Off-Cut: One

In 1996 the Australian Screen Directors Association held a craft weekend in Melbourne in conjunction with the National Performers Conference. I suggested there be a session to discuss the 'pros and cons' of the Stanislavski process. The session was titled "Stanislavski or Not…" and the three speakers were GEORGE WHALEY who is Head of the Directing Course at the Australian Film and Television School, dramaturg and actor NICO LITHOURIS and Head of Drama at the Victorian College of the Arts LINDY DAVIES.

George is an actor with extensive theatre experience who also has a long list of credits as a director of theatre. He has also directed television and has a feature film to his name. He opened the discussion exploring the topic from an historical perspective - giving Stanislavski not so much the ownership of the concepts as the credit for documenting it. So from the beginning it was an historical document. The great thing about history is that it provides the foundations of what we are now and is therefore the base on which the future is built.

Everyone took home strong, even inspiring, images from this discussion and my scant notes reveal in a rather plain way the thoughts that remained with me from this very lively debate which was a highlight of this conference. George reflected upon the fact that, "Any so-called system does not remain stationary - it changes every day" and Stanislavski himself was most significantly an on-going part of that change. There were now many interpretations of Stanislavski's work and they all "try to break down the body versus mind connection for the actor". The system be believed enabled "a succinct and to the point language" and was "not only applicable to naturalistic or realistic styles as Stanislavski himself liked melodrama".

In reflecting upon our interaction with history and also with the creative process George suggested that ultimately…"There are no answers - just some really interesting questions".

Everyone in the room seemed to agree.

I don't recall and my notes don't reveal Nico ever referring to Stanislavski. This was an impassioned and personal perspective from a dedicated actor and an enthusiastic explorer/challenger of the acting process.

Nico's images are taut and potent.
He explored his view that "Imagination is only preparation".
And that - "To act is not to imagine. And to imagine is not to act."
A strong advocate of an energetic and interactive process Nico said "Attention to the 'other' is the canvas you paint on, the clay you mould."

Inspiring trust in our own individual skills he pursued such thoughts as, "The path to true knowledge is one to be traveled alone" and that there was only one real goal - that of improvement. "Improvement is the essential".

He was also typically challenging, insisting that there were only two components - you and the text. Encouraging trust in ourselves he argued that "Playing the character is a negative. The character is an illusion a fiction."
There is only YOU.
It seemed as if we were all holding our breath.

Everyone in the room agreed.

Lindy simply stated the fact that as an actor she couldn't play a Stanislavski 'action'. It just didn't work for her. She convincingly explored a world in which the actor was not bound down by someone else's conventions but was free to find their own way to the performance threshold. And as she was talking at a conference organized by directors she focused strongly on the director's responsibilities in this area.

The director must, she said:-

  • "Create an environment where the actor can act freely". This means,
    • "Positive regard for the actor's skills"
    • "And a good script"
  • "Give clear parameters - give the actor the frame - don't tell them howto do it."
  • "Have clarity of intention."
  • "Have an approach to Performance."

And of rehearsal she said, from the actor's point of view "Speaking is difficult - rehearsal is the journey to the word."

Everyone agreed.

November 1996



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