Who was Konstantin Stanislavski, and what was his ‘system’?

If you have landed on the Studio Ferrera website having asked yourself the question, “how can I find a private acting coach near me?”, there might be much that you wish to learn about the various conventions and traditions of the acting craft. 

One acting ‘technique’ or ‘system’ that you might have heard of is that of the Russian theatre practitioner, Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938). 

Born in what was then the Russian Empire as Konstantin Sergeyevich Alekseyev, Stanislavski – his name also sometimes spelt ‘Stanislavsky’ – is widely considered as no less than the father of modern acting. 

With Stanislavski’s belief in the importance of ‘living’ a role – not merely ‘performing’ it – having influenced every acting technique you are likely to encounter today, it is well worth educating yourself on the fundamentals of the ‘Stanislavsky technique’ even before reaching out to someone like me about acting classes. 

What is the ‘Stanislavsky technique’ or system? 

In order to properly understand the ‘Stanislavsky technique’, it is crucial to account for the historical context in which he developed this system in the early 20th century. 

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, notions of what the craft of acting was, and what it required, began to change significantly. Acting had been, up until Stanislavsky’s era, largely ‘presentational’ in nature. There was an emphasis on broad, mechanical gestures and a contrived theatricality. 

By contrast, Stanislavski developed a method that centred the notion of creating believable characters and more ‘natural’ performances. While he acknowledged that effective acting required technical skills such as vocal projection, he greatly disliked what he considered to be artificial movements and unnatural voices. 

In other words, he wanted to truly believe in the characters that his acting students attempted to portray – that they were their characters, as communicated through a suitably natural acting approach reflecting the patterns and idiosyncrasies of actual human behaviour. 

What are the key planks of the ‘Stanislavski method’? 

I could talk to you all day on this one. But to give you some foundations for understanding what the Stanislavsky system prioritises, let’s take you through just two of them. 

  • Reading through other sources of information about Stanislavski, you are likely to come across reference to given circumstances. This refers to the importance, as far as Stanislavski was concerned, of understanding the world of a given character before you will be properly equipped to give a believable performance. In your position as an actor, this might manifest in you researching all the information you can find about your character, including going through a script and writing down all the facts you discover about them. This will help you construct acting performances allowing you to embody your character as far as possible. 
  • Further related to all this, is what is known as the magical if. Being well-informed on the given circumstances of the character, will also help you imagine how this character might react to any other given situation that may arise. So, if you discover that a certain thing happens to your character in the script, you will hopefully already know so much about the world they exist in, that it won’t be too difficult for you to envisage their likely response. 

Understanding the ‘given circumstances’ and ‘magical ifs’ for your character will provide the foundations for you to then consider your character’s ‘tasks’ or ‘objectives’. These are the given things that a character will be motivated to do, as should emerge in the script. 

I could say much more about the ‘Stanislavsky technique’, and if you join me – Joe Ferrera – for a class, I can! 

The most important thing for you to take away from this blog post, though, is that the Stanislavsky technique, or system, or whatever you wish to call it, absolutely retains its relevance to actors today. It may seem ‘old’, but it is far from outmoded for any actor who wishes to produce the most believable performance, as all of us in this profession surely do. 

Get in touch with me today about my acting classes, and I will be delighted to play my own part in helping you unlock those crucial skills, so that you can realise your potential in the field.