A journal of turn-of-the-century theatre

Issue 4 - Summer 2012

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ISSN 2045-1024


Stanislavski Studies - a new e-journal
reviewed by Paul Elsam

One of the key figures at work during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was actor, director and (eventually) writer Konstantin Stanislavski. Writing at a point when the science of psychology was still learning to walk, Stanislavski put down on paper a structured approach to the inner and outer art of acting that has still to be matched. My own Methuen book Acting Characters draws heavily on the great Russian’s ideas and techniques. My teaching of acting technique at England’s Academy of Live and Recorded Arts begins with a Stanislavski-inspired search for a valuable item that isn’t actually there.

A robust and skilfully-connected methodology presents challenges for future generations. Imagine a vehicle that is made with such high-quality materials that, when correctly used, it never breaks. Such a thing could exist; it doesn’t because, variously, it would be prohibitively expensive; because fashion dictates that styles change; and because the motor industry would grind to a halt for lack of new orders.

Like car designs, acting styles have changed radically in the last hundred years or so. Unlike within the car industry, however, the first proper model to succeed still works. Most of Stanislavski’s ideas for developing actors continue to work astonishingly well. There have been numerous attempts to improve, revise, adapt; but a straightforward system that relaxes and reassures nervous performers, provides smart models for de- and reconstruction, and helps actors to focus on giving a brilliant and selfless performance, will always retain its value.

This is why I welcome the new e-journal Stanislavski Studies. Produced by England’s Rose Bruford College of Theatre in collaboration with Russia’s St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy, the journal’s free-to-download first edition provides a rich if small mix of articles written from a variety of international perspectives. It’s unwilling to pull its punches: I think my jaw actually fell open at John Gillett’s brave rage against the ‘culture of dependency and the creation of gurus and disciples’ (Gillett, 18) that have dogged Stanislavski’s legacy since others decided they knew better. Gillett’s scholarly romp through the landscape of actor training even manages to boldly sideswipe iconic iconoclast and sworn Stanislavski sceptic David Mamet. Great stuff.

This first edition of Stanislavski Studies provides important scholarship that insists on re-examining the underground spring, as it were, at the source of the great river. Editorial Board members help out here. Bella Merlin, actor, writer, Russian-speaker and a USA-based professor, proffers a nuanced and forensic comparison of Russian-to-English translations to fuel her ire at the mysterious vanishing of the Stanislavski-preferred terms ‘spirit’ and soul’ (‘mind’ is one of the disappointing alternatives offered). Sergei Tcherkasski goes a step further, tracking painstakingly back to original Stanislavski archives to provide an impressive historiographical analysis that reveals a deep yogic influence on our man that was airbrushed away by Soviet censors. Intrigued? You will be. Try it while the first edition is still available free-of-charge. Visit

Gillett, J. “Experiencing or pretending - are we getting to the core of Stanislavski’s approach?,” Stanislavski Studies 1 (February 2012).

Merlin, B. “‘Where’s the spirit gone?’ The complexities of translation and the nuances of terminology in An Actor’s Work and an actor’s work,” Stanislavski Studies 1 (February 2012).

Tcherkasski, S. “ Fundamentals of the Stanislavsky System and Yoga Philosophy and Practice,” Stanislavski Studies 1 (February 2012).