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What is the Stanislavski Method of Acting?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 23, 2024
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Developed in the early 20th century at the Moscow Art Theater by Constantin Stanislavski, the Stanislavski method of acting is a set of techniques meant to create realistic portrayals of characters. The major goal of the Stanislavski method is to have a perfect understanding of the motivations, obstacles, and objectives of a character in each moment. Actors often use this technique for realistic plays, where they try to present an accurate portrayal of normal life. It is not the same as "Method Acting," which goes even further into becoming a character.

Three Core Elements

To begin employing the Stanislavski method, actors generally go over the script very carefully, looking for key identifying factors. A performer discovers what a character wants, what prevents the character from getting it, and what means the character will use to achieve this goal. These concepts are frequently referred to as "objective," "obstacle," and "method." Actors must also determine the given circumstances of every scene, such as where the scene takes place, what is in the room, and what is going on in the outside world.

Beginning with Objectives

To identify the objective clearly, an actor breaks down a scene into “beats” or “bits,” which are short sections that end with each change of objective. In a basic example, if a character pours a cup of coffee, answers the phone, and then runs screaming out of the house, the scene has at least three separate beats. At the bare minimum, the objective changes from pouring coffee, to answering the phone, to getting out of the building. Beats are not determined on action alone, however, and may be based on a change of argument or emotion.

Actors can define objectives even within individual lines of dialogue, based on a concept called “objective words.” It is the actor’s job to understand and play the character’s objective not only in the entire play or film, each scene, and each beat, but also in each line. Determining what the key motivation is behind each line is a basic practice in the Stanislavski method.

The "Magic If"

In order to help actors portray the honest objective of the character, Stanislavski pioneered a concept called the “magic if.” To help connect the character to the actor, performers must ask themselves “What if this situation happened to me?” Through this activity, actors identify with characters as possible aspects of themselves, allowing them to think like the characters, rather than just impersonate them.

Obstacles and Methods Within a Scene

Obstacles are things preventing a character from achieving his or her objective. In the previous scene, if the character trips while trying to run, it would present an obstacle to the objective of getting out of the house. Obstacles are dealt with through one of three methods: the character gives up the objective because of it, finds a way to go around it, or plunges along regardless. The method a character chooses in dealing with obstacles gives great insight into that character; the basis for much of the Stanislavski method lies in defining how and why a character chooses a particular response.

The Internal Monologue

Understanding the objectives and methods of a character allows a performer to create an internal monologue for that character. Real people typically have a semi-constant flow of thoughts going on in their minds, and the Stanislavski method attempts to create a similar internal monologue for a character. This technique helps each action feel as if it comes spontaneously, rather than simply because the script says it should happen. Actors also use this monologue to help them prevent a scene from becoming repetitious or dull even after many performances.

Differences from "Method Acting"

Due of its emphasis on realism, the Stanislavski method is often used in modern plays, film, and television. It should not be confused with Lee Strasberg’s “Method Acting,” however, which involves an actor attempting to completely become a character. The Stanislavski method maintains that a performer must remain somewhat separate from the character, in order to properly understand his or her motivations and goals.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for Musical Expert. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By anon978978 — On Nov 23, 2014

I think this has changed acting for the better and every acting piece contains at least one of the elements of Stanislavski without even meaning to, excluding pantomimes.

By anon330938 — On Apr 19, 2013

Why did Stanislavski use the given circumstances? I need more info on the given circumstances for my gcse drama exam in three weeks.

By anon325685 — On Mar 17, 2013

Wonderful and clear description of "Beats."

By anon174135 — On May 09, 2011

You are an absolute life saver. Thank you!

By anon138159 — On Dec 30, 2010

Character mood intensity is the key.

By anon109341 — On Sep 07, 2010

As this article says, the Stanislavsky system is not method acting. Many people often confuse the two as Lee Strasberg, an actor and director later turned teacher, developed method acting under the influence of the Stanislavsky "method". They are not the same. Very good article for beginners. But, beginners please do your research yourself so that you can distinguish between the two. I believe it will help you on your journey to becoming a better actor.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 06, 2010

Sneakers41- The Stanislavski system is what is referred to as method acting. Students would perform unrelated tasks that allowed the actor to become more creative. This creative energy allows the actor to really understand the heart of the character.

Michael Chekhov was a student of Stanislavki. He also became a famous actor and director in his own right.

By sneakers41 — On Aug 06, 2010

Some acting tips for entering the field of acting is to have professional head shots made and take some acting classes.

If you receive an audition, it is best to research the character’s role. For example, if the prospective role involves an alcoholic that continually loses relationships because of the alcoholism, an actor seeking to play this role might go to AA meetings in order to truly understand what this problem is like.

He or she might also read about alcoholism and watch programs regarding like minded people.

This deep understand of what the character has gone through allows the actor to truly transform his or herself and become that character.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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