Isaac Butler is an American writer and theater director. Anyone who
has watched the Hong Kong film “The King of Comedy” will be deeply impressed by the “Actor’s Self-cultivation” read by the actor played by Stephen Chow. This book is the work of Stanislavski, a master of drama art in the 20th century. Stanislavski created a whole set of drama teaching and performance system named after him, which has far-reaching influence. However, on the theater stage in today’s world, Brecht’s performance system, which advocates “defamiliarization effect” and “alienation method”, occupies a mainstream position, and Stanislavsky’s system is mainly carried forward in film performances, especially It’s an American movie.
Stanislavsky himself was both an actor and a director. Before he founded the Moscow Art Theater in 1897, the performance style advocated in the theater usually did not require actors to go deep into their hearts, but focused on learning a series of highly deliberate And exaggerated gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Stanislavski pushes the actor to find the overt and hidden motives that drive the actions of the characters, and draws on the actor’s own personal experiences to express emotion on stage. Stanislavski coined the term “Perezhivanie” specifically for this, meaning to experience both a fictional character and one’s real self at the same time. This doesn’t mean completely becoming the character, or losing yourself, but that the actor’s sense of self meets and merges with the consciousness of the character they are playing. Stanislavski believed that through this encounter, it was possible to reveal the inner depths of the human psyche.
Using “Perezhivanie” as a starting point, Stanislavsky created a rather complex theory of performing arts, containing a dizzying array of concepts, which he called “systems”. Stanislavsky is a director who is always in practice, and the “system” is a by-product of his practice, not an airtight aesthetic theory. He also always uses quotation marks when referring to the “system” in his articles to indicate its temporary nature.
In 1922, the Moscow Art Theater toured the United States for the first time, and its performances were so exhilarating that American audiences did not seem to mind that the dialogue was all in Russian. At about the same time, as a result of the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, two members of the Moscow Art Theater, Boleslavsky and Ospenskaya, went into exile in the United States, bringing Stanislavsky’s “system” to the United States as well. Many of their students would later gather in the Group Theatre, a left-wing arts collective founded in New York in 1931, whose members included Strasberg, Adler, and Kazan, among others. Strasberg later became the most important performance teacher in the United States in the 20th century, and Adler was his main opponent.
The Group Theater disbanded in 1941, and its members went on to found various artistic institutions, most notably the Actors Studio, founded by Kazan et al in 1948, before Strasberg joined and became its director in the 1950s People, where Strasberg developed a set of specific performance techniques called “method”, usually abbreviated with a capital M.
Stanislavski believed that actors must be able to read their own emotions at all times in order to understand the emotions of their characters. But Strasberg claimed that the only way to achieve authentic performance is the personal emotional experience that the actor stimulates by deeply evoking his own memory, and this personal emotion should be superimposed on the character’s emotion, or even replace the character’s emotion.
Based on this idea, Strasberg devised “emotional memory exercises” that pushed actors into their unexplored inner emotions. This exercise requires the actor to recall an emotionally intense personal experience by recreating its sensory details. For example, recalling the loss of a loved one in the hospital room brings back the beeping of the heart monitor, the smell of antiseptic in the room. Practitioners need to revisit these sensory details until they suddenly start to feel their emotions at the time. If this can be done, and learned to control it, the practitioner can use these emotions to make the performance feel real. The specific procedure is that the actor finds his emotion, then finds a way to let it show up, and then suppresses it in the way of the character. If there is still emotion after suppression, it should happen.
Stanislavski does sometimes encourage actors to evoke their personal memories, but he is far less committed to the practice than Strasberg. Strasberg forces actors to explore their most traumatic experiences in order to release emotion, in other words, to “act with your scars.”
Strasberg was a domineering, demanding teacher who was described by his colleagues as “a damned almost autocratic and frightening figure” as well as adorably charismatic. He strives to root out all traces of affectation in the actors’ performances, and his “method” undisputedly enhances the acting, but is also prone to lasting psychological damage to the actors. And to Strasberg’s critics, he trained actors to be a bunch of self-righteous mutterers, always prone to the neuroticism and self-loathing of their characters.
Strasberg’s opponent was Adler, who came from a family of performers, the son of a Jewish Yiddish dramatist. In the summer of 1934, Adler, who had worked with Strasberg at the Group Theater and had been suppressed by him, approached Stanislavski, who was touring in Paris at the time, and told him that his “system” was breaking down She’s acting fun. To her surprise and relief, Stanislavski sympathized with her complaints, explaining that Strasberg had got his “system” wrong and that he no longer focused on the actor’s personality in his teaching. Emotional memory, instead, advocates staying in the world of the play, emphasizing the specific motivations of characters in a series of specific circumstances.
When Adler conveyed this to the actors of the group theater, Strasberg angrily denied that he had placed too much emphasis on emotional memory, and then he declared that he did not teach Stanislavsky’s “system” but that he taught is the Strasberg “method”. Disgusted, Adler broke with the group theater and became a teacher herself, creating her own method of acting. She believes that great performance comes from the psychology of the character, not the psychology of the actor himself. The key is that the actor needs to know what the character he plays wants at every given moment. Strasberg regards the self as the raw material of performance, focusing on how to dig deeper into the actor’s self, while Adler insists on the separation of the role’s autonomy and the actor’s, and requires the actor to surpass himself and improve his soul to be competent. roles played.
In the 1950s, a new generation of actors, trained by the old staff of the group theater, began to emerge, including Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman and Marilyn Monroe. real character image. At first these actors were seen as outsiders in Hollywood, many of them coming from impoverished immigrant families and accused of lacking the glamor of classic movie stars of the golden age – such as Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant – not least because of their heavy ridiculed for their accent.
But it turns out that this group of actors is very suitable for film performance, because the camera needs to record the subtle changes in the actors’ expressions, small movements and gestures, and amplify the micro details. This is precisely the strength of the training method of the old staff of the group theater. In the 1950s, avant-garde theater became increasingly popular in the United States, and the “anti-naturalistic” performance methods of Brecht and Beckett gradually overwhelmed Stanislavsky’s “system” in the theater. However, it was during this period that Stanislavsky’s “system” began to take root in American cinematic performance art.
Marlon Brando is at the head of a new generation of actors. In 1947, he played the leading role in the play “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Unlike previous actors on stage, Marlon Brando did not speak a dramatic voice, but stammered and muttered like a real person. In order to keep the character real, Marlon Brando didn’t even speak his lines, but improvised in each performance, which made his British actress Jessica Tandy unable to handle it. Dondy, who was trained in classical British drama, denounced Marlon Brando as an “incredible, perverted bastard”. It’s an unintentional compliment, because Marlon Brando’s character is just such a guy, he’s one with the character. In 1951, the film version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” came out, and Marlon Brando became a world-famous star.
Although Marlon Brando is often considered the poster child for the “method” actor, he rejected that label, his relationship with Strasberg was shallow, and Adler’s mentorship nurtured his talent. In the acting class he opened, once, Adler asked the students to improvise the animals on the farm. The role of Marlon Brando was a hen, and the scene was that an atomic bomb was about to fall. Almost everyone in the class started running around, making all sorts of noises and exhibiting animal panic, except for Marlon Brando who staggered to his invisible chicken coop to sit on some imaginary eggs superior. His performance was praised by Adler, because it fits the latter’s philosophy: an actor should only care about what the character he plays cares about, neither more nor less, and if you are a hen, you don’t Not knowing what an atomic bomb means, you just focus on your eggs.
Adler never reconciled with Strasberg. When the latter died in 1982, she said happily: “Well, let’s go, he has finally stopped torturing actors.” Many people accused Strasberg of acting as a fake psychoanalyst, Particularly controversial was his direction of Monroe. Monroe began taking acting lessons with Strasberg in the mid-1950s and later hired his wife as her acting coach. Critics say the Strasbergs used Monroe’s fame to promote their Actors Studio while forcing Monroe to relive past traumas, including the sexual abuse she suffered as a child in several foster homes. As Monroe battled drug addiction, this type of training took a toll on her mental health, contributing to her suicide.
Overall, however, Strasberg and Adler formed the two wings of Stanislavsky’s “system” in the United States. When the movie “The Godfather” was released, Marlon Brando played the role of the older generation of godfathers. Al Pacino, who played the role of the new generation of godfathers, was a student of Strasberg. The supporting role of the older generation of godfathers, Robert De Niro, is a student of Adler. The great success of the “Godfather” trilogy marks that Stanislavsky’s “system” has become the mainstream of Hollywood performing arts.
Butler points out that whether an actor is trained by Strasberg or by Adler, the style and goal are essentially the same, both aimed at discovering the truth of American life through performance, and this This truth was previously buried deep in various protective mucks.
The popularity of the “Godfather” trilogy coincided with the “Watergate Incident” and the resulting investigation and impeachment of Nixon. The political corruption and moral depravity revealed by the exposure of the “Watergate” scandal have brought a general sense of disillusionment to American society. The performance art cultivated by Stanislavsky’s “system” creates an emotional connection between the audience and the characters, allowing the audience to experience, examine and reflect on the internal conflict and pain of American society more deeply than ever before.
During the Spring Festival this year, the TV series “Crazy Blast” was all the rage in China, and the acting skills of the leading actor Zhang Songwen were highly respected and had countless fans. Although Stanislavsky’s “system” has always been a compulsory course in Chinese performance education, it is still rare to see an actor like Zhang Songwen who has acquired the essence of it. Gao Qiqiang, played by Zhang Songwen, who has gradually become a gangster from a fishmonger, condenses the structural contradictions of an era in his facial expressions and gestures, which makes the audience feel moved and refreshed. Their cognition of the times and human nature . This is where the social value of performing arts lies.
Since the 1980s, as Hollywood blockbusters began to dominate the box office, producers and directors have relaxed their demands on acting skills. However, Stanislavsky’s “system,” and its American counterpart—Strasberg’s “method” and its antithesis—are not mere performance theories, whose value is not lost by fads, It is one of the major intellectual achievements of the 20th century, opening up a new vision of appreciating, examining and reflecting on human experience.
Isaac Butler is an American writer and theater director. Anyone who