§12. Inner Psychological Drives (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)

Konstantin Stanislavski An Actor's work


This article is my summary of the 12th chapter of An Actor’s Work by Konstantin Stanislavski. This book is a new edition and English translation by Jean Benedetti of the material previously published under the titles « An Actor Prepares » and « Building A Character« .

Previous chapter: §11. An Actor’s Adaptations and other Elements, Qualities, Aptitudes and Gifts (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §13. Inner Psychological Drives in Action (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

How to stimulate the Elements of the Psychotechnique ?

To get the different Elements of the Psychotechnique working, the actor needs something that will drive them. That’s what Stanislavski calls the “Inner Psychological Drives” 

“Now that we have looked at the Elements of our psychotechnique, we can take it that our mental apparatus is fit and ready That’s our army and we can go into action. We need generals to get it moving.” (p. 273)

What are the Inner Psychological Drives ?

There are three Inner Psychological Drives

Stanislavski proposes two different terminologies to name them, an older one and a newer one. 

What are the Inner Psychological Drives in the older terminology ?

In the older terminology, the three Inner Psychological Drives are (p. 275 ss):

  1. The Feeling
  2. The Mind (or the intellect)
  3. The Will

In which way is the Feeling an Inner Psychological Drive ?

“The first, the most important general, the prime mover, the drive in the creative process (…) is feeling.” (p. 273). 

In which way is the Mind an Inner Psychological Drive ?

“The mind can suggest an ‘if’  and Given Circumstances, which are the basis for creating a Task, to arouse wants (will) (p. 275). 

In which way is the Will an Inner Psychological Drive ?

“The living wants and deliberate striving (…) create the Tasks (…) [and] can activate an actor’s whole creative apparatus and focus his psychological life onstage.” (p. 275 s.)

“[If] you were going up onstage (…) against your will, not because of it, [t]hat’s no basis for being creative. (…) If you were to rush up onstage as one man, with all the artistic passion you are capable of, then we could talk about will, creative will.” (p. 274)

What are the Inner Psychological Drives in the newer terminology ?

In the newer terminology, the names for the three Inner Psychological Drives are (p. 277):

  1. The Representation
  2. The Appraisal
  3. The Will-Feeling

“These terms are, in essence, the same as the older ones. They merely refine them (…)” (p. 277)

What are the Representation and the Appraisal ?

“Representation and appraisal, when combined, fulfil the same inner function as the mind (…) in the old definition” (p. 277)

The words Representation and appraisal describe more precisely how the Mind works (p. 278).

“First, [the mind] represents and second, it passes appraisal.” (p. 278)

“Sight aided by your imagination and what you see with your mind’s eye creates an image, a representation (…) You see a film on your inner ‘screen’ (…). So you have a mental representation (…) [Then] you form an appraisal of your representation.” (p. 277 s.) 

What is Will-Feeling ?

“The words ‘will’ and ‘feeling’ have been merged into one.” (p. 277)

This term illustrates how Will and Feeling usually come and work together.

“[Will and feeling] are two psychological inner drives coming together in a common effort. Try to divide them. Try (…) to think of cases when will and feeling are separate, draw the line between them, show me where one ends and the other begins. I don’t think you’ll be able to do that anymore than I did. That’s why the most recent scientific terms have united them in one word.” ( p 279)

How are the three Inner Psychological Drives related to each other?

Is there a Drive that is more important than the others ?

The three Inner Psychological Drives are equally important and are all needed.

“Only when all three inner drives are working in a common alliance can we create freely, sincerely, directly, organically, not using someone else’s but our own personality, at our own risk, as our conscience dictates within the Given Circumstances of the role.” (p. 279)

  • If Stanislavski particularly stresses the Feeling, it is only because it tends to be too often neglected.

“Yes, I do lay too much stress on the emotional side of creative work, but I do so intentionally, as other schools of acting all too often forget about feeling. We have too many intellectual actors, and productions that are all in the mind, while genuine, living, emotional theatre is rarely encountered. And so I feel I have to pay double attention to feeling, somewhat to the detriment of thought.” (p. 277)

  • Even though each actor may have a predominant Drive among the three, it shouldn’t overwhelm the other two. 

“Nature itself supports the truth of the statement that the inner drives are the mind (…), will and feeling in that she frequently creates individual actors cast in an emotional, volitional or intellectual mould. Actors of the first type (…) emphasize the emotional side of the given role. Actors of the second type (…) underline their ambitious or religious desires. Actors of the third type (…) unwittingly give the role an overly intellectual, cerebral emphasis.” (p 281 s.)

“However, the dominance of the first, second or third drive should not totally overwhelm the other two. We need a harmonious relationship among the inner drives in our personalities.” (p. 282)

Can a Drive exist without the others ?

The three Drives cannot be separated. On the opposite, they are the indivisible parts of one and the same thing. A consequence of this interdependency is that each Drive functions as a Decoy for the others. 

“The three inner drives are indivisible, and so when you talk about the first of them you inevitably touch on the second and third.” (p. 276)

“[The] strength [of mind, will and feeling] is increased by the fact that each of the inner drives serves as a decoy for the others (…) Mind, will and feeling cannot exist alone, without mutual support. (…) This also increases the significance of the inner drives to a considerable degree.” (p. 279)

The actor should make sure to have his three Drives working together, if he wants to create freely. 

“Only when all three inner drives are working in a common alliance can we create freely, sincerely, directly, organically, not using someone else’s but our own personality, at our own risk, as our conscience dictates within the Given Circumstances of the role.” (p. 279)

“[A real actor] speaks not as the non-existing person [of his role], but in his own right, in the Given Circumstances. Other people’s thoughts, feelings, representations, appraisal become his own. (…) It is essential that the audience should feel his inner relationship to what is being spoken, so that they desire the same thing as his creative will. At that moment all the inner drives unite, they become interdependent.” (p. 280)

How should the actor get the Drives working ?

Sometimes the Inner Drives get to work by themselves.

“Sometimes the inner drives set to work immediately, spontaneously, suddenly, subconsciously, bypassing our will. (…) But what are we to do when mind, will and feeling don’t respond to the actor’s creative call ?” (p. 280)

If that doesn’t happen, the actor needs to activate them thanks to the Psychotechnique.

“[The] interdependence (…) of one creative force with another is very important in our work, and it would be a mistake not to exploit it for our own practical purposes. That demands an appropriate psychotechnique.” (p. 280)

For that he needs to use Decoys. As Decoys, he can use every Element of the Psychotechnique or one of the Drives themselves, given their interdependency.

“Then you have to make use of decoys. Not only are they to be found in every Element but also in each of the inner drives.” (p. 280)

“The basic principle is this: to use the complementary workings of the three inner drives and the actor’s creative skills to stimulate each of them to action, naturally and organically.” (p. 280)

“Don’t activate them all at once. Choose one of them.” (p. 280)

How to use the Mind as a Decoy?

“The mind produced an idea – “’if”, the Given Circumstances. These produced (…) representations, appraisals which, in turn, activated will-feeling.” (p. 280)

“The mind (…) is the most compliant of them all, more obedient than the others. (…) The actor then creates a representation which corresponds to the idea in the text and begins to visualize what it is the words say. In its turn, this representation provokes an appraisal. Together they produce an idea which (…) has been brought to life, and that in its turn stimulates will-feeling.” (p. 280)

How to use the Feeling as a Decoy?

“We can (…) [start] with feeling, despite the fact that it is totally capricious and unstable. If emotion immediately responds to the call, that is an enormous piece of luck. Then everything falls into place spontaneously, in a natural way. A representation surfaces, an appraisal on it is formed, and the two together activate the will.” (p. 281)

“What decoy can we use to wake slumbering emotion ? In time you will come to know that tempo-rhythm is this decoy and stimulus.” (p. 281)

“The only trouble is that feeling is intractable, it won’t take orders. (…) That’s why, if feeling doesn’t create spontaneously, we have to turn to another general for help.” (p. 273).”

How to use the Will as a Decoy?

The Will can be activated by a Task. Depending on the Task, it affects Will either directly, or indirectly (through Feeling).

“How are we to arouse our slumbering will to be creative ?” (p. 281)

“A really urgent Task has a powerful, direct, immediate effect. Only… not on the will. An urgent Task mainly works on our emotions, not on our wants because it works on feeling directly. In acting you must first feel the urgency, and then want. And so it is essential to realize that the effect a Task has on the will is not direct but indirect.” (p. 281)

“In some instances emotion dominates wants and in other wants (…) dominate emotion. And so, some Tasks work better on the will than on feeling, while others strengthen feeling to the detriment of the will. But… one way or another, directly or indirectly, the Task affects our will, it is a beautiful decoy.” (p. 281)


Previous chapter:§11. An Actor’s Adaptations and other Elements, Qualities, Aptitudes and Gifts (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §13. Inner Psychological Drives in Action (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

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