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Stanislavski In Rehearsal

November 24, 2013

In the wonderful book by Vasily Toporkov “Stanislavski in Rehearsal”, which relates some of the amazing experiences he and other students of acting and directing had at the Moscow Art Theatre with the one and only ‘Konstantin Sergeyevich’, Toporkov related a conversation between the master teacher and himself about a line in a scene they were rehearsing.

Stanislavski begins in the following brief excerpt:

“Where is the stress in this sentence? Which single word would be enough for the scene to be understood?…The answer is already in the sentence itself!…You even say that will not leave this place, until…what?”                                                                                                                                                                                 “Until I receive…”


“The decision.”

“Yes, that is the main accented word. You must give the single stress in the whole sentence on that one word.”

I say the line, trying to give it only one stress.

“But why do you jumble the rest of the words? You don’t have to hurry or mumble them, just don’t stress them. Well, then…”

Again, I say it.

“Why so much emphasis on the last word? ”

“What do you mean ‘so much emphasis’?”

“Why do you push de-ci-sion?”

“But the accent is on that!”

“Yes, but not so strong. You only need to take the emphasis from all the rest, then the single accent will remain. Well, now…”

When the uninitiated were present at such especially difficult moments during Stanislavski’s rehearsals, it often seemed to them grotesque…”Really. It is too much to harass people so. Where is the personal creativity? Such torture of an actor cannot lead to anything good, it only confuses him.”

Later, on the contrary, the meaning of the sentences and words becomes especially clear. Having gone through such “purifying fire” you begin to regard the sentences into which you have put so much effort with a special respect.You will not mumble it, nor will you clutter it with unnecessary stresses. It becomes musical and effective.

End of excerpt.

In my new book, Comprehensive Contemporary Acting,  I quote the famous tenor Placido Domingo – now artistic director of the LA Opera – from an NPR radio interview some years back.  I heard it, immediately dropped what I was doing,  and ran to get a pen to write it down: “And if you can insert yourself without disturbing anything”, he said, “then you are musical.”

Naturally, I draw the same conclusion. If you can insert yourself without disturbing anything, then you are dramatic (or comedic – and in comedy it is much more difficult to not disturb anything, which is why it is so tricky).

Even back then, at the Moscow Arts Theatre, the actors were frustrated with what initially felt to them like their creativity was being held in check. But then they came to realize that the constant attention to detail – understanding the Circumstances, the exact physicality, the proper emphasis, and the inclusion of everything that must be included – is what freed their natural creativity to shine through their very persons.

It is none of it – arbitrary.

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