Now I come to how I use the ideas of Stanislavsky as a disabled person/person who is ability challenged/person of lesser ability (sic!).
Although his (primarily) American students have stressed the notion of emotional memory, Stanislavsky himself preferred to talk mainly about Beats, Units, Objectives and Superobjectives. The therapy-like unpicking of an actor’s emotional past as a means to unlocking her empathic understanding of a role is, largely, the gift to drama of Lee Strasberg, The Actor’s Studio, and method acting.
To confuse method acting with Stanislavsky’s System is primarily a confusion of translation and of a partial reading of Stanislavsky’s books.
The understanding of his term beat is another example of this confusion.
Strasberg struggled to grasp the meaning of beat, and almost seemed to use it in a musical sense, which makes it very difficult to apply to the fluid experience of life, or to the flexible experience of a character, on stage or on film. The term began to be used after Stanislavsky’s tour of America, and the term was the result of his Russian accent. He had been asked how an actor should build her role in rehearsal, and he had replied, “Bit by bit”.
It is on such mispronunciations that entire theories are built!
What he was actually describing was, in fact, the way we do anything, the way we learn a part, the way we live.
Being alive in the world is the same thing as building a character. It just takes longer in life than for a theatrical character.
In one way, he was implying that the actor has been doing it without thought for the whole of her life, but when applied to an actor, who already has a fully-developed character of her own, much of which will be different and contradictory to the required stage personality, to create a new role bit by bit requires a focus that is single-minded and child-like.
Here, I find that Stanislavsky’s advice on bit by bit creation useful, not only as a rehearsal tool for the actor, but as advice on how to operate as a disabled person in a world that is as alien to me as a character and a set are to an actor.
Take, for example, the stage direction, He makes a cup of tea. Life is made up of strings of such directions, and each one is a nightmare of its own.
Just as you can be overwhelmed by the direction, He passes her driving test, or She passes her degree in nuclear physics, so I can be overwhelmed by the making of a hot drink, or by getting into wet weather clothing.
So, the Stanislavsky approach to making a cup of tea would run thus:
- Making a cup of tea is too much to do all in one go.
- First, I must fill the kettle.
- First I must hold the handle of the kettle. I will call this getting hold of the kettle Beat 1.
- Beat 2 is to fill the kettle.
The next beat is unimportant, and, if you think about it now, will simply be a distraction, a weakening of your focus on the task. When someone is aware of more than the present beat, that is when accidents happen, when the boiling water misses the teapot, or when the next move or line is forgotten.
Everything I do has to be broken down like this, not because there is a danger of me forgetting how to make a cup of tea, or have a shower, or whatever, but because my mind gets overloaded with unresolved gestalten or tasks and it’s then that I make mistakes.
To a greater or lesser extent, this is true for all of us.
Stanislavsky was the first behavioural psychologist, and I offer this as a technique for mindfulness.
It is called thinking of one thing at a time, living in the present, being in the zone, having Buddha-nature. Simple . . . !