One person we base our techniques on in sessions is Konstantin Stanislavski. He is a theatre practitioner that many learned actors refer to when seeking to improve their skills and technique. However there are some who confuse the technique of Method acting with Stanislavski’s teachings. Although Method acting is influenced from Stanislavski’s teachings, it is a fairly modern technique in comparison.
Konstantin Stanislavski focused on many methods to use within the theatre, key to aiding actors in creating believable characters, as well as aim to have the actor understand their character on a bigger scale. He uses such techniques such as ‘Magic If’,“Given Circumstances’, 'Emotion Memory' and 'Circle of attention'. The one technique we are focusing on today is Given Circumstances.
Developing an understanding of the world of your character is absolutely vital in providing a believable performance. To allow actors to do this, Stanislavski came up with Given Circumstances which is achieved by reading through the play, and writing down all the known facts about your character. Whilst making note of these facts, also take into account questions that would truly help you get into the mind set of the character. Such as ‘What time of day is it?’ or ‘What happened before the play started?’. This would aid in developing understanding of why your character are the way they are personality wise, as well as help you build empathy towards why your character is behaving the way they are in the play.
Given Circumstances focuses on research of your character and developing empathy towards them. It is about theoretically putting yourselves in their shoes to understand their past and present to aid in giving that believable performance.
Method acting stems from Stanislavski’s teachings, however was practiced in the 1930s by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg. Now rather than working on a level of understanding through research and empathy, method acting is based on a more literal technique. As well as following the guideline for given circumstances, method acting requires the actor to adopt the mindset of their character. In a sense, in order for an audience to believe your character on stage, you need to become the character off stage. Be as they would be, do as they would do. This particular technique has become increasingly popular amongst actors, with well known names such as Dustin Hoffman and Heath Ledger partaking.
Although popular, we here at Spotlites prefer to focus on the original teachings by Stanislavski as it keeps actors of sound body and mind. It keeps that barrier between an actors own identity and that of their characters, yet still achieves desired results. Something that is clearly still working to this day due to his techniques still being taught.
Why not try…
Pick a character from one of your favourite plays, and imagine you were conducting an interview with that character. The aim is getting to know them. What questions would you ask them?
Use the play to point out key behaviours of your character. Then aim to learn why they are showing such behaviour.
Suggested Reading Material to aid in character development...
Konstantin Stanislavski - Creating A role
Konstantin Stanislavski - Building a Character