Stanislavsky, Konstantin Sergeyevich

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(18631938), actor, director, acting teacher.

The first creator of a comprehensive guide to actor training, Stanislavsky emerged as one of the most influential theater personalities of the twentieth century. His work continues to shape theatrical discourse into the twenty-first century.

Born Konstantin Sergeyevich Alexeyev to the wealthy Alexeyevs, he first performed in a fully equipped home theater outside Moscow. Because of his social class, he limited his theatrical ambitions to the amateur sphere. In 1888 he founded The Society of Art and Literature, a critically acclaimed theater club, where he established himself as an outstanding actor and emerging director. As his talents became known, he adopted "Stanislavsky" (1884) to protect his family name. In 1897 Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, playwright and head of the only acting school in Moscow, invited Stanislavsky to cofound The Moscow Art Theater (MAT) as a professional venture. The two agreed to produce plays of contemporary import, bring European stage realism to Russia, and ensure that the work of directors, designers, and actors would embrace unified dramatic visions. The theater opened with an historically researched production of Alexei Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich (1898). Anton Chekhov's The Seagull (1898) secured the company's fame. Stanislavsky directed and acted in productions such as premieres of Chekhov's plays (18981904), Henrick Ibsen's An Enemy of the People (1902), and Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths (1902).

In 1906 Stanislavsky lost inspiration as an actor and retreated to Finland in despair. The crisis induced his passionate desire to systematize acting. He devoted the rest of his life to collecting, developing, and teaching ways to control inspiration. His "System" went through continuous evolution incorporating the experience of great actors, behaviorist psychology, yoga, and other sources that illuminate the creative process. Stanislavsky's experimental stance caused friction, which ignited in 1909 when he applied his ideas to Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Nemirovich's hostility prompted Stanislavsky to transfer his experiments into a series of studios, adjunct to the main company, even as he continued to act and direct at MAT. The First Studio, founded in 1911, became his most famous laboratory, because it laid the System's foundation.

With the Bolshevik revolution, Stanislavsky and MAT were reduced to poverty. From 1922 to 1924, Stanislavsky toured Europe and the United States with the company's earliest and most famous productions in an effort to recoup financial stability. During this period, he also began to write, publishing My Life in Art in 1924. This period guaranteed his international influence.

Upon returning to Moscow, Stanislavsky faced growing Soviet control over the arts. His connections with the West and his production of Mikhail Bulgakov's play about White Russians, The Days of the Turbins (1926), came under attack. From 1934 to 1938, during the Soviet purges, Stanislavsky was weakened by an enlarged heart and confined to his home. Stalin simultaneously canonized the director's realistic work as the vanguard of Socialist Realism. Isolated from the wider world, Stanislavsky continued to write, teach, and develop his ideas in his home until his death in 1938 of a heart attack.

See also: bulgakov, mikhail afanasievich; chekhov, anton pavlovich; moscow art theater; socialist realism; theater


Benedetti, Jean. (1990). Stanislavski: A Biography. New York: Routledge.

Carnicke, Sharon Marie. (1998). Stanislavsky in Focus. London: Harwood/Routledge.

Smeliansky, Anatoly. (1991). "The Last Decade: Stanislavsky and Stalinism." Theatre 12(2):713.

Sharon Marie Carnicke

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Stanislavsky, Konstantin Sergeyevich

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