The S Word: Stanislavski and the Future of Acting
Professor Michael Early, Principal and Chief Executive, Rose Bruford College
Acting, of course, has a future. Since the writings of Stanislavski, when certain cornerstones about the habits, psycho-physicality and craft of the performer were first articulated in any sophisticated or systematic way, acting has had many futures across the 20th and into the 21st centuries. I am sure this symposium, as many like events before it, will re-chart the journeys that Stanislavski’s theories have taken. But what I expect it will also do is reveal new thinking and new routes in that journey.
Why the importance of Stanislavski at Rose Bruford College? When Rose Bruford opened her College here in Sidcup in the 1950s, Stanislavski was a fundamental part of the teaching. Both before and after the Second World War Stanislavski’s ideas had had a profound influence on British theatre as it most certainly had on American theatre. Important actors like John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave and others were attracted to Stanislavski’s ideas about acting that could give shape and substance to an actor’s work. They and others even wrote about these ideas hoping to give shape to a British view of the ‘system’. The influence of Russians who had come to work in Britain—Michael Chekhov, albeit briefly as a teacher at Dartington, and director/producer Theodore Komisarjevsky (whose father had been Stanislavski’s teacher)—added to the mixture of influences that were shaping both classical and contemporary approaches to British acting. More will be spoken about these influences at this symposium.
But the most significant reason for our connection to Stanislavski, and the foundation of our Stanislavski Archive here at the College, was the work of Jean Benedetti, who was both a graduate of Rose Bruford College and then its Principal from 1970 to 1987. During that time Benedetti became the best-known British interpreter of Stanislavski and the System. His translation of Stanislavski’s autobiography, My Life in Art (1974, revised in 2008), was followed by a bestselling handbook for acting students, Stanislavski: An Introduction (1982). His Stanislavski: A Biography (1988), the first and still the only account of Stanislavski’s life in English, was a book he expanded and revised over the years. Since I was his publisher and editor at Methuen Drama I know how much of his time was devoted to a detailed and intense investigation of Stanislavski, much of that time spent in Moscow where research by Western scholars was not always easy and the archives rather restrictive. His short summary Stanislavski and the Actor (1998), based on his new findings, would eventually be followed by the long-awaited re-translations from Routledge of Stanislavski’s most seminal texts, which Benedetti based on Stanislavski’s final Russian manuscripts and published versions: An Actor’s Work (2008) and An Actor’s Work on a Role (2009). These books at last challenged perceived deficiencies in other long-standing translations and versions. Though Benedetti’s translations, in time, may also be contested, they set a new standard in Stanislavski research and research into the process of acting. And his seminal work, I suspect, will be a guiding spirit over the next three days of The S Word.