Konstantin Stanislavsky - Biography

Defined by many as the father of psychological realism in acting, Konstantin Stanislavsky honed his renowned method within the Moscow Art Theater, which he co-founded in 1897. Stanislavsky’s system has become known worldwide as one of the most effective in the study of the art of acting.

Konstantin Stanislavsky was born into a wealthy Russian family, the Alekseevs, in 1863. Stanislavsky was his stage name, which he took to preserve the reputation of his family; they were not ashamed of his work but in those days in Russia acting wasn’t considered an honorable activity. He strove all his life to change that perception and to show what a profound and difficult profession it is. Konstantin’s father owned factories that manufactured gold and silver braiding for military decorations and uniforms. Stanislavsky first performed as an actor at their home theater built for the entertainment of the family and friends. It was then that Konstantin started what would become a life-long series of notebooks filled with critical observations on his acting, aphorisms and problems. And it was from this habit of self-analysis that his world-famous system later emerged.

Stanislavsky preferred not to attend university, but worked in the family business. Although in 1885 he studied briefly at the Moscow Theater School where students were encouraged to mimic the theatrical tricks and conventions of their tutors. Disappointed by this approach, he left after little more than two weeks.

By the age of twenty-five, Stanislavsky was well-known as an amateur actor. With the resources of his family, he invited some of the most creative people in town to establish a society that would unite amateur and professional actors and artists. They called it the Society of Art and Literature. It had a dramatic, an operatic and a musical section, as well as one for graphic arts. The drama and opera sections each had a school. To research the curriculum of the Society's drama school, Stanislavsky spent the summer of 1888 studying the classes and performances of the Comédie-Française in Paris. The Society's school was to offer classes in dramatic art, the history of costume, make-up, drama, Russian literature, aesthetics, fencing and dancing. Under the auspices of the Society, Stanislavsky performed in plays by Molière, Frederick Schiller, Aleksandr Pushkin and Nikolay Ostrovsky, as well as gaining his first experiences as a director. With the guidance of his fellow Society directors, Stanislavsky finally abandoned the operatic conventions and theatrical clichés in his acting that he had mimicked from other actors' performances.

In 1889, Stanislavsky married Maria Lilina (the stage name of Maria Perevostchikova), with whom he had just performed in the Society’s production “Intrigue and Love.” Their first child, Ksenia, died of pneumonia in May 1890. Their second daughter, Kira, was born in 1891. Three years later Maria gave birth to their son Igor.

While working on Aleksey Pisemsky's historical play “Men Above the Law,” Stanislavsky discovered his "principle of opposites," as expressed in his aphoristic advice to the actor: "When you play a good man, try to find out where he is bad, and when you play a villain, try to find where he is good.” Stanislavsky insisted that the actors learn their parts thoroughly, almost entirely removing the prompter from the Society's productions. ...

Russiapedia Cinema and theater Prominent Russians


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