More than ‘Dead Pet Acting’: Legacies of Stanislavsky

Ian Maxwell

Abstract


It is easy to misunderstand Konstantin Stanislavsky. He is reviled by the left, champions of Brecht, for his bourgeois humanism; ignored by the poststructuralists, champions of Artaud, for his arch-modernism; claimed by the psychoanalysts of the Actors Studio as the inventor of the Method. His achievements are rendered as a unified, completed corpus—a theory— characterized in uncomplicated opposition to the equally unproblematized “theory” of his compatriot, collaborator and friend, Vsevolod Meyerhold. Meyerhold’s topography of the actor, goes the story, followed the logic of the (William) Jamesian schema (famously: “I saw the bear, I ran, I felt afraid”) to produce an “outside-in”, “physical” theory of acting. Stanislavsky, in contrast, worked from the inside out, producing a “psychological” theory of acting; the theory that, notwithstanding the political/formalist diversions of Brecht, won out in the grand narrative of theatre history.

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