, followed
2 to its conclusion, implies at least one answer to the great question of which method of actor training is best (however difficult the answer is to commodify); simply put, Stanislavsky's career ultimately suggests that not only are there many avenues to truth' onstage, but also that in the end every actor is best served by the unrelenting spirit of experiment ation which pervades every different phase of Stanislavsky's work. Stanislavsky only wanted to discover and record the grammar of acting' in order to assemble a usable vocabulary that could help directors, teachers, and students of acting to communicate with one another more fully. He never set out to create the type of finite system for actor training that many of his disciples would eventually develop on the foundation of his work. In one deep study of the system in 1936, Norris Houghton writes that it [the System] "is really only a conscious codification of ideas about acting which have always been the property of most good actors of all countries whether they knew it or not" ( Moscow Rehearsals 57). Stanislavsky himself would probably agree with this s tatement. He knew that "every gifted performer possesses the appropriate raw materials for the task: it [is] just a question of finding the right bait' to lure him or her" (Merlin 10). In his own words, what Stanislavsky wanted to learn was "how to create a favorable condition for the appearance of inspiration by means of the will" (Stanislavsky My Life 462) so that "inspiration may appear oftener than is its wont, (Stanislavsky My Life 461). He simply dedicated himself to cataloguing the finer points of w hat he believed to be the natural, pre existing process of all great actors. He believed that if he could identify the parts of this process, define and articulate them adequately, that he might also be able to use them to create a collection of (re)usable terms and exercises which could help actors of all levels to become better at their craft. He spent half of his life inventing new ways to organize and codify aspects of a phenomenon of the human spirit that he observed daily. He spent decades closely obs erving the great actors of the period as he labored over his own process as an actor. In this sense, the System' is as much a report of the work of others as it is his own invention. In Stanislavski: An Introduction Benedetti even suggests that in actual ity, his system' is the
3 byproduct of his lack of natural genius at least as a performer, and posits that "what we receive as the System originated from [Stanislavsky's] attempt to achieve his ideas as an actor and meet his own developing standards" (1). T he theatre was "for [Stanislavsky], a matter of the highest seriousness" (Benedetti An Introduction 1), and the system' reflects this in its careful and tireless presentation. This is why his methods and values remained in constant flux, and contrary to popular criticism, it is specifically that they exist in so many iterations which may give us access to a broader picture if we choose to construct it. It is precisely in the contradiction of values, in the ongoing debates (Is emotion or action more funda mental to truth? Is truth' on stage the act of truly experiencing and displaying the correct emotion at the proper time, or must that emotion derive from the action on stage alone to be considered true? Etc.) that I believe we can begin to see what Stanis lavsky must have seen so plainly after forty years. Namely, that the natural acting process is dynamic and subjective, though certain physiological and psychological aspects of it are universal; that concepts like truthful emotion' are impossible to defin e simply, though we recognize them in an instant; that when values (philosophical, political, artistic) shift, forms and structures must shift with them. He knew about change. He knew that "any full proof system is doomed to failure" (Donnellan xii). In pl ain English, he knew that many different acting methods could be effective, but only for the right actor at the right time. Essentially, the Stanislavsky System" as we are popularly familiar with it in the U.S. has obscured Stanislavsky's paramount achiev ement because global readings of his work are often eclipsed by more incomplete readings which fail to consider certain aspects of the system itself, or which fail to acknowledge the influence of Russia's political climate and its relationship with the U.S during Stanislavsky's lifetime, or which are tailored to support the practices of a particular derivative technique at the exclusion of others, or which focus exclusively on practical application, etc. Of course, that is not to suggest that more complete translations and more historically geared criticisms of Stanislavsky do not exist. Jean Benedetti's 2008 2010
4 translations of Stanislavsky, An Actor's Work and An Actor's Work on a Role, as well as the continuing scholarship of Sharon Carnicke alone have gone a long way in making a more complete, accurate picture of Stanislavsky and his work available to Americans in the last decade 1 However, such recent works, fascinating to professionals and scholars, have yet to dispel any of the great myths/misunderst andings of Stanislavsky among average theatergoers and students of acting. The problem is that even as contemporary scholars extract new meaning from Stanislavsky's legacies, their work mostly remains in academia, and so in large part the American theater continues to assume that A) it already knows Stanislavsky and his contribution to actor training and that B) his work is somehow antiquated and therefore of lesser value today simply because newer techniques exist. It is perhaps the greatest irony of Stan islavsky's career that he was horribly afraid of being misunderstood. It is perhaps the greatest tragedy of his career that we continue to relegate his oeuvre to the position of mere historical link in a chain of progress' in actor training, because what he achieved was so well ahead of its time that it is still ahead of ours in many ways. Unfortunately, misunderstanding of Stanislavsky's work continues to contribute to an ever widening divide between the practice of actor training and the scholarship bein g built around it. Squabbling over which period of Stanislavsky's career holds the secret to good acting is not what he would consider progress.' He would probably call the current state of (most) actor training systems in the United States stagnant.' I n keeping with his general philosophy, I suggest that to continue moving forward with the project he began, actors and instructors alike must begin talking with one another, creating dialogue between techniques, both new and old. Schools and methods must m ake contact and forge connections with one another, or they will never find their own path to Stanislavsky's answer. And if that is not something currently within our reach here 1 Much of this paper relies on the his torical scholarship of both Sharon M. Carnicke and Jean Benedetti, as well as on Benedetti's new translations of the Stanislavsky System.
5 in the academic realm, we can at least take a closer look at Stanislavsky's o wn meandering journey. We can attempt to position the System, in all of its heterogeneous glory, within its own given circumstances,' within its artistic and political conte xts as it evolved, in an effort to dispel misunderstanding and to advance public k nowledge of its plural implications. The paper below might most accurately be described as a record of my own journey in attempting this work. In it I will offer a historical exploration of Stanislavsky and his work, placing both in context. I will then u se this contextualization to point out several particular historical circumstances that have contributed most widely to continued misunderstanding of the System. I will finally attempt to move beyond history, supporting my claims through direct engagement with the System's theory. I will also address the (somewhat problematic) performance component of my thesis, a showcase called Rivalry, and attempt to position it within this paper as an indirect engagement with the System on a practical level.
6 Stanislavsky's Career in the Context of Political and Artistic Revolutions of the Early Twentieth Century I. The Moscow Art Theater: A Unified Concept of the Theatrical Production As a young man, Stanislavsky had already begun the long journey toward s ystematizing his art; he was already "keeping detailed notebooks on every performance he gave or saw" by the age of fourteen, and his career has been characterized as "the painful evolution of a stage struck child into a mature and responsible artist and t eacher" (Benedetti An Introduction 1). Growing up in Russia, he was exposed early on to many artistic traditions from throughout Europe and Asia. As the son of a wealthy manufacturing family "devoted to the theatre" (Benedetti An Introduction 2), he also h ad many opportunities to attend theatres, the circus, ballets and the opera. In his youth, his privileged economic situation also gave him the benefit of experimenting in a fully operational private theater on the family estate, where he "often used his we alth to further his talents as an actor and a director" (Carnicke "Pathways" 11). In fact, because of the unique opportunities afforded him by his family's affluence, "until the age of thirty three, Stanislavsky performed and directed only as an amateur" ( Carnicke "Pathways" 11). It was not until 1897, when playwright Vladimir Nemirovich Danchenko chose him as his co director in founding the renowned Moscow Art Theatre that Stanislavsky finally turned professional. His acquaintanceship with Nemirovich Danch enko began long before their famed eighteen hour conference in the Slavic Bazaar. Both men had been well known in Moscow theater circles for years. Stanislavsky, at the age of 33, had been a visible actor for 20 years and had founded the Moscow Society of Art and Literature in 1888, which became rather famous despite being an amateur venture (Carnicke In Focus 28). Nemirovich Danchenko, at 39, was by this time a prominent theater critic, successful playwright, and director of the single professional trainin g program for actors in Moscow at the time (the Drama School of the Philharmonic Society). Stanislavsky, already interested in creating a theater interested in the actor as artist, felt that fate had finally led him to the man he had been searching for whe n Nemirovich Danchenko
7 finally suggested that they might build one together. "It is strange," Stanislavsky reminisces in My Life in Art I had known him for a long time. He had long been a familiar figure in the theatre, a dramatist and a teacher of drama tic art, a stage director and a critic and an expert, and I, instead of going straight to him, looked for help where I could least hope to find it, among professional managers who knew only how to buy and sell artIt seems that Nemirovich Danchenko had als o dreamed of such a theater as I imagined and sought a man such as he imagined me to be. We sought each other for a long time, although it seems that we did not have to look far. (292) On June 22, 1897, the two finally met to conference in a restaurant. Th eir, arguably elitist, agenda was to forge a new theater that would reposition theater's place in society as one of serious art rather than simple recreation, a position that would demand respect for art and artists alike (Stanislavsky My Life 294). In the ir conference, the two found that they shared a passionate aversion to the general "artificiality of professional acting," to "poor standards of scenic design," to appallingly "insufficient rehearsal time," and to "a lack of respect for the playwright," am ong other things (Carnicke In Focus 28). Nemirovich Danchenko wanted passionately to "reconstruct [theater's] whole lifeto change at the root the whole order of rehearsals and the preparation of plays" (Nemirovich Danchenko 68). Essentially, what Danchenk o was interested in doing was creating a theater of fluidity and cohesion, where all levels of a production worked toward a single aesthetic interpretation of the material. Drawing on his literary background, he taught Stanislavsky the importance of a cent ral concept, the need for a unified production. Much of Stanislavsky's later work on acting would bear the mark of this foundational idea. Concepts such as the "throughline" and "super objective" relate all the way back to these early discoveries of what S tanislavsky called his "genius" (Stanislavsky My Life 295). Conversely, Stanislavsky taught Nemirovich Danchenko much about mood and atmosphere, and about carefully drawing humanity into the framework of his central artistic concept.
8 According to Carnic ke, "one basic attitude links all points in their program: respect for theater as art, not mere entertainment" ( In Focus 29). In this spirit, each deferred to the other's expertise from the first, and immediately enacted a rigid division of labor. In the m inutes of that very first meeting, Stanislavsky recorded that while Nemirovich Danchenko would possess an ultimate literary veto in the new theater, he himself would possess an ultimate artistic veto (Stanislavsky My Life 295). And while this would eventua lly become a problem between the two of them, as late as 1924 Stanislavsky writes: during all the following years we held closely to this point of our agreement. One of us would only have to pronounce the magic word veto, and our debate would end in the m iddle of a sentence, the entire responsibility being placed on the shoulders of the one who had exercised his right. (Stanislavsky My Life 296) Additionally, the pair nudged their agenda (bent on elevating theater to the level of serious art) into the realm of the spectator, and encouraged the audience to take its place in the process seriously. A strict code of conduct was observed at the Moscow Art Theatre: nothing disrespectful (nothing that could disrupt the flow of the onstage narrative such as lat e arrival or inappropriate clapping) was tolerated (Carnicke In Focus 29). They also tried to create a viewing environment which encouraged attention rather than lethargy by, for example, choosing slightly uncomfortable seating and manipulating the buildin g's temperature. In exchange for their patience and engagement, the Moscow Art Theater indeed gave its audiences something revolutionary. First, in the capable hands of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich Danchenko, its plays were "unified productions worthy of re spect. All elements supported a central conceptual approach to the play" (Carnicke In Focus 29). Each "poet, actor, designer, tailor, and stage hand all work[ed] toward one goal, set down by the poet in the foundation of the play" (Carnicke In Focus 29). S econd, the MAT productions destroyed old standards at every one of those artistic levels. For the first time, brand new sets were commissioned for every show specifically tailored to the play in question rather than being assembled from pre existing set pi eces. Costumes were no longer mismatched ensembles provided by the actors themselves, but rather designed, like
9 everything else, to support the conceptual whole (Carnicke In Focus 29). Conventional acting came under fire for its unnaturalness.' No longer would "actors [sing] their lines in a high declamatory tone," or on making an exit be "[obliged] to raise the right hand," or be considered impolite for "turn[ing] [their] back[s] on the audience so that all exits had to be made facing the front" (Benedett i An Introduction 8). Third, such experimentations with production unity and historical accuracy had a major influence on the type of plays the MAT would perform. Thus Realism, which seemed an intuitive choice for translating Stanislavsky and Nemirovich Da nchenko's aesthetic ideals into artistic practice, became the "initial programmatic style" of MAT because it squared with all of their budding artistic desires (Carnicke In Focus 30). Realism almost demanded Stanislavsky's ideas of authenticity in acting a nd historical accuracy as it demanded Nemirovich Danchenko's central concept. Due in part to each of these innovations, the Moscow Art Theater gained prominent success rather quickly, as did Stanislavsky. Barely off the ground, its second production (the legendary production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull ) propelled it to national fame and cemented Stanislavsky's reputation as a new kind of theater man, one suited to tackling the new realist trends in dramatic literature. The new literature, of course, pr esented many challenges to directors and actors because it rejected older models of drama that relied on popular comedians and featured a single star. The acting had to be were more complex because the stories and characters were, and just ahead of the cur ve the two MAT directors seemed to see that actors learning lines in isolation and meeting to rehearsing for just a week as a cast was not sufficient for this new art form. They realized that naturalist writing demanded a large measure of authenticity in p erformance and that authenticity would only be possible through capable ensemble work. For this, much more rehearsal time would be necessary for every play. Also, to achieve the desired authenticity, productions would no longer be able to lean on the merit s of a single star; every actor in every role would have to be highly competent. For its famous production of The Seagull, the MAT "put eighty hours of work into thirty three rehearsals in order to cultivate an ensemble
10 of actors without stars" (Carnicke Pathways" 18). According to famous American acting teacher Lee Strasberg, in reaction to the Moscow Art Company's 1923 tour of the US, it was in the MAT that "we saw for the first time the possibility of that greatness being shared by talents that were not necessarily on the same level, yet were capable of the same intensity, reality, belief, and truth" (Strasberg 40). He cites this shift toward the value of the ensemble, the value of the "equality of truth and reality created by each individual on the stag e" as the "unique contribution of the Moscow Art Theatre" to the institution of theater today (Strasberg 38). II. The Beginning of Systematized Actor Training and the First Studio The lasting result of the Moscow Art Theatre's technical and aesthetic revo lution(s) was the formulation of an inextricable link between it and the naturalist movement. By extension, Stanislavsky the director soon found himself to be a figurehead of the movement in the theatrical community, a reputation which would, paradoxically eventually overshadow many of his later innovations as Stanislavsky the acting theorist. Initially, of course, the attention was welcome. MAT was finding a foothold and Stanislavsky felt only the newness of the realist movement, refreshing and pregnant with possibility. At this time, the theater took great pains to "fost[er] [Stanislavsky's] fame as a master of psychological realism" (Carnicke "Pathways" 14). Just as the new theater itself insisted upon conceptual cohesion and serious, unified approaches to theatrical production, Stanislavsky as a passionate (and newly professional) director and actor himself began to call for a serious approach to the craft of the actor as well as for a radical shift in the theatrical institution's value of that craft. He felt that the first goal in creating a more sophisticated company of actors must be to combat the theater's very basic notion that actors were generally expendable, that their contributions to production were both limited and replaceable. His theater, in contrast, would see actors treated to comfortable rehearsal spaces, costumes they did not have to purchase themselves, and more steady employment opportunities among other things. If the new theater
11 could succeed, its success would be in the devotion of its performers to his and Danchenko's new ideas of ensemble and unity. He was positive that a steady, well fed company of companions working and growing together daily would soon flourish as artists once propelled beyond the petty competitions that hoping for work and fame could provoke in the face of rejection. The commitment that he and Danchenko needed for this, however, being far beyond the traditional duty of the actor at the time, did not seem likely to inspire such devotion in already famous actor s of the age. To professional actors, the offer boiled down to more work and fewer spotlights, but Stanislavsky was sure that if his new theater were founded on the principle that every actor, genius and apprentice alike, was equally vital to presenting th e story of a given production, eventually actors everywhere would achieve an artistic autonomy they had never before possessed. Thus they set out to find a group of actors with the right disposition for the new theater: actors who could work together and develop together; actors who (like their directors) would take the art of the production as seriously as the art of acting itself. Stanislavsky and his partner took the formulation of the company very seriously. Its members were hand selected from among Ne mirovich Danchenko's best Philharmonic Society students and Stanislavsky's brightest amateurs. According to Stanislavsky, "the peace conference at Versailles did not consider the world questions before it with such clarity and exactness as [he and Nemirovi ch Danchenko] considered the foundations of [their] future enterprise" (Stanislavsky My Life 294). Among the students finally chosen were, notably, Olga Knipper (future wife of Anton Chekhov), Vsevolod Meyerhold (future avant garde director), and Stanisla vsky's own wife, Maria Lilina. The single greatest requirements for inclusion were entered into the minutes as a series of aphorisms, including: "There are no small parts, there are only small actors." "One must love art, and not one's self in art." "All disobedience to the creative life of the theatre is a crime."
12 "The poet, the actor, the artist, the tailor, the stage hand serve one goal, which is placed by the poet in the very basis of his play." (Stanislavsky My Life 298) These aphorisms set th e stage, so to speak, for Stanislavsky's initial work with actors and ensemble. After all, changes to the actor's situation and status (redesigning backstage areas, demanding that actors be committed artists) were merely precursors to deeper changes in the actor's job description. The changes in theatrical production proposed by the Moscow Art Theater required by extension changes in acting which would reflect its new aesthetic position. Stanislavsky, who had long felt that the current traditions of declam ation and heroic gesture' were woefully artificial, now saw them totally at odds with the new theater's aesthetic ideals. As Sharon Carnicke describes the shift, "just as the set became more three dimensional, Stanislavsky [now] sought a similar three dime nsionality from his actors" as well ( In Focus 30). Oddly enough, the three dimensionality Stanislavsky sought from actors was not originally achieved through changes to the actor's process at all. In the earliest MAT productions, Stanislavsky attained hi gher levels of realism from his actors. Importantly, however, this was accomplished almost exclusively through technical and physical means, or what Carnicke calls "illusionist staging" ( In Focus 30). Early on, Stanislavsky relied on many of these techniqu es to "mask many of [the] faults" of his young actors (Carnicke In Focus 30). For instance, Stanislavsky initially blocked each actor's every movement on stage meticulously to adhere strictly to the illusion of truth he wanted to create. He would insist th at the actors ignore the audience and instead focus on one another, and often had them face upstage. He demanded an extensive amount of rehearsal time and used much of it to drill actors in their realistic blocking. He also took great pains to enhance the illusion of authenticity through the addition of small naturalistic details to productions such as minute sound effects and real food. 2 The eye catching realism of the early MAT stage is in many ways unrelated to great advancements in acting 2 This is a practice that during rehearsals of The Seagull would famously cause Anton Chekhov to threaten that his ne xt play would begin: "How wonderful, how quiet! Not a bird, a dog, a cuckoo, an owl, a nightingale, or clocks, or jingling bells, not even one cricket to be heard!" (Benedetti A Biography 135).
13 technique. Rat her, it was Stanislavsky's strong directorial vision and his illusionist tricks of staging and sound with which he initially constructed realistic theatrical productions. These are the ultra' realist productions that would eventually dazzle the American t heater scene. Stanislavsky himself would abandon many of the tactics he used to create them rather quickly as his interest in the process of acting itself became more pronounced. He had, of course, been interested in his own acting process from the start (had, in fact, been recording thoughts about it in journals for years), but it was not until the summer of 1906 that he began to organize his thoughts into anything like a functional technique. At this point, he "decided to take stock" of what had been wri tten on acting already, and began to study the "major tracts about acting from many centuries" (Carnicke In Focus 132). The last eight years of hard work as both director and actor in the Moscow Art Theater had plagued him with questions about truth' and reality.' He knew that he no longer believed that illusion of truth on stage was enough to create authentic belief in the world of a play for either actors or audiences (Bartow xxiv). This conclusion begged the question: if the illusion of truth was not enough, how could actors achieve actual truth? More complex questions followed: "How can one control a creative mood?" "How can one harness at will the elusive moment of inspiration?" "How can an actor maintain spontaneity in performances repeated time and time again?" (Carnicke In Focus 32). Most importantly, "can there exist a system for the creative process? Has it really got laws that have been established for all time?" (Stanislavsky My Life 483). His study resulted his first written work for actors: A Draft Manual Dated 1906 and never published (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xv), the work is considered by many to be the technical beginning of the system' and represents Stanislavsky's "first concerted attempt to link theory with practice" (Carnicke In Focus 32). When he returned to Moscow that autumn, he began to experiment systematically and zealously with every theory, technique, and idea he deemed remotely helpful to unlocking and enhancing the actor's process. He studied the relaxation and visua lization techniques of Yoga, Dalcroze Eurythmics, many dance traditions, and even current psychological
14 research and theories concerning emotion. Whatever he studied, he never seemed to "quite reach the ideal standards for acting that he envisioned possibl e" (Carnicke In Focus 32). He had now reached a point in his discoveries where experimenting exclusively with his own performance process was not enough, and in an effort to gain a wider understanding of the actor's process in a universal sense, he tried to draw some of his newest theories into the rehearsal arena on two Moscow Art Theater productions: a 1907 production of The Drama of Life by Knut Hamsun and a 1909 production of A Month in the Country by Turgenev. Company members (particularly veteran ac tors) trusted their own expertise and only accepted the new practices with extreme reluctance. Additionally, Nemirovich Danchenko was incensed by much of Stanislavsky's new system' because not only were many of the company's actors his own former students he also saw the system's' emphasis on action as a marginalization of the role of the playwright. His was a literary background. A playwright himself, his whole theory of unified production hugely influential to Stanislavsky's own work was itself resting on a firm belief in the author's authority over his own art. To him, the goal of theater was to enact, with fidelity, the fiction of the playwright. Fidelity, in fact, not only to the script itself, but to the author's intentions as well; indeed, the uni ty' of production he sought was itself an impulse toward bringing the different elements of production in line with the author's vision. This was, of course, fundamentally at odds with Stanislavsky's personal interpretation of his partner's own thoughts. N ot only was Danchenko's belief in the primacy of the playwright basically irreconcilable with Stanislavsky's advancing notion of the actor's need for artistic autonomy, it was also at odds with Stanislavsky's directorial impulse to use unified production a s a means of actively problematizing a playwright's words. In the same vein, Danchenko also disapproved of Stanislavsky's growing interest in the symbolist theater and other avant garde movements. As Stanislavsky began using his artistic veto more often to apply new and outlandish theatrical techniques to productions, Danchenko responded by insisting on drier and drier naturalistic scripts to compensate. Like many of the company actors, his feelings on Stanislavsky's new training method were
15 ambivalent, but for Stanislavsky's forceful insistence on its use within the MAT. He felt that such insistence was exceedingly arrogant, and though the system' is never cited as a direct cause for their disillusionment with one another, its use certainly exacerbated dee per problems in their partnership as their aesthetic views fell farther and farther out of sync. Now the Moscow Art Theater, even as it continued to profit from and advance Stanislavsky's name and early work, began to systematically "cli[p] his wings in o ther directions" (Carnicke "Pathways" 14). Although he continued to experiment with non representational forms (forms which rejected realist sensibilities) despite Nemirovich Danchenko's objections, his investigations would never do much to alter what the Moscow Art Theater had established. Twelve years after the birth of the Moscow Art Theater, and five years into the formulation of the fledgling system, in 1911, Stanislavsky finally threatened to quit the company if it did not officially adopt his techn ique, which gained him "the reputation of an eccentric crank among many of the actors" (Carnicke In Focus 32). Backed into a corner at the prospect of losing its most renowned member, Nemirovich Danchenko and the company caved, but adoption of the System o nly enhanced the resistance of actors and the hostility of Nemirovich Danchenko, and so the adoption was short lived. In reconciliation, and perhaps in an effort to keep the Moscow Art Theater's reputation separate from his new work, Stanislavsky eventuall y decided to conduct his personal experiments elsewhere and to finance them independently. Thus, in 1912, Stanislavsky finally established the First Studio in the private studio of his family theater, where much of his original work on discovering a syste m' of acting would take place. In the aftermath of his experience with the older MAT actors, their skepticism and resistance to change, Stanislavsky again decided to start with fresh faces, inviting only the company's finest young talent to the First Stu dio. Among these young actors were Maria Ousepenskaya and Richard Boleslavsky as well as Evgeny Vakhtangov and a young Michael Chekhov. The First Studio thus became Stanislavsky's primary laboratory for his most innovative experiments. Its goal was to forg e a system to aid the actor in creating and re creating truth on
16 stage, regardless of the play. By this point, Stanislavsky was adamant that his new project not become identified with the Realist movement, because he was bitterly disappointed by what he th ought of as a "cult of theatrical convention" which made artistic stagnation fashionable (Stanislavsky My Life 488). For his system, he wanted something that could evolve with theater and actors across artistic trends, a method "that an actor could utilize for any play in any style whether realistic, symbolist, theatricalist, absurdist" or any number of other theatrical genres (Carnicke In Focus 34). At the First Studio, Stanislavsky "gathered all who wanted to study the so called Stanislavsky System, for this study was the main purpose of the founding of the StudioIts aim was to give practical and conscious methods for the awakening of superconscious creativeness" (Stanislavsky My Life 531). Here he developed exercises to help with concentration and t o focus the actor's inspiration or creative mood.' Many of these exercises were based on enhancing not merely the actor's observational skills, but also his ability to preserve observations in his mind for later use. It was at this point that he experimen ted extensively (but not exclusively) with the types of emotional recall and sense memory exercises from which Lee Strasberg would eventually shape the American Method. Emotion, however, was not the sole or even most important aim of many of the exercises and processes Stanislavsky generated there. Even then the role of emotion within the total structure of the system' was complex. While work in the Studio did carry over a main theme from his earliest work, "an escape from superficial' theatre into someth ing more true,'" around this period that theme "becomes counterbalanced by the understanding that in fact theatre needs both of these extremities to have any life" (Donnellan xi). In his own words, the exercises of the First Studio were "for the creation of the creative feeling, for the analysis of the role, and for the conscious construction of the willed orchestration of the role on the bases of consistency and the logic of emotion" (Stanislavsky My Life 531). Ultimately, the work of the First Studio ha d little effect on acting, the MAT, or even a single audience during its lifetime, although it did have a dramatic affect on young actors who
17 had been involved with it. As Stanislavsky recollects, "it was impossible to show the new troupe to the public, as all these new artists did not come or ran away when they did come, for the First Revolution had arrived almost simultaneously with the opening of the new Studio" (Stanislavsky My Life 432). The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which plunged both the Moscow A rt Theater and Stanislavsky personally into financial despair also resulted in the disbandment of the First Studio, which Stanislavsky could no longer afford to run. III. The Bolshevik Revolution and the MAT US Tours of 1923 and 1924 The Bolshevik Revolu tion took Stanislavsky's family fortune and left the Moscow Art Theater almost destitute as well. The loss of his home and properties now the property of the state "transformed [him] overnight from a wealthy Muscoviteinto a virtual pauper" (Carnicke In Fo cus 21). In My Life he writes, "the former quiet and balanced life of Russia was over." (Stanislavsky My Life 533) For three years he sold what possessions he had left to keep his family fed and struggled to keep the dying theater, his only source of incom e, afloat. But the theater required roughly 1.5 billion rubles a year to stay in business and, with Lenin's withdrawal of government subsidies for theaters at the time, only about 600 million would come in through the box office even if shows sold out (Car nicke In Focus 21). With attendance down and no government funding, the theater couldn't afford to mount any new productions that might rekindle the public's interest. The single new production the MAT did manage to put up between 1917 and 1922 Byron's Cai n in 1920 lacked a set because the theater could not pay for one. In a quick fix Stanislavsky decided a plain backdrop of black would suffice, but he "could not find enough black velvet in Moscow to enclose the full stage (Benedetti A Biography 244, 250). The same year, down to his "last pair of trousers" and basically homeless, Stanislavsky was granted a house with two rooms that could serve as rehearsal space after a government official pleaded with Lenin on his behalf (Carnicke In Focus 22). At this poi nt, Stanislavsky's work on formalizing his new system' (perhaps more appropriately his collected thoughts on actor training') intensified in the hope that a lucrative
18 publication might get him back on his feet. Since penning A Draft Manual he had often attempted "formal exposition in the form of lectures and classes but [had eventually come] to the conclusion that actors did not respond to this kind of approach" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xv). He had also recently presented his first tentative acc ount of a formal version of the System in "a series of talks at the Bolshoi School between 1919 and 1921but he never attempted to publish them" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xv). His trouble was in satisfactorily translating the active nature of actor training to the passive page. He found he could not present the System as a manual because it would be too binding, and he could not present it as a collection of theories because it would be too impractical to expect actors to use. His provisional soluti on was to try presenting the System in a story. He began writing two new works, The Story of a Role and The Story of Production over the next several years, but they too were ultimately left abandoned in the chaos of the theater's imminent bankruptcy and t he barrage of public criticism aimed at him over his former wealth. During these years, Stanislavsky faced the suspicion of a press and public that accused him of "preserving bourgeois theater" and having "tsarist leanings" (Carnicke In Focus 20, 21). Und er these suspicions, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police in both 1918 and 1919 for interrogation (Autant Mathieu 72). His troubles did not even end there. In 1923, just before the MAT would tour the United States, his son contracted tuberculosis an d "could get treatment only in Switzerland" (Carnicke In Focus 21). Between the small amount of money he still possessed and the high cost of treatment outside the country (the Russian ruble was nearly worthless by this time in the world market, at nine to one U.S. dollar), Stanislavsky's only hopes for the survival of himself and his family seemed yoked to the survival of his sinking theater, which itself had only been held afloat by virtue of its nationalization in 1919. Here Stanislavsky and Nemirovich Danchenko looked to the west. The only hope for the theater's financial survival seemed to lie across the Atlantic in the United States;
19 the strongly commercial bent of American theater brought them hope, and touring the U.S. quickly "became the Art Theat re's keystrategy" for financial recovery (Carnicke In Focus 21). Thus they decided to split the company in two: "Stanislavsky [would lead] the most famous actors on tour throughout Europe and the United States; Danchenko [would keep] the theatre open in M oscow" (Carnicke "Pathways" 13). The tours would last two years, from 1922 to 1924, and with his theatre, his career, and even his son's treatment on the line by 1923, their success seemed to be Stanislavsky's last hope. The Moscow Art Theatre Tours of 1 923 and 1924 have long since achieved a legendary status in the American acting traditions. Divorced from a political context they sound positively exciting. To us, they represent America's first exposure to ensemble theater and to realistic acting; they r epresent the trigger for our continuing fascinations with the naturalist project. That said, their reality was bleak. In actuality, the tours took place under the strain of tense Soviet American relations, and even when they represented the best in cultura l/artistic exchange, they were costly to the struggling Moscow Art Theater and resulting conditions were hardly bearable for the traveling company members. At its best ambivalent and at its worst downright venomous, the political atmosphere in the U. S. surrounding the MAT tours of the early twenties was a veritable minefield of intersecting desires in the fields of politics, economy, and society, and looming above it all was the press. Despite pressure from the artistic community to welcome the visiti ng company's innovations, and even despite strong pressures from the economic sector ("which saw the USSR as a new market") to "recognize the Soviet government" (Carnicke In Focus 19), American newspapers lambasted Stanislavsky as a potential "agent of the new Bolshevik government" (Carnicke In Focus 20). It was insinuated that he was engaged in "sending profits back to Soviet coffers and attempting to sway American opinion towards communism. Even purely artistic questions seemed to harbor ulterior politica l agendas" (Carnicke In Focus 20). Newspapers in his motherland were equally unkind, and even more suspicious. Propaganda criticizing Russian migrs to the west targeted
20 artists and Stanislavsky, on tour in America at a critical moment, was caught in the crossfire. His limited successes abroad worked against him with his own people. He stood accused by the Soviet press of "attempting to emigrate," of "using Chekhov to form an alliance with capitalists," and was labeled a White Russian,' hence counter re volutionary" (Carnicke "Pathways" 20). In response to uproar from both sides, Stanislavsky struggled to cultivate and maintain a pubic air of political ignorance.' He "recalled walking a fine line to avoid falling into traps set by reporters," and was co nstantly "stressing his role as an artista proponent for theatrical art" (Carnicke In Focus 20). In addition to the stress generated by the hostile press assaults of two countries, Stanislavsky and the MAT company members did not live well during the tours. First off, the halved company was frightfully short handed and in the fast paced American theater, which demanded up to ten performances a week, the "killing workload stressed the company to its limits" (Carnicke In Focus 25). The actors, who were not used to performing even their regular roles so many times a week, were often asked to pick up new roles, and local extras (who had to be paid) were necessary with almost every stop, which meant that the company was also in constant rehearsal in additio n to its crushing performance schedule. Stanislavsky regularly worked with actors late into the night in hotel rooms and many "found themselves in tears of panic upon learning that they would perform certain roles, which they had rehearsed only one or two times" (Carnicke In Focus 25). Illnesses also ravaged the troupe. American food disagreed with many company members and the physical toll of rehearsing and performing was immense. Poor eating and sleeping habits left immune systems in equally poor shape. M any actors lost weight and regularly performed despite high temperatures. Then there was the problem of money. Renting theaters, hiring stagehands from American unions, and recruiting American extras consumed a frightful amount of the tour's profits. The m embers' own pay was taxed 8% by the American government, and at an average of one hundred dollars a week, they were barely scraping by (Carnicke In Focus 26). In the end, Theatre management even had to fire long time,
21 dedicated troupe members. Jaded and ti red after giving so much for so little, and faced only with prospects of financial despair and the tightening grip of the new government on theater and art production back home, many of these actors opted to remain in the States, where some would become su ccessful actors, directors, and teachers. Among them were Michael Chekhov, Richard Boleslavsky, and Marie Ouspenskaya, all of whom would be instrumental in "mov[ing] the System beyond the bounds of Russia" by "promot[ing] Stanislavsky's ideas on actor trai ning" (Carnicke "Pathways" 18). At the distinguished age of 60, Stanislavsky too "fell prey to the rigors of the tourand a refrain of despair pervaded his letters" (Carnicke In Focus 25). A translation of one from Jean Benedetti reads, "I am losing what remains of my health. My spirits are low. I'm depressed, I've almost lost heart, and at times, I think of giving it all up" (Benedetti A Biography 278). His letters also show a string of moneymaking plots and negotiations. He began writing while on tour in the hope of publishing abroad. If he could manage it in the US, "he could gain control over international royalties [of his work on the System][because] Russian publication would not protect his rights" (Carnicke "Pathways" 14). This decision "undeniabl y helped promote the System throughout the world" (Carnicke "Pathways" 14), and the publication of his famous 1924 memoir, My Life in Art (released to coincide with that year's tour) was perhaps his most successful financial scheme for several years. T hese grim realities are difficult to square with the thrilling impression of artistic embrace and cultural trade preserved by the American mythos surrounding the tours, and they obscure our somewhat distorted perception of their success. Practically, the t ours plainly failed and neither Stanislavsky nor the MAT received the money they had hoped to gain from the venture. However, it is clear in examining the rather major place of the MAT tours in American acting history that they were wildly successful in th e artistic arena. The artistic climate, after all, was in sharp contrast with the political climate at the time of the tours (at least in America), and the theater community nationwide had "awaited
22 [Stanislavsky's] arrival with bated breath" before he had so much as packed a suitcase (Benedetti A Biography 8). There are several reasons for this early and enthusiastic anticipation. First, the ongoing exodus of artist migrs from Russia had created a new wave of interest in Russian art in the States. Second Stanislavsky's renown traversed the ocean before his person did. Not only did eye witness accounts and MAT production reviews trickle over, "paint[ing] his portrait as that of the ultimate theatrical artist" (Carnicke In Focus 22), but rumors also circul ated that the greatest theater artists throughout Europe "not only admired Stanislavsky, but also sought collaboration with him" (Carnicke In Focus 22). Most importantly perhaps, the tours were shamelessly and aggressively publicized by one of the tour's s ponsors, Morris Gest, who made sure that photos and reviews of the company were packing the papers months before anyone was set to travel. All in all, between publicity and rumor, a lot of hype for the Moscow Art Theater Company ensured that the tours woul d be at least well attended, and the precarious financial situation kept the performance schedule at a feverish pace. From Manhattan to Washington D.C., the company gave 380 significantly attended performances. Where the tour failed to produce wealth, it e xceeded all expectations in artistic admiration and praise. In the midst of the world's new interest in psychology and the scientific method, the Moscow Art actors were impressive to American theatergoers: Their "depth and technical perfection, their innov ative ensemble work and their versatility in playing character and agethey transformed from character to character each night in rotating reparatory" (Bartow xxi). The "jaded" New York critics "hailed both the ensemble nature of [the company's] acting as well as [its] realization of the inner truth of the text' (Sterner 35)," and so "the seed of desire for deeper American acting [was planted] (Bartow xxi)." US audiences found the actors to be extraordinary, not least due to the ironic advantage of the la nguage barrier, which "focus[ed] attention away from the texts of their plays and on to their acting" (Carnicke In Focus 23). Actors were praised again and again for their seamless portrayal of character,' their creation of an illusion of real life witho ut obvious theatricality but with clear artistry,' and above all for their incredible ensemble work (Carnicke In Focus 24). By
23 the end of the MAT tours, Russians were the unrivalled authority on all things to do with acting to American audiences, the verit able "measure against which all acting could be judged" (Carnicke In Focus 25). Significantly, much of this American audience was comprised of professional actors and prominent theater artists who were inspired by the MAT performers and determined to know more about their process. Stanislavsky in fact went to some lengths to pander to this crowd specifically, arranging "special matinees on Fridays to accommodate the schedule of professional actors" and taking great care in selecting only his best ac tors to play these shows (Carnicke In Focus 126). Perhaps even more importantly, young artists in attendance at these matinees were enraptured; they "watched as if the secret to great theater were being offered to [them];" they yearned to "act in this way, to create the same kind of theater in [their] own idiom" (Strasberg 52). This was the ultimate success of the grueling tours for Stanislavsky (if not for many individual company members). The troupe left American actors intoxicated with their own potenti al and impatient to know more about the rumored Stanislavsky System,' which must be responsible for what they had seen. That Stanislavsky's actual system' was unconnected with the tour's productions is an astounding irony that I will address in depth bel ow. The result, however, has been an obfuscation of the relationship between the tours, the budding system,' and the Realist project, which the political unease in Russia would eventually compound. In spite of this misunderstanding, which still shadows pu blic conception of the System today, it is doubly ironic that the attention these unaffiliated tours brought to the system' was perhaps the single biggest factor in its success in the States. Despite the monstrous hardship of living the tours and in the disheartening face of his continuing financial struggles, Stanislavsky did find a devoted following of potential students in America, and a place where his system could certainly expand.
24 IV. Censorship and Socialist Realism (The Myth of Stanislavsky) U pon its return to Moscow, the MAT touring company finally encountered the drastic increase in government control over the arts which had begun with the theater's nationalization in 1919 and continued with the strict censorship laws enacted just as it had departed for the US in 1923. The time for establishing political equilibrium was now past and the initial uneasy but tolerable coexistence between the new government and free art was all but closed by 1926. Understanding the power "which artists [can] wiel d over public opinion," the new government first formed the People's Commissariat of Education and Enlightenment as early as 1917 in order to "harness the educational potential of the arts and curb its potential hostility toward" them (Carnicke In Focus 38 ). By the MAT's return, the newly established Central Repertory Committee headed the theatrical domain. All theaters were now obligated to submit every script to it for review and to arrange government viewings of full productions for approval before they could be played for the public. Eventually all authors and writers of any kind would be amassed into one professional union and all artists would be collectively "enjoined to depict [only] an idealized reality that viewed the establishment of communism as the logical and teleological goal of history" (Carnicke In Focus 39). Though it was not until 1934 that Stalin finally made Socialist Realism the only legal artistic aesthetic in any field, for all practical purposes only Socialist Realism had been encoura ged by the government for the better part of a decade. There had, of course, been much debate initially about which artistic styles intrinsically advanced the ideologies of the revolutions. There had at one time been a healthy camp of leading artists in favor of discarding all established forms of the time (including the realist project) on the grounds that they were pre revolutionary and therefore inherently capitalist,' bourgeois,' materialist,' etc. In spite of the dispute, the government continued to gravitate toward the traditions of Realism over newer, non representational art forms because it saw more abstract/avant garde styles as inaccessible to the proletariat and thereby elitist and non egalitarian. Realism was also more useful to the governm ent's highly propagandist agenda.
25 A parallel debate raged within the MAT as well, beginning years before the trip to America. By the time of his return to Moscow, Stanislavsky had come to dislike scrupulous Realism far more than his government checked pu blic persona suggested. Where once the illusion of reality in production had seemed to heighten the actor's ability, it now seemed a crutch which led actors to eventual stagnation. He now "saw that it was easier to give the audience a clever ride than a re al experience" (Donnellan x). As the System continued to gain dimensions, Stanislavsky found himself fascinated by the new theatrical forms he saw developing around him. The potential application of the System to them in production and the potential expans ion of the System to include them were possibilities he found impossible to ignore. By the time he penned My Life in Art (1924), he had already "link[ed] the System inextricably to the active power of fantasy that lifts the actor out of real reality.'" He now believed that imagined truth' "exert[ed] a greater influence over the actor" than did genuine truth' (Carnicke In Focus 35). As early as the First Studio he had become fascinated with Symbolism for its capacity to consider imagination and imaginary truths in acting, and had tested many of his acting theories and exercises in another Studio he had financed for his student Vsesvold Meyerhold. Yet as I mentioned before, his forays into non representational forms did little to alter the Moscow Art Thea ter program or public perception of him. The Art Theatre continued to promulgate his reputation as the greatest Realist director ever known, exploiting his early work while actively discouraging his newer projects. It "traded on his name, but refused his m ost forward looking ideas" (Carnicke In Focus 35). Still "hailedas the company's driving force," by this time Stanislavsky, paradoxically, "had virtually no administrative power and little artistic control" (Carnicke In Focus 35). At the center of this c onflict was his deteriorating relationship with Nemirovich Danchenko. For nearly twenty years the two men had been butting heads in the stylistic arena, yet the "two kept their quarrels in private" (Carnicke In Focus 37). In My Life, Stanislavsky charact erizes their artistic drift as the "inescapable natural phenomenon," of "two individualities, want[ing] to
26 make their own, separate, independent paths" with "complete independence" (533). He cites this drift as a major reason for poor MAT/Studio relations: The company, spoiled by its former work, was dissatisfied with our natural parting of the ways. It was still less satisfied with the Studio, which drew me to itself from the Theatre. All this caused a very cold relationship on the part of the actors towa rd the Studio. The Studio was but badly related to the Theatre. ( My Life 533) Stanislavsky's forays into the avant garde had triggered a slow breakdown in the rigid power structure the two had originally created, and now their sacred "division of labor pr oved impossible to maintain" (Carnicke In Focus 36). Danchenko, who still firmly believed that production was above all a living manifestation of the author's vision, saw "Stanislavsky's experimentation as subversion of the playwright and a threat to the v iability of the Theatre they had built together" (Carnicke In Focus 37). Stanislavsky, for his part, was obsessed with the actor's own craft: interpretation, adaptation, the experiential, which he strongly associated with a pursuit of theatrical truth.' T his often put him at odds with Danchenko's loyalty to literary goals. Additionally, as international political climates heated and cooled during wartime, Danchenko found that the Soviet agenda resonated with him. When Stalin came to power and the new "Sovi et policies encouraged communist friendly arts at all times and insisted upon propagandist art," while Stanislavsky continued to "remain[n] staunchly apolitical in his artistic views" (at least publicly), Danchenko began to bring a social agenda to their mutual enterprise" and "would only acceptperiod plays that appeared relevant" to contemporary political issues (Carnicke In Focus 57). When "Soviet policy presumed that realism was more accessible to the proletarian masses than abstraction in the arts a nd, therefore, most desirable," Danchenko "tended to preserve the realistic tradition of the theatre" he had helped to build even as Stanislavsky insisted on fighting "artistic stagnation of any kind, even in regard to realism" (Carnicke In Focus 57). Danc henko criticized Stanislavsky's productions for "lacking that main nerve protest," and it was he who ultimately became the "Theatre's true champion of Realism" (Carnicke In Focus 5 7). Because he ultimately held the literary veto, there was little Stanisla vsky could do to influence his
27 selection of what plays the theater would perform. Political differences mingled with their personal spite and envy to produce much of the basis for the marginalization that Stanislavsky's work would ultimately endure. As Car nicke summarizes: By the time of Stanislavsky's death, the two did not speak. They communicated only in letters which show their strained relationshipThey needed' and even loved' each other, but they also hated each other.' In their four decades tog ether, they had clashed in every imaginable wayEach was jealous of the other's talents; each suspected the other of undermining his best artistic efforts. ( In Focus 36) Ultimately, both their long professional relationship and their friendship "played out against political forces which tended to support Nemirovich Danchenko's side of the argument" (Carnicke In Focus 37). Danchenko's artistic convictions "allowed him to move into the politicized world of post revolutionary Russia more easily than did Stanis lavsky" (Carnicke In Focus 37), and his control over the Theatre's repertoire essentially gave him the power to choose what the MAT would be. Stanislavsky's political ambivalence doubled as an abdication of sorts and his isolation at the MAT pushed him closer to his Studios than ever before. Then, in 1928, he suffered a heart attack that ended his acting career. Now his primary focus shifted back to his writing, and drawing on his various incomplete manuscripts and old notebooks, he began to compile mate rial for what would eventually become An Actor Prepares and its sequels in the US. As he retreated into his writing, his artistic isolation at the MAT became total, but it would pale in comparison to the literal isolation he would experience in the last fo ur years of his life at the hands of the Soviet government. Stalin's ban on non realistic art actively invaded every corner of Russian culture, and in these years the government even went as far as recasting the great Realists of the nineteenth century as advocates of Socialist Realism, disregarding any ideological difference in the two projects. Now the Soviet regime combed history "for models in Russia's past that could be pressed into contemporary service" (Carnicke In Focus 39). For his earliest work, f or his international fame, and for his prominent place within Danchenko's newly made over, servile
28 MAT, Stanislavsky was an obvious choice for this project. So it was that Stalin remade Stanislavsky after his own fashion. Publicly, he set him up as Sociali st Realism's exemplar in the theater. The same papers which had mercilessly accused Stanislavsky of being in bed with capitalists at the time of the tours now sang his accolades at every turn. Headlines read: "Our Pride," "The Creator of Realistic Theatre" "A Great Master of Realism" "on the front lines of The Battle for Realism'" (Carnicke In Focus 40). But though the government went to great lengths to laud him as a master of his craft and the greatest Realist of all time, it was only after his writing w as "censored to reflect Marxist doctrine," and his "eccentric experiments into other isms'" were "conveniently forgotten" (Carnicke In Focus 39). By his death, "Stanislavsky was more than ever not what he seemed" (Carnicke In Focus 28). The government's investment in his name and public image for its propagandist agenda naturally resulted in a strong desire to protect what it had built. Stanislavsky the man, therefore, became a liability, and it was in the best interest of the Soviet regime to keep the e lderly eccentric out of the public eye. In 1934 Stanislavsky was sent to his home on Leontevsky Lane and, though he continued to experiment and write with a certain level of autonomy, he would remain there in "virtual imprisonment" until he passed away in 1938 (Carnicke In Focus 28). Correspondences with Stalin at the time indicate that he understood his confinement to be part of a new policy of "isolation and preservation" supposedly "reserved for internationally known, highly visible Soviet citizens" (Car nicke In Focus 40). "Hermetically sealed awayin order to protect his public image from his private thinking," his only contacts were his doctors and close associates, who also "served as wardens" and "carefully controlled information from the outside worl d" (Carnicke In Focus 40). Only his isolation could guarantee that the "dynamic reality of his work need not impinge on the created image" (Carnicke In Focus 38). Thus it was that Stalin and the Soviet government actively and successfully generated and ad vanced the "myth of Stanislavsky's exclusive
29 commitment to Realism" that even today continues to obscure the complex reality of his career (Carnicke In Focus 40).
30 Misunderstanding the Stanislavsky System in t he United States As Max Stafford Clarke writes in the forward to Bella Merlin's Beyond Stanislavsky "Stanislavsky is much quoted, but little understood in this country either by students or by actors (xi)." His System's dissemination throughout the United States has been plagued from its beginning both by its own sheer breadth and, not least, by the language barrier itself. From there, endless complicating factors from publication timing to its conflation with derivative techniques have made the System's t ransmission to this country nightmarishly complex and whatever content is available regrettably bewildering. The System's continuous development, as Stanislavsky reminds us, expands across 40 years of artistic experimentation, occupying a number of vastly different artistic and ideological periods. During that time, not only was the System itself constantly adapting to a country and world's social evolutions, such evolutions were in turn constantly influencing how earlier versions of the System would be int erpreted. Historically, as political and artistic agendas have shifted, the System has been corrupted in many different ways, often for political or artistic validation. The result has been a string of revisions regarding the histories and contexts surroun ding the System in both Russia and the United States that by virtue of their own contradictions have ended up presenting the Stanislavsky System itself as the irreconcilable mess it is popularly imagined to be. We see this type of hijacking readily in the Russian propagandist mythos surrounding Stanislavsky that I just mentioned above. Misconception springing from that very championing of Socialist Realism by the Soviets still haunts our own American mythos of Stanislavsky As Donnellan says in his introduc tion to Benedetti's new translation, "unfortunately, Stanislavski has become a myth and this has done him a disservice" (xi), and it is true. Here in the US, even seventy years later, the name Stanislavsky still evok[es] images similar to those developed in Soviet Russia: a grandfatherly teacher in a pince nez who reveals the secret of great acting to insecure young students; a strict
31 disciplinarian who demands a total commitment to art; a great realist director who harnesses the truths embedded in plays a nd in actors' souls. (Carnicke In Focus 40) These descriptions, popularized in Soviet Russia, continue in the US to this day and in some sense seem to stand in for real knowledge in the public eye, disguising our lack of information regarding his full o euvre and conflating his personal philosophies with the project of the Art Theatre. Indeed, in the better part of a century, frightfully little "about the later development of the System and about Stanislavsky's interest in realms of knowledge other than real reality' has seeped into our common knowledge about him" (Carnicke In Focus 40). Further, the System's very openness has always made it an easy target for appropriation. Just as the Soviet government of the 1930s was interested in bending the System t o "conform to the tenets of Marxist materialism," in the United States its early incarnations seemed to equally answer a more American fascination with the work of Freud. This is why it is important to consider the System through (at least) the contexts pr ovided above. Without this historical framework in place it is impossible particularly in the US to track the multitude of contrary interpretations concerning how the System works and more importantly, what parts of it are most significant. Misunderstandi ng of Stanislavsky merely begins with the Soviet caricature of a great Realist that seeped into America. In the US, resting atop the Soviet notion is the lore of many American derivatives of the System, each making use of its Stanislavskian ancestry for pr ofit and to propagate its techniques even when in direct competition/contradiction with other derivatives. All things considered, this has been an understandable approach until recently. After all, information concerning the System was vastly incomplete at the time early derivatives were formulated. Due to an appallingly long series of miscommunication, timing, and translation issues dating all the way back to the MAT tours themselves, early attempts to link the various phases of the System together cohesi vely seemed impossible. This too has invited scholarly comparisons to the work of Freud in the literary field and for many has substantiated a parallel conclusion: that to pick and choose from the complete body of Stanislavsky's work must be a
32 necessary ev il for the sake of aesthetic and theoretical continuity in practice. This tactic even seems to square with Stanislavsky's own spirit of constant experimentation, but the openness' of picking and choosing is an illusion when it is done in a historical vacu um. Privileging one aspect of the System over others may be every actor's right, but at its core the System encourages continued experimentation in the actor above all else. When entire techniques are defined in terms of which Stanislavskian tenets they em phasize and are competitively differentiated from one another based on what they deemphasize (or ignore completely), becoming distinguished from one another also means becoming finite and disengaged. The separation renders a dialogue between techniques not impossible, but worse, undesirable, and ultimately cripples any chance of the kind of experimentation Stanislavsky advocated. This is not to claim that such derivative techniques do not have value, or do not work, it is merely to suggest that in declaring independence from a system essentially known in this country only as hearsay and adapting it to American needs, each product has developed at odds with the main philosophy of its predecessor in the midst of competition. The problem with this is not that t hese techniques don't parrot the System. It is that common knowledge of the System has become conflated with certain disputes between American derivatives that have been based, from the beginning, on a mutual misunderstanding. Strasberg's Method, for examp le, often stands in for early Stanislavsky' in the American consciousness (when it doesn't stand in for all of Stanislavsky's work), and the Stella Adler Technique often stands in for mid career Stanislavsky'. Ironically, the issue the two techniques dis agree on so vehemently, the use of emotion perhaps the biggest example of Stanislavsky contradicting himself' is perfectly reconcilable within Stanislavsky's own conception of the system'. Sadly, regardless of the actual difference between the Method and Adler's Technique, their schism has somehow become evidence of the true' System's inconsistency and perpetuated a growing feeling that Stanislavsky is less relevant as such techniques take up his mantle.
33 The infuriating trickle of information about Stan islavsky and the System to America over the course of the century is, of course, to blame. Lamentably, even with the significant additions to our information on Stanislavsky here in America in the last decade or two, little has trickled further than academ ia and even less has made its way back into practical dialogue with its bastard posterity. As with the MAT and Danchenko for much of the 1920s, most derivatives seem to have ignored newer information concerning Stanislavsky's later work, particularly of ex ternals: Modern practitioners often ignore Stan islavski 's own emphasis on externals, they either haven't read Stanislavski, or they consciously ignore this, yet the major exponents of what they choose to call "The Method" have, to a shocking extent, overl ooked or totally ignored the externals. This has led to a great deal of confusion and in many cases to downright misinterpretation of the system as developed by Stanislavski. (Norvelle 33) To provide a clearer sense of how our common ideas of Stanislavsky and the System have become so glaringly distorted, and to link my own reading of the System with several popular misconceptions later on (inner vs. outer techniques, System vs. Method, becoming an actor vs. becoming a character), I would now like to trace a few parts of the System's transmission to North America and several of its early translations into English. I'll begin with a few more insights into the MAT tours of the 1920s and the System's initial spread by word of mouth, continuing with various issu es connected to its publication and translation. As we know, the System came to America with the Moscow Art Theatre in 1923 and the tours were wildly successful artistically, if not financially. What I failed to expand on above, however, were several of t he more ironic misconceptions about them made by Americans which would set the stage for layer upon layer of future misconception about Stanislavsky and his work. Firstly, the productions mounted in the States by the MAT were all classic MAT productions da ting from the theater's earliest years. They were remnants of Stanislavsky's youth at the forefront of the naturalist revolution, which Danchenko had selected to send overseas in an effort not to invite Soviet ire. Therefore, while the realistic performan ces of the tours captured the eye of American spectators and gained Stanislavsky a reputation for being cutting edge, young
34 Russian artists of the early twenties actually thought him old fashioned. In reality, of course, Stanislavsky's own thinking had its elf advanced under the influence of the next generation as well, but that wasn't popularly known in his own country let alone in America. In actuality, the tour productions were twenty five years old and up to date neither with current artistic movements i n Russia, nor with Stanislavsky's own thinking. Even still, the old productions were met with abundant praise in the US, and since production values were low enough to make the outdated sets and costumes appallingly meager next to American shows, critics h ad to cite the company's acting as the source of the excitement: "over and over again [critics] agreed that the Russian troupe's ensemble work distinguished it from Broadway, and young actors linked this special talent to a rumored system of training for a ctors" (Carnicke In Focus 29). Ultimately, in the tours, Stanislavsky brought the "artistic Revolution of the nineteenth century [to] the second decade of the twentieth" (Carnicke In Focus 29), and inadvertently helped advance the realist aesthetic in the West to such a prominence that it is still visible today. In the powerful influence of the MAT actors' skill a second irony of the System's transmission becomes apparent. While each performer seemed to possess breath taking command and an inspired level of nuance on stage the likes of which American audiences had never seen, none of this skillful acting was the result of the Stanislavsky System at all. The productions were decades old and predated the System by years. Additionally, Stanislavsky had large ly brought the company's most famous and talented members to the US the very same veterans who had scorned the use of his System in the early 1900s, initially prompting him to establish the First Studio. Apart from those who had resisted the System, most o f the rest knew nothing at all about it. Of the several who were familiar with it, Stanislavsky remained disappointed in their performances abroad. He felt they had "become too settled in their acceptance of what had become a kind of dogma about their art" (Carnicke In Focus 30). Many of these men and women would go on to make up the first generation of Stanislavsky' teachers in the US and would have immense impact on American interpretation of its principles.
35 What actually stood out to Americans in the M AT performances and set them apart was the simple notion of the ensemble, a concept upon which the MAT had been originally founded in 1898. Unfortunately, Americans mistook an ensemble approach to drama for improvement in acting and considered it proof of the rumored system's effectiveness. In effect, the ensemble approach, essentially an aesthetic shift in dramatic writing and/or production and an antecedent to ensemble centric actor training, became conflated with the value system by which acting was meas ured. That such a movement toward ensemble playing was an essentially Realist gesture in the wake of the highly stylized, melodramatic star system suggested (by extension) that Realism itself meant a type of improvement' in theater. In this way the Realis t aesthetic crept into American consciousness and Realism became identified with good acting.' Here we see a final irony: that American admiration for the Moscow Art Theatre company's realistic acting was the primary reason for American interest in System While Stanislavsky had by the time of the tours become deeply interested in developing his System so that an actor could "utilize [it] for any play in any style whether realistic, symbolist, theatricalist, absurdist, etc" (Carnicke In Focus 34), his pres entation of the hyper realistic work of his youth fused American desire for a) the naturalist movement and b) the System things he considered independent of one another into a single passionate impulse. Thus Americans fell prey to a rapidly solidifying lin k between Stanislavsky's System, the Moscow Art Theatre, and the Realist project, which would square only too nicely with Soviet accounts of his work over the next few decades just when American interest in his work would peek. Despite the fact that the Sy stem had been personally financed independent of the disapproving MAT in the midst of its progenitor's most anti realist phase, it is possible that, but for these misconceptions, the System would not have impacted the American theater scene so quickly or s o drastically at all. This is perhaps the ultimate irony. The Moscow Art Tours "unquestionably helped paint this mythic but partial portrait for [Stanislavsky's] American admirers" (Carnicke In Focus 40), but they also ensured that portrait's existence. Af ter the tours,
36 the American theater scene clamored for more of the System, and the time was ripe for insiders left in the US to capitalize on their knowledge. To this end, several former MAT actors who remained in America after the tours opened the first successful actor training school in the United States, called the American Laboratory Theater, in 1924. Funding for the school had been procured after Richard Boleslavsky, one of its founders, had given a series of lectures in English on Stanislavsky's te chnique during the tours, and the enthusiastic interest of Americans made it financially feasible. The Lab was directly responsible for the continuation and development of the System in America. In the years following the tours, Boleslavsky's Laboratory b ecame a veritable Mecca for American students of acting interested in Stanislavsky's innovations', and with the help of Marie Ouspenskaya (another former Moscow Art actress who stayed behind in New York to teach with him), the Lab instructed some 500 stud ents between 1924 and 1930, including Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler, and many others who would become key players in the first generation of American Stanislavsky based actors and teachers. The Lab was highly appealing to these talented yo ung Americans because at a time when actor training in the US still consisted of the highly competitive star system that Stanislavsky himself had set out to change early on in his professional career, what he and Boleslavsky offered was more than a new way to train; it was the possibility of a universality the craft of acting had never seen so far west. Stanislavsky's egalitarian belief that only the "complete interdependence of actors in a company" could produce good theater was totally "alien to the [Amer ican] acting world" of the 1920s (Vineberg 5); and amidst a background of new playwriting techniques and such up and coming talents as Eugene O'Neil, a new approach to acting seemed as necessary to the Lab's students then as it had to Stanislavsky when he had first produced The Seagull decades prior. The derivative techniques' I continue to reference here can themselves all be traced directly back to Boleslavsky's Lab. Time at the Lab would eventually inspire both Lee Strasberg
37 and Stella Adler to develop successful actor training methods in the US based on different portions of Stanislavsky's work. They, in turn, would both teach acting to a young Sanford Meisner, who would go on to develop a third, highly successful technique based on a partial synthesis of their clashing ideals. Again, however, it can't be stressed enough that the techniques learned by the young actors at Boleslavsky's school had slipped into a mere approximation of their architect's handiwork immediately. Together they comprised a simpl ified, outdated version of Stanislavsky's earliest formulations that were based entirely on material he had not considered of primary importance in actor training since Boleslavsky's own student days at the First Studio. As an instructor, Boleslavsky relie d heavily on his own teacher's exercises for concentration and affective memory the same emotion training' exercises that would form the basis of Lee Strasberg's future oeuvre. Unfortunately, although Stanislavsky had personally concluded years prior that this type of emotion training was most functional when counterbalanced by what he referred to at the time as imagination training', he returned to Russia later that year, where his newer innovations remained isolated for more than a decade. In his absen ce, Stanislavsky's early ideas spread through the US theater community quickly, and in ten years time, the three derivate techniques I mention above were well established. In fact, by the time he set foot in Russia again, the system' he left behind was al ready in full evolutionary swing. Lee Strasberg, who had left the Lab barely half a year after becoming a student, decided at that point that he'd had absorbed enough Stanislavsky' training to strike out on his own. He and two colleagues had decided to st art a new theater company based on the type of ensemble theater that he had seen in the Moscow Art tours. The new theater would have a permanent company, like the MAT's, and its members would all train together in the same technique, which he would teach. In 1930, the Group Theatre was formed. Building on the basic principles he had subsumed working with Boleslavsky, Strasberg quickly began to find success in his own experimentations with the Group Theatre players. His
38 Lab classes, "particularly in conce ntration and affective memory," were the foundation of his rehearsal process in the new company. While what he knew of Stanislavsky's work was only its roughly translated infancy, Strasberg was adept in filling in the gaps or making it up as he went along. Over the ten year life span of the Group Theatre, he was very successful at making the system' his own. His tendency was to call the process he developed his method,' but as luck would have it, most Americans would assume from his Stanislavsky training that the method' he referred to was, in fact, Stanislavsky's, and, inadvertently, another grave misunderstanding of the System was born. In his Method,' Strasberg taught that on stage, the most important thing for an actor was to be full of real emotion what he called true emotion.' The idea was that emotion drawn from real life and from the actor's memory was more authentic than pretended emotion. To Strasberg, it "[did] not really matter what [the actor] [thought] [on stage] as long as [he was] think ing about something, something real" (Strasberg 68). Thus, when Romeo dies, a Method actress playing Juliet may substitute a personal tragedy to achieve the proper emotional result for the scene. This conception of emotion was not exactly what Stanislavs ky had in mind, but there was no one at the Group who understood Stanislavsky any better than Strasberg did, and so there was no one to openly dispute his use of Stanislavsky's exercises. Only Stella Adler, who was a company member at the time, and who had herself taken classes at the Lab, felt some resistance to Lee's manipulations. His use of the training they had shared struck her as ineffective, and particularly his "excessive use of affective memory' exercises" struck her as psychologically unhealthy (Adler 129). She felt that to use and reuse personal events, often traumatic, as a source for emotion in performance put the actor's psyche at risk and could potentially "induc[e] hysteria" (Vineberg 108). Still, she did not challenge Strasberg outright fo r three years, because her own education about the actual Stanislavsky System was similar to his, and as such, she concluded that it too was similarly limited. She couldn't argue with any certainty that his
39 confident grasp of Stanislavsky's work was wrong, she only knew his method' didn't work for her. The more skeptical she became of it, the more she became skeptical of Stanislavsky as well. In 1934, in Paris, Adler got the unexpected chance to study personally with Stanislavsky for five weeks. In their lessons, it became clear to her that her suspicion of the Group's practices had been grounded. Stanislavsky told her that although he had been working more heavily with what she called emotion memory' ten years ago when Boleslavsky and Ouspenskaya had lef t the Moscow Art Theater, he found it less important now and had never considered it the cornerstone of the system. He also suggested to her that an actor could achieve true emotion' through action rather than emotion memory exercises. He even implied tha t emotion developed on stage through action was more authentic than the emotion produced by affective memory exercises because it was emotion produced by the play and not an outside force. Adler's own approach to emotion in her teaching reflects this revel ation. The Stella Adler's technique' is an essentially accurate presentation of what Stanislavsky had been doing in the 30 or so years since originally crafting the productions the MAT tours would be based upon. Rather than emotion, its central focus is "the actor's use of his imagination to create the play's action" (Bartow xxx). As Stanislavsky had taught her, she believed that an actor must have a sense of emotional memory to strengthen his awareness of his own emotions and what they might teach him; h owever, that "emotion [on stage] could arise naturally if the actor was true to his character's through line in the play" (Bartow xxx), thus emotion memory was less useful for preparing characters because it had a tendency to produce extraneous emotion in the actor unrelated to the central action of the play. Though it generally neglects his later attentions to the external and emphasizes the plotting of actions 3 as a primary means of text analysis rather more that the System itself, Adler's Technique is ar guably the American technique that most closely adheres to any actual (finite) version of the Stanislavsky System. Here, "actual," refers only to that version of the system which Adler learned in 1934. 3 See Chapter 3, Method of Physical Actions/Plotting Actions
40 When Adler returned from Paris, she returned on a miss ion. With Stanislavsky, her "sense of revolt [had] crystallized" (Bartow xxx), and she was prepared to correct' Strasberg's mistakes as soon as possible. When she arrived with the proud proclamation that "Strasberg's use of the Stanislavsky system, with his emphasis on emotion as the guiding force for actors had been incorrect" (Bartow xxiv), his first reaction "was the charge that Stanislavsky had gone back on himself" (Clurman 139). He still felt that emotion memory was "part of the process without whic h acting does not take place" (Sterner 36), and he maintained that "[Action] does not lead to emotion. It leads to a certain reality, but not emotion" (Sterner 36). This incident sparked a nasty controversy that was destined not only to be very famous, but also to compound American confusion about the Stanislavsky System for years to come. This is the essence of the debate: Emotion based training operated under the assumption that in a play, how the character was supposed to look and feel in a given situ ation was concrete, thus the actor's job was to produce for the audience the correct sequence of emotional results for the character. Because [to Strasberg] the emotional result was conceived of as fixed, (when you had to look sad, you find a way to cry, e tc.) the training was necessarily based on how to achieve fixed sequences of emotional results reliably. An action based technique, on the other hand, would make a point not to presuppose the existence of a correct' emotional response for the character, a nd would therefore encourage the actor to experiment with many potential correct' results. Adler saw the shift in emphasis from how to achieve a particular result truthfully' to how to achieve any truthful result' as a change that would reinvest actors in individual moments of performance. The great question, of course, was Is emotion from life more real' on stage just because it was once real? Or is emotion that is triggered by the actual events on stage more real' because they come from the present circumstances? The action emotion debate of Strasberg and Adler led to decades of misunderstanding in the US regarding Stanislavsky. This was due, in part, to the limited information available in English regarding the actual System' at the time, and it ma de it impossible to parse out where Stanislavsky actually stood on the emotion issue for a
41 many years. One lasting result of this confusion was the beginning of the historical misconception in America which characterizes Stanislavsky as unreliable, contra dictory, and eccentric.' After Strasberg and Adler fell out, the dynamics of the Group Theatre changed. Many actors began to split their time between the Group and outside theatres (not to mention between Adler and Strasberg), and one such actor was Sa nford Meisner, who began working in the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, where he would eventually develop a derivative technique of his own. In order to position the Meisner Technique within the American acting schools, it is useful to begin with his s tance on the Adler Strasberg emotion memory debate. Meisner, perhaps because he considered both Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg to be good friends and mentors, felt a strong personal desire to reconcile what he had learned from each of them about the uses o f emotion and the uses of action in acting. As a young man who had learned almost all of what he knew about acting from Strasberg, Stella Adler's return to the U.S. from Paris radically altered his understanding of theatrical truth. He was inclined to agre e with her that approaching emotion through action could reopen the doors of variety and spontaneity to actors. Of course, this is not to say that he agreed with her on everything, indeed "though Adler and her fellow Group alumnus Sanford Meisner share[d] a point of view about affective memory, on other fronts their approaches to the teaching of acting [were]resoundingly different" (Vineberg xi). The Meisner technique, developed in the backlash of Adler and Strasberg's heated controversy, is highly sensi tized toward issues of emotion. Meisner takes deliberate care to frame his use of emotion exercises delicately and to position them within the technique as important, but secondary. This is important because it illustrates that it was not emotion itself th at Meisner objected to in Strasberg's method. It was the idea that playing with an actor's emotion and psychology could yield (that illusive concept) a fixed theatrical truth.' Among the American derivatives, Meisner's technique is totally unique in at le ast two fundamental ways (from which spring many other significant differences): First, Meisner distinguishes between learning to act
42 and working on roles in a manner reminiscent of the Stanislavsky System (although developed independently). In beginning w ith separate concepts of the acting student and the actor preparing for a part, Meisner creates a clearer demarcation between training exercises and rehearsal exercises. This allows the use of emotion exercises to fall safely into the realm of training,' where it is conceived as a meditation or daydream rather than an exercise for directly performative use. Second, the technique brings a central focus to other actors on stage as the inciters of action and vehicles of spontaneity, something Stanislavsky onl y began to explore at the very end of his life, 4 long after Meisner had developed his famous repetition exercise. These innovations are important because they gesture toward a glaring difference in the development of Meisner's Technique, which distinguishe s it from the other two in a fundamentally important way. Meisner's Technique was born from an impulse of synthesis rather than appropriation, and in it, we see for the first time in the American derivative something resembling Stanislavsky's own process o f innovation. In fact, it is probably the only derivative technique directly descended from the System which managed (in its infancy) to embody Stanislavsky's overall philosophy of constant artistic evolution. Intent on preserving something of both his te achers, Meisner used the lessons he had learned from both Strasberg and Adler to develop an incredibly cohesive technique and many popular exercises of his own. If Adler's technique adheres most closely to an actual' version of the system, as I claim abov e, Meisner's technique most closely adheres to the System philosophically. So, by 1934 the same year Stanislavsky retired to his protected' isolation, three different versions of the System had already met with professional success in America while Stani slavsky's own book about his technique w as still two years shy of being published in the United States. All three techniques gained success rapidly, and each seemed to fuel the propagation of some or other misconception of Stanislavsky's work at every turn Strasberg stressed "the psychological, Adle[r]the sociological, and Meisne[r]the behavioural" (Krasner 4 See Chapter 3, Active Analysis
43 129), but no one could figure out what Stanislavsky stressed anymore, and after a decade or so without so much as an article on the System from that quarter, American interest in the original System began to dim. The American consciousness all but forgets about him, and there was a pretty standard assumption at the time that however many systems' Stanislavsky had developed, American practitioners seem ed to have them all covered. That same year, the 1936 American edition of his book, a written account of the System, was just being translated, and accurate knowledge of his work could not catch up to the commonplace rumors and misunderstandings of the la st ten years. As a result, even apart from misunderstandings perpetuated by such oral continuations of the System as seen in the Lab or the Method, additional misconceptions centered around the eventual publication of the System exist as well. Often issues related specifically to Stanislavsky's text would seemingly corroborate such misconceptions already begun in the System's oral transmission or otherwise exacerbate existing misunderstandings. For this reason, addressing the publication of the System in th e US is necessary to exploring American confusion regarding the System. We know now that in the time before its publication, the System existed only as a badly preserved oral tradition passed among actors and theater professionals in a variety of different circumstances. Significantly, it has been written that Stanislavsky oscillated between preferring this type of oral diffusion and feeling a sharp need to clarify many aspects of his technique. Existing for a long time "as a kind of theatrical folklore[th e System] changed according to those who taught it, to those who narrated' it" (Benedetti "Afterword" 687). For a long time Stanislavski actively resisted trying to write it down. Further, he became increasingly resistant to the idea after each of his att empts to do it left him dissatisfied. He was similarly unwilling to allow any of his followers to attempt penning the System, though several tried. In a letter to his American translator in the 1930s, he expresses some of his frustration over the venture: What does it mean, writing a book of the system? It does not mean writing down something that is already cut and dried. The system lives in me but it has no form. It is
44 only when you try to find a form for it that the real system is created and defined. I n other words, the system is created in the very process of being written down. (Benedetti "Afterword" 687) Stanislavsky's reluctance to commit the System to paper is a reluctance to consign it to a fixed form. It also indicates his intense fear of being m isunderstood or having his words turned against him as they so often had been. His resistance and fear stemmed from a deep fidelity to the flexibility of the System, but both have ironically contributed to several of the biggest reasons that the System has been misunderstood and over simplified in Russia and the US. These are issues related to his writing itself, and by extension to its publication and editing, and to its eventual translation into English. Stanislavsky agonized over how to record the Syst em for decades before finally settling on the form of a diary in the late 1920s, after the heart attack that ended his acting career. The diary form seemed to offer him the framework he needed to present the System on paper without diminishing its essentia lly fluid and oral qualities. In theory, this was the perfect solution. It allowed him to write primarily in dialogue, which left the crucial room for the incidental that Stanislavsky needed in order to convey the System's dependence on its users. But the achievement of the System's unlikely form quickly became its first weakness in the midst of Stanislavsky's continuous fear of misunderstanding and his hesitation to consider anything complete. A diary gave him a perfect vehicle for writing and re writing t he System to death some would say literally. In effect, not only was his diary of the System still incomplete at the time of his death, but because his slow progress had already led to the work's division into two volumes, the first volume appeared to many to contain the complete technique. Not only does every original word of the written System constitute "a work that is only half written" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xv), only half of that unfinished work was published during Stanislavsky's lifet ime. Originally, the book was supposed to "outlin[e] a two year course of training in which the student first learns the process by which the inner life of a
45 character is created and then how this is expressed in physical and technical terms" (Benedetti Translator's Forward" xvi), but eventually pressure to publish got the better of Stanislavsky and he agreed to publish it in two volumes because he was only half finished. His decision was not without immense trepidation: From the very beginning, Stanisla vski had serious misgivings about dividing the book. He feared that the first volume, dealing with the psychological aspects of acting would be identified as the total system' itself, which would be identified as a form of ultranaturalism.' His fears wer e justified. (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi) The fruition of this very fear is at the root of the current inability to reconcile different aspects of Stanislavsky's work in the US, and is directly related to parallel misunderstandings made in the or al transmission of the System. The division of the book effectively "caused the two aspects of training [psychological and physical] to be separated outThus the unity of the psycho physical technique was lost" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi). The s ignificance of the division is, of course, really an issue of timing. After all, had the two volumes come out within a year of one another, their sequential relationship may have been more apparent. Unfortunately, a thirteen year interim separates Russian publication of the first half (1938) and the appearance of reconstructed versions of the second half of the System (1953). By the time part two came out, the connection between the two was lost, and the second half was almost universally read as a contradi ction of the first. In that sense, even practitioners interested in using the new material did not often attempt to integrate it with the old, and most ignored it completely. Another obstacle in understanding the System is Stanislavsky's very style, which is essentially responsible for the myriad of editing problems that eventually come into play. "Haunted possibility that he would be misunderstood, as had so often been the case in the past, even by close associates" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi), and committed to a dialogic style that gave him endless room to reiterate and expand, "[Stanislavsky's] tendency was to overwrite and over explain, using several words where one or two would do, and in repeating definitions like a mantra." Consequently, "his style all to often obscured his meaning" (Benedetti
46 "Translator's Forward" xvi). In 1929, when he presented his initial draft chapters to Lyubov Gurievich, a long time friend and historian, she saw immediately that the work was prolix and discursive. She suggested that on his completion of the book, she would help him edit the work into a more fluid and accessible form. Later in the same year, Stanislavsky went to Nice as part of the recovery for his heart and became reacquainted with Elizabeth Hapgood who had been his interpreter at a White House reception during his time in America with the Moscow Art Theater. Her husband Norman was a publisher and in the two of them Stanislavsky found additional collaborators for an English edition of the System. Seeing the same chapters he had shown to Gurievich, Norman Hapgood too "[took] his blue pencil and edit[ed] down Stanislavski's partial draft" while Elizabeth "suggested certain revisions that were then translated back into Russian" (Benedetti "Translator' s Forward" xvi). They worked for several weeks, but Stanislavsky returned to Russia before finishing the book. His intention was to finish the Soviet edition with Gurievich first. Hapgood took the completed English sections back to the US, but did not get the rest of Stanislavsky's chapters until 1935. The Russian edition (which is the basis for Benedetti's recent translation) differs substantially from the edition given to Mrs. Hapgood" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi). There are several reasons fo r this. First, though Gurievich was very patient and edited Stanislavsky's work with care, he continuously and even obstinately rewrote sections as quickly as she could improve them. By the end of the Russian edition, Gurievich finally caved to Stanislavsk y's idiosyncrasies. Hence, "the final chapters of Part One are Stanislavsky's alone and the deterioration in the writing is all too evident." (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvii). He even considered the 1938 publication of the book in Russia preliminary and continued to revise and add sections to it for a possible second edition. Additionally, Gurievich, who knew the work would never be published if it did not fit in with the political climate, subjected the Soviet version to many censorial edits. The p ervading pseudo Marxist Soviet psychology' in Russia was essentially Behaviorist and "did not recognize the existence either of the subconscious or of the mind" (Benedetti
47 "Translator's Forward" xvii). Consequently, Stanislavsky penned large circuitous se ctions in which he labored to address certain metaphysical concepts without offending the authories. This raises another issue. His prose is also difficult and serpentine because in addition to evading censorship, his work is, as Benedetti writes, in many ways a groundbreaking effort, necessarily complex in terms of vocabulary: He was attempting to define the actor's processes in a comprehensive way that had never been undertaken before. His problem was that there was no available language or terminolo gy to which he could turn. Many concepts which we now take for granted such as non verbal communication or body language did not exist. Even the notion of comprehensive, systematic training did not existHe was driven, therefore, to cobble together a jarg on' that was unknown outside the Art Theatre. (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xviii) Much of the repetition and definition we find in his work then, is an attempt to appropriate terminology from various fields into a working lexicon for the actor. Despit e his successes with this in the practical arena, the jargon' he had assembled over the years in workshops was a disparate assortment at best and difficult to translate to paper. As often as possible he kept terminology simple and tried to avoid formal sc ientific language because his early experiences teaching the System had taught him that actors were most likely to "sh[y] away from [technical language] or band[y]terms about to give the impression they understood, when in reality, they did not." (Benedet ti "Translator's forward" xvii). Instead he opted for common words as often as possible, a home grown' vocabulary, in effect. When it was necessary (in addressing, for instance, kinesthetic communication) he drew on terms used in Eastern meditative techni ques and relied heavily on notions drawn from Yoga. When certain adequate terms could be pulled from the technical, "scientific definitions such as intellect, feeling and will," he did make use of them, but all were "adap[ted]to suit his own purpose" (Ben edetti "Translator's Forward" xviii). To cite Benedetti, the most significant example of this is Stanislavsky's use of the word experiencing which becomes a specific term within the System denoting "the process by which
48 an actor engages actively with the situation in each and every performance" ("Translator's Forward" xviii). The colossal side project of producing such a lexicon was undoubtedly another reason for Stanislavsky's use of the diary format, as essential to his ability to write the work as he felt it would be to a reader's understanding of the System. A huge part of the story is, in fact, directly related to making the vocabulary coalesce. In it Stanislavsky acts as an author teacher leading student readers to a usable sense of this jumbled vo cabulary; "the reader has to come to terms with the jargon' just as the students do in the book. Indeed that is the book's purpose." (Benedetti "translator's Forward" xviii). In this sense, the format of the book is brilliant. Narratively replicating the hours of discussion involved in practical training the constant reiteration and demonstration of concepts signals the importance Stanislavsky placed on discussion and the flexibility of process while simultaneously drilling a fixed vocabulary that is inten ded to elevate the quality of communication possible between actors by providing them with common linguistic reference points. Unfortunately, while the concept is sound, Stanislavsky's fear of misunderstanding, his struggle with language and censorship, an d his inability to trust his editors fueled an obsessive need to adjust and perfect, and the diary format made it easy to expatiate endlessly. This made much of his work utterly confusing and incredibly convoluted in addition to slowing his progress. As a result, not only was the story of the System split in two and effectively doomed to years of incompletion, in addition, his editors were left with few options for dealing with his virtually unreadable manuscripts. Such editing decisions are another huge fa ctor in tracing confusion regarding the System. Further, in terms of American misunderstanding, translation becomes an issue as well. To discuss this more specifically, it is necessary to take a closer look at the American editions of the System translated and partially edited by Elizabeth Hapgood, beginning with An Actor Prepares.
49 If the Russian edition of the System part one is criticized for being frustrating and circuitous, Hapgood's English translation is universally considered even worse for its exces sive condensation. Hapgood's answer to Stanislavsky's problematic writing was a reduction of the material for An Actor Prepares to nearly half of its original length. While this was essentially for commercial purposes, and probably seemed necessary to the book's success, it is also due in part to the difficulty of translating many of Stanislavsky's innovative concepts across the language barrier. The resulting volume "loses its essential form as the diary of a first year acting student, and becomes a straig ht narrative" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xviii). Comparison of An Actor Prepares to Benedetti's recent translation provides a sense of this even to the exclusively English speaking reader. Hapgood's work abridges each discussion down to its salient components, but inadvertently cuts the System off at the knees in the process. While much of the dialogue in Stanislavsky's original writing was undoubtedly unnecessary, An Actor Prepares demonstrates its editor's regrettable inability to discern how essen tial many discussions are not only to the story, but to teaching the technique contained within it. Of course, this criticism comes filtered through history, and it is unfair to attack Hapgood's work without understanding that not only was she translating as well as editing the book a difficult enough task when Stanislavsky himself could hardly settle on vocabulary in his native tongue, but also that a lack of theatrical expertise is partially to blame for her insensitivity to the process Stanislavsky wishe d to convey. Whatever the reasons, it seems clear that Hapgood did not quite understand how crucial a certain amount of elliptical reasoning is to the atmosphere and tone of the book, or to teaching actors in any circumstance. Instead of including "many o f the lively classroom discussions where ideas are hammered out" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xviii), her tendency was to treat all expansive dialogue in the novel as an unnecessary symptom of Stanislavsky's writing style. Her failure to see where his idea was working ultimately flattened the book and eliminated from it much of the book's humor and the System's dynamism. Hapgood also altered much of Stanislavsky's home grown' vocabulary in favor of more neutral, abstract terms in converting
50 the System to English. For example, Stanislavsky's personal word for small sections of a script, or bit,' therefore becomes unit' in An Actor Prepares This too changes the presentation of the System to a reader, if subtly, and gives it a more detached and technic al slant than Stanislavsky might have wished. In the end, Hapgood's translation was too brief and too cold to convey much of the philosophic basis of the System. In spite of this and despite the absence of its entire second half, An Actor Prepares still be came the only American authority for decades. Even her later translation of the second half of the System twelve years later would do little to alter status or interpretation of An Actor Prepares in the American theater. Not only was An Actor Prepares a lready commonly accepted as an account of Stanislavsky's complete technique, but by 1950, the focus of American actor training had shifted away from study of the System toward those several famous derivative techniques based on early (oral) versions of it. Further, these techniques, for the most part, felt validated by the information contained in Hapgood's part one. Each had had a vested interest in the material of An Actor Prepares upon which they had all been partially founded. In the case of book two, having no such stake in new material that seemed to contradict much of Stanislavsky's first book, most American practitioners opted to ignore the work. But why did the second half of a single System seem so irreconcilable with its own beginning? The answer is complex. First, just as Stanislavsky had predicted, the division of the book had resulted in the first half being regarded as the total System, a psychologically based form of ultranaturalism' entirely devoted to study of the inner' aspects of Stanis lavsky's more comprehensive psycho physical method. American derivatives, having continued to develop incomplete forms of the System passed down orally or validated by the content of An Actor Prepares had developed many of Stanislavsky's psychological tec hniques even further while his writing about the physical aspects of training gathered dust. By the time Hapgood published volume two, American knowledge of Stanislavsky and the System already horribly skewed was also so sure of its own misguided interpret ation that it could not conceive of the second volume as anything but a contradiction of everything it already knew. In this
51 arrogance, American practitioners have for years, "seen the system' as purely psychological,'" and have been largely "unaware of the enormous emphasis Stanislavski placed on physical and vocal technique and on a detailed analysis of the script" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi). This problem of course is compounded by a series of other complicating factors. Not only were Ame ricans unwilling by the time of the second volume's publication to accept its tenets as a continuation of the very same technique that had triggered their own methods, the editorial problems surrounding the second book were even more severe than those plag uing its predecessor. Although "the overall contents of the book were clear" from the pages he left behind, Stanislavsky died in 1938 before completing the book. Only two drafted chapters and "a number of fragments of varying length" existed to "provid[e] the basis for [a] completed manuscript" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xix). Therefore, every available edition of volume two is a reconstruction whose success is very much dependent on the intention and discretion of its editor. There are two Russian v ersions of the work that exist as small parts of large multivolume collections of Stanislavsky's writing. According to Benedetti, these versions leave the body of Stanislavsky's work untouched though they are fully annotated, and a "close examination of [t hem] reveals how rough a state the material is in" ( Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xix). They contain many passages that are "variant versions of material that had already been used in Part One," they include "other material [that is] repeated in more th an one section," and "even in apparently complete chapters there are repetitions" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xix). Despite the difficulty of organizing such a "collection of unrelated fragments" (Benedetti An Introduction 100), Hapgood takes a diff erent translation approach with her version, called Building a Character, and attempts to streamline the material into an accessible narrative resembling the first book. This is not altogether a bad idea, is, in fact, what Benedetti himself does in his mor e recent translation, while also including unedited work in his appendices. However, not only do the editorial problems of An Actor Prepares persist in Hapgood's Building
52 a Character, but her book is based only on material furnished her by Stanislavsky's s on Igor, and is missing much of the material contained in the Russian versions because Hapgood had no access to the Soviet archives. Additionally, in perhaps the unluckiest turn of all, "even [Hapgood]thought they [volume one and volume two] were separate books and that Part Two represented a revision of the ideas contained in Part One" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi). In effect, her very presentation of the new material justifies the American impulse to dismiss the book as the final thoughts of an old man who had already made his contribution. In this way, Building a Character inadvertently undermined the entire content of the System and simultaneously substantiated the growing misunderstanding of it in the US. Rather than help the coherence of the psycho physical technique, its first completion' instead perpetuated the myth of Stanislavsky as an unreliable eccentric and poor scholar, and has probably discouraged more readership of the full System. Today, common understanding of the Stanislavsky Sys tem has improved in small ways and become even more convoluted in others. In the wake of such misunderstandings as those created by the Moscow Art tours and extended by the oral transmission of the System to the United States, editorial and translation pro blems independently compounded by the many accidents of history and by Stanislavsky's own fears and writing style, and his death before completing the system, it is a wonder that Stanislavsky's true vision of the System can be extrapolated from its own rui ns at all. Jean Benedetti's new translations are a single huge step toward more useful readings of Stanislavsky's oeuvre simply through their reengagement of the two major aspects of the psycho physical technique with one another. Apart from this, of cour se, there are a vast multitude of misguided ideas about the System still being propagated by modern prac ti tioners of the derivative techniques I mentioned as well. These schools, now institutions divorced by time from their originators, introduce whole new aspects to the System's struggle to be understood. Not only do they actively fuel long standing misconceptions about Stanislavsky and one another on a regular basis, the hostility between them
53 has become tangible. The strong convictions of their progenito rs have devolved over the century into petty squabbles and feelings of superiority across the board. At present, each faction informally proclaims itself the successor to Stanislavsky's metaphorical throne. This is ironic of course because every one of th ese techniques strongly objects to over half of Stanislavsky's actual work. The dynamics between these techniques are important to address in terms of any discussion of 20 th century America interpretations of the Stanislavsky System (and popular misunderst andings regarding it) because their false claims, derisive language, and hostile attitudes regarding each other affect public knowledge of the System as well. This is mostly due to the fact that it is the practitioners of these techniques who are by far th e most likely people of interest (concerning actor training in the US) to engage in practical discourse about acting, and have, therefore, the greatest amount of influence in shaping the more recent ideas of acting, including the System. With no change fro m that quarter expected any time soon, our understanding of Stanislavsky can only be augmented by continuing to construct new readings of the System that are actively invested in recovering it from its own tortured history. The System's history, its windin g, halting, century long streak of bad luck is the key to discovering what Stanislavsky has to say us in the twenty first century that we might have missed before. New readings of the Stanislavsky System cannot, of course, be expected to induce well establ ished derivatives to immediately change and expand, but my hope is more simple than that. If scholars simply continue such efforts as Benedetti's holistic translations and Carnicke's reconstructive history to restore the openness and liveliness of Stanisla vsky's intention to his work, perhaps it will renew interest in the System that may lead a new generation of actors to explore, if not Stanislavsky's System itself, the philosophy we lost in translation, its most basic tenet: to engage openly with all form s of inspiration until something new emerges.
54 Beyond History: Engaging the Stanislavsky System What I would like to present in this chapter is, first, selected parts of my own reading of the System and its theory primarily sections that deal with my res ponses to the more popular controversies surrounding it in order to demonstrate how I have managed to theoretically reconcile many tenets of Stanislavsky's work for my own use, and come to recognize the System, at least philosophically, as a potential futu re of actor training rather than its forgotten past. Afterward, I will attempt to pull Rivalry, a theatrical production that was designed as an early component of my thesis project, into this discussion in terms of its significant contribution to my practi cal understanding of the System's underlying philosophy. My aim is that, when coupled with such a thorough historical foundation as I have assembled above, my open ended forays into the theoretical and practical realms of actor training might add another u nique, comprehensive, and thoughtful perspective on the System and its author. I. Selections from My Reading of the Stanislavsky System The selections below stand in for a small part of my extensive and ongoing engagement with the theory of actor training which extends well beyond my study of Stanislavsky. They are meant to gesture toward the numerous theoretical sources I have been, and am still, in the process of analytically unpacking in order to eventually dissolve even small misconstructions of the S ystem by directly examining those specific concepts, techniques, and writings which have been the unlucky victims of history. This ongoing enterprise is the natural continuation of the project I began by assembling the history of problematic circumstances surrounding Stanislavsky and his System found above, an account that is essentially interested in the rescue and (re)introduction of such unlucky victims' into popular knowledge regarding both. Now, in possession of a detailed rendering of this complex h istory, it is possible to employ theoretical materials in the task of validating controversial claims made by this particular reconstruction. History, always advantageous to the project of theory, is particularly essential here because so much of existing theoretical analysis of the System is focused around its intrinsic
55 inconsistency that I imagine theorists must be developing it based on a very differently assembled history that the one above. This is not to say that such histories and theories can be jus tly labeled wrong' without proper consideration, but it is perhaps to suggest that they might be out of date. For the theorist, use of an incomplete, biased, or otherwise inadequate history is always essentially problematic, and whenever new historical pe rspectives become available, waves of theory on a given subject follow close behind. New historical perspectives, in contributing new insights, circumstances, or information to the dialogue of an established theory, essentially issue a challenge to existin g theoretical models, which forces an adjustment in existing theory that can account for the new information, or a refutation of the validity of the information which prompted the historical work. Considering the vast amount of misinformation concerning t he System's history that still persists in public and academic spheres and the general tendency of theory over the last half century to blindly reinforce such misconceptions, I think it is safe to say that we in the twenty first century are primed for a wi der call for reexaminations of the System from both perspectives. To this end, there have been several significant developments in this direction as recently as the last five years, the most significant of which has been Benedetti's translation and unifica tion of the first two parts of the System. The release of this translation, which I've used for my own study of Stanislavsky, also marks what I see as a faint shift in sensibility toward the acceptance of the System as a unified technique. This trend is ve ry encouraging to me, because I consider the gradual acceptance of the restoration of the two volumes to one technique to be the first major step in a widespread movement in the direction of my personal objectives. Part of my design with this paper is to a dvance this impulse toward unification of the System, and to spur it in the direction of reconciling as many of the other false contradictions claimed to plague the System as well, in a second concentrated effort to recover the System from its obscurity. R econciling the contradictions' in the System represents a major step in the goal of repositioning the System, in all of its various capacities, as a terribly inventive and extremely relevant technique. It is my
56 belief that modern dialogues regarding the n ature and process of acting already clamor for the intersection of Stanislavsky's ideas without quite knowing it yet. But before the revival, efforts must be made to clarify the accidents of history and theoretically reconcile the false contradictions that continue to circulate as a precursor to a deeper understanding of the System's intrinsic homogeneity and openness, and for its future use in the practical arena. For this section, I have prepared several selections from my ongoing interpretation of the S ystem's theory. My selections are those that I feel best address the most charged controversies surrounding Stanislavsky's work, and which I feel best demonstrate how engagement with history of the system contributes to interpretation of its theory. Taken together, these analyses represent the most salient points of my own work in unpacking the System for use. Each selection is invested in approaching one of the widespread misunderstandings/controversies concerning the System that I have already addressed i n previous chapters from a theoretical standpoint. First, I offer my examination of the use of emotion' within the System and provide a brief comparison with its most successful and adamant derivative, which branches off on this issue: Lee Strasberg's Met hod. I continue by revisiting the issue of contradiction between the first and second parts of Stanislavsky's work (originally translated by Edith Hapgood) and attempt to make a stronger case for their innate congruency. I also share my attempt to tackle a different misconception triggered by this misunderstanding namely, that volume two, focused on the physical aspects of actor training, necessarily revises its psycho centric predecessor by positioning Stanislavsky's later explorations, which actually inve stigate accessing character through the physical, as exercises more useful to actors working on roles than to students training to become actors. Emotion The use of emotion in acting is a complex but intuitive question. It arises naturally and quickly i n any deep study of the craft and from any approach. In beginning my own training as an actor, I had a number of poorly informed opinions about the use of emotion on stage, and even after a lot of training I had no real understanding of the ongoing debate. I parroted phrases and
57 tried to generally differentiate myself as a non Method actor' with no real understanding of what I had rejected. When I began my research for this paper, it was in tracking this issue that I made the first breakthrough that would help me to better comprehend the System later on. It was during my preliminary study of the Method that it became clear to me how unique the Method's stance on emotion seemed from anything else I had encountered. Later, in studying Stanislavsky and the ear ly history of the System, more pieces began to fall into place until I felt I could see very clearly where the emotion' line had been drawn between the Method and other techniques and why it had. I also began to notice in my reading and discussion, formal and informal, that surprisingly few people seemed to have the same understanding. Many still confused the System and the Method. Most who knew there was a difference still did not know exactly how the techniques differed, other than that the difference co ncerned emotion.' Few had any sense of the Method's particular point of departure from the System, or even of the System's actual stance on the issue. Here I would like to offer my reading of how emotion' functions in the System followed by a brief compa rison with how emotion' functions in the Method. To begin this work, a brief explanation of the overall form of the System is necessary to an understanding of how emotion fits in. As a single volume, An Actor's Work "outline(s) a two year course of tra ining in which the student first learns the process by which the inner life of a character is created and then how this is expressed in physical and technical terms" (Benedetti "Translator's Forward" xvi). Rather than attempting to construct a discussion a round volume one' and volume two' of the System, which I will address later, it seems expedient to refer to the two collections of interest in terms of year unless I am specifically referring to the texts. In the System, an actor's use of emotion' is, for the most part, a skill studied in the first part of Year One. In Year One, the student actor primarily explores what Stanislavsky calls experiencing,' which is often characterized as work specifically dealing with the internal, or psychological. In Pathways for the Actor," Carnicke breaks Year One down into three major
58 principles of experiencing,' all focused on helping the student actor to cultivate a sense of the theatrical self' on stage. This is a useful device for positioning use of emotion' within the System because it offers a sense of how Stanislavsky ultimately envisioned the actor's direct use of real life emotion to function inside the technique. These areas of study are concentration, imagination, and communication. The first major fo cal point in these terms, concentration, refers to the total focus of both mind and body on the task at hand, a condition which Stanislavsky terms "public solitude" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 656). Public solitude' refers to the ultimate state of absorpti on for the actor; it is the state achieved when an actor is able to disattend every factor beyond the world of the play. The process of developing the psychophysical concentration necessary for a state of public solitude' begins with exercises meant to st rengthen the actor's observational retention through the sensory recollection of observed stimulation. For this reason, many observation exercises are oriented toward the senses. Here are several examples 5 : Vision Observe a person for thirty seconds, look away, give an accurate description. Taste Recall the taste of a lemon, etc. Smell Sense the smell of an object, see if it's the same all over. Emotion 1. Read voraciously, visit museums, concerts, and art exhibits. Develop your experience of the world and ability to empathize with others through a broad liberal arts education. 2. Recall your mood when you last sat on the beach at daybreak. 3. Recall a moment of joy, sadness, ecstasy, or any other emotion or mood. Stanislavsky a dds emotion' to his list of senses. This is where the term emotional memory' used in American techniques such as the Method comes from. Indeed, even those 5 The above list of affective memory exercises for various senses have been compiled from throughout Benedetti's An Actor's Work and occasionally from Carnicke's essay "Stanislavsky's System: Pathways for the Actor." Those f rom An Actor's Work can be located most easily in Appendix 3 on page 653 where they are appendixed Those from Carnicke's essay begin on page 18. I have selected these versions for their brevity and simplicity. To this end, s ome are directly quoted from on e source or the other, but many are simplified or otherwise par aphrased
59 exercises directly shared between the Method and the System differ sharply in their use between tec hniques despite similar terminologies. The exercises themselves are, of course, a tool for priming the senses so that the actor can achieve a permanent heightened awareness of how the world affects him. Achieving this heightened awareness represents an ong oing personal process for the actor in the System. This is where Lee Strasberg's Method branches off. As a brilliant actor director himself, this separation is not really a question of Strasberg's understanding of how the exercises actually work, but rath er of their location within the Stanislavsky's broader vision of the System, which he took back to Russia with him after the 1923 tours. While Stanislavsky clearly advocates the actor's willful sharpening of his ability to reconstruct both the physical and emotional elements of a memory through regularly performing memory exercises (such as "recall the taste of a lemon"), he does not really intend memory work for use in the creation of a role. Indeed, it is the very first thing actors learn in a very long p rogram. What the young impresarios of the Group Theatre admired most about the tours, of course, was their ensemble work and depth of character. That is what they were inspired to learn, but their real goal was a new theater. Naturally, believing that they were receiving the great secret to characterization in Richard Boleslavsky's classes on Stanislavsky's technique, they sought ways to apply what they were learning to the development of character rather than to the preliminary development of a theatrical self. Application of these techniques to dramatic material creates a different relationship between actor and character than Stanislavsky had in mind. It requires the use of the actor's own memories to fill in gaps between person and persona in the perform ance arena. Strasberg's experimentations with these techniques gradually led to an elevated emphasis of emotion over the other senses because emotion' in the Method becomes a multi dimensional word that comes to include some of the elements that Stanislav sky will define in terms of physicality, such as posture and countenance. In the System specifically, emotion, like sight, is treated as a single facet of a particular remembered event, no more or less emphasized than any other type of sensory input, and in the
60 System, the purpose of memory exercise is to develop the actor's concentration by refining his ability to observe and retain sensory information quickly and in larger quantities. Through memory exercises, the actor is tasked with building a lifelong habit of linking sensation to memory so that remembered sensations of all kinds can eventually form deep unconscious connections to countenance and physicality. Mastery of the senses not only allows the actor to absorb information quickly and spontaneousl y in preparation for the improvisational elements of acting, but also increases his psychophysical reaction time. Subconscious bonds formed between remembered feelings,' a word whose Russian counterpart "applies equally to emotional and physical sensation s" (Carnicke "Pathways" 19), and his constant output of actual feelings keep a multitude of sensations actively familiar to the actor and therefore instantly accessible to him for display. Developing concentration is a prelude to all other work on stage fo r Stanislavsky because tracking the multitude of information necessary for acting can be difficult. Sense memory exercises within the System are most like the morning stretches of a dancer, necessary to eventual performances, but not part of it themselves. Put in such terms, it is easier to see both sides of the controversy. In Stanislavsky's ultimate rendering, use of emotion, while vitally important, is a single spoke in a wheel of senses, and sensory exercises only comprise half of how the student eventu ally learns concentration In the Method, emotion is separated from the other senses categorically and becomes not only the keystone of the technique, but the single path to truth. Widespread conflation of these two different approaches to emotional truth on stage still continues to halt more useful and informed collations of the principles each approach has to offer. Parts One and Two of the System Reconciled On the heels of what is perhaps the most widespread controversy of the System (its relationship to emotion' and to the Method, above) is another large and long lived dispute concerning Stanislavsky's work the debate surrounding the relationship between his first two volumes. In this section, I would again like to use my reading and interpretation o f the System's
61 texts to address another issue that I feel contributes heavily to its convolution and obscurity. The question, of course, is whether volume two of Stanislavsky's work is a continuation, rather than a contradiction, of his first volume. By no w it is probably clear that I subscribe to the latter outlook, and the task I set myself ahead is to use my reading of Benedetti's reconstruction to point out how the two parts do indeed function together harmoniously and without any inconsistency at all. The central issue driving further debate here is the imprecise but common notion that Stanislavsky's first volume contains a successful, useful actor training technique based on the development of the actor's internal (or psychological) creativity, and t hat his second volume contains a different, less useful technique invested in training the actor exclusively through development of the external (or physical). In other words, the ill founded notion is that if volume one explores acting through the mind an d volume two explores acting through the body, then the two must be mutually exclusive, but that is not necessarily the case. Not only does this notion oversimplify the matter and collapse two separate but equally important issues broadly concerning physi cality' vs. emotionality' in the System (which I must address later), it fails to recognize the possibility that a conception of mind and body as equal entities could be more useful than a conception which rigidly assigns the mind a higher value. Prese nted as a single volume, Stanislavsky's first two written accounts of the System elucidate Stanislavsky's "holistic belief that mind and body represent a psychophysical continuum" (Carnicke "Pathways" 16). This sense of a psychophysical continuum' is esse ntially a rejection of "the Western conception that divides the mind from the body" (Carnicke "Pathways" 16), and is, in a sense, what philosophically divides many derivative techniques from the System itself. As such, this issue should be a focal point o f our study of Stanislavsky in the US, not least because the same misunderstandings that have made the System all but impossible to fully grasp in this country have heretofore reinforced the mind body division in American development of this work. It is a great travesty that standard interpretation considers the System almost entirely focused on development of the actor's psychological enhancement, because
62 although certainly captivated by the inner workings and imaginative processes of the actor, Stanislavs ky was equally concerned with physicality and externals, eventually in two different senses. Where it is often argued that Stanislavsky's early work seems to support the American value system where good' acting is concerned (namely, that progress in actin g is necessarily a move from the emotionally superficial' to the more true'), exploration of his later work demonstrates that over time Stanislavsky's own understanding of this principle becomes counterbalanced by a recognition that the inner must addres s and connect with the outer, however that connection is achieved. For a more specific look at how these volumes can relate to one another with complete consilience, I would like to shift focus back to the technique itself, and through a broad but analytic al overview of each volume, demonstrate how the second volume can be read as a logical and even necessary continuation of the first. For this discussion, I will resume the practice of referring to the two parts of the System in terms of year. I will also c ontinue to use Carnicke's breakdown of the principles of experiencing' to avoid confusion. The first principle of embodiment,' which I discuss at length above, is concentration, which is followed by equally intense study of imagination and communication The goal of studying concentration I will remind, is to easily and repeatedly achieve a state of total focus in both mind and body for use on the stage, a state termed public solitude.' As I discussed above, one way that actors improve their concentrat ion is through the use of sense and memory exercises, which teach them to actively observe the reactions of their minds and bodies to every kind of sensory stimulation and to commit such observations to memory for subconscious use later on. Stanislavsky a lso drills concentration through exercises involving precise attention. Attention exercises train actors in outward focus just as memory exercises train them in internal awareness. Through them an actor learns to limit his or her focus to include only thos e objects
63 onstage that require attention in the scene being performed. The mirror exercise' 6 is a straightforward example: Partners face each other; one reflects the other as an image in a mirror. One leads, the other follows. Observers should not be able to tell which The mirror exercise trains attention through physical precision. Partners performing the exercise must silently negotiate a mutually comfortable speed and quality of movement to appear in perfect sync. Not only does the exercise teach patie nce and attentiveness to the task at hand, it also forces each student to attend heavily to the face and body of his or her partner. In fact, coupled with the growing internal awareness developed through memory exercises, this type of work on attention and focus represents the student's first step toward skillful improvisational work. In the System, it is the actor's highly trained attention and awareness that produce the calm and confident atmosphere necessary for total concentration and public solitude.' Exercise and expansion of the imagination is also integral to becoming an actor in the System. Imagination is what enables the actor to act with true belief in the given circumstances' of whatever drama he or she approaches. In An Actor's Work Tortsov d escribes given circumstances' as "the circumstances which for the dramatist are supposed and "for us actors [are] imposed they are a given" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 52). He goes on to explain that the actor must clearly establish the given circumstanc es of both the play and the character before it is possible to believe in them fully, and that acquiring such belief will ignite "the truth of passions" and feelings' that "seem true will arise of their own accord" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 53). To incr ease an actor's "capacity to treat fictional circumstances as if real" and to envision the specific details of a character's life and s etting (Carnicke "Pathways" 20) the imagination itself must undergo training. The major tools for such strengthening of t he inner vision' are 6 The mirror exercise appears in several versions throughout Stanislavsky's work. The above is paraphrased, for its brevity, from Carnicke's essay "Stanislavsky's System: Pathways f or the A ctor;" exercises begin on page 18.
64 visualization (or daydreaming) exercises as well as magic if' exercises. 7 Visualization exercises throughout the System are plentiful and varied. They are often tailored to specific persons, roles, and circumstances. The selection be low is a well known and basic visualization exercise: Visualization Choose a familiar event (picnic, concert) and progressively change the circumstances surrounding it: time of day, weather, participants. Find justifications for each change and envision ho w the event will unfold differently with each change. Such visualizations energize the imagination and prime it for use in more specific dramatic instances. Later, when students begin crafting roles, visualizations will be applied to creating character out of given circumstances. The magic if' exercise also has many variations, and not only within the System. It has been developed across multiple techniques for many purposes. The magic if' construct is so well suited to this type of adaptation precisely b ecause it is the simplest, most universal definition of what acting is: behaving as if one thing is another. It is often played in the form of a game, which can be as straightforward as "what if the floor was lava?" and is a very useful tool for accessing either emotionality or physicality through the imagination. The if' is an exercise that springs from the phenomenon of the moment when an actor, knowing that "they [his performances] are lies," asks himself, "but if they were true" (Stanislavsky My Life 4 66), what would I do? How would I feel? The actor's past experience necessarily informs his answer to the question, and the actor is able to make use of personal experiences relevant to the circumstances of the play in order to imagine how he might behave if he were actually in the circumstances of the play. In this way, imagination work builds on the foundation laid by concentration work. The final large project of experiencing' is communication. Now, even as a general theatrical concept, communication is far more expansive than mere actor actor interaction, but 7 The System also includes a lot of variation on both visualization and magic if' exercises. The examples above are likewise drawn from simplified formulations provided by Benedetti and Carnicke. Those from An A ctor's Work can be located most easily in Appendix 3 on pag e 653 where they are compiled, and t hose from Carn icke's essay begin on page 18. Again, s ome parts are directly quoted from o ne source or the other, but much is further simplified or otherwise para phrased for the purposes of brevity.
65 to successfully unlock and convey a drama's communicative potential to an audience, a high level of skillful moment to moment' interaction between actors is critical. The dialogue provided by the playwright is only one part of such an exchange. In the System, actors must learn to read between a script's lines to find subtexts' that the dialogue itself often works to camouflage. Recognizing the disparity between what a character says and does i s key in preparing an interesting performance that accentuates the inherent conflicts of the drama while actively fulfilling the character's own dramatic possibilities. The term subtext' here encompasses "anything that a character thinks or feels but does not, or cannot, put into words" (Carnicke "Pathways" 21). Improving an actor's communication within the System essentially means enhancing his (her) awareness and command of the kinesthetic signals emitted by himself (herself) and others. This can be a tr icky part of the System to understand because, lacking words like kinesthetic,' Stanislavsky often uses the extended metaphor rays of energy' (from Yoga) to explain the transmission and reception of non verbal signals between people. Through the Yoga me taphor, actors are trained to "recognize and manipulate the rays of energy that carry communication" between people and things (Carnicke "Pathways" 22). The diaries explain that in life, people are in constant communication with the objects and people surr ounding them, even the memories and ideas inside their heads. Sensory input itself drives much of this communication. One can no more stop communicating' than stop hearing or seeing. Choosing a warmer coat or avoiding a mud puddle is a communication' to Stanislavsky, and what an actor must learn is how to communicate actively, rather than passively, and to be aware of both parts (incoming and outgoing) of every communicative exchange he can. Learning to recognize and manipulate' the rays that carry commu nication is the first step toward successful improvisation and the eventual expression of a script's subtext. To improve specifically non verbal communication, actors engage in silent improvisations. Silent improvisations are improvised scenarios in whic h speech is not permitted. At first they are naturally silent scenarios (Ex: the moment after losing a parent when two siblings
66 cannot yet speak). Later, scenarios become more complex, but speaking is still not allowed. These improvisations force the actor to be present and communicative even when there is no speech to rely on. They pave the way back to dialogue after exposing students to a whole new layer of performance. With a firmer grasp of communication at the paralinguistic level, students are eventua lly ready for another series of improvisations to help them communicate on stage. These too are ordinary situations, but now speaking is permitted. Before beginning, actors are instructed to approach the exercise without abandoning their recent work in sil ent improvisation. In other words, the restoration of verbal communication to the exercise should not inhibit or overshadow kinesthetic transmissions, but should enhance them instead. The addition of dialogue after intense concentration on non verbal excha nge brings direct attention back to the subtextual level of performance. The difference between what is merely said against the total of what is actually communicated during performance becomes apparent, and actors gain, among other things, a useful analyt ical device for approaching subsequent scripted work. Mastering c ommunication is vital to the actor's ability to retain spontaneity over multiple performances of the same role. Constant investment in the various incoming transmissions received during perf ormance inspires the actor's reciprocal emissions. Communication is the variable in acting that cannot be accounted for before performance, and so the actor must use his concentration and imagination training to sustain the fantasy of the given circumstanc es that ultimately houses his dramatic interactions and gives them meaning. Together, concentration, imagination, and communication are the foundation of experiencing' in the System. While Stanislavsky's first volume certainly contains other concepts and exercises that intersect with these ideas throughout the narrative, the principles above are in some important ways the sole basis of most Stanislavsky based actor training in America today. Despite various claims to the contrary, all three major derivativ es bare resemblances to exercises and concepts I've just outlined above, and share a basic goal of developing the actor's psychological ability to create and sustain imaginative circumstances along with other actors in a performance. Uniquely, within
67 the o riginal System, this more psychological study of experiencing' that I reference is only the first part of the more expansive goal of preparing the actor's whole self for success on stage. Stanislavsky's second half, embodying,' is to him as vitally impor tant as his first in cultivating the sense of theatrical self' he desires for the actor. As components of a single aspiration, the two are differently focused, but integrally related to one another. If the goal of experiencing' is indeed to develop the a ctor's psychological creativity, then the goal of embodiment' is to prepare the actor's external form to express that creativity. The shift in focus from experiencing' to embodiment' takes place after the first year of training. In Year Two of the Syst em, students begin to focus heavily and more exclusively on the physical and external aspects of acting. The workload is extensive and technical in nature, but its ultimate goal is to prepare the body to be effortlessly useable in all potential dramatic si tuations. As the instrument through which the actor must work, the bodily apparatus must be prepared to translate the smallest internal shift into a visible, outward display. To fully express the lively internal creativeness they have been cultivating for a year, the students are now called upon to "develop and prepare [their] physical apparatus with which [they] embody in such a way that all its parts respond to whatever nature asks of it" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 352). Failure to prepare the body for th e actor's work results in a physical apparatus that proves "too crude for the work nature assigns to it" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 352). To train his physical apparatus to the new level of his internal sensibility, the actor must concern himself with th e physical education of his body and voice. Building his body's strength and flexibility and obtaining the control to move it gracefully is imperative for virtuosic acting. While "slack muscles, a distorted frame, [and] poor breathing are common occurrence s in life[and] physical defects pass unnoticedonce transferred to the stage, many of our faults become unbearable" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 356). Bodies displayed on the stage "must be healthy, beautiful and [their] movements expressive and harmonious" (Stanislavsky Actor's Work
68 356). In the story, Tortsov's students train in various strength and movement techniques including gymnastics, sports, acrobatics, dance, and others in their pursuit of physical education Gymnastic training, for instance, bui lds strength and helps actors to gain the use of muscles they have lost touch with. This is important because, as Tortsov explains, control of the physical apparatus opens the door to subtlety in acting. For his students, gymnastics not only activate[s] t he ordinary, crude motor centers but the more refined ones we rarely use. They practically die and atrophy because they don't get the work they need. Once you have activated them you will become aware of new sensations, new movements, new means of expressi on, greater chances to be subtle than you have known up till now. (Stanislavsky Actor's Work 356) Making emotional contact with every muscle in the body provides the actor with completely new opportunities for physical expression. Whether developed throug h gymnastics or some other intense physical regime, contacting sleepy muscles makes the body more sensitive and responsive to inspiration from within and more proficient in its external execution. This is where the separate goals of Years One and Two conve rge. It is not enough for the actor to find his emotional center. The emotional center must also commune with the body to complement and offset it. The body and voice must have enhanced sensibility and control to become proper conduits for the expression o f carefully cultivated internal life. Once the goal of training becomes an endeavor to bridge the gap between the internal and the external, any sense of contradiction between the work of Year One and the work of Year Two begins to dissolve. To achieve th is goal, Stanislavsky encourages students to train in vocal music and dance, characterizing these supplementary pursuits as tools uniquely suited to assist the actor in forging strong connections between the physical/vocal apparatus and the internal life. Song and dance help strengthen this connection by continuing skill sets the students study as part of physical education while simultaneously requiring an even stronger attentiveness to the complex relationship between gesture and emotion that every actor must master. They employ the improving physique directly in the task of evoking emotion through (kinesthetic or vocal)
69 gesture one step closer to acting itself. Study of these techniques, in other words, helps to develop moment to moment connections betwee n the actor's internal and external apparatuses into communicative expressions, verbal and non verbal utterances, or gestures. Gesture' as a concept is an integral part of the latter half of Year Two. Established dance and singing traditions each tend t o have a variety of prescribed physical or vocal gestures that the student must learn to reproduce as flawlessly as possible. These gestures are generally manipulated, developed, and reassembled to produce emotionally charged sequences when set to music. F or the actor, this can be extremely useful in creating a strong sense of the duration, timing, and magnitude necessary for a gesture to be executed fully, and to communicate precisely what it is intended to. From dance, the actor learns to see his or her b ody from outside and to understand its communicative power through learned and perfected gestures. This instills in the actor a sense of tableaux, the picture he is always making to the spectator, and, more importantly, an understanding of gesture in an al most gr ammatical sense. It teaches established performance conventions concerning the transfer of kinesthetic information, the punctuation of physical communication, so to speak; how long a gesture lasts, its contour, its breadth, its intention. Song teach es a parallel set of ges tures for the voice. These help the actor to expand his or her own modes of physical and vocal expression the gestures he (she) makes repeatedly, which are deeply connected to his (her) internal life into a gestural vocabulary that is both universally co mmunicative and uniquely his or hers. Bridging the gap between the internal and external life takes strength and agility training to a new level that is fundamentally connected to this gesture emotion issue in a technical capacity, an d bolsters the actor's ability to synthesize his or her recent study of embodiment' with a prior study of experiencing.' This is how I see the various components of volumes one and two of Stanislavsky's System working together. United, the two parts sys tematically move toward and culminate in a more total activation of the psychophysical continuum Stanislavsky conceived. When read (indeed, when translated) in this fashion, the relationship between Stanislavsky's two split
70 volumes becomes fairly unambiguo us and claims of irreconcilable contradiction between the two become difficult to substantiate. With the concept of this continuum in play, it is easier to see that the two parts do not have to be read as mutually exclusive, and that they can easily functi on sequentially, creating a slow build toward the actor's adroit command of body and soul on stage Working on Roles: Accessing Character By Internal or External Means Beyond experiencing' and embodying' which together comprise the actor's work on deve loping a theatrical awareness of himself and priming his internal and external apparatuses for fluid communication with each other the System extends out in various places to include a different type of work, much of which he refined or developed late in h is life. This work is the work of the proper actor as distinguished from the work of the acting student. If the student actor's goal is to develop a sense of theatrical self,' the actor's goal is to develop a character. It is right along this issue that m y third clarification comes into play, and also where the two separate but interrelated problems of mind/internal/psychological vs. body/external/physical that I hint at above can finally be differentiated from one another so that the second can be examine d in more detail. In this section, I will attempt to clarify the difference between these two issues before attempting to reconcile what I find to be the second most glaring contradiction' in the System through my interpretation of Stanislavsky's actor (a s opposed to student) focused work. First, it must be noted that the tendency to conflate the two issues I address below (concerning the relationship between mind and body in acting) is often what make s it difficult to organize information conta ined in Sta nislavsky's later work intelligibly My attempt to distinguish the two issues is an important part of demonstrating how even Stanislavsky's late work on physical characterization can be reconciled with the first two parts of the System. The first of the mi nd body issues which I have just detailed above concerns these first two parts specifically and the unlucky historical bifurcation along the mind/body divide. The schism, of course that caused Stanislavsky's second volume of work concerning the body to be read largely as an outright contradiction of its own first half (at least in the US), ultimately resulting in a long
71 string of popular misconceptions in the practical arena about the value and placement of physical work' within the System. Among variou s derivative techniques and even contemporary Stanislavsky training programs, stances on embodiment' in the System still vary widely, ranging from the basic assumption that the physical work is an overt contradiction of the original System and thus entire ly unnecessary, to the more liberal assertion that the work is, while arguably important, at least partially supplementary to a primary goal of developing the mind. The latter view is both more accurate and less common. By and large few modern Stanislavsky based acting schools in the US really embrace the System's second half at all, and oddly enough, the widespread hesitancy to do so seems more related to how the System theoretically functions in terms of a second issue whose relevance to the actual questi on of this particular controversy is questionable. This second issue involves where character' can/does/should derive from mind or body. This is not the same question as how important is it to train the actor's body?' Granted, the aforementioned bifurca tion does tend to reinforce this conflation of issues in its own way, particularly affecting American derivatives of the System, because (in this country) the historical positioning of volume two as a contradiction' has implied that volume two is unto its elf a purely physical method of learning to act, independent of what came before it, which it clearly is not. Most derivatives take for their model half of Stanislavsky's unfinished theory and from a limited understanding of it draw the conclusion that the internal work of the actor must always affect the change in the external, physical, apparatus which the audience will ultimately perceive as character.' Almost all of the American techniques based on Stanislavsky's work still share this basic mind to bo dy' model for fashioning characters, and it is the potential disruption of this model which ultimately seems to drive general skepticism of his second volume. This is incongruent logic because as I argue above, the addition of Stanislavsky's second volume to his first does not necessarily call for a reversal of the model at all, or propose a purely physical approach to acting, as is often argued. The second text can be read indeed, may even be
72 intended to be read as supplementary even when it accompanies it s predecessor. Training the body and the voice to respond to the internal, which is what the second volume proposes to do, still leaves the actor with a sense of character beginning from within and then radiating out of the mind through the primed conduit of the body and voice, like the reed of the clarinet converts the human breath into resonant, meaningful sound when in context. That said, it must be further clarified that Stanislavsky did eventually become intensely fascinated with using physicality its elf to achieve internal characterization, which is the other big reason for this continued conflation, but it was not until his latest writings that he actually proposed a method for doing this. Further still, his proposed methods tend to fall outside of t he acting student's initial project of understanding himself (herself) in a theatrical context anyway and are instead interested in his (her) subsequent project of learning to develop a role. In other words, the dismissive attitude of the American derivati ves toward volume two of the System is ultimately misplaced because Stanislavsky's eventual explorations of building character "backwards" (body to mind) mostly postdate it. Additionally, the explorations themselves are not technically revisions of his ear lier work on learning to act' either, but are rather a collection of alternatives for preparing an actual dramatic part that essentially presuppose the actor's prerequisite work on both experiencing' and embodying' anyway. A preliminary understanding of this relationship is integral to establishing a meaningful connection between components of the original psychophysical technique and the many rehearsal techniques that ultimately resulted from Stanislavsky's work on it. Making a distinction between tra ining techniques and rehearsal techniques creates a unique space in the System where both internal to external' and external to internal' methods of building a character can exist at once. This is the work of characterization, wherein the actor finally applies his growing cache of experience' and embodiment' techniques to the approach of a particular role. This work is primarily involved with analyzing the text of a script, and, as with much of the System, Stanislavsky's ideas about script analysis wer e in a state of almost constant flux during his career.
73 For this reason, his various methods and rehearsal techniques for specific use in building a character' are spread throughout the System. His earliest ideas on the subject are introduced and reappear in various parts of An Actor's Work, but others can only be found in the manuscripts and journal entries he left behind. Having extended my study to the fringes of Stanislavsky's work, where he did concern himself heavily with rehearsal techniques focuse d on accessing the internal life of a character by way of external means, I fail to see where the contradiction lies when this student vs. actor framework is in place. Stanislavsky claims on multiple occasions that actors must have various paths' for acce ssing character, and his writing implies that actors should A) continue throughout their careers to collect paths,' B) should develop a personal process by synthesizing these paths, and C) should approach each new role independently, with a carefully des igned rehearsal process assembled from this mixed bag' of pathways, so to speak, and calls for an adjustment of process for each new set of given circumstances. In this sense, the divide between internal external and external internal crumbles when specif icity becomes part of the picture. An actor may have greater success developing one character body to mind and another character mind to body depending on circumstances of script, production, and personal feeling. For a more concrete understanding of t he difference between internal external and external internal rehearsal techniques, I will briefly provide an example of each, one from early on and one from late in Stanislavsky's career. Though several other rehearsal process techniques exist throughout the System, I have chosen the two I feel contain the best possibilities for comparison. The first method I will discuss, plotting actions, is assembled from pieces spanning several volumes (as its components are addressed in multiple chapters), while the second, the method of physical actions, comes primarily from Stanislavsky's later work, only some of which is even included in An Actor's Work on a Role. All of the rehearsal techniques, including the ones I cannot cover in the interest of time, fall prett y clearly into the two categories I have indicated above: "Some begin with imagination and intellectothers rely on physicalisation" ("Carnicke "Pathways" 23). Plotting actions begins with the actor's focus on the psychological aspects of
74 character as a me ans of achieving the necessary physicality. The method of physical actions, in contrast begins with physicaliz ation as a way to discover a character's psychology. Plotting actions is as it sounds, a rehearsal method based primarily on Stanislavsky's conc eptions of action' and subtext,' which are closely related. In the System, the term action' is used when referring to what a scripted character is trying to do in a given moment, scene, or production. These are not to be confused with an actor's physica l actions in portraying a character (referred to as activities), but are rather metaphysical indicators of the subtext, verbalized by the actor and used to infuse his performances with purpose. Practically, an action' is an active (containing a verb) phra se containing what the actor surmises he must do to (attempt to) solve the problem(s) placed before his character at the hands of the playwright/director in the given circumstances.' Additionally, in Stanislavsky's concept, action' is also infinitely dis sectible, at least in theory. Conceivably, actions might be plotted out for every single line of dialogue in a play (although that may not be entirely useful) and in the other direction, there are also greater, more general actions ( goals/wants/needs) for each scene as well, which should themselves encompass all of the smaller actions that make them up. Ibsen's Nora, for example, may have an action resembling keep his eyes on me' in a given line, but her action for the scene may be the more general to kee p my secret,' etc. In the process of plotting actions actors begin by segmenting a script according to shifts in the given circumstances which alter the character's subtext. These shifts connote where actions' change. The actor then rephrases the subtext of each section (or bit) he has identified into an active expression that encapsulates the function of the subtext/goal of the character. As he carefully analyzes each line of the script and identifies each action, he then begins to assemble what Carnicke calls a "score of actions" ("Pathways" 24), that will eventually function as a map of the character's subtextual journey through the play. Linked together, such a map also helps the actor produce a unified concept of what his character is within the play based on the sum total of what he does or wants to do throughout it. Stanislavsky's term for this over arching action or map
75 of actions is throughline.' To return to the example above, Nora's throughline' for all of A Doll's House might read, to keep my family from ruin.' Sometimes she does this by keeping her secret from her husband, which in turn sometimes requires her to keep his attention off of other things, and so forth in that fashion. Of course, these are scores of interpretation, so infinite com binatorial possibilities exist for creating a score of actions for the character of Nora. In plotting actions the actor develops the character cognitively, mapping out the character's internal journey intellectually before using the resulting map as a gui de to creating the internal life of the character through imagination and analysis of moments of conflict. In contrast, method of physical actions is essentially a "rehearsal technique [which] assumes that emotional life may sometimes be more easily arouse d and fixed for performance through work on the physical life of the role, rather than through inner work" (Carnicke "Pathways" 26). However, in the method of physical actions, actors conduct their initial analysis very much as they might in preparing a s core of actions.' Here too, actors divide the play into beats and plot the actions to discover the character's throughline' and to gain a deeper understanding of the logical and sequential events in the play, though perhaps more informally. At that point focus shifts to unearthing physical actions' that are dictated by the given circumstances or which parallel named actions normally used to develop a character's psychology. The resulting sequence of physical actions, comprised of all the physical action s necessary to "carry out the inner, purposeful actions of the scene" (Carnicke "Pathways" 26), should be informed by the text, but should also consider beyond (perhaps beneath) it. Stanislavsky uses an example from Pushkin's Mozart & Salieri to explain. I n the story, the character of Salieri kills Mozart. The murder is the action,' which is executed through a series of physical actions.' Salieri chooses the wine glass; he pours the wine; he poisons the wine. Only after he has accomplished these actions, less significant independent of one another, can he actually commit the murder (Stanislavsky ref. Carnicke "Pathways" 26).
76 Notably, as with his plotting action method, Stanislavsky often refers to these small sequences of physical actions as a score' as well. However, the two should not be conflated. Where the encompassing score of actions' details the subtext, psychological motivations, and desires of the character throughout the entire play, a score' of physical actions will most often be applied to o ne scene at a time. Scores of physical action' are partially set patterns of physical movement that attempt to link external movements and strategies (those necessary for fulfilling the superceding action) to those greater actions themselves, which have b een dictated by the given circumstances to be essential to the scene. Over the course of the rehearsal process, these sequences of physical actions are continuously developed and shaped. Actors (with the help of directors and scene partners) test and then adjust their scores' indefinitely, and this is done using Stanislavsky's most recently successful rehearsal exercise: the silent tude. Silent tudes are improvisations of a given scene stripped of its text and reliant upon the effectual fulfillment of a ction through its actors' score(s) of physical actions' instead. Circumstances and activities are established, altered and added between tudes to give the scene shape and to help actors physicalize the scene as means of developing character based on shar ed non verbal interaction rather than hermetic personal imagining. Actors absorb the new information into their score' as they go. Certain activities are blocked and certain gestures are set along the way which have a plausible chance of being carried ov er into vocalized performances of the scene later. Eventually the physical action sequence reaches a marginally polished, partially fixed state, wherein actors are able to repeatedly accomplish the overarching action' of the scene through each other and t heir now familiar score of physical actions.' Eliminating the words of the scene pulls the actor's focus more fully to the action on stage. Without speech, it is necessary to invest more conscientiously in kinesthetic communication with the partner. Acti on cannot be accomplished without communication; therefore, scene partners engaging in tudes must become adept at using kinesthetic of communication in order to enact the tude with purpose. After the silent tude process is
77 complete but before the text i s added back into the scene, there are often a series of vocal tudes as well. In these improvisations, scene partners must remain faithful to their physical action sequences, but are allowed to speak to one another as the characters they play. They do not use their lines, nor are they obligated to simply paraphrase; instead paraphrases, non semantic vocal gestures, and even the subconscious/subtextual thoughts of the character are free game. By the time the actors came into contact with the text itself aga in, they enter it with their characters fully formed. Near his death, Stanislavsky was under the impression that this method of rehearsal was excellent for combating many of the common problems with stasis and stagnation that had (to him) always seemed to plague long time professional actors. It was particularly useful for bringing intrigue to roles in well established dramas and for freshening dynamics between company members who had worked together for too long. Considering the controversy surrounding o uter to inner' techniques in the US acting scene at large, probably the most ironic thing about the method of physical actions is that even though it is indirectly responsible for this controversy, not only is it reasonably divorced from the brunt of the h ostility it is rightfully due for this (outshone by the misunderstanding that made volume two of the System its scapegoat), but it is also, funnily, relatively popular in certain inner to outer' acting circles in the US has, in fact, shown up here and the re in several different first and second generation Stanislavsky derivatives. Oddly enough, though it is functionally the same in most of these techniques, there seems to be a widespread failure from those quarters to discern the connection of the material to the (outer to inner) model of characterization that so many of the very same schools continue to treat with hostility (citing Building a Character as evidence of their claims), even as they tude entire productions. This, more than anything else perhap s, is evidence for the System's utter reconcilability. Even if characterizing Stanislavsky's work in terms of innate plurality can, in some sense at least, be labeled a theoretical cop out, it should also be surrendered that the various paths' Stanislavsk y insisted actors would need (and went on to find), though indeed different, wind much closer together than everyone seems to be pretending.
78 What does become increasingly apparent from a chronological consideration of his ideas on the subject is a growin g sense, as he neared the end of his life, of analysis and character building as deeply individual processes based on both player and role. His insistence on the System as a guideline becomes most evident in this late work and a suggestive tone replaces th e (arguably) more dogmatic tone of his earlier analytic schemes. The notion that one must give actors various paths' resounds in his writing on the method of physical actions and with this notion in place as a philosophical foundation, I see no reason to believe either that A) external to internal' methods of creating character cannot exist within the System alongside classic internal to external' methods, or that B) any universal value judgment can be placed on either conception because personal proces s is a strictly individual choice. II. Rivalry in Hindsight The selections above are taken from my ongoing theoretical exploration of the System, and really only represent a portion of my expansive work toward creating new readings of the System that are more attune to its history. So far my project has been a deep process of conducting, one by one, various analyses of the System's principles, giving priority to those that have been, historically speaking, badly misunderstood. This has essentially bee n an effort corroborate, from a theoretical standpoint, the claims made in my historical approach to analysis of the System. Often this has meant carefully unpacking theoretical principles in terms of Stanislavsky's underlying philosophy and subsequently a ttempting to clarify how many popular misconceptions concerning such principles might actually dissolve in the practical arena if historical understanding is present. Without assuming any undue success in the execution of my goal, I can definitely assert t hat such attempts at unpacking' the System's theory would have been far less successful without the colossal amount of historical research and contextualization that preceded them. In a similar manner, I am equally sure that any attempt at this kind of wo rk before the production of my thesis showcase, Rivalry, would have produced similarly deficient results due to the invaluable foundation that Rivalry's rehearsal process provided me with
79 concerning A), the heuristic nature of the acting process in practic e, regardless of technique, and B) the rewards of tenaciously spurring the evolution of technique through active experimentation. I now regard this unintentional foundation as another vital prerequisite to my particular understanding of Stanislavsky and my own evolving interpretation of the System. Before attempting to expatiate on the importance of Rivalry in shaping my eventual investigation of Stanislavsky, or position the production soundly within this paper, a short digression concerning the original o bjectives of my thesis is necessary. Evolution of the Rivalry Project from Experiment' to Laboratory' My original intention for this paper was to investigate the startling lack of discourse devoted to collating different actor training techniques with one another, especially in the United States, which my initial research reflected. Upon further inquiry, I gradually became aware of the tendency of practitioners, particularly those belonging to the oldest and most popular acting techniques in the U.S., n ot only to casually ignore or resist the idea of such a conversation from lack of interest, but in many cases to actively, and often hostilely, reject the possibility altogether. A study of this phenomenon quickly brought a prominent dispute to my attentio n: the emotion action controversy initiated by Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. This debate seemed to be a focal point of the phenomenon that radiated outwards, impelling even indirectly related techniques to remain dialogically disengaged except to squabbl e over ways to differentiate themselves from one another. From this point, my primary focus became an interest in researching and comparing as many different techniques as possible, taking stock of similarities, dif ferences, and various genealogical relati onships. The vague goal of this massive project was to eventually create the kind of dialogue I saw a lack of myself. Ultimately, Rivalry was born from a later evolution of this collection of interests. Rivalry consisted of three short pieces that were e ach prepared using different techniques. In one piece, the actors used a single technique, in the others, actors were challenged to use multiple techniques simultaneously and encouraged to work toward composite rehearsal
80 processes with my help as director. The idea was to gage how actors assimilated new techniques into old ones, and to see what kind of value they placed on the new information, thereby prompting the type of inter technique dialogue I was interested in generating. To explain how Rivalry ultim ately laid the practical groundwork for my subsequent engagement with the System in various other capacities, it may be useful to take a closer look at its specific successes and failures in terms of its original objectives. This will provide valuable insi ght into the process that inspired my first steps toward a personal philosophy regarding acting technique, the development of which would eventually lead me to Stanislavsky and to the current projects of this paper. Because Rivalry developed in conjunctio n with the rest of my thesis, it was in a state of constant revision as my intentions for the paper changed, sometimes drastically, and its configurations were often at odds with where the paper was progressing. Tailoring its form to fit in with each subse quent alteration of the total project has always, in some sense or other, rendered it problematic. This is important to understand because although the final objective of Rivalry was to stimulate dialogue between techniques by preparing scenes with multipl e techniques simultaneously, certain particulars of i ts final form present obstacles to any discussion of the resulting dialogues Below is some background on the structural evolution of the Rivalry project before I launch into a more specific analysis. S tructurally speaking, Rivalry was initially formulated as a formal investigation that would employ a loosely controlled experimental model. This seemed the most advantageous at the time because it could extend beyond the concrete goal of creating dialogue between techniques and allow consideration of a secondary issue that, at that moment in my thesis process, had represented a potentially ideal point of entry into discussion of the productions. This secondary issue questioned the actual value of the type o f dialogue Rivalry would attempt to produce. To whom would it be valuable and why? Who benefited from its existence? Theoretically, a controlled experimental model would be helpful in establishing whether actors might come to value the kind of work Rivalry was interested in through the process itself.
81 Ultimately, this was a mistake. First, because the ensemble was too small to yield significant information regarding any potential increase in the value of dialogue to actors throughout the process anyway, and second, because between each actor's personal relationship to me and the entire ensemble's common background in actor training, there were a number of strong personal biases in play from the outset, which would have compromised any claims regarding the va lue of dialogue anyway. As a result, one of the production's pieces was unnecessarily established as an informal control' in the experiment, and made use of only one technique in rehearsa l, rendering it pointless to a discourse I imagined Rivalry would ev entually be useful for. Before I go on to discussing the remaining two, there is one more component of the experiment tha t is necessary to explain. First, w ithin the remaining individual experiments' of Rivalry very specific directions were given to p erformers in order to keep the primary focus of the exercise directly on the interplay between techniques. To stay focused, t he players and I task ed ourselv es not with the general goal of creat ing dialogue but with creating a specific rehearsal pr ocess for each scene using the techniques assigned Eventually, I hoped to compare the means of synthesis used by each group as well as the resulting rehearsal processes.' To this end, my eventual selection of dramatic material for the project also became prob lematic because I ultimately decided to use very different kinds of script' material for each scene. My choice was triggered by a growing interest in articulating my own position in the project of Rivalry I was exploring acting technique from the standp oint of director. As I examined my current conception of Rivalry for a factor that would allow me to address the issue of directorial perspective independently, I decided the simplest approach would be to create a specific circumstance within Rivalry's set up that would warrant examination from a directorial standpoint. Theoretically, this would allow me to continue examining Rivalry from an actor's perspective in addition to providing me with an entry point for considering Rivalry specifically in terms of m y experience directing it. My solution was to vary the kind of interaction that I, as director, would have with the process of creating each scene by varying the kind of scripts I
82 would prepare. So I wrote one of the scenes, selected another from a differe nt author, and decided the last would take the form of a refined improvisation created between the actors and myself. The idea was that my capacity as director would vary slightly between scenes, allowing me to observe the process actors were engaged in fr om different angles. The actual result of this alteration was that both of the rehearsal processes' created by the remaining scenes were so specifically tied to the script and its form that there was little use comparing them. There were no significant pa rallels because the procedures each group developed to solve the problem of creating a rehearsal process simply did not intersect. In hindsight, producing the same scene three times might have been more useful altogether. Cumulatively, such haphazard alt erations and additions to the process of Rivalry did limit my ability to use it in most of the ways I had planned, and I eventually stopped trying to discover anything particular from it. By the time of the performances, I had abandoned my conception of th e process as a single experiment' altogether. It had evolved into what could perhaps be more accurately described as an open laboratory for hashing out my various concerns and questions regarding technique and form in the practical arena. Now, though I fe el it is necessary to understand Rivalry's origin and arguable failure as an experiment before attempting to provide a more particular analysis of each scene, it is in its capacity as laboratory,' that I ultimately hope to position Rivalry as an integral part of my practical engagement with acting technique and, by extension, with the System. Synthesis in Practice: Analysis of Scenes In the coming pages, I will attempt the difficult, if rewarding task of examining Rivalry's two relevant scenes in full det ail. In each case, I will do my best to present a comprehensive intersection of the scene's salient components, circumstances, and tasks with its resulting discoveries and queries. I want to make it clear that the ultimate purpose of this analysis within t he current paper is to provide an account of how formulating each rehearsal process' ultimately engaged me with acting technique and the issues surrounding it in practice. However, to
83 accomplish this, I believe it will be easiest to produce this account t hrough a discussion of each scene's success in producing inter technique dialogue through development of its specific rehearsal process. Various obstacles presented by Rivalry's structure, as well as inelegantly simple reconstructions of specific dialogue (due to my lack of specific memory) will undoubtedly render certain parts of my account imperfect. Hopefully enough will remain to situate Rivalry as the specific pursuit responsible for prompting questions sp ecific to technique in practice concerning coll aboration, the use and adaptation of technique, hybridization that would shape my idea l s and guide my research thereafter. The first piece I will discuss used Practical Aesthetics 8 and the Stella Adler technique 9 to prepare a sel ection from Tennessee Willi ams' Two Character Play. In the scene, a brother and a sister enact another play. This play within a play structure offered interesting opportunities for building our rehearsal process. Because the play's form contained two distinct levels of reality, and in effect, two distinct sets of characters, we decided to approach each level of reality using 8 Practical Aesthetics is a direct second generation descendent of the Stanislavsky System, and perhaps the most popular second generation derivative in America. Adapted mostly from Meisner Training with a smattering o f independently developed exercises from the Stanislavsky System, Practical Aesthetics functions very much like its immediate predecessor in practice. The greatest difference between the two comes down to an addition in the process of selecting an action. In Meisner, action' refers most simply to something a character is doing. More particularly, it is an active phrase containing a verb that describes something a character wants to or must do specifically to another character. In Meisner, an action can b e anything at all as long as it meets these criteria. Practical Aesthetics adopts this basic definition of action and the concept's function and position within the technique, but it limits the selection of actions to ten or eleven generalized phrases, or, essential actions.' The idea of the essential action' is that every action, in Meisner's sense, can be reduced to one or more of the ten types of impulse specified. For example, If an action, in Meisner training, is "to coax her out of the room," its e ssential action' counterpart in Practical Aesthetics might be to get her to seal the deal," "to get her to take a risk," or "to get her to see the big picture," depending the actor's interpretation of the scene. For further exploration of Practical Aesthe tics training and terminology, refer to both The Practical Handbook for the Actor by collected authors including Scott Ziegler, and True and False by David Mamet 9 In addition to my discussion of Adler's technique in various capacities above, essential fo r understanding Rivalry is that the Stella Adler Technique is, like both Meisner and Practical Aesthetics, ultimately another action based, Stanislavsky derivative. As such, many differences between the three are essentially cosmetic/linguistic, and though as an ensemble we initially missed the breadth of their similarity, much of our discussion concerning Adler and PA after Rivalry concluded involved the inherent similarity of the two in practice. For further exploration of Stella A dler's process, read her book on The Technique of Acting
84 material from one technique or the other. In this sense, we could explore and approach each reality, each set of circumstances, and each set of characters from a different perspective, employing technique as the theatrical device that would create contrast between one world and the other. For the actual' world of the play (what we called reality one'), we rehearsed using material drawn from Practical Aesthetics The actors completed line by line text analyses of subtext and chose essential actions' that were interested in doing/gaining something to/from their scene partners. In contrast, for the world of the play' within the play (reality two), rehearsal techn iques were drawn from Stella Adler, and mostly consisted of imagination exercises and silent improvisations, although here too actors conducted full text analyses using Adler's analytic scheme. Day to day we would alternate between techniques, rehearsing a ll of the material belonging to one reality' using one technique at once, and then repeat the process with the other. This created a more pronounced contrast in the two levels of the performance as time went on, and when we finally assembled the scene in full, watching the difference in tone as the scene shifted rapidly between realities was striking. Reality one was dark and naturalistic where reality two was melodramatic and humorous. Regrettably, as we continued to rehearse the piece for performance, th e two realities began to slide toward one another until it was clear that the purity of the two tones could not be preserved. By the time of the performance there were only traces of the contrast left. Afterward, in a long post mortem discussion, we came to conclusion that, while the process we had created was unique and very successful in terms of generating a dialogue comparing the techniques, and in terms of engaging technique directly with dramatic structure, it was really not a very successful rehears al process in its own right. Further, though it had prompted extensive and useful dialogue relating the two techniques, by isolating our use of each one in different portions of the script, the very design of our process had discouraged rather than encoura ged exploration of how the two methods might successfully function together, which felt
85 counterintuitive to our original intentions. The result was that most of our dialogue concerning the relationship between Practical Aesthetics and Adler ultimately deal t with examining specific divergences in the form of exercises that seemed to functionally parallel one another in each technique at the exclusion of examining broad convergences in overall content. We discussed the difference in how action functioned in P ractical Aesthetics vs. Adler, and asked questions like, "was the essential action' in Practical Aesthetics a useful adaptation?" or "was Adler's score of actions' a more confusing way to organize subtext than a line by line?" rather than discussing how the function of action is actually very similar in both techniques, apart from its additional use as a major organizing principle for text analysis in Adler. Even so, there is no question that the experience contributed to our greate r understanding of both methods employed, and I regret that I do not have enough specific memory to provide a better sense of the particular dialogues generated by it. Suffice it to say that the process of this piece prepared me for a better eventual understanding of the System because it taught me that acting technique is not exclusively a tool, and it does not have to be formal or concrete. It can be applied to drama playfully, artfully, and with intention, and can even occasionally be positioned as a direct component of style. The final piece of Rivalry to discuss also used Practical Aesthetics, coupled this time with the Michael Chekhov technique 10 to develop a fixed scene from a series of improvisations. It is probably worth noting here that all three scenes from the produc tion made use of the Practical 10 The Michael Chekhov technique i s a more open, ambiguous, and physical ly based Stanislavsky derivative than any of the American derivatives previously addressed in my thesis In it, actors engage in various physical exp lorations,' to reach character by finding a psychological gestu re' that can connect them to the character's inner life.' Parts of the technique strongly resemble Stanislavsky's later work with various sil ent improvisations. Chekhov was a longtime pupil a nd disciple of Stanislavsky in Russia and his technique, developed overseas with more access to Stanislavsky and hi s l ater work, reflects this. In Chekhovian explorations,' actors begin by walking freely about the room as a narrator speaks out instructio ns. The specific instructions depend on the kind of exploration (of which there are many, for example, an exploration to find the character's physical center, etc.) and are constructed from figurative language intended to invoke different images, textures and feelings in the actor without any preparation at all so that as the actor moves about, he or she can, guided by the voice of the narrator, begin to carve out a character through manipulation of the body's physicality For more on the technique, see C hekhov's book, To the Actor
86 Aesthetics method of acting because it was a technique already common to the entire ensemble, but I digress. For this piece, development of the script and development of the characters began concurrently, so an explanation of several processes is in order to explain how we eventually used the two techniques, how we saw them interact, and how our new rehearsal process' was so personally gratifying that both actors took to calling it a technique.' First, I will have to expl ain the process of how the script was formulated. To begin the first improvisation, we only established one single circumstance: the relationship between the two characters (they were bothers), and from there, let an organic process of exploration, analysi s, and assimilation do the rest. From scratch, the first improvisation detailed a short fight over who had to call mom about the crashed car. Nothing from this session was ever mentioned again, but it had established which character was older. Over the nex t couple of sessions, a large amount of information about the characters became established: family history, favorite foods, fear of bananas, the memory of a sixth birthday party, current job, etc. Improvisations could go on as long as necessary and at the end of a session, we reviewed the new circumstances, or the new memories' that were now part of the history we were building and discussed in detail how the new circumstances effected/revised the character's relationships to one another. As the history we were creating became complex, the actors had more available to draw on for every subsequent session. For over thirty sessions we were only interested in refining the relationship between the characters, so we used very simple scenarios and altered the a ges of the characters frequently in order to examine the relationship at various ages/stages from all throughout the character's (potential) lives. We also began every day with an hour of independent exploration toward developing character, and eventually, when living the character's circumstances became second nature, when the relationship between them was so established that it was predictable, we stopped improvising back story and began improvising more and more complicated and ridiculous scenarios to se e what happened to our living' characters in various stressful, often hilarious situations. Eventually, one of these scenarios satisfied us enough to
87 refine it. To do so, we ran the scenario over and over, keeping bits we liked, getting rid of bits we did n't until we had fixed dialogue and a good story to tell. During this formulation, both Practical Aesthetics and the Michael Chekhov technique were in constant use, each approaching the creation of these characters simultaneously, but from two utterly di fferent standpoints. From the direction of intellectual understanding, we approached character using the Practical Aesthetics concepts of essential action and line by line subtext as tools in our post session discussions that helped us analyze new given ci rcumstances and assimilate them into new understandings of the character's thoughts and drives. In contrast, to approach character from the direction of deep physical understanding, we used Michael Chekhov's explorations' (such as the psychological gestur e) before every rehearsal, which led the actors to character by a gradual process of discovering in their physicality subliminal psychological triggers that create links between the physical and emotional life. According to the actors, the interaction of the two techniques was perfectly complimentary. It provided a way to approach character from two sides at once, which helped them understand different facets of the characters more quickly. The attempted conflation of these two techniques probably represen ts Rivalry's greatest success in facilitating dialogue and in engendering a desire to continue experimenting. Months before I would find myself studying the considerably expansive dispute of inner to outer' vs. outer to inner' techniques surrounding the work of Stanislavsky or realize that Michael Chekhov based his technique partially on the method of physical actions, or even have parsed out exactly how functionally similar many aspects of Practical Aesthetics were to the System our partially ignorant at tempt at mashing two techniques together just to see what might happen had us discussing in our own terms some of the major issues that fascinated Stanislavsky later in life. Many of our discussions speculated on the tendency to emphasize the emotional ove r the physical life in most types of acting that we knew of at the time. Others involved more specific issues involving the difference between approaching character in terms of intellect' or sensation,' which were the terms we selected to refer to
88 concep ts known better as internal external,' psychological physical,' etc. Still others were almost exclusively interested in the theoretical implications of a technique that would encourage approaching character from multiple angles, unfortunately, since none of us were aspiring Stanislavsky scholars at the time, our discussions remained speculative. By the time of the performances, the actors and I both felt not only that the dual approach to character we had discovered' definitely represented a useful and reusable rehearsal process, but also that the synthesis of our two techniques had resulted in the creation of a potentially legitimate hybrid technique. We hypothesized that it could easily function independently of its parent techniques and independently of both the scene we had prepared and the process used to create that scene. There was even a plan to continue development of our cross breed by exploring its success when attempted using scripted text. Though that never materialized, I was ecstatic becaus e this was exactly the type of discovery I had been convinced that certain inter technique dialogues could yield, and seeing a practical example of, at the very least, the possibility of such a success felt validating. My work on this part of Rivalry repre sents a pivotal moment in the gradual solidification of my sensibilities concerning the nature of acting and the functions of technique. At the time, I was totally unaware of exactly how crucial my time engaged in Rivalry would be to my eventual pursuits, with no inkling of how it had gotten me right to the edge of the System. Positioning Rivalry: A Prerequisite to My Practical Understanding of the System As I have stated above, Rivalry has been vitally important to my study of the System in terms of the p ractical background it has provided me concerning acting technique. It has also, undeniably, been an integral part of my ongoing theoretical interpretation of Stanislavsky's work. I realize, of course, that any attempt to position Rivalry within my project as a direct form of practical engagement with the System is a stretch, considering that Rivalry was put on months before I began an earnest study of Stanislavsky at all. But, I also realize that it is direct practical engagement, in whatever form, that ev entually led me to a sincere investigation of Stanislavsky in
89 the first place, and provided the tools for understanding what I found. In terms of the current paper, Rivalry still resists fitting perfectly, even now, but w ith the correct lenses in place nam ely, a broader view of the history surrounding the System's own evolut ion and contexts and a partial study of its theoretical components I have a better sense of what I learned from these experiments that ultimately influenced the trajectory of my study an d guided me to the System. During Rivalry I directly and extensively engaged with several established techniques in various practical capacities. Through my experimentation, I came to several important conclusions about acting technique that have influenc ed my study since: I concluded that A) between most techniques, theoretical differences are far outweighed by practical similarities, that B) technique can be molded to both individual and circumstance, like all other aspects of style, and that C) as I had hoped to find, such manipulation does generate dialogue and that such dialogue is useful in advancing technique in infinite directions. This is where I consider the experiments of Rivalry inextricably connected to my current project of reinterpreting the System and repositioning it in modern acting practice. They provided me with my first opportunity to observe how the acting techniques that I was already familiar with might function together in practice, and gave me my first sense of the underlying simil arity between even very different techniques. These discoveries ensu red a deeper understanding of the tenets I would encounter later in my study of the System, which I would eventually find so attractive in Stanislavsky's work and philosophy dialogue, expe rimentation, synthesis, evolution, etc. They also instilled in me a deep sense of the transience of medium and form. Collaboration, the use and adaptation of techniques, and hybridization, were all processes that the experience of Rivalry initially engaged me in. Such practical engagements advanced my understanding of technique by providing concrete examples for concepts whose theoretical constructions had baffled me. Accumulating this kind of concrete information is what primed me for recognizing the philo sophical parallels between the Stanislavsky System and my own burgeoning ideas about how technique might ideally function in acting.
90 In hindsight, I find that Rivalry does indeed represent my practical engagement with Stanislavsky, if indirectly, because aside from the fact that the techniques used were all immediate descendents of the System that directly resembled it in practice somehow or other practical experience enabled my engagement with the underlying philosophy of the System. After Rivalry, I was not satisfied by any particular technique I knew of, and I was suspicious of all of them. I had decided that technique did not have to be finite and was convinced that more open techniques could be assembled or created if they did not already exist. In th e System, I found a technique I could square with this ideal, and further, one that already seemed to contain my basic philosophy within itself. In a sense, you could say that Rivalry prepared me philosophically for looking at the System in a unique way be cause it prepared me in advance for the possibility that the System' does not (or should not) really exist at all something Stanislavsky believed completely by the end of his life. What he believed is that creativity is propelled by three basic things: the mind "for analysis and understanding," the will "for control," and feeling "which fosters passionate and zestful relationships with the characters we create" (Carnicke "Pathways" 33). His career is marked by periods of devotion to one or more of these elements over the others, but he increasingly finds them inextricably linked and utterly subjective. "The successful actor," he concludes, "by whatever path, arrives always at the same place, where mind, will, and feeling together produce a satisfying perf ormance" (Stanislavsky qtd. in Carnicke "Pathways" 33). In choosing this path, "each actor reinvents and personalizes the System. This reinterpretation and adaptation is exactly what [he] hoped to inspire in actors" (Carnicke "Pathways" 33). This sentiment is where Rivalry intersects with my goal of renewing interest in the System. In practice, all practice, acting technique is inherently subjective and ever shifting. That is what Rivalry taught me, and it is Stanislavsky's attempt to force the theory of hi s technique to reflect the inevitable practical state which finally convinces me that his writing has been abandoned too quickly. Some of Stanislavsky's final words on the System were:
91 The System is a guide. Open and readExamine the System at home, but fo rget about it when on stage. You can't play the System. There is no System. There is only nature. My lifelong concern has been how to get ever closer to the so called System,' that is to get ever closer to the nature of creativity. (qtd. in Carnicke "Path ways" 32) Personally, I am convinced that if it was universally understood, Stanislavsky's production of such a variable theoretical model could trigger a shift in the way actor training is commonly conceived in the West. Interest in big, finite techniques and the closed, competitive institution they create might begin to dissolve in favor of a more subjective, transient concept of technique' that could encourage a more open institution interested in dialogue and trade. Perhaps that is a tall order, but I consider my project here at least a contribution to the possibility. If nothing else, I hope that my current narration of Stanislavsky's System will challenge historical misconceptions of it, highlight the work's major underlying philosophy of openness, an d demonstrate that when envisioned in these terms, contradiction' in the System' is really almost impossible. I also hope that I have adequately clarified Rivalry's contribution to my understanding and to the interpretation of the System contained in the se pages.
92 Conclusion My exploration of Stanislavsky from historical, theoretical, and practical perspectives for the purposes of this paper have led me to many small conclusions about Stanislavsky and the System of actor training he created tha t have changed my perspective on both acting and theater scholarship at large. The journey has been mostly an accident. What I originally set out to discover was why the different actor training methods I was studying before the System denied the large amo unt of overlap I could easily see between them. I wanted to point out the basic similarities they disguised with vague language and long nonsensical arguments in order to piece together what was essential to the study of acting and what was extraneous fluf f meant to cover up that fact that we were all basically doing the same thing A preliminary study of Stanislavsky was absolutely necessary to this original project. The techniques I was so fascinated by had all derived from his System. It seems ironic to me at this point, but I remember thinking before I began that the Stanislavsky phase of my project was going to be tedious, a chore I would have to drudge through. I knew, of course, who Stanislavsky was already, and his successors had, in my opinion, bee n doing far more fascinating work for years. Stanislavsky had triggered the whole idea, and for that I was impressed, but I had tried to read his books before, and they were messy and unhelpful. I had seen his name in much of my personal reading, but most often his successes were qualified by a long string of adjectives that reinforced my unwillingness to engage with him contradictory, ambiguous, verbose, outdated, etc. I didn't even know particularly at the time how much these throw away phrases scattered throughout books on what I found to be more interesting subject matter were coloring up the bias I already harbored. Somewhere along the line, my project changed. Rivalry expanded m y mission to bring modern techniques into dialogue with one another and wh en I returned to my research heartily, its influence kept leading me right back to Stanislavsky. When I finally caved and began to study him in earnest, it took less than a week for me to become utterly engrossed. Admittedly, my first
93 fascinations with his work were entirely based on the misconceptions, half truths, and outright lies that I have tried to pull together for your benefit. Trying to figure out what the System actually was seemed impossible. Parts of it were certainly brilliant, but Stanislavsky seemed all over the place. Even in my greatest moments of admiration, I could not seem to abandon the idea that I searching in vein for cohesion. Finally discovering Benedetti's translation of the System was a pivotal moment. After reading it, I felt lik e I imagine Stanislavsky's students must have felt working with him I finally had an answer to my question. What did it matter to me now if American derivatives ever decided to drop their pretenses and swap ideas? The System had all of the dialogue I had b een searching for contained within it. I still had an interest in the other techniques, of course, but their disengagement from one another was no longer a crisis to me. If I wanted to assimilate their ideas into my system, I was free to do so. I began spe nding more and more time on the Stanislavsky section of my paper. I simply couldn't stop. Now I wanted to know how and why no one else seemed to be as excited about this guy as I was. Whatever the popular notion was, I was positive now that Stanislavsky's work was relevant today. Too relevant. Frightfully relevant. That is when the veils started to lift and the misunderstandings started to peel away. I started to see just how ridiculously ironic it was how many different circumstances, related and unrelated to one another, have gone into keeping this work obscure. At this point, I think the System became a sort of cause for me. Whatever I was pretending my project was still about dissolved completely, and my new action became a mission to release the System from its own given circumstances by hunting them all down and stringing them together until the glaring breadth of our common misunderstanding was embarrassing. My conclusions as an actress and director have been these: Stanislavsky is not dead. The Syste m is not finite. Changes to the System are desirable, not undesirable. Twenty first century American actor training is as still as far behind Stanislavsky at it was at the time of the Moscow Art Tours. Stanislavsky reserved the right to change his mind acc ording to the circumstances.
94 History taught him to do this. His willingness to change his mind may be the source of his genius. His willingness to change his mind led him to the conclusion that good actors use an infinite number of paths to reach the place where the mind, the will, and the body meet where real acting takes place. As a student, I have concluded that popular notions of Stanislavsky and the System are appallingly inaccurate, regardless of whether or not you're a fan. The value of Stanislavsky 's work extends far beyond the realm of the actor and into the theoretical in between places that link and separate one disciple from the next, and it is certainly worth the same consideration and attention as any great novel. Unfortunately, the System is still drowning in its circumstances, even as new translations and histories become available because no one is interested. No one knows to be interested. If this paper lacks unity, what ties it together is the underlying narrative of my own sometimes co nfusing journey toward a better, if imperfect understanding of the collection of issues related to my original questions. If I can offer a single conclusion to this paper, it is this: I have tried here to position the System within its current given cir cumstance' and then attempted, t hrough my own analytical engagments of the System, to employ those circumstances in advocating further interpretation. My conclusion is that Stanislavsky's work is worth rescuing. Go read it.
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