The Inner Creative State | An Actor Prepares | Constantin Stanislavski
The Inner Creative State
An Actor Prepares
“WHEN YOU HAVE assembled the lines along which your inner forces move, where do they go? How does a pianist express his emotions? He goes to his piano. Where does a painter go? To his canvas, his brushes and colours. So, an actor turns to his spiritual and physical creative instrument. His mind, will and feelings combine to mobilize all of his inner ‘elements.’
“They draw life from the fiction which is the play and make it seem more real, its objectives better founded. All this helps him to feel the role, its innate truthfulness, to believe in the actual possibility of what is happening on the stage. In other words, this triumvirate of inner forces takes on the tone, colour, shadings and moods of the elements they command. They absorb their spiritual content.
They also give out energy, power, will, emotion and thought. They graft these living particles of the role onto the ‘elements.’ From these grafts there gradually grow what we call the ‘elements of the artist in the role.’ ”
“Where are they headed?” was asked.
“To some point far away, to which the plot of the play lures them. They move forward towards creative objectives, pushed by inner longings, ambition, and by movements inherent in the character of their parts. They are drawn by the objects on which they have concentrated their attention, into contact with the other characters. They are fascinated by the artistic truthfulness of the play. And note that all these things are on the stage.
“The farther along they move together, the more unified the line of their advance. Out of this fusing of elements arises an important inner state which we callMM” here Tortsov paused to point to the placard hanging on the wall and read: “The Inner Creative Mood.” “Whatever is that?” exclaimed Vanya, already alarmed.
“It is simple,” I volunteered. “Our inner motive forces combine with the elements to carry out the purposes of the actor. Is that right?” here I appealed to Tortsov.
“Yes, with two modifications. The first is that the common fundamental objective is still far off and that they combine forces to search for it. The second is a matter of terms. Up to now we have used the word ‘elements’ to cover artistic talent, qualities, natural gifts and several methods of psycho-technique. Now we can call them ‘Elements of the Inner Creative Mood.’ ”
“That’s beyond me!” Vanya decided and made a gesture of despair.
“Why? It is an almost entirely normal state.”
“It is better than the normal state, in some ways, and in others—less good.”
“Why less good?”
“On account of the conditions of an actor’s work, which has to be done in public, his creative mood smacks of the theatre, and of self-exhibition, which the normal type does not.”
“In what way is it better?”
“It includes the feeling of solitude in public which we do not know in ordinary life. That is a marvellous sensation. A theatre full of people is a splendid sounding board for us. For every moment of real feeling on the stage there is a response, thousands of invisible currents of sympathy and interest, streaming back to us. A crowd of spectators oppresses and terrifies an actor, but it also rouses his truly creative energy. In conveying great emotional warmth it gives him faith in himself and his work.
“Unfortunately, a natural creative mood is seldom spontaneous. In exceptional cases, it does come and then an actor will give a magnificent performance. In the too-frequent case, when an actor cannot get into the right inner state, he says: I am not in the mood.
That means his creative apparatus is either not functioning properly, is not functioning at all, or has been replaced by mechanical habits. Is it the abyss of the proscenium arch that has disordered his functions? Or has he gone before the public with a half-finished part, with lines and actions even he cannot believe in?
“It is also possible the actor has not freshened up a well-prepared but old role. Yet he should do this every time he recreates it. Otherwise, he is likely to go out onto the stage and present only a shell.
“There is another possibility: the actor may have been drawn away from his work by lazy habits, inattention, poor health or personal worries.
“In any one of these cases the combination, selection and quality of elements will be wrong, and for various reasons. There is no necessity to go into these cases individually. You know that when an actor comes out on the stage before an audience he may lose his self-possession from fright, embarrassment, shyness, agitation, a sense of overwhelming responsibility or unsurmountable difficulties.
At that moment he is incapable of speaking, listening, looking, thinking, wishing, feeling, walking or even moving, in an ordinary human way. He feels a nervous need to gratify the public, show himself off and hide his own state.
“Under those circumstances, his component elements disintegrate and separate. That, of course, is not normal. On the stage, as in real life, the elements should be indivisible. The difficulty is that work in the theatre contributes to making a creative mood unstable. The actor is left to act without direction. He is in contact with the audience, instead of with his partner in the play. He adapts himself to their pleasure and not to the task of sharing his thoughts and feelings with his fellow actors.
“Unfortunately, inner defects are not visible. The spectators do not see, they only sense them. Only experts in our profession understand them. But it is why ordinary theatre-goers do not respond and do not come back.
“The danger is heightened by the fact that if one element in the composition is lacking or wrong the whole suffers. You can test my words: you can create a state in which all the component parts are working together in perfect harmonies, like a well-trained orchestra. Put in one false element and the tone of the whole is ruined.
“Suppose you have chosen a plot you cannot believe. It is inevitable that if you force yourself the result will be self-deception, which must disorganize your whole mood. The same is true of any other of the elements.
“Take concentrating on an object. If you look at it and do not see it you will be drawn away by the magnet of other things, away from the stage, even away from the theatre.
“Try choosing some artificial instead of a real objective, or using your role to display your temperament. The moment you introduce a false note truth becomes a theatrical convention. Belief becomes faith in mechanical acting. Objectives change from human to artificial; imagination evaporates and is replaced by theatrical claptrap.
“Add these undesirable things together and you will create an atmosphere in which you can neither live nor do anything except contort yourself, or imitate something.
“Beginners in the theatre, lacking in experience and technique, are the most likely to go wrong. They easily acquire any number of artificial habits. If they achieve a normal, human state it is accidental.”
“Why can we so easily become artificial when we have acted only once in public?” I asked.
“I shall answer you in your own words,” Tortsov replied. “Do you remember our very first lesson when I asked you to sit on the stage and instead of simply sitting you started to exaggerate? At the time you exclaimed: ‘How strange! I have been on the stage only once, and the rest of the time I have been leading a normal life and yet I find it easier to be affected than to be normal.’
The reason lies in the necessity of doing our artistic work in public where theatrical artificiality is constantly warring with the truth. How can we protect ourselves against the one and strengthen the other? That we shall discuss in our next lesson.”
“Let us take up the problem of how to avoid falling into habits of inner artificiality and to achieve a true inner creative state. To this double problem, there is one answer: each of them precludes the existence of the other. By creating the one you destroy the other.
“Most actors before each performance put on costumes and makeup so that their external appearance will approximate that of the character they are to play. But they forget the most important part, which is the inner preparation. Why do they devote such particular attention to their external appearance? Why do not they put makeup and a costume on their souls?
“The inner preparation for a part is as follows: instead of rushing into his dressing-room at the last moment, an actor should (especially if he has a big part) arrive there two hours ahead of his entrance and begin to get himself in form. You know that a sculptor kneads his clay before he begins to use it, and a singer warms up his voice before his concert. We need to do something similar to tune our inner strings, to test the keys, the pedals and the stops.
“You know this type of exercise through your drill work. The first necessary step is the relaxation of muscular tension. Then comes: Choose an object—that picture? What does it represent? How big is it? Colours? Take a distant object! Now a small circle, no further than your own feet! Choose some physical objective! Motivate it, add the first one and then other imaginative fiction! Make your action so truthful that you can believe in it! Think up various suppositions and suggest possible circumstances into which you put yourself.
Continue this until you have brought all of your ‘elements’ into play and then choose one of them. It makes no difference which. Take whichever appeals to you at the time. If you succeed in making that one function concretely (no generalities!) it will draw all the others along in its train.
“We must exercise great care, each time we have a creative piece of work to do, to prepare the various elements out of which we compose a true inner creative mood.
“We are so constituted that we need all our organs and members, heart, stomach, kidneys, arms and legs. We are uncomfortable when any one of them is removed and replaced by something artificial, a glass eye, a false nose or ear or tooth, a wooden leg or arm. Why not believe the same in our inner make-up? Artificiality in any form is just as disturbing to your inner nature. So go through your exercises every time you are to do anything creative.”
“But,” began Grisha in his usual argumentative tone, “if we did that we should have to go through two whole performances every evening. One for our own benefit, and a second for the public.”
“No, that is not necessary,” said Tortsov reassuringly. “To prepare yourself, go over the fundamental parts of your role. You do not need to develop them fully.
“What you must do is to ask: am I sure of my attitude towards this or that particular place? Do I really feel this or that action? Should I change or add to such and such imaginative detail? All these preparatory exercises test your expressive apparatus.
“If your role has matured to the point where you can do all this, the time needed to carry it out will be short. Unfortunately not every role reaches this stage of perfection.
“Under less favourable circumstances this preparation is difficult, but it is necessary even when it involves the expenditure of time and attention. Moreover, an actor must constantly practise achieving a true creative mood at all times, whether he is performing, rehearsing or working at home. His mood will be unstable at first until his part is well rounded out, and again later, when it gets worn, it loses its keenness.
“This wavering back and forth makes it necessary to have a pilot to direct us. As you become more experienced you will find the work of this pilot largely automatic.
“Suppose an actor is in perfect possession of his faculties on the stage. His mood is so complete that he can dissect its component parts without getting out of his role. They are all functioning properly, facilitating one another’s operations. Then there is a slight discrepancy. Immediately the actor investigates to see which part is out of order. He finds the mistake and corrects it. Yet all the time he can easily continue to play his part even while he is observing himself.
“Salvini said: ‘An actor lives, weeps and laughs on the stage, and all the while he is watching his own tears and smiles. It is this double function, this balance between life and acting that makes his art.’ ”
“Now that you know the meaning of the inner creative state let us look into the soul of an actor at the time when that state is being formed.
“Suppose he is on the point of undertaking a most difficult and complex Shakespearean role—Hamlet. To what can it be compared? To an immense mountain filled with every kind of wealth. You can estimate its value only by uncovering its deposits of ore, or mining deep for precious metals, or marble. Then there is its natural external beauty. Such an undertaking is beyond the powers of any one person. The prospector must call in specialists, a large, organized force of helpers, he must have financial resources, and time.
“He builds roads, sinks shafts, burrows tunnels and, after careful investigation, concludes that the mountain contains incalculable riches. But the search for the delicate and minute creations of nature must be made in unexpected places. An enormous amount of work will be done before the treasure is obtained.
This enhances the appreciation of its value and the further men penetrate the greater their amazement at its extent. The higher they rise on the mountainside, the wider the horizon becomes. Still higher the mountain top is wreathed in clouds and we never know what happens up there in space beyond human ken.
“Suddenly someone cries: ‘Gold! Gold!’ Time goes by and the picks stop. The workmen move on, disappointed, to another place. The vein has disappeared, all their efforts were fruitless; their energy wilts. The prospectors and surveyors are lost and do not know where to turn. After a while, another cry is heard and they all start off enthusiastically until the venture again proves disappointing. This happens again and again until finally they really find the rich vein.” After a short pause, the Director continued:
“A struggle like this goes on for years when an actor is working on Hamlet because the spiritual riches in this part are hidden. He must dig deep to find the motive forces of that most subtle of human souls.
“A great work of literature by and about a genius calls for infinitely detailed and intricate research.
“To grasp the spiritual delicacy of a complex soul it is not enough to use one’s mind or anyone ‘element’ by itself. It requires an artist’s whole power and talent, as well as the harmonious co-operation of his inner forces, with those of the author.
“When you have studied the spiritual nature of your part you can decide, and then feel, its underlying purpose. For such work, an actor’s inner motive forces must be strong, sensitive and penetrating. The elements of his inner creative state must be deep, delicate and sustained. Unfortunately, we frequently see actors skimming thoughtlessly over the surface of parts and not digging into great roles.”
After another brief interval Tortsov said:
“I have described the larger creative state. But it also exists on a smaller scale.
“Vanya, please go up on to the stage and look for a small slip of pale blue paper . . . which no one lost there.”
“How can I do it that way?”
“Very simply. To carry out your purpose you will have to understand and feel just how it would be done in real life. You must organize all of your inner forces, and, to create your objective, you must propose certain given circumstances. Then answer the question of how you would search for the paper if you really needed to.”
“If you really had lost a slip of paper, I really would find it,” said Vanya, whereupon he executed the whole action very well. The Director approved.
“You see how easy it is. All you needed was the stimulus of the simplest sort of suggestion and it released the whole harmonious process of establishing your inner creative state on the stage. The small problem, or objective, leads directly and immediately to action, but even though the scale is small the elements involved are the same as in a larger and more complicated undertaking such as playing Hamlet.
The functions of the various elements will vary in importance and length of time in operation, but they all collaborate in some degree with one another.
“Generally speaking, the quality of power and endurance of an actor’s inner creative state varies in direct ratio to the size and significance of his objective. The same can be said of the equipment used to achieve his purpose.
“Also the degree of power and endurance can be classified as small, medium or large. So we get an infinite number of aspects, qualities and degrees of creative moods in which one ‘element’ or another preponderates.
“Under certain conditions, this variety is increased. If you have a clear-cut definite objective you quickly acquire a solid and correct inner state. If, on the other hand, it is indefinite and vague, your inner mood is likely to be fragile. In either case, the quality of the objective is the determining factor.
“Sometimes, for no reason at all, perhaps even at home, you feel the power of a creative mood and you look about for a way of putting it to use. In that case, it will provide its own objective.
“In My Life in Art, a story is told about an old, retired actress, now dead, who used to play all sorts of scenes to herself, alone at home, because she had to satisfy that very feeling and give an outlet to her creative impulses.
“Sometimes an objective exists subconsciously and is even carried out subconsciously without either the knowledge or the will of the actor. Often it is only afterwards that he realizes fully what it is that has happened.”