In Constantin Stanislavski’s third of his so-called ABC books, Creating a Role, he includes a chapter called “Creating the Physical Life of a Role.” Here is the crux of the chapter:
“My system is based on the close relationship of inner with outer qualities; it is designed to help you feel your part by creating a physical life for it.”
Tortsov (Stanislavski’s fictional director who imparts the knowledge in these books) requires his acting students to play the first scene of Othello—without script. Merely by creating the action as they remember it in the scene. What follows are some muddled and rather humorous attempts at making a believable entrance and performing the actions required to awaken a household at night. Tortsov has to lead his acting students step by step through the physical actions they would go through to obtain such an objective. Slowly, as they delve into the physical movements, the actors begin to “get it.” They begin to feel more comfortable in what they’re doing, and in fact, begin to feel their roles.
It is only when you seek out the physical truths of a series of actions, says Tortsov, that “your . . . faith in the actuality of your physical acts will follow of its own accord. And faith, in our kind of work, is one of the most powerful magnets to attract feelings . . .”
In my own work—writing—I wanted not to just to portray, but to really again feel joy. But, as Stanislavsky points out in his unique way, any emotion—whether portrayed on stage or felt in real life—doesn’t always come by our focusing on and pursuing the emotion itself. Sometimes the emotion must arise from action.
Tortsov tells his students, “You did not feel your parts intuitively, so I began with their physical life. This is something material, tangible, it responds to orders, to habits, discipline, exercise, it is easier to handle than elusive, ephemeral, capricious feeling . . . The spirit cannot but respond to the actions of the body, provided, of course, that these are genuine, have a purpose, and are productive.”
If the nickel ain’t droppin’ for you yet, read that paragraph again. In fact, it’s so good, it’s worth reading in any case.
“One of the most irresistible lures to our emotion lies in the truth and our faith in it,” concludes Tortsov. “An actor need only sense the smallest modicum of organic physical truth in his action or general state, and instantly his emotions will respond to his inner faith in the genuineness of what his body is doing.”
And so, as I planned an all-out attack for reconnecting with the joy in my writing in 2006, Stanislavski’s teaching came back to me. I knew the “physical action” for me lay in how I structure my work day. My actions lately had not been “genuine,” had not had strong “purpose,” and were certainly not “productive.” As my ideas for my story waned, I found myself floundering in general. Floundering led to yet more unproductivity. Which made me feel miserable. And misery led to overall fear that I would fail. In short, everything Stanislavsky taught proved true—in the negative form.
I was determined to make it positive.
Tomorrow—the few "action" steps I set for myself, and have put into practice this week.
Yesterday two people made almost the same comment, basically hoping to see if what I’ve discovered can be applied to life “across the board.” Now you know the answer. I’m wondering, as I’m sharing what I’ve learned—to what struggle in your life should Stanislavski’s teaching be applied?