Constantin Stanislavsky was born into a wealthy Russian family in Moscow, and as a teenager joined a theatrical group organized by his parents and very soon became a central figure and started directing plays. In 1898 Stanislavsky together with his partner Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko opened the Moscow Art Theatre which became famous around the world – Anton Chekhov wrote the play “The Seagull” especially for this theatre.
It was while working in this theatre Stanislavsky came up with basic principles of acting which contributed to his system. The core principle of this system lies in the importance of “emotional memory” and Stanislavsky taught actors to bring their own memories and emotions into playing characters. The director stressed that actors main responsibility was to be believed rather then understood – his famous remark “I don’t believe” is still used in acting society in Russia.
In order to understand how Stanislavsky method is used in modern theatre and cinema we talked to Marc Weitz, a NY based director and teacher ( .
– Marc, How did you encounter the Stanislavsky system?
Well, the Stanislavsky System is a really broad concept, and what we use in the U.S. some people call the Americanization of the Stanislavsky System. That has to do with how the books and method were translated and brought over to America over a period of many years. But it’s really become over here the default way of training actors, whether the teachers or actors even know the history of what they’re using or not! I first encountered it in my very first acting class in university, although I don’t know if it was ever explained to me that it was based in Stanislavsky’s techniques, as such.
– Did you learn the Stanislavsky system though acting or from literature?
Both. Of course one must practice the techniques “out loud,” so to speak, but books upon books have been written explaining the history and philosophy of it.
– Do you think this system is very complex and unsuitable for cinema?
What an interesting question! It is often stated that the Method, a particular refinement of the Stanislavsky System most closely identified With Lee Strasberg, is ONLY suited to the cinema, and not particularly well suited for the stage. But Stanislavsky was originally developing his method for the stage, so it really is designed to get to the Truth of the performance no matter what medium the actor is working in.
Interestingly, at this point in my career as a director and teacher, I am much more interested in combining Stanislavsky’s insights with other more physical or ritualistic forms of theater, that work externally. That is, here in America, where we are most frequently concerned with generating an inside emotional state that produces an external result, I am more interested in combining this with methods which construct an external physical state, and then seeing how that affects the internal emotional life of the actor. Some artists want to focus on one or the other. I want to focus on both!
Our thanks to Marc for his insight and for his time.