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Stanislavsky, Konstantin Sergeevich
(real surname Alekseev). Born Jan. 5(17), 1863, in Moscow; died there Aug. 7, 1938. Soviet actor, stage director, teacher, and theorist of the theater. People’s Artist of the USSR (1936).
Stanislavsky laid the foundations of the modern theory of the theater. He created a school that represented a new era in the development of realism on the stage.
Stanislavsky’s parents belonged to progressive commercial and industrial circles, some of whose members were outstanding Russian cultural figures. A number of these, including P. M. Tret’ia-kov, A. A. Bakhrushin, and S. I. Mamontov, were on close terms with the Alekseev family. Stanislavsky first performed on a stage at home in 1877. Soon afterward, the Alekseev Circle, which presented translated vaudevilles and operettas, was formed. In this circle, Stanislavsky played many roles involving singing and dancing.
In 1888, Stanislavsky, together with the stage director A. F. Fedotov and the singer and teacher F. P. Komissarzhevskii, founded the Society of Art and Literature. In the society’s company, Stanislavsky performed the roles of the Baron in Pushkin’s The Covetous Knight, Ananii Iakovlev in Pisemskii’s A Bitter Fate, and Ferdinand in Schiller’s Love and Intrigue. Endowed with great talent, a vivid imagination, unusual charm, and outstanding stage presence, Stanislavsky continuously improved his craft, achieving fame as an outstanding actor.
The first plays Stanislavsky directed, including L. N. Tolstoy’s The Fruits of Enlightenment (1891) and Hauptmann’s The Sunken Bell (1898), reflected his attempt to break with outlived traditions and to find more refined means of communicating artistic truth on the stage. In 1898, together with V. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, Stanislavsky founded the Moscow Art Academic Theater (MKhAT), which was joined by actors of the Society of Art and Literature and students of Nemirovich-Danchenko from the School of Music and Drama of the Moscow Philharmonic Society. The first presentation was A. K. Tolstoy’s Tsar Fedor Ioannovich (1898; staged by Stanislavsky and A. A. Sanin). The true founding of the Moscow Art Theater and of a new trend in world theatrical art was linked with the staging of Chekhov’s The Sea Gull (1898; directed by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko). Later, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904) were also staged.
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko understood the verisimilitude, sensitivity, and innovativeness of Chekhov’s dramaturgy; they developed a distinctive manner of performing Chekhov’s plays and discovered new ways of revealing contemporary man’s spiritual life. The success of the performances resulted from the ensemble acting of the performers, who were united by a single creative method and by a common understanding of the play’s meaning. The acting, scenery, lighting, and sound effects constituted a unified artistic entity.
In 1902, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko staged M. Gorky’s Smug Citizens and The Lower Depths, plays filled with a presentiment of impending revolution. The sociopolitical orientation in the Moscow Art Theater’s repertoire was, as Stanislavsky stated, linked with Gorky’s dramaturgy. The presentation of Smug Citizens marked the first stage appearance of a new hero—the worker, summoned to fight for the transformation of society.
Classics of the Russian theater were innovatively staged by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko. They included Gri-boedov’s Woe From Wit (1906), Turgenev’s A Chain Is No Stronger Than Its Weakest Link (1912), and The Village of Stepanchikovo, adapted from Dostoevsky’s novella (1917), as well as Turgenev’s A Month in the Country (1909; staged by Stanislavsky and I. M. Moskvin) and Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird (1908; with L. A. Sulerzhitskii and Moskvin). During the period of literary decadence, Stanislavsky staged symbolist performances of Hamsun’s The Play of Life (1907) and Andreev’s Life of Man (1907). However, these performances convinced him that self-conscious and artificial stylization had a harmful influence on the art of acting.
Stanislavsky’s talent as an actor was many-sided. His portrayal of the title role in Doctor Stockmann (Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, staged by Stanislavsky and V. V. Luzhskii) was imbued with a spirit of struggle against the false morality and egoistic interests of bourgeois society. He performed the role of Satin in The Lower Depths with a romanticism and sweep that were truly in the spirit of Gorky. Stanislavsky’s Chekhovian roles—Astrov in Uncle Vanya and Vershinin in The Three Sisters —were marked by lyric charm, profound humanity, and spiritual strength. His gift for satire was revealed in the roles of Famusov in Griboe-dov’s Woe From Wit, Krutitskii in Ostrovskii’s Even a Wise Man Stumbles, and Argan in Moliére’s The Imaginary Invalid.
In the 1900’s, Stanislavsky developed his theory on the art of acting, which encompassed acting techniques and methods of staging plays and developing roles. Together with L. A. Sulerzhitskii, he organized the Moscow Art Theater’s first Studio (1912) in order to test and establish his method among young people.
The victory of the October Revolution of 1917 inaugurated a new period in Stanislavsky’s work. The plays he staged during the Soviet era were marked by depth and originality of direction, excellence of performance, and social relevance; they included Ostrovskii’s Fiery Heart (1926) and Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro. The presentation of V. Ivanov’s Armored Train 14–69 (1927; staged under Stanislavsky’s guidance, directed by I. Ia. Sudakov) was a landmark in the development of the Soviet theater and in the establishment of socialist realism on the stage. Stanislavsky also directed Leonov’s Untilovsk (1928), as well as Dead Souls, adapted from Gogol’s novel (1932), and Ostrovskii’s Talents and Admirers (1933).
Stanislavsky sought to reform the staging of the musical theater as well. In 1918 he became director of the Bolshoi Theater’s Opera Studio, later called the Opera Studio-Theater and then the K. S. Stanislavsky Opera Theater. The Opera Studio staged Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (1922) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride (1926). The theater was later known as the Moscow Music Theater. In 1935, Stanislavsky established the Opera and Drama Studio.
Stanislavsky never ceased his efforts to improve the art of staging. By the early 1930’s, he was on the threshold of new discoveries and was again becoming involved in studio and experimental activities.
Stanislavsky’s work, which was a total expression of realism on the stage, greatly influenced Soviet directing and acting and aided in the establishment of various theatrical trends. Abroad, outstanding stage figures have acknowledged the debt owed to Stanislavsky by the modern theater. Stanislavsky was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.
In 1948, a museum was established in K. S. Stanislavsky’s house in Moscow.
WORKSSobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1954–61.
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V. N. PROKOFEV