Actor. Konstantin Stanislavsky’s family ran an amateur acting group, which he joined at age 14. Although initially an awkward performer, he worked hard on his voice, diction, and body movement. His thoroughness came to distinguish him, and he became its central figure. In 1888 he and others established the Society of Art and Literature. He staged his first independent production, Leo Tolstoy’s The Fruits of Enlightenment, in 1891, a major Moscow theatrical event. It impressed writer and director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and the two outlined a plan for a people’s theatre in 1897. It was to consist of the most talented amateurs of his society and of the students of the Philharmonic Music and Drama School. It was called the Moscow Art Theatre, opening on October 14, 1898, with a performance of Aleksey K. Tolstoy’s Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich. He found the results lacking, with the actors just imitative of the ideas of the director. To seek ways to improve his productions, he began experimenting in developing the first elements of what became known as the Stanislavsky method, which he developed over forty years. He tried various experiments, focusing on what he considered the most important attribute of an actor’s work - bringing an actor’s emotions into play in a role. His successful experience with Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull confirmed his convictions about the theatre. The Seagull became a triumph, heralding the birth of the Moscow Art Theatre as a force in theatre. Actors, he felt, had to have a common training and be capable of an intense inner identification with the characters that they played, while still remaining independent of the role in order to subordinate it to the needs of the play. Fighting against the artificial and highly stylized theatrical conventions of the time, he sought instead authentic emotions. In 1902 he successfully staged Maxim Gorky’s The Petty Bourgeois and The Lower Depths. He performed as Astrov in Uncle Vanya, Gayev in The Cherry Orchard, Doctor Stockman in Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and Satin in The Lower Depths. As an actor and as a director he demonstrated a subtlety in rendering psychological patterns and a talent for satirical characterization. He formed the First Studio in 1912, where his innovations were adopted by many young actors. In 1918 he worked with the Bolshoi Opera Studio, which was later named for him. There he staged Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in 1922, which was said to be a major reform in opera. In 1922–24 the Moscow Art Theatre toured Europe and the United States with him as its administrator, director, and leading actor. During this period, he wrote his autobiography, My Life in Art. He supervised the First Studio’s production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in 1917 and Nikolay Gogol’s The Government Inspector in 1921. His staging of Aleksandr Ostrovsky’s An Ardent Heart (1926) and of Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s The Marriage of Figaro (1927) demonstrated bold attempts at theatricality. His Armored Train 14–69, V.V. Ivanov’s play about the Russian Revolution, was a milestone in Soviet theatre in 1927. While acting in The Three Sisters during the Moscow Art Theatre’s 30th anniversary presentation on October 29, 1928, he suffered a heart attack. Abandoning acting, he concentrated for the rest of his life on directing and educating actors and directors.
Bio by: Pete Mohney