Living the Part

You may play well or you may play badly; the important thing is that you should play truly,’ wrote Shchepkin to his pupil Shumski. To play truly means to be right, logical, coherent, to think, strive, feel and act in unison with your role.

If you take all these internal processes, and adapt them to the spiritual and physical life of the person you are representing, we call that living the part. This is of supreme significance in creative work. Aside from the fact that it opens up avenues for inspiration, living the part helps the artist to carry out one of his main objectives. His job is not to present merely the external life of his character. He must fit his own human qualities to the life of this other person, and pour into it all of his own soul. The fundamental aim of our art is the creation of this inner life of a human spirit, and its expression in an artistic form.

That is why we begin by thinking about the inner side of a role, and how to create its spiritual life through the help of the internal process of living the part. You must live it by actually experiencing feelings that are analogous to it, each and very time you repeat the process of creating it.

— Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares, 1936


2 thoughts on “Living the Part

  1. The actor integrates the results of their ‘living the part’ from their rehearsal process into a finished artistic form (in contrast to the improvisatory quality of Stanislavski’s approach). “The portrait ready, it needs only to be framed; that is, put on the stage.” In performance, Stanislavski continues (quoting Coquelin ), “the actor does not live, he plays. He remains cold toward the object of his acting but his art must be perfection.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry for the delay in posting your comment, Alex — for some reason this website’s spamcatcher consigned it to perdition. I recognize your remarks as having been excerpted from the “Art of Representation” Wikipedia entry. Here’s another excerpt from that site:

    “The distinction between Stanislavski’s ‘experiencing the role’ and Coquelin’s ‘representing the part’ turns on the relationship that the actor establishes with their character during the performance. In Stanislavski’s approach, by the time the actor reaches the stage, they no longer experience a distinction between themselves and the character. The actor has created a third being, or a combination of the actor’s personality and the role.”

    This “third being” idea is interesting — the merger of the actor’s self and the character’s self generating some sort of hybrid art-self. A similar sort of third being is likely created from the fiction writer’s self merging with the character’s self. Many writers experience the sense of the characters writing themselves, having their own distinct voices, not wholly under the author’s control. The actor, fully occupying this third self, enters into a kind of ecstatic, dissociative, liminal space, in effect living inside the world of the play while still being aware that they’re strutting and fretting across a stage rather than, say, striding the ramparts of a medieval Danish castle. The fiction writer too becomes immersed inside the fictional world as it’s being created, while still being aware of sitting at a computer typing away. Stanislavski calls it a “third self;” you might say that that self occupies a “third world,” but that term is already taken.


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