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Nathan Thomas
The Chart
Scene4 Magazine-inView

march 2007

On a snowy Saturday morning in 1986 I wandered into "Studio B" at the University of Iowa for a class in Performance Theory.  The class really wasn't Performance Theory.  It was a semester-by-semester mish/mash of things.  In the spring of 1986 the course would center on the work of Stanislavski.  Part of the class would be led by Polish director Jan Skotnicki, also hired to direct a production of Chekhov's The Seagull

Before Skotnicki came to the USA, though, the course would be taught by a guest lecturer from the University of Illinois – Burnet Hobgood.    Sadly Professor Hobgood is no longer with us, but those few lectures provided a wealth of understanding to this Iowa farm-boy. 

I suppose that when I left my undergrad days my impression of Stanislavsky was not too far different from too many other undergraduates.  You hear his name in class.  You know he has something to do with motivation.  Wasn't he a realist?  Didn't he have something to do with Chekhov?  Maybe you read An Actor Prepares for an acting class, and even though you don't know half the plays he references in the books and the names are confusing, you pretend like you understand the lot.  And basically you pretend that you understand Stanislavsky.  But really, you don't.

Hobgood started the process of clarifying Stanislavsky for me. Hobgood had taken the time to do the research, to look into the questions, to try out ideas.  He showed a Stanislavsky who had achieved some clarity about what acting is and communicated that clarity to us.

As part of his teaching, Hobgood provided a series of handouts. One of those handouts was a chart that was published in Stanislavsky's complete works in Russia.  Other versions exist in different forms in books available in English, but not this artifact.  Hobgood's handout was very interesting in laying out some of Stanislavsky's ideas.

Since that time I've worked on improving my understanding of the elements involved.  I got some help from my friend, Svetlana, who worked as a professional translator.  And other folks have made further suggestions from time to time.

Is this chart the end-all and be-all of acting theory?  No.  Nor do I consider it to be.  Why bother with this?  Well, I'd observe that the greater portion of actor training is still an on-going conversation (positively or negatively) with Stanislavsky's work.  And some people argue against Stanislavsky's work. I would suggest it would be beneficial to argue against Stanislavsky's work rather than a ghost of an idea of Stanislavsky's work.  And it's useful to know where Stanislavsky argues against Stanislavsky.  For example, this chart – for the sake of visual representation I'd guess – takes a clear position in favor of a binary, dualistic vision of the 'inner' and 'outer' split of what an actor does.  I don't know that even Stanislavsky would agree with that idea as a clean, dualistic split of one from the other. But I see a man working very hard to communicate something as cleanly and as well as he possible could.

In the Russian works, there is a text explanation that accompanies the chart.  At the moment I'm unaware of those couple of pages being available in English.  So I offer here my own unpolished translation.

Recently I had dinner with a colleague who had studied with a master teacher from St Petersburg.  The Russian commented that reading Stanislavsky's books is only helpful if you understand Stanislavsky before you read.  Although somewhat counter-intuitive, that makes a kind of sense.  I'm hopeful that this offering will help spur further discussion and thought.

Stanislavsky Diagram-q.v.

Explanatory text by Stanislavsky, translation by Nathan Thomas.

No 1.  The first point is not easy to quickly describe: The art of the dramatic actor – the art within and outward action/operation.

No 2.  Second foundation:  The formula of A.S. Pushkin: "Truth [truism/God's truth] of the passion, verisimilitude [plausibility] we can sense proposed circumstances. . . "[1]

No 3.  Third foundation:  Subconscious creative work itself, in its own nature – across/over/through conscious, artistic psycho-technique.

Here, over these three principal foundations of our art are constructed two big platforms.

No 4.  Process perezhevania[2]: which we study in common line with

No 5.  Process of embodiment.

Here these platforms sit[3], precisely three vertical "organisms" "parade" in between the two enormous organs.

No 6, 7, 8. Three moving psychological parts vital to life: mind/wits, will, and conscious use of the senses (using previous researchwork to define/diagnose), or performance, opinion, and will-sense (using previous researchwork to define/diagnose).

No 9.  The new role and/or piece permeate the moving psychological life.  They fill up with the seed[4] and excitement of creative aspirations.

No 10.  Lines of impetus and aspiration of the actor's psychological life, supporting from within oneself the seed to fill the piece and the role.  At first aspirations are piecemeal, patchy, disorderly, and chaotic; but with a clearer foundation, positive creative construction continues – straightforward and building.

No 11.  The interior region of our moving spirit, our creative apparatus with everyone of its specific characteristics, talents, gifts, natural data, artistic habit/knack, psychological ideas, which we (as they say) call 'elements.'  They're necessary for the sake of fulfillment of the process of perezhevania.  'Basting,'[5] in line of everyday elements given one's personal shading – so, namely:

a)     Imagination and its inventiveness ("Item 6," proposed "marriage"    going well/getting on with the role. . . . painting

b)     Pieces and tasks. . . . painting

c)     Attention and senses . . . . . painting

d)     To act/Authenticity . . . . painting

e)     Sense of truth and belief . . . . painting

f)      Interior tempo-rhythm . . . . painting

g)     Emotional memory. . . . painting

h)     Communion . . . painting

i)      Adaptations. . . . painting

j)      Logic and consistency . . . . painting

k)     Interior characterization. . . . painting

l)      Interior stage fascination/charm/concentration . . . . painting

m)    Ethics and discipline. . . . painting

n)     Endurance/self-possession and completeness . . . painting

All of these to invigorate the actor's interior heart of hearts, where combustible engine of psychological vitality artistry (mind, will, sense of truth) at the same time grafting by name various elements to the heart of hearts of the role.  The active sight of these lines show how strong lines of impetus move through to the heart of hearts and encompass the "elements" of the artist.

No 12.  Along already being reborn, strong lines of impetus provide the engine of the psychological vitality and artistry of the role.  Compare the work before (No 10) and after passing lines of impetus (No 11) and see the difference.  Presently, little by little, the godmother of "elements" play, shade, and paint – painting the artist's self.

No 13.  This and the rope on the opposite side are knotty ropes which tie strong lines of impetus that provide the engine of psychological vitality; making the heartfelt condition that is the opposite of, as they say, the "Inner Stage Automaton."

No 14.  Here weaves each with each other, precisely in a braid, strong lines of impetus motoring psychological vitality in opposing lines of large tasks.  Presently afterwards is reborn converging on the role, as they say, "strong lines of transparent action."

No 15.  For the time being still imaginative, fix/define and finish the over-all task.

[1] "Sincerity of emotions, feelings that seem true in the given circumstances – that is what we demand from a dramatist."

[2] Perezhevania=experience/living through/to endure/ to suffer.  This is a 'derived' word.  The root 'pere' has some of the following definitions: 1. Action across or through 2. Repetition of action 4. Extension of action to encompass many or all objects or cases of a given kind 5. Division into two parts 6. Reciprocity of action.

[3] Sit – with the notion of sitting on, or moving toward, a throne.

[4] K.S. uses a Russian equivalent of 'semen' for seed to grow the role.  Here he is in line with 19th century medicine that semen provides the vital life force for birth to happen.  He is also extending the metaphor that the actor gives "birth" to the new role.  He also used the metaphor of the director as a "mid-wife" to help the actor give birth to the new role.

[5] In An Actor Prepares K.S. uses the metaphor of acting as eating a turkey.  If the meat is tough, it needs 'basting' with the 'gravy' of the elements below.

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About This Article

©2007 Nathan Thomas
©2007 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of the theatre faculty at Alvernia College.
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march 2007

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