Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Konstantin Stanislavsky/Vsevolod Meyerhold

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Konstantin Stanislavsky/Vsevolod Meyerhold

Article excerpt

Bella Martin, Konstantin Stanislavsky (London: Routledge, 2003)

Jonathon Pitches, Vsevolod Meyerhold (London: Routledge, 2003)

These are important guides for unravelling of the twentieth century's major actor-training figures, the famed Russian actor-director-teacher and theorists Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold. These studies are two of four Routledge 'introductory guides to key theatre makers of the last century', with more to come, and follow a common formulaic structure in covering the life history of the practitioner, an analysis of key theories, a reflection on a major production followed by practical exercises. The structure is clear, easy to follow and is designed for practitioners and drama teachers alike.

Bella Martin is an actor and lecturer in Drama and Theatre Arts at Birmingham University. Her scholarly background gives a sometimes dense amount of material to the reader to digest, but neatly dissects and, in Martin's own words, 'unpacks' Stanislavsky's main theories. Her acting background ensures that the book's central thread, or 'through line' to use one of Stanislavsky's favourite terms, is always directed to the actor's understanding of how to approach a role from Stanislavsky's teachings. Martin's background is evident in her tracing of Stanislavsky's evolution as a director. She illustrates well the problem with his early dictator-like approach of setting out everything for the actor in extensive production plans. This is not to deny the importance of such planning, which was still integral to the success of his productions, but to point to Stanislavsky's realisation that it needed to be coupled with a more open rehearsal process that allowed the actors to contribute their own responses and ideas, thereby achieving ownership of the final production. Martin highlights this turnaround when Stanislavsky the actor was asked to complete another director's vision and therefore struggled to find his own vision of his character. The ultimate outcome was the development of rehearsal processes that combined the will of the director and actor and ultimately of the playwright, in particular the 'method of physical actions' and 'active analysis'. The former is focussed on the actor finding a 'logical and coherent "score of physical actions" that takes the actors from simple external activities into complex psychological experiences' (161), while the latter involved the actors first reading, analysing then improvising their own words and actions which steadily moved closer to the text of the script (157). The emphasis here was on the director leading this process by structuring open-ended improvisations and then asking key questions of the actors to guide them to their own discoveries.

Martin contextualises this well within the appalling state of Russian theatre at the turn of the century, governed by state censorship, a star system with accompanying ham acting and 'frighteningly short rehearsal periods' of days rather than weeks, with a complete absence of a director as we understand the role today (6-8). The key to Stanislavsky's discoveries within this environment was the ongoing laboratories that he created as subsidiary of MAT (Moscow Art Theatre), where he could explore his ideas away from the pressures of production. In this respect he and Meyerhold shared a similar modus operandi. Stanislavsky's final laboratory was his own flat where he was under virtual house arrest by Stalin; an echo of Meyerhold's own final misfortune at the hands of the tyrant.

One of Martin's major contributions in the discussion of Stanislavsky's acting theories is the dismantling of commonly-held false assumptions or incorrect interpretations regarding his 'system'. The first correction is that the 'system' was not closed or finished but still in evolution; in fact some of Stanislavsky's major breakthroughs such as 'active analysis' occurred at the end of his life. The important point here for practitioners is to use the ideas and exercises as springboards to further development, not as end points in themselves. …

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