Monday, November 21, 2011

"Stanislavski Is Pathetic!"

William Blake - "Mysterious Dream"
I would like to share a dream I had a few years ago.
Before I do, a brief background note is necessary.

When I approached Stanislavski at 18, I was alone on the task. I was taking acting classes at the time and, although the exercises we did involved some kind of a technical training, a practical insight over Stanislavski's theories was never offered, although everybody loved to mention him. So, I resolved I would do it myself.
I bought Stanislavski's three books - An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role - and started studying. I tried to apply as much as I could, but my young age and inexperience brought me to misunderstand a lot of what he wrote. As a result, my acting started relying on method and outer technique, becoming totally devoid of an inner emotional pulse. My acting was external, robotic, lifeless, and this led me to be very, very frustrated.
My reaction was to put Stanislavski's books back in the shelf. I decided I would not waste more time with him. I dismissed him as the founder of an acting technique that was merely external, empty, and old-fashioned. Where was the novelty? I didn't need it. Acting has always been to me a way to express feelings that, in real life, were too difficult to express. What use could an external technique have for me? I didn't want to wear masks anymore.

Months later, I have this very short but intense dream:
An old actor is standing in front of me, and with a scolding attitude he says: "Stanislavski is pathetic!".
I can't remember who the actor was, except that he was one I strongly admired.

As soon as I woke up, I tried to interpret it.
My unconscious was giving me a message through the words and the image of an actor who was much wiser and more experienced than I was - not to mention more talented!
But why was he telling me that? Why was Stanislavski pathetic? He was empty, void, bleak, old, external, fake, but I couldn't say he was pathetic. If pathetic meant 'ridiculous' and 'inadequate', well, then I agreed. But then, why should my unconscious try to tell me something I was already aware of?

So, I focused on the word pathetic.
Pathetic stems from the Greek word "pathos", which means "sorrow", "pity" or, more in general, "feeling".
My unconscious was warning me that Stanislavski and his acting methods were not robotic, empty, and external. Stanislavski's techniques had, instead, feeling and emotion as their main core and, specifically, the recreation of the latter on stage.
My unconscious was trying to tell me that I had completely misinterpreted what Stanislavski wrote, and then blamed him for everything. 

That is when I became fully aware of my stupid mistake.
I took Stanislavski's books back in my hands, looking at his picture on the front covers with the meeker attitude of the one who's re-emptying his 1/10 full glass, and got back down to studying. This time, though, I was aided by people who knew more than I did and with whom I could discuss and compare my experiences and understanding of his theories.

I'd like this post to be a small introduction to a long series of links I'll make between acting and psychology.
I believe dreams are one of the most direct messages our Self sends up to balance our attitude and correct our path.
This is not the only dream experience I had, but with regard to acting, it is definitely a very significant one.



  1. ecco. cool. adesso ti ho letto. che belli i sogni. che aiuto.

    Sto leggendo l'attore e il bersaglio di Donnellan Declan. lo hai letto?


  2. Wow interesting blog post Jay.

    Being Stanislavski trained myself with teachers who took great care to help us understand the principles and background as well as the application, I can't even imagine how confusing it would be being a young actor working it out for oneself! Really looking forward to hearing more on your acting journey.

  3. Hi Jay,
    WOW! I commend you for searching deep into your subconscious in order to fix an "acting flaw" ;)
    I love dreams and I am intrigued by them. However, I only look at the cultural and psychological aspect of it. By the way, I had never researched the etymology of the word "pathetic". Thanks for the info ;)
    Very interesting post, Jay. Kudos!

  4. Rob, thanks for the comment. Yeah, dreams can be helpful, as long as you take them with the right attitude.
    I haven't read the book, but I definitely will!

    Angela, I know what you mean. Unfortunately, living in the countryside very far from the big cities can be as wonderful as limiting. My personal and self-directed approach to Stanislavski wasn't really an option for me at the time.
    But all's well that ends well.
    Given what I learned from the mistake, I'm glad I made it!

    Hi Claudia!
    I wish our unconscious could find a way to speak in much clearer ways sometimes.
    I also look at the psychological and cultural aspect of dreams. What I tried to bring here was a personal example of dream analysis as I learned it by studying Carl Gustav Jung's analytical psychology.
    Being a writer, who knows how much inspiration you must get from dreams, sometimes, maybe, without even being aware of that! You just wake up and, bingo! You got the concluding sentence to your short story!
    Kudos to you my friend!

  5. Oi mate, first off nice to meet you. Thanks for the comment on my blog I love meeting new people. It's awesome that you're as into art as I am (I'm on the writing side mostly), and psychology! This must have been a very cool dream to experience and I am fascinated by how you interpreted it. Those interpretation skills will do you well in the future. Keep posting more dreams! I would love to read more, I could learn from your insight.

  6. Somnium, I will definitely share new dreams and new interpretations. I will visit your blog often too. Your experiments are of great interest to me and remind me of Jung's active imagination experiments.

  7. Thanks for connecting with my blog Jay. Our network is based in work based learning and involves professional art practitioners who are exploring particular aspects of what they do in their final year of university study. A number of the network are from the various vocational performing arts schools in London and England. We use social media as one of the themes running through the course as a way of creating a professional presence and to share professional experience. Stanislavsky and method acting, for example, has come up in the network as people think about the way they were trained, and like yourself, work out some of the aspects of this method on their own. Everyone on the course ‘studies’ what they think will be useful to them – so every person choose a different line of inquiry. Your blog is a great example of sharing experience, so I will definitely follow your blog to see what yourself and others are up to in NYC

  8. Paula,
    I will definitely follow your blog too.
    If you have any questions about my activity as an actor or the most common North American trends, I'll be pleased to answer.

  9. Wow, I love your blog. Your articles are so deeply interesting. You seem to be a very smart man. Being curious about psychology is a great help for an actor. We must explore the complexity of the human mind every way we can.

    I'll keep visiting your blog regularly. Thanks for your interest in mine. ;)


  10. Marjorie,
    Psychology is actually to me necessary to explore and create my characters. Without it, there's no character.
    Thanks for commenting. I'll try to live up to your compliments;)

  11. Very interesting dream analysis! I've never thought to review dream messages with an etymological approach before, but it makes sense as dreams often have many layers of meaning.

  12. Hello Raquel,
    I'm glad you found it interesting.
    I don't use etymology as a rule. I don't think there's a fixed rule for interpreting dreams. Each single dream is a unique case that should be taken as such. For this dream, the etymology of the word was, to me, the only possible solution.

  13. Pathos also is:

    Something bad that happens to you as in passion of christ.
    Passion as in passion for life.

    Pathetic also means:

    Someone who is homosexual and on the receiving end.
    Someone who is acted uppon by others, as in grammar.

    I believe it was just a dream. You did believe that Stanislavski was pathetic. Your dream simply reflective your negative opinion about him. You came to your senses and realised that if Stanislavski had nothing to offer he wouldn't have such a legacy in the acting environment.

    1. Only the modern meaning of the word has a negative connotation. The original Greek word "pathos",often used in Greek comedy and tragedy, indicates anything that in general falls into the sphere of feeling and sentiment, without necessarily having a positive or a negative connotation.

      It is interesting, curious, and I would say daring, I'd say, that someone who's not in the least familiar with my personal life and background can give an interpretation of my dream with such clarity and confidence.
      Appreciative of your attempt, I'm afraid that your interpretation is wrong :)