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The art of acting, as it is known, has been developing for a long time, and, despite the already well-established approaches to learning this skill, some new techniques periodically appear and bring new shades to the process of acting. In order to analyze various practices regarding the training and performance of actors, three well-known theorists in this field will be considered – Stanislavski, Chekhov, and Meisner.
These representatives of art are known to the whole creative world as the individuals who initiated new and revolutionary approaches in organizing the entire process of actors training and acting techniques. As the basis for analysis, excerpts from rehearsals, as well as oral lectures by tutors, will be used. It is assumed that the approaches of the three directors to the process of organizing the training of actors and their performance have had a significant impact on theatrical art in general and on the formation of new creative trends in particular.
Stanislavski’s Classical Technique of Acting
Stanislavski’s system is a scientifically grounded theory of theatrical art, the method of acting technique. In contrast to the pre-existing systems, it is built not on the study of the final results of creativity but on clarifying the causes that generate this or that result (Cole 404). The actor should not represent the image but become it, making the character’s experiences, feelings, and thoughts his or her own. Opening the main motive of work independently or with the help of the director, the performer sets an ideological and creative goal that Stanislavski calls a supertask (Cole 408). The director defines the desire to achieve this aim as the actor’s deep immersion in the role. The doctrine of supertask and end-to-end action is the basis of the master’s system.
Stanislavsky defines ways and means to create a truthful, full, and living character. The image is born when the actor completely merges with the role, accurately understanding the overall design of the work. The task of the director is to help with it. Stanislavski’s teaching on directing as the art of creating products is based on the creativity of actors themselves united by a common ideological concept. The aim of the director’s work is to help the actor to reincarnate into the person depicted. Thus, for instance, O’Brien claims that “the imaginations are muscle you need to train” (00:00:40-00:00:42). It means that daily work is a significant component of success, and actors should be able to fully reflect certain emotions, regularly honing their skills.
The system includes a number of techniques of stage creativity. One of them is that the actor puts himself or herself in the proposed circumstances of the role. In order to do it, imagination is needed, which will be an effective tool in reflecting this or that reaction (O’Brien 00:00:49-00:00:52). There is also the principle of a typical approach which is widespread in modern theater. This technique came from cinematography and is now used both in cinema and in advertising. It consists in the fact that the role is assigned not to the actor who can create an image but who coincides with the character in terms of his or her external and internal qualities (Cole 410).
The physical reaction of the creative person on the stage can cause thoughts, a strong-willed message, and ultimately the right emotion. The system leads the actor from the conscious to the subconscious, as Cole remarks (410). Stanislavski’s principles are built according to the laws of life where there is an indissoluble unity of the physical and mental, and the most complex spiritual phenomenon is expressed through a successive chain of concrete physical actions.
Chekhov’s Approach to Actors Training
Like Stanislavsky, Chekhov studied and learned the art of acting from the position of an actor but not a director. He looked for the foundation of the theater, studying the possibilities of its constituent elements – sound, gesture, and movement. The teacher of this master was Stanislavsky, the person who initiated a new theatrical era, and Chekhov further refined the system and introduced new features into it, which became standard and were subsequently used by more than one generation of actors. The director spoke of his philosophy as the ideology of an ideal person that is embodied in the future actor (Moore 74).
In the classroom, Chekhov developed his thoughts about an ideal theater, which is connected with the understanding of the origins in the mystery – not in the religious sense but as the expression of the best and even divine in the human. According to the master, the person is part of the cosmos; its rhythm is created both by the rhythm of nature and individual feelings (Moore 71). Recapturing this rhythm is creativity.
Chekhov believed that imagination was the fundamental property of a dramatic actor as a full-fledged creative unit. For example, an actor’s speech should directly convey what he or she represents in his head to create a realistic image (Hackett 00:01:30-00:01:37). The image is the daily material of the actor’s work and the starting point for his or her immersion in the role.
Exercises on Chekhov’s system are more concerned with the development of imagination and concentration. Thus, for instance, when working with text, it is significant to perform various tasks step by step. The original goal is to focus on the description of the landscape. The following aim is to concentrate on the dialogue of one character, the next one – on another participant of the material (Hackett 00:02:15-00:02:23).
Also, it is required to focus more on simulating external sounds. Another exercise is associated with the development of the stage movement where a beginning, development, and an end should be present, and a culmination should be manifested in each phase. To do it, actors should perform various tasks, following the director’s comments and trying to strictly observe the rhythm. If the classes are successful, it will help to sharpen the skill of movement on the stage and, in the future, focus on something else. In general, Chekhov viewed acting as a process in which the soul and body of the actor interacted step-by-step and inseparably (Moore 74). This approach became the basis for the further development of the school of theatrical art.
Meisner’s Technique of Training
Sanford Meisner is one of the most famous American instructors of acting, and his technique has formed the basis for teaching programs in acting in universities around the world. According to the author, there is a big difference between the actor who is used to the role and the actor who extorts it from himself or herself (Moore 70). It lies in the reality of action, that is, in the reliability of repetitive cases.
The director offered his own way to make the artist refuse to play the text and react spontaneously. He also used Stanislavski’s system, but he finalized it and introduced his own innovations, developing individual teaching techniques. Meisner focused the actor’s attention on the stage partner, making the main emphasis on the exercises causing the actor a natural response (Moore 70). In the method of the director, a fundamental principle is the reality of the action. Nevertheless, imagination is one of the main features that should be inherent in the actor, and magic “as if” is essential (PlayGrounds Channel 00:02:08-00:02:12).
At the first stage of training, the actor learns to work in partnership, to recognize the components of work on the role, to feel natural in the theatrical reality that is different from everyday life. There is no work on the character, and the actor remains in himself or herself under imaginary circumstances. The human is aware of how it is necessary to respond and act in specific circumstances (PlayGrounds Channel 00:03:15-00:03:20).
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At the second stage, already acquired skills are used in the process of creating a role. Now, the actor takes into account the plot of the play and the character in which life should breathe. The actor creates images of the play by means of imagination and not through emotions experienced, and the task is to reunite the character with the author’s and director’s design. In order to do it, repetition exercises should be implemented (PlayGrounds Channel 00:03:40-00:03:42). They help to concentrate attention on certain tasks and not to focus on useless things.
Exercises allow tracing the change in perception of the action. The consequences entail personal involvement, concreteness, and reliability of particular events (PlayGrounds Channel 00:04:30-00:04:40). These are the principles promoted by Meisner, and his contribution to acting and the formation of a modern theater school is considered to be great.
The Comparison of the Approaches
When comparing all the approaches to the training of actors, it is possible to see that they are all based on the principles developed by Stanislavski. However, each of the masters brought their own and unique features, creating new concepts of learning. Thus, Chekhov saw his task in the formation of the artist-creator. Meisner was sure that rehearsals and repetitions are the fundamental sources of success. Stanislavski emphasized an emotional approach and full immersion in the role. All the three great directors achieved the fact that many modern and popular actors are trained according to their methods. It is the evidence of the success of the theories introduced by them and the confirmation of masters’ contribution to the acting art.
Thus, the approaches of the three directors to organizing the training of actors have had a significant influence on theatrical art in general and on the formation of new creative trends in particular. The use of different approaches and techniques has made it possible to improve the existing system and develop additional useful practices that are still in use today. The basis for most of the techniques was the system of Stanislavski, the great master who laid the foundation for the art of acting that can be observed today. The methods of his outstanding colleagues have also become significant criteria for the formation of a modern theater school.
“The Actor’s Chekhov: Behavior.” YouTube, uploaded by Jeanie Hackett. 2013. Web.
Cole, Emma. “The Method Behind the Madness: Katie Mitchell, Stanislavski, and the Classics.” Classical Receptions Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, 2015, pp. 400-421.
Moore, Tracey. “Rethinking Actor Training for the iPhone Generation.” Teaching Artist Journal, vol. 15, no. 2, 2017, pp. 68-76.
“Stanislavski in Practice – The Film – Acting Exercises.” YouTube, uploaded by Nick O’Brien. 2014. Web.
“What is the Meisner Technique? Free Class with Anthony Montes, part I.” YouTube, uploaded by PlayGrounds Channel. 2017. Web.