§13. Inner Psychological Drives in Action (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)

Konstantin Stanislavski An Actor's work


This article is my summary of the 13th 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: §12. Inner Psychological Drives (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §14. The Actor’s Inner Creative State (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

Do the Inner Psychological Drives respond spontaneously to a new work ?

There are rare cases when the actor’s Inner Psychological Drives:

  • respond immediately to the whole play.

“In very rare cases an actor’s mind, will and feeling grasp the meaning of a new work immediately.” (p. 283)

  • don’t respond at all to any moment of the play, “when the first reading of the written text says nothing to an actor, produces no response from the will and feeling, when no representation of the play is created, or any appraisal on it (…) (p. 284)

But in most cases, the actor’s Inner Psychological Drives will respond at first only partially, only to some moments and parts of the play.

“Much more often, the lines are only partially assimilated by the intellect (mind), partially grasped by the emotions (feelings) and evoke a vague, intermittent flow of wants (will).” (p. 283 s.)

The succession of these moments in the play when the Inner Psychological Drives spontaneously engage can be represented as a broken line

“Individual moments, which the actor grasped on his first acquaintance with the play cause the psychological inner drives into great bursts of purposeful activity. Thoughts and wants (…) are born and die, are then born again and die again. If you were to express this in a diagram you would get a broken line, fragments, dashes.” (p. 284)

How to develop the response of the Inner Psychological Drives ?

The actor needs to do a lot of work so that the meaning of a play is totally grasped by his Mind, Feeling and Will

“In most cases the inner meaning can only be fathomed after a great deal of work, after the play has been studied, after you have traced the same creative path the author took.” (p. 284)

The actor’s work will eventually turn the broken line, which appeared spontaneously, into an Unbroken one. 

“As you get to know the role better rand deepen your understanding of its goal, its trajectory gradually evens out.” (p. 284)

When the actor’s Inner Psychological Drives didn’t respond at all to any part of the play, he needs “to use other people’s appraisals and outside help to try to get into the written text.” (p. 284)

Creating an Unbroken Line for the role onstage

Why should the line be Unbroken ?

In the real world, the line of life is an Unbroken one (although some gaps occur).

“[In life] a completely unbroken line (…) can exist but not in people who are normal, only in the insane and we call it an obsession. As far as healthy people are concerned, a few gaps are normal and obligatory. (…) But people don’t die during these breaks, they go on living, and so each of their lifelines continues its forward movement.” (p. 285)

“We (…) consider as normal lines in which a few, obligatory gaps occur in a human being.” (p. 285)

Onstage the line should be just as Unbroken as it is in real life. Whenever the line gets broken, the role stops dead. 

“Acting (…) needs an unbroken line. When [the line] is unbroken, you can start talking about creative work.” (p. 285)

“[The line gives] life and movement to the character. But, if [it is] broken, the life of the role is cut short and paralysis or death occurs. When the line is restored the role comes to life again. This alternation between dying and rebirth is abnormal. A role requires life to go on, and its line to be almost unbroken.” (p. 286)

“If the line of action is interrupted (…), the role (…) stops dead. If that happens to the forward direction of the (…) mind, then the human being/actor will (…) just say words, which means he will have no idea of what he is doing or saying. If the line of will-feeling comes to a halt, the human being/actor and his role will have not motivation, there will be no experiencing.” (p. 285 s.)

What are the Unbroken Lines that the actor need to create ?

The actor needs to create not just one Unbroken Line, but many of them, one for each of the Inner Psychological Drives and each of the Elements

“Learn to create a (relatively) unbroken line onstage for each of the psychological inner drives and each of their elements.” (p. 291)

“We need not just one such line but a whole series of them, i.e. our imagination, concentration, objects, logic and sequence, Bits and Tasks, wants, effort and actions, truth, belief, Emotion Memory, communication, Adaptations and other Elements which are essential to creative activity.” (p. 285)

“The human being/actor and the human being/role live all these lines almost continuously. They give life and movement to the character.” (p. 286)

How to create Unbroken Lines ?

How to feel the Unbroken Lines in our life ?

Stanislavski describes an exercise to feel the Unbroken Lines in our life. (p. 286 s.)

  • Remember what you’ve done so far today from the moment you woke up until now, starting with now and going back the moment you woke up.

“When recalling the past don’t go forwards from then towards the present but, conversely, move backwards, from the present to the past you can remember.” (p. 286)

“We have now got a long series of short lines, which you lived in the first half of the day (…) Traces of them have been retained in your memory.” (p. 287)

“The long line you have lived through today (…) is created not only from memories of individual actions which you performed in the immediate past, but also of a series of feelings, thoughts, physical sensations and so on which you experienced. (…) If you pay more attention and concentrate hard on the immediate past, then you recall not only the outer but the inner line of your life today.” 

  • Repeat the same thing several times in the same order to fix the traces more firmly
  • Repeal the same thing several times but in reverse order, that is starting with the moment you woke up and moving forward to now. 
  • Repeat the same thing with the rest of the day, which you haven’t lived yet. 

“Don’t you feel a line stretching out into the future with its cares, obligations, joys and worries which, when you think about them, make you feel happier or sadder ? There’s also movement in this future, and, where there is movement, there is an emergent line, your line of life.” (p. 288)

“Put the line together with the earlier one and you will get one, large, continuous, through-line – past, present, future – for today, extending from the moment you woke up to the moment you fall asleep.” (p. 288) 

The short Unbroken Lines of our individual days can be merged into longer ones covering longer periods, and so on until we have the longest line covering our whole lifetime.

“If we have lines for a day, a week, why can’t we also have lines for a month, a year, finally for a whole lifetime. These long lines are the result of merging many small ones.” (p. 288)

How to create the Unbroken Lines for a role ?

The same thing happens onstage “with every play and every role. There too, a long line is made up of small ones.” (p. 288).

But there is a difference: onstage, the line is created not by life but by the plot. 

“In the real world it is life which spins the line and in a play it is the author’s true-to-life plot which creates it.” (p. 288)

And yet, the line created by the plot is not Unbroken, but presents large gaps, in particular regarding all the moments which are not performed onstage.

“But the line [the dramatist] has created isn’t continuous, unbroken, for the duration of the role. It exists only in parts, with large gaps. (…) The dramatist doesn’t give us the whole life of a play or a role but only those moments which are presented and performed onstage. He doesn’t write a great deal about what happens offstage. He is often silent about what happens in the wings, in the gaps in the character which the actor is playing onstage.” (p. 288)

It’s the actor’s work to fill in these gaps, so as to have Unbroken Lines.  

“We have to supply what the author has not created in his printed text, using our own imagination. Otherwise you won’t get a continuous ‘life of the human spirit’ in a play from the actor (…) To be able to experience you must have a (relatively) continuous line in a role and a play.” (p. 288 s.)

“Jumps and gaps in the line of a role are inadmissible not only onstage but in the wings as well. They break up the life of the character and create dead spots in it. These are then filled with the personal thoughts and feelings of the human being/actor and bear no relation to what he is playing. That pushes him in the wrong direction – into his own private life.” (p. 289)

“You must not break the line even in the wings (…) Let [the actors] rather think what they would do that day if they found themselves in the situation the character is in. The actor must answer that question and others, in every show (…) If the actor leaves the theatre without having answered the questions he has to ask on that day, he has not done what he should.” (p. 289)

How to create an Unbroken Line of Objects of Attention ?

Beside these general explanations, Stanislavski elaborates on creating an Unbroken Line of Objects of Attention

He first observes that in real life, the unbroken line of the objects of attention is formed by “the continuous change of objects of attention which occurs in our lives endlessly, logically, sequentially, or even just by chance.” (p. 290)

Consequently, the Unbroken Line of Objects of Attention onstage should be formed:

  • By constant changes

“An actor’s concentration moves from one object to another without a break. This constant change creates an unbroken line. If the actor latches on to one object and sticks to It for a whole act or a whole play, (…) it would be the line of someone who was mentally ill, and that (…) is called an obsession.” (p. 291)

“Th life of a human being or a role is an unbroken sequence of changing objects, circles of attention, be it in the real life around us, or onstage, be it in an imaginary world, or in dreams of the future, as long as it’s not in the auditorium.” (p. 29)

  • Without any break or blank

“In performance (…) it is important that objects of attention should take over from each other without a break and create a continuous line. (…) This continuity of line is extremely important for an actor and you should do all you can to make it stronger.” (p. 290)

Previous chapter: §12. Inner Psychological Drives (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §14. The Actor’s Inner Creative State (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

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