'What did Stanislavski mean by Imagination and Concentration/Attention? How could these ideas help in preparing a role?'

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‘What did Stanislavski mean by Imagination and Concentration/Attention? How could these ideas help in preparing a role?’

Stanislavski, referred to by many in the world of theatre as ‘the dominant influence on actor training today’, had many views and techniques he believed were necessary for an actor to feel or follow in order to be fully prepared for a role. All of these ideas and approaches to acting were directly part of the ‘Stanislavski system’.

        Imagination was key in his system in order to ‘turn the play into a theatrical reality’ through invention. In conjunction with the ‘magic if’ which can be interpreted as belief. For example, if this piece of paper was really an injured bird, then what would it look like? How would it feel? Why is it injured? It leads the actor to create details and facts about a certain object or character, which in turn make the situation easier to believe in. Personally when doing this exercise and watching as the ‘bird’ was passed around the room, each person adding more detail to the situation, my belief in the bird heightened and I became more involved in the situation. Sympathy was evoked for the bird by one girl, showing that the exercise was working for many of us. Every new fact acted as a fixation to the imagination and intensified out belief. The ‘If’ is ‘magic’ because it gives the imagination that stimulatory nudge which will excite the actor into action. What was interesting was that before we were told exactly what the piece of paper was, the group thought that we were going to have to imagine something for ourselves, which would have been a lot harder. This showed me that I found it easier working with a preconceived idea, oppose to creating myself and entirely new one. For me, this meant that although I began to believe in the bird, perhaps imagining situations is not as easy as one may think, which is why circumstances and the ‘magic if’ help a lot when imagining a situation.

        In ‘An Actor Prepares’, Stanislavski sets this out perfectly with ‘I am I; but if I were and old oak tree, set in certain surrounding conditions, what would I do?’ In the preparation of a role this is crucial. In order to establish the realistic style of acting Stanislavski wanted to achieve, an actor must draw upon the realistic reactions of himself, and incorporate them into the role. Not only will this add to the depth of the character, it will make the audience relate more to the character. By asking questions about the role, it becomes explored until the actor knows and can understand why his character reacts in certain ways, or why he is there, how he came to be there etc. Therefore, the role becomes believed rather than pretended; the actor becomes the character.

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        As Stanislavski said, ‘parts in the play are the invention of the author’s imagination, a whole series of ifs and given circumstances thought up by him. There is no such thing as actuality on stage.’ And this is true even when acting events in history, as the actor still has to imagine what it would have been like and ask questions about the character, as with the bird i.e. why am I here? It is not merely about the actor learning his lines as these will give him no ideas of their thoughts, feelings or impulses. ‘All this must be made ...

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