Intensive Study of Stanislavsky Method: History and Future

I. Project Overview

The work of Stanislavski, who co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre, has been seminal to the birth of American realism in theatre. His influence in creating a comprehensive method of acting can be seen almost anywhere in theatre and film today. His work is still carried out by generations of his students. Our American method acting is derivative of the teachings of Stanislavski. The great acting teachers of the twentieth century in America such as Sanford Miesner, whose method I study at NIU, carried on Stanislavski's work through their teaching. How will the Stanislavski method change in this century? Is it still viable? In what ways will it help theatre develop? These are some of the questions that I would like to answer for myself and other ilieatre artists. I will answer these questions primarily through interviews with the actors and teachers of the Moscow Art Theatre (MXAT,) who are some of the foremost experts in the world on the Stanislavski Method. I will also supplement the interviews with readings, as well as live theatre and rehearsals at the Moscow Art Theatre and elsewhere in Moscow. I will also participate in classes at the Moscow Art Theatre School. Through this course of study I will be able to evaluate both the Miesner and Stanislavski methods of training to better understand their strengths and weaknesses and their future viability, while advancing and refining my own skills as an actor, teacher, coach and director. I will also create work for publication.

II. Project Description Proposal:

Through interviews, class participation and first hand experience of Russian theatre, I will investigate and evaluate the Russian and American models of Stanislavski's teaching in order to better understand how the Stanislavski method has developed in these two countries and more importantly how it will continue to change and develop in years to come. I will live-and work with the actors and teachers at the Moscow Art Theatre School for four weeks in June 2003.

The question is this, in a theatre that is growing less realistic and more highly stylized around the world, is the Stanislavski method and its American counterparts such as the Meisner method still viable for this century? Out of this question stem many more questions that I will use in my interviews to ascertain the specific nature of the development of the Stanislavski method and the reason that its principles have endured for so long in Russia and the U.S., and how those principles can meet the present shift in theatrical paradigms.

As we begin our collective journey into a new century, it is of great importance to take stock in the events and trends that defined the last century. This is one of the things that unite us as a global society. As an actor, the Stanislavski Method has left a rather majestic and often perplexing mark on the last century. The development and changes that the Stanislavski system have undergone in the last hundred years or so are of great importance in understanding how it will become integrated into the theatre of this century.

This begs many questions. How much of Stanislavski's teaching is still present in the American and Russian models today? Has StanislavskiĆ¢€™s voice truly survived, accurately? What points in Stanislavski's teaching should we keep, and what should we leave behind? Most important though, is the question I pose to myself; how will I carry forward the ideals of Miesner and Stanislavski in my own teaching, directing, and acting?

I cannot answer these questions by myself. Indeed, it is fortunate that I cannot, because this forces me to seek collaboration and collaboration is the very heart of theatre. I am in a unique position to investigate these pressing issues through this opportunity to travel to The Moscow Art Theatre. Many of my of my peers and professors have asked these same questions about the future of method acting and have calculated their own opinions on this subject. For instance, I have discussed this subject in depth with my acting teacher, Professor Kathryn Gately. I share professor Gately's feelings that the world of theatre will change greatly in the next fifty years and this means that the way we teach acting will also have to change. Professor Gately is one of my resources at NIU. My other resources at NIU include Professor Alex Gelman who has worked with MXA T and is very familiar with the Stanislavski Method as well as the history and customs of Russian theatre. In Russia I will have the great privilege of working with Anatoly Smeliansky who is the director of the MXAT School. He is one of the foremost experts in the world on Stanislavski and Russian theatre. He is also extremely well versed on the changing world of theatre. At MXAT, Smeliansky is privileged to be at the artistic epicenter of theatre in Russia and much of the European continent. I have arranged an interview with Mr. Smeliansky and am in the process of securing interviews with other scholars, actors and teachers of MXAT and other theatre companies and schools in Russia.

Method of Study:

In addition to carrying out my research through interviews and readings from experts in both the U.S. and Russia, I will be fortunate enough to take class with some of the foremost experts on Stanislavski in the world. For four weeks beginning June 1, I will attend six hours of classes in the morning and afternoon at the Moscow Art Theatre School. It is essential for me to be able to participate in the classes at the MXAT School. As Sanford Miesner once said, "Acting is doing." Without firsthand experience of the teaching of the Stanislavski method, my research is purely academic and intellectual and therefore of marginal use in the creation of art. It is by doing that we, as artists, are capable of grasping the subtle enormity of the ideas expressed by our teachers.

The Moscow Art Theatre was founded in 1897 by Konstantin Stanislavski and his colleague Vladimir Nemirivich-Danchenko. It is the theatre for which Chekhov wrote his plays. It is a magnet for great artists around the world. Thousands of aspiring students apply to the school each year and no more than thirty or forty are accepted to the illustrious program. The actors and teachers of the Moscow Art Theatre continue to be committed to carrying on and developing the teaching of Stanislavski. A great deal of discipline and attentiveness is expected of all students attending class at the Moscow Art Theatre School and I look forward to using my skills as an actor to my fullest capability. Not only will I be conducting research and learning many things that will inform my work for years to come, but I will also be part of a tradition that is more than a century old.

Expected Results:

New styles of theatre are created everyday and new methods of acting are being developed to accommodate these new styles. It is my responsibility to myself and my craft to fully understand how the traditions of Stanislavski and his American counterparts will fit into the changing world of theatre today. I expect to return to the U.S. with a clear understanding of the history of the Stanislavski method, its current development, and its prospects for development in the future. This knowledge will serve me in my aspirations to become a professional actor, teacher and director in the future. I plan to document my findings and prepare an article for submission for publication to pertinent periodicals upon my return to the U.S. as well as an academic journal for evaluation by professor Gelman. I have also arranged to present my findings to theatre students during the summer term classes. In addition, all of my work will be available on the NIU Theatre and Dance web page.

Not least among the benefits of this project is the opportunity to immerse myself in study in the capital of a country that is extraordinarily rich in culture and history and is redefining its image and role in the world. Too often, the arts are regarded as a luxury. I believe that the survival of Russian theatre, despite the yoke of communism, stands as a constant reminder that the arts are indeed not a luxury but a human necessity.

Justification and Preparation:

My training as an actor in the B.F.A program at Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance has been the greatest influence in my choice to begin this course of study. During my time so far at NIU, I have completed two years of intense training in the Miesner method under the guidance of Master Acting Teacher, Prof. Kathryn Gatley. I have studied a broad range of key subjects in theatre history, aesthetics, and production. I have also enriched my study of the Miesner method by studying the major written works of Stanislavski. Also key to my research are the volumes of information regarding the early teachers of American realism.

Professor Gelman together with the Study Abroad Office have made the necessary arrangements for my travel to Moscow and enrollment in the MXAT School. Professor Gelman has volunteered his expertise (and fluent Russian) in arranging interviews throughout this process.

III. Proposed Budget

A. Program and Travel Costs

An estimated program cost of $ 2,450 includes the following:
1) Housing at local Hostel from June 2-30.
2) Russian Visa
3) International Student ill card
4) Educational costs
5) Most admission fees required during program related field trips, i.e., museums, tours and plays

Travel costs will also include a roundtrip flight to Moscow (aprox. $1000) and Passport fees (aprox. $75), which I will fund through other means. Total program costs amount to $3,500.