Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian businessman that changed his career path to become a director due to his fondness of theatre and the arts. He founded the Moscow Arts Theatre with his partner Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Stanislavski initiated the Stanislavski System of acting, which was spread around the world by his students and interpreted and developed by others like Lee Strasberg.
The goal of Constantin Stanislavski’s system was to take an audience into a different world that will make everything they see or hear believable no matter what, unlike Brecht his method was to connect with the audience emotionally, physically and spiritually.
“The method requires that an actor utilize, among other things, his emotional memory (i.e., his recall of past experiences and emotions). The actor’s entrance onto the stage is considered to be not a beginning of the action or of his life as the character but a continuation of the set of preceding circumstances. The actor has trained his concentration and his senses so that he may respond freely to the total stage environment. Through empathic observation of people in many different situations, he attempts to develop a wide emotional range so that his onstage actions and reactions appear as if they were a part of the real world rather than a make-believe one”.Order now
In order for an actor to make his role believable the actor would use a method or various methods from Stanislavski’s system to create his own flashback that would lead him to fully absorb the role that he is going to perform and to do that effectively the actor must take the dramatic techniques into consideration and pay extra attention to them such as posture, voice and body language.
For this research I will be looking at the character Kipps in The Woman in Black by Susan Hill and I will focus on how an actor playing this role, will use Stanislavski’s method in order to portray the characters characteristics and personality effectively.
The Woman in Black is a 1983 horror novella that was adapted by Stephen Mallatratt in 1987. In the adapted version Kipps persuades an Actor to help him tell his story, hoping that if he acts it out and relives it, it’ll help him move on. The actor plays the part of Young Kipps while Kipps plays various roles of people he met.
Arthur Kipps is a man lost in his memories and can’t settle down for anything because the past is haunting him he is a mature and complex role with many emotions and his role isn’t merely just an excuse to scare the audience, but actually a character that has a real relationship with the things he loves. His character has changed him from a modern man that doesn’t believe in superstitious things to a cautious man that sends off a coward vibe, although he has survived one of the most traumatizing incidents ever. In the play the audience witnesses Kipp’s emotional breakdown as he slowly starts to figure out the story of El Marsh House.
Before starting to prepare for the role of Kipps the actor should understand that there is no such thing as actuality on stage, but only imagination, which is an art every dramatist should master. The aim of the actor in this play is to use these techniques and turn this play into a theatrical reality. All of Stanislavski’s techniques require the actor to call upon his imagination, and the more the imagination is fertile, the more interesting the actor’s choices would be in terms of the physical action, and creating the character.
In order for the actor to prepare for the role first he must use Stanislavski’s first method which is to discover the units of action in the play page by page, and divide them up in order to recall the time between the changes and notice the development of Kipps and imagine what’s behind his words as the story goes on. Doing that the actor will have a clear overview of Kipps’ emotional state.
The actor should then master the art of living a role, and give himself completely to the action happening on stage. Touching upon his subconscious intuitively will help living the part of Kipps and no longer thinking as an actor but as Kipps. “Since your subconscious is inaccessible to the mind, you can only consciously apply elements of our acting principles in order to lead the way toward the region of the subconscious, giving yourself completely until it takes you and immerses you in the role. The more you have of conscious creative moments in your role the greater chance you have of preparing the way for the blossoming of the valued.” (Acting the Truth: The Acting Principles of Constantin Stanislavski and Exercises. Page 10)
To awaken the subconscious the actor should follow Stanislavski’s third method “The magic IF” Stanislavski stated that the truth on stage is different from the truth in real life, which is an important statement especially when it comes to realism, since the actor is expected to create reality or truth on stage, although the actor shouldn’t believe in the truth of the action happening on stage but instead believe of the imaginative creation of them. The actor should start a conversation as Kipps with the other characters in the play but outside the lines and script, while doing that the actor should ask himself “If I was Kipps what would I do/say?” They should convey the dialogue while looking into each other’s eyes because that will touch into the inner life and the unconsciousness, and help the actor start developing a personal relationship with the character Kipps and make the right theatrical choices that would appear as real or believable to the audience.
After having that connection with the character keeping it intact and focusing on the physical actions could be difficult, the actor should block the play while using the fifth method of Stanislavski, which is “Physical Actions.” The actor should say the actions they’re doing out loud which will become the map of their actions. This method is used to further develop characterization and making it natural and give the actor a sense 9of concentration that will effect the inner life and make it way more serious.
Once the relationship is there and the actor is comfortable with the role with the use of imagination, the fourth method “Subtext” will bring up the impulses of what the actor really wants to know about Kipps and the meaning of the text/dialogue, which will help generate the inner life and add texture and richness to the action. Stanislavski said, “Spectators come to the theatre to hear the subtext. They can read the text at home.” The actor should be able to interpret the subtext through Kipps’ gestures, body posture and choices in action. The actor then should rehearse in front of a mirror while using the gestures and body postures he interpreted from the character Kipps, but he should take into consideration that rehearsing with a mirror teaches you about the outside, but not inside.
The quality of the actors’ performance doesn’t only depend on the inner thoughts and build up, but majorly on the physical embodiment of the character. “Stanislavski saw the body and voice as ”instruments” that could be trained and could help the actor give shape to an action” The body needs to be trained to pick up on the action and lines as if it were normal, each gesture needed to reflect upon an inner experience and that’s how it’ll be real and logical. The actor should focus on the experiences he had that he thinks are relatable to Kipp’s position or, they could focus on the emotions of past memories that they think are the same as Kipp’s.
That would bring us to emotional memory, which would be a very good technique to use once Kipps reaches the stage of horror. Emotional memory requires the actor to recreate an event from the distant past in his mind in order to regenerate the “feelings” of that memory and incident that was experienced at the time. Emphasis on distant because “Stanislavski felt (at that time) that time distilled events and feelings, acting as a ‘splendid filter for remembered things.’ Stanislavski believed that the quality of an actor’s performance depended upon the sincerity of his experience. This sincere experience went through a ‘time filter’ that transformed the quality of the experience into a ‘poetic reflection of life’s experience.’” The actor should consider the stage his home, where he lives, not a real life but a true stage experience, which means the actor should be comfortable with his role and the stage space.
In conclusion, in order for the actor to prepare for the role of Kipps in “The Woman in Black” the actor must make a clear link between the units and objectives of the play, a unit is a section of a scene that the actor divides up once he is discovered the units of action, and each unit contains an objective that the actor must pursue.
To pursue the objectives the actor created he must follow Stanislavski’s techniques that were mentioned above, and that would result in self indulgent acting and not just communication with others on the stage.
Touching upon ones subconscious could be extremely difficult, but once the actor reaches that point, follow the methods would be really easy to him, and that would lead to a believable performance and an easier delivery of the lines. But the actor should be motivated to do so, his mind and his feelings should be motivated enough to take upon a role that requires many emotions and a lot of climax that results in a change of the characters emotions.
Concentration is key when it comes to Stanislavski’s techniques, and delivering them will require a lot of concentration beforehand and during the performance. But the actor shouldn’t block out the audience because Stanislavski felt that would contradict the point of theatre. Theatre is an art and blocking out its recipients would ruin the point of the performance because the audience are the co-creators of the performance.