Truth has always been the actor’s goal. While the word truth or its study thereof by a theatrical production company may differ dramatically, the end result will always be the same.
Most likely every nook and cranny in this great country of ours has its own version or method of guiding actors in their quest for the truth. The most famous of these nooks would be the “Actors Studio.”
In the thirties we had the “Group Theater,” its forerunner and inspiration being Constantine Stanislavski and the “Moscow Art Theater.” Stanislavski, the most searching, dedicated, and powerful teacher of acting in the history of the art, set in motion an ideal that has codified the truth.
On December 3, 1947, Marlon Brando, in an American play called “A Streetcar Named Desire,” put on display a most notable exemplification of the Stanislavski method. Two months earlier, in October, the play’s directors, Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, and Robert Lewis formed a workshop for actors called the Actors Studio. It was there that Lee Strasberg devoted the next thirty years zealously to the development of the Stanislavski method. Fifty-seven years plus, and the method is still gathering momentum.
Method Acting: What was once an awkward admission is now a fact shared by almost every acting student in the country. Method acting has long since arrived. The Actors Studio continues.
Earlier in this piece I mentioned “Street Car” and Marlon Brando. It was in this play that Marlon became one of the first American actors to deliver a speech with his back to the audience. That revolution began long before Kazan staged it in “Streetcar.”
There, in the middle of the first act of The Sea Gull, at the Moscow Art Theater on December 17, 1898, a group of actors was seated with their backs to the audience. That same audience, in unison let out a gasp at this sight. The director that night was Constantine Stanislavski.
It is important to know and understand that the year was 1898. Stanislavski had a slim background in directing actors. What he did have was an innate feeling for the truth, and a desire to change the pomp and circumstance that was part and parcel of the then Russian theater. Initially, Stanislavski actors were not the least bit creative. He staged the play as a dictator might. Not only did he tell the actors where to stand, sit, and move, but he also provided exacting line readings. His fierce desire to improve himself was a driving force in his lifelong study that was about to begin.
What I so personally admire about Stanislavski the innovator and teacher is what I got from him as a student. He was a man not unlike myself. I, of course, am not making a comparison of skills, but rather the acknowledgment, and lack of understanding he had at the beginning of his wondrous learning adventure.
I share with him in the belief that being a student is forever. Being an actor is a lifelong study. Answers reveal themselves when the student has lived and studied long enough in order to recognize the answers. And becomes wise enough to allow for each answer to not necessarily be that of the gospel. We develop along with our recognition that life oftentimes does not present us with the answers we happen to be in search of. Concurrently, our questions will forever remain an endless road representing a lifetime of query.
His system and ours is internal. We harvest our truth through and during a lifetime or in a mere momentary reflection.
Sights and sounds cannot be shared tomorrow in exactly the same way as they appeared today. The old childhood neighborhood revisited will be familiar, but somehow not the same.
And as Stanislavski proclaimed the wealth of our ever-changing environment, I found myself becoming a total believer. Your audience will be the informer, as well as your judge, jury, and provider for what can be the greatest passion in one’s lifetime.