“On the stage we live on emotional memories of realities.” (pg 307)
I admit, before I started reading Stanislavski’s book, An Actor Prepares, I felt apprehensive. I heard from numerous sources that it would be difficult to wade through all the excess wording and examples to get to the heart of the matter. While I did have to do some sifting, I didn’t mind, because I would up with multiple jewels of knowledge, both true to the stage and to life.
Finding Stanislavski’s thesis proved difficult, for he never says it outright until very close to the ending. I like this, though, because I felt as though I was learning as the fictitious characters in the book learned. Stanislavski’s thesis appears to be that: “An artist must have full use of his own spiritual, human material because that is the only stuff from which he can fashion a living soul for his part.” (pg 328) To arrive at such a place, we must grasp and encompass three important features in our creative process: 1. inner grasp, 2. through line of action, and 3. the super objective. This, in turn, will result in the region of the subconscious (pg 303).
Logically, these make sense, even if we cannot conceptually grasp them completely. Basically, as actors, we must come to an understanding of the character. We must think his/her thoughts as if they are our own thoughts, and mix our own self into their world. Our actions must lead towards the super-objective. We must find the super-objective of the play and make all our smaller objectives fit under that main objective. The actions follow logically if the true super-objective can be understood. But above all, we must play the truth. We must believe in the characters, the setting, the actions, and the super-objective, for if we do not, or if we try to force an action or feeling, the whole thing becomes false. Truth on the stage is whatever we can believe in with sincerity, whether in ourselves or in our colleagues. (pg 142) Stanislavski said it best at the beginning of the book when the Director told one of his students, “You did not act anything, and that was the best part.” (pg 38) You cannot act, you are.
However, it must be noted that you cannot completely give yourself over to a part and lose yourself in it. “Never lose yourself on the stage. Always act in your own person, as an artist. You can never get away from yourself. The moment you lose yourself on the stage marks the departure from truly living your part and the beginning of exaggerated false acting.” (pg 192)
This seems to be a contradiction, yet it is not. The material and the character mix with our own life and inner self. This is the best kind of acting. “Always and forever, when you are on the stage, you must play yourself. But it will be in an infinite variety of combination of objectives, and given circumstances which you have prepared for your part, and which have been smelted in the furnace of your emotion memory.” (pg 192) I love this idea of combining yourself and your character. It is something that strikes a chord in the depth of my soul, for I know it to be true. To truly act a part, to actually become a character, you must first find bits of yourself in the character; and then within yourself, you find bits of the character. How poetic! There is a piece of every character I have ever played within me, and all of the characters I have ever played contain a piece of myself in them. “That closeness to your part we call perception of yourself in the part and of the part in you.” (pg 329) Without being able to find a bit of yourself in a character, however small it may be, you cannot play that character justice. I believe that there is always something in someone that will speak to you. It’s why humans connect with each other. There is something universal, or appealing, or similar within someone else that is also within us.
I found lots of other jewels of truth in Stanislavski’s book. I am including some of them in this paper so that I never forget them. “Every person who is really an artist desires to create inside of himself another, deeper, more interesting life than the one that actually surrounds him.” (pg 47) Ah, how true. Although, as I say practically every day, the life of Erin Almand is anything but ordinary. How lucky I am that I can say this! My life is full of spirited adventure, hilarious moments, poetry, passion, inspirations, desires to save the world, and lots of laughter. This is helpful; it is a necessity for my artistic spirit. “A real actor must lead a full, beautiful, varied, exacting, and inspiring life.” (pg 207) Anything else would leave me unfulfilled.
Other things I found important include this idea: “An actor lives, weeps, and laughs on the stage, and all the whole he is watching his own tears and smiles. It is this double function, this balance between life and acting that makes art.” (pg 288) Gary once told us in Acting 1 class that we should always, at every moment, be watching ourselves. Even in moments of tragedy, falling in love, wild abandonment, happiness, sadness, heartbreak, anger, and everything in between to catalogue our emotions, thoughts, and physicality. The actor within us steps back and says, “Oh, this is what it means to feel _____.”
I also found poetry in An Actor Prepares. He writes, “Nothing in life is more beautiful than nature.” (pg 100) I agree with every fiber of my being. If I need inspiration, or a moment to reflect on beauty, or to find my place in the world again, I simply have to slow down and look at the nature around me. How great is our God, who blessed me with acting talents and a desire to save the world, with compassion and a joy that surpasses understanding. I look at His creation, the landscape and the air and the sea and the animals and plants and humans that inhabit it, and I am in utter awe. Everything points to a loving, living, fantastic creator who made us for a purpose. How stunning, and breath taking, and I feel great and small all at once.My two ultimate favorite quotes from the book are: “Let me have your feelings without any words, just through your eyes…But I cannot put all the shading of my feelings into the expression of my eyes.” (pg 232) and “On the stage we live on emotional memories of realities.” (pg 307) This, this is the stuff of poets.