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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Building a Character-Constantin Stanislavski, Chapters 1-6 Review

 Building a Character – Constantin Stanislavski
1950 – Methuen & Co. Ltd.

Chapter 1
Key Quotes:
“If you do not use your body, your voice, a manner of speaking, walking, moving, if you do not form characterization which corresponds to the image, you probably cannot convey to others it’s inner, living spirit”, page 5.
“Externally, it is not difficult to disguise yourself”, page 6.
In the first chapter, Stanislavski talks about his teacher, Tortsov making changes to his physical appearance and how it changes how everybody see’s him for example, when he squints his eye, Stanislavski says he didn’t see Tortsov, but a man with “knavery, slyness, grossness”, but once he abandoned the trick, he was normal and ‘recognisable’ again.  He also says that it’s difficult to change your physical appearance and for people to see the ‘real inner you’.
Chapter 2
Key Quotes:
“Who is he? Who is he?” page 14.
“Only those material things could prompt me to find what I had subconsciously been searching for”, page 14.
In the second chapter, Stanislavski is finding a costume for a masquerade the class is participating in.  He chooses one but by the time the masquerade comes about, he still hadn’t figured out ‘who’ his character was as this was also part of the assignment.  He decided to give in and not go up onto the stage with the rest of the class to be checked and started removing the make-up he had on but the make-up remover ended up smearing it all over his face and fake beard and hands.  He automatically changed his posture and got a cane.  He had found his person.  He went up onto the stage and gave a brilliant performance.  He described the experience as splitting his personality in half, instead of fully becoming the character, his ‘real seal’ spectator whilst the character controlled his actions and speech. 
Chapter 3
Key Quotes:
“The human being that you are is far more interesting and talented than the actor”, page 24.
“But they do not contain the essence of a character and they are not individualized”, page 27.
In the third chapter, Tortsov gives everybody feedback on their masquerade character.  He explains that you must love the role in you, not you in the role.  He also says that you can play a general military person for example but by giving them a name and a proper job title and unique gestures, you begin to find the essence of the character. He says that people can show their best and their worst traits of their personality when hidden behind their character but cant without the mask.
Chapter 4
Key Quotes:
“We need strong, powerful bodies, developed in good proportions, well set up, but without any unnatural excess”, page 39.
“The actor cannot stop to think, to doubt, the weigh considerations, to make ready and test him.  He must act, he must clear the jump at full gallop”, page 40.
Chapter 4 is all about posture and being physically ‘correct’ to be an actor.  Tortsov talks about professional athletes and how their physique isn’t ideal for an actor.  He also talks about how dance and gymnastics can correct physical flaws such as open the hips so the toes point outwards and broadening the gestures and finishing them properly.  Stanislavski also talks about his uncle visiting who is an actor and he comes with a fellow actor with whom he has a silent dispute with, using no words but tiny, almost unnoticeable finger twitches and movements.
Chapter 5
Key Quotes:
“In other words the left foot transfers the body weight at the same time that the right one takes it over”, (while talking about the incorrect way of walking) page 57.
“The things they used to do instinctively, now required the most conscious supervision and revealed how ignorant of anatomy and the locomotor muscles they were”, pages 58-59.
“I was learning how to walk.   But it was very difficult”, page 60.
“External plasticity is based on our inner sense of movement and energy”, page 71.
Chapter 5 is Tortsov teaching his class fluidity in movement.  He has them take ballet lessons and acrobatics as some of their postures are wrong.  It is a continuation of chapter 4 but develops from being physically ‘correct’ statically but to in movement as well.  He inspects the way they walk.  None are correct.  Briefly, the correct way to walk is to swing your leg forwards, adjust its alignment with the knee, place the foot on the ground heel first and transfer the weight all the way down the foot until you are balancing on your big toe.  There should be a brief moment of floating before the other leg repeats this process.  He was also teaching them to move their arms, spine and legs fluidly.  He set a metronome on the slowest setting and every quarter beat; he moved a different part of his arm.  Elbow up first, then straighten the arm, raise the wrist and then the fingers and back down.  The students then did it and he broke down the counts so they had to do each part in smaller parts until the arm was moving fluidly.
Chapter 6
Key Quotes:
“Extra gestures are the equivalent of trash, dirt, spots”, page 73
“Every actor should so harness his gestures that he will always be in control of them and not they of him”, page 73
“An excessive use of gestures dilutes a part as water does goo wine”, page 74.
Chapter 6 is all about restraint and control.  Tortsov tells the class about a conductor of an orchestra who with delicate touches of the baton drew out everything possible out of the instruments and the souls of the musicians as apposed to wafting his arms around which doesn’t have the same affect.  He also told of an art teacher who when he looked at a students piece of work, he saw nothing, it didn’t ‘speak’ to him so he took a paint brush and dabbed a tiny bit of paint on a blank piece of the canvas.  Suddenly, it came alive.  “Art begins with the slightest of touches”, he said.  This can also be applied with drama, music and dance.


  1. Such an amazing post. This was inspiration for my soul, to continue the construction my novel, play, songs and some ideas, though I am not a dancer, to choreograph a dance.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for those kind words, I am very grateful. I would recommend the book, it's a very insightful read and was obviously the inspiration for this post. I'm glad that in turn, you have been inspired and wish you luck with your future projects.
      Thanks a lot,