Stanislavsky and Pavlov’s Dogs

The last few lessons I have been working with my class on psycho-physicality in relation to Stanislavky’s system. The students have been exploring how to make their invisible thoughts and feelings visible and how physical actions have an impact on their emotional state. This entry for teachers outlines some of the exercises that I used with students and also lists some resources for teachers to use in class.

Asking the questions

After a couple of lessons exploring the basics of the System, the students started to explore emotional memory and MPA (Method of Physical Actions) in imaginary circumstances. After working them through relaxation techniques and clearing the mind, the students were ready to explore who they were, how they would behave in imaginary circumstances and started to explore what truth is in humanity. We related our work to the following quote from ‘Creating a role’ (Stanislavsky. London: Methuen, 2000. p262):

‘The ‘living word’ is one in which the roots run down into one’s soul, they feed on one’s feelings; but the stem reaches up into the consciousness where it puts fort luxuriant foliage of eloquent verbal forms, conveying all the deep emotions from which they can draw vitality.’

Below are the questions that the students asked, with their answers:

Question: Is there some scientific evidence to illustrate his theory about the connection between the psychological and the physical, in relation to Pavlov’s research?

Answer: Yes. At the same time that Stanislavsky was working on psycho-physicality Pavlov was researching conditioned reflexes. Stanislavsky was looking for conscious means to control our reactions while Pavlov and Sechenov confirmed the correctness of Stanislavsky’s thesis, that the whole complex inner life of moods, desires, reactions and feelings, is expressed through a simple physical action.

Question: How does the MPA enable an actor to maintain control of emotion and inspiration?

Answer: The physical and psychological in humans are connected therefore truthful fulfilment of physical action involves truthful emotions. The physical action and also word are the ‘bait’ for emotion.

Sources:

Stanislavsky and America” Ed Munk, Fawcett. 1964

“Interview with Stella Adler”, Gray; ibid

“The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit”, Merlin, Nick Hern, 2007.

Question: What was the influence of Darwin’s works on Stanislavsky’s theory?

Answer: Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” had a large impact on Stanislavsky and the book caused a worldwide stir, and eventually influenced realism, the movement which Stanislavsky was part of. Darwin’s series suggested that we were all had a common ancestry, and that life was a “survival of the fittest”. This meant that people were controlled by hereditary and environment, behaviours were beyond our control, and humanity is a natural object rather than being above all else. Darwin’s impact on Russia created the belief that all scientific theories were discoverable, including Stanislavsky’s. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals was published. Darwin argued here, in a detailed study of animals and people that included photographs by Guillaume Duchenne,that our expressions of emotion are universal (that is innate, not learned) and the product of our evolution. Darwin discussed facial expressions, holding that gestures are socially learned, although other scientists were to include gestures as part of the supposed universal language. This lead to Stanislavsky’s belief that expressions and gestures could not be “acted”, but the actor had to feel certain emotions to make a performance convincing.

Sources:

“The Stanislavsky System of Acting.” The Stanislavsky System of Acting. Cambridge University Press, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2013.

“Realism Theatre.” Realism Theatre. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2013.

Putting it in the present, relevant

My students then went home and pondered their work in their journals, and thought further about external and internal impact on action and emotion. One of my students then emailed me a youtube link to Derren Brown – The Experiments: The Guilt trip . This is a very interesting program, that you may want to share with your students, about how a man can be trained to feel certain emotions, stimulated by sounds and certain touches. There are more in the series, that will bring about inspirational discussions about truth.

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