§14. The Actor’s Inner Creative State (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)

Konstantin Stanislavski An Actor's work


This article is my summary of the 14th 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: §13. Inner Psychological Drives in Action (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §15. The Supertask, Throughaction (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

What is the actor’s Inner Creative State ?

The actor’s Inner Creative State is the state of mind the actor needs to have in order to be able to do some creative work.

“That’s the kind of creative state we need to the maximum when we are onstage (…) This is one of those major factors in the creative process and that was why we developed the Elements.” (p. 295)

“In [a role], incalculable treasures (psychological Elements) and their ore (the subject of the work) lie hidden, like [a] mountain with the gold. (…) When you approach a writer’s work you look at it from the outside, as with a mountain full of gold, you study its form. They you look for ways in (…) For that (…) you need ‘boreholes’, ‘tunnels’ and ‘shafts’ (Tasks, wants logic, sequence, etc.); you need workmen (creative forces, Elements); you need ‘engineers’ (the inner drives); you need the appropriate ‘mood’ (your creative state).” (p. 304)

The actor’s Inner Creative State is very much like the normal human state, unless for two differences, due to the unnatural circumstance of having to work in public: 

  1. theatraliy or exhibitionism
  2. Public Solitude

“The actor’s creative state in performance (…) is almost a completely normal human state. (…) It’s better than the normal state in some ways and… worse. [It’s worse] because we work, we create in public, which is unnatural, and so there is a lingering trace of theatricality in our minds, and exhibitionism, too, which don’t exist in the normal human state. (…) [It’s better] because there is the feeling of public solitude which is unknown to us in real life. (…) For every moment genuinely experienced onstage we get back a response from the audience (…) An audience can not only tyrannize and terrify an actor, it can also arouse genuine creative energy in him.” (p. 294)

What is the Inner Creative State made of ?

What are the Inner Crative State’s components ?

The Inner Creative State is made up of all the Elements and Inner Psychological Drives coming together. 

“The coming together of all the elements creates a state of mind (…) which (…) we call (…) ‘the Actor’s Inner Creative State.” (p. 293)

“This state happens when inner drives, and the Elements come together to investigate, using their combined strength, one basic, common goal for the role.” (p. 293)

“Our artistic aptitudes, qualities, talents, natural gifts and even some of the methods of our psychotechnique [are] the ‘Elements of the Actor’s Creative Stage in Performance.” (p. 294)

Given the variety of the Elements and Inner Psychological Drives in each actor and situation, there’s a lot of different concrete forms that the actor’s Inner Creative State can take.

“A minor goal requires a minor creative state, one that is neither deep nor prolonged. (…) Each Task and action has its own corresponding inner creative state. (…) The (…) forms of the actor’s creative state are infinitely varied. If you consider that in each of them one or other of the Elements, the inner drives and the individuality of the actor, is predominant, then the variations in the creative state seem endless.”  (p. 305)

How are these components related to each other ?

In a true Inner Creative State, all its components are indivisible.

It is normal when the Elements which produce the creative state in the human being / actor, are, as in real life, indivisible.” (p. 296

“What nature has joined you should not cast asunder.” (p. 301)

Creating the Inner Creative state

Why does the Inner Creative State must be created ?

Most of the times, the actor will not find himself spontaneously in the true Inner Creative State onstage, and the creative state he will get spontaneously will most likely be a wrong one. 

“In life, each mental state occurs spontaneously, naturally. It is always true (…) Onstage it’s the opposite. Given the unnatural conditions of creating in public, you nearly always get a wrong, actorish state.” (p. 299)

“It’s infinitely easier [for the actor] to make a display onstage than to live naturally. [It’s because] lying is implicit in the stage itself, in the very circumstances of a public performance. (…) We must wage constant war against it. (…) theatrical lies wage constant war with truth.” (p. 298)

Such a wrong creative state must be destroyed. This is done by consciously creating the true Inner Creative State, which will replace it.

“On the one hand, how do we protect ourselves onstage from the wrong, stock-in-trade (actorish) state in which only posturing and playacting are possible ? On the other, how do we induce that right, human, mental state in which only genuine creative activity is possible ? (…) We can answer these two questions simultaneously since one of them precludes the other. Once a true creative state has been created, it destroys the other which is wrong, and vice versa. The first of these questions is the more important and that’s what we’ll talk about.” (p. 298 s.)

The actor should create this Inner Creative State every time he’s working

“Every moment of an actor’s work on a role serves to establish a profound, complex, strong, sustained, stable creative state in him as a creative artist. Only in these circumstances can one speak of genuine creative work and art.” (p. 304)

“All actors make up and dress before the performance so they can make their outside look something like the character, but they forget the essential – to prepare, so to speak to ‘make up’ and ‘dress’ their hearts and minds, so they can create the ‘life of the human spirit’ of a role.” (p. 299)

The true Inner Creative State is created by the use of the conscious Psychotechnique.

“When a proper creative state doesn’t occur, (…) you have to use conscious, technical means to create a natural, human state (…). For that you need our psychotechnique.” (p 299)

“How fortunate we are to have a psychotechnique wchich can, at our behest, at our discretion produce the creative stage.” (p. 295)

“Don’t forget to do all your exercises each time, whenever you do creative work.” (p. 301)

How to create the Inner Creative State ?

Stanislavski suggests for the actor to warm up by testing all the Elements separately.

“We warm up with games in order, so to speak, to tune our mental strings, to test our mental ‘springs’, ‘pedals’ and ‘knobs’, all the separate Elements and decoys we use to get our apparatus moving.” (p. 299)

“The exercises start with relaxing the muscles as without that no further work is possible. And then… (…) select a distant object. A small circle that goes no further than your legs or your ribcage. Devise a physical Task ! Justify it, give it life first with one then with another idea. Bring the action to a point of truth and belief. Devise a magic ‘if’, Given Circumstances, etc.” (p. 299 s.)

After that the actor, should bring all the Elements together. He can do that by selecting one particular Element and getting it working. This Element will then attract all the others, thus giving birth to the Inner Creative State.  

“After all these Elements have been separated, communicate with one of them, (…) the one you feel best about, the Task, the ‘if’, an idea, an object of attention, an action, a small truth and belief, etc. If you manage to get one of these working (…) then all the other Elements will follow after. And all this will happen because of the natural proclivity the inner drives and the Elements have for working in common.” (p. 300)

“One truthful element that has been fully brought to life stirs all the other truthful Elements to work and so creates a true creative state.” (p. 300)

“Pick up one link in the chain and the rest follow. The same applies to the Elements of the creative state.” (p. 300)

“What use is an object of attention (…) ? Where there is life there you find its constituent parts, or bits and where there are bits you find Tasks. A Task that leads you on naturally evokes wants, intentions which culminate in action. (…) You must have truth, and where there is truth you have belief. All the Elements combined unlock Emotion Memory so that feelings can arise freely and the ‘truth of passions’ be created. Can that occur without objects of attention, creative ideas, bits and Tasks, wishes, intentions, actions, truth and belief ?” (p. 301)

“In other instances, the creative state seeks out the subjects for its creative action on its own, by chance. But the opposite can be the case. An interesting Task, a role, a play can stimulate the actor to be creative and so evoke the right state.” (p. 305)

The same approach also applies when the actor is getting ready before a performance: the actor doesn’t need to go through all his role, but it’s enough for him to try individual moments or aspects of it.

“When you are getting ready for the performance, all you have to do is touch on individual, basic moments in the role or the exercise, the important moments in the play, you don’t have to develop all the Bits and Tasks in full. Just ask yourself, can I believe my attitude to this passage in the role – today, now ? Do I feel this particular action ? Should I alter or expand this or that minor detail with a creative idea ? All these preparatory exercises before the performance are only ‘testing the waters’, trying out one’s expressive apparatus, fine-tuning one’s mental, creative instrument, running through the score and the constituent Elements of an actor’s heart and mind.” (p. 301)

Maintaining the Inner Creative State

The actor should make the effort not only to create a true Inner Creative State, but also to maintain it all through his work. 

This is particularly important because the Inner Creative State is very fragile and unstable, given the abnormal condition of having to work in public. It can easily get distorted.

“The trouble is that this state, because of the abnormal conditions in which we perfom, is unstable.” (p. 296)

“The right, creative state is unstable both early on, when the role is not secure, and subsequently when the role is a little jaded, and has lost its edge.” (p. 302)

How can the Inner Creative State become distorted ?

A distortion can happen in two ways:

  • The Elements of the state, which should be indivisible, get separated.

“Hardly is it broken than the Elements lose their common link and they begin to live apart from each other, in and for themselves.” (p. 296)

“When the human being/actor confronts a packed audience, either out of fear, confusion, shyness, a sense of his responsibilities, his personal problems, he loses his self-control. (…) In such moments the actors’ Elements split apart and live their own lives. We have concentration for concentration’s sake, objects for the objects’ sake, the feeling of truth for the feeling’s sake, Adaptations for Adaptations’ sake. This, of course, is abnormal.” (p. 296)

  • wrong or irrelevant Element is introduced into the state and contaminates all the other components.

“A wrong state can be created with unusual ease and speed, without our realizing it. All it needs if or one wrong Element to be introduced into the inner state we have created and it immediately becomes unstable. The wrong Element attracts others, which distorts the mental state which makes creative work possible.” (p. 297)

“The moment you introduce some wrong Element or other into a true creative state, all the other Elements are changed, either all together, or gradually.” (p. 297)

Stanislavski mentions a few examples of such elements that can distort the Inner Creative State (p. 297)

  • a fellow actor coming up with an idea which he can’t bring himself to believe in”;
  • the actor looking at an object without really seeing it, which makes the actor’s concentration turn to another, wrong object, (…) i.e. the audience”;
  • the actor replacing a living Task in the person/role with a dead, actorish Task”.

What happens when the Inner Creative State gets distorted ?

When a distortion happens, each of the components of the Inner Creative State start to change in the wrong direction.

“Then, as the characters move about the stage they lose first one, then another, and finally all the qualities of heart and mind the human being/role needs.” (p. 296)

  • Human Tasks start being replaced by actorish Tasks
  • Action: “the actor is being active onstage not in the general direction the role needs, but simply to be ‘active’” (p. 296)
  • Truth starts being replaced by by conventions
  • Belief in the real nature of one’s experience and Action starts being replaced by a Belief in one’s own Stock-in-Trade Action
  • Communication: “the actor is in communication, not with what the play needs… but with the audience to entertain them.” (p. 296)
  • Adaptations“[the actor] adapts not so as to convey his own thoughts and feelings (…) to his partner more fully, but to dazzle the audience” (p. 296)

All these changes combine to bring about a new, wrong state, which leads not to Experiencing, but to Stock-in-Trad

“All these Elements come together to make a wrong state in which you can neither experience nor be creative.” (p. 298)

“In all the examples I have given you today there was, inevitably, first distortion and then the actor’s wrong creative stage, which, in our vocabulary we call the stock-in-trade (actorish) state.” (p. 298)

The (mental) defects of this wrong state handicap the actors and are an hindrance to creative work, just as much as physical defects would be.

“The actions of these freaks onstage are dead, and you have no sense of living human representations inside them, no mental images, wants and yearnings and without these will-feeling cannot come alive. What would happen if there were similar physical defects, visible to the eye, and the character we were creating had no ears, hands or teeth. You would have a hard time getting used to such a freak. But our mental defects arent’ visible to the eye. The audience is not conscious of them but only senses them unconsciously. (…) That’s hwy the audience doesn’t respond to that kind of playing.” (p. 297)

“We are created in such a way that we need hands and feet and a heart and kidneys and a stomach, all at once, simultaneously. (…) Why don’t you grant the same privilege to a creative actor, or the role he is playing ? He also needs all the constituent Elements of his organism and artificial substitues – clichés – are a hindrance to it.” (p. 300 s.)

How to avoid any distortion to the Inner Creative State ?

When the actor feels a distortion happening to his Inner Creative State, he should Monitor himself in order to find out which is the Element that has stopped working properly, and make the necessary adjustments to restore the Inner Creative State

“[When] a slight hitch occurs, (…) the actor immediately ‘turns his eyes in on himself’ to see which of his Elements isn’t working properly. Having found the mistake he corrects it. In doing so he has no difficulty in splitting himself in two, i.e. on one hand he corrects something which is wrong and, on the other, continues to live his role. The actor lives, weeps, laughs onstage but weeping or laughing he observes his laughter and tears. And it is in that double life, that balance between life and the role that art lies.” (p. 302)

This process of adjustment needs some conscious Attention at first but eventually it will become automatic

“The right creative state wavers continuously. It is like a plane hovering in the air (…) With more experience the pilot’s job becomes automatic and doesn’t require much attention. The same thing happens in our profession. The Elements of our creative state need constant adjustment which you finally learn to cope with automatically.” (p. 302)

Previous chapter: §13. Inner Psychological Drives in Action (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Next chapter: §15. The Supertask, Throughaction (Konstantin Stanislavski, An Actor’s Work)
Table of contents: An Actor’s Work (Konstantin Stanislavski)

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