The psychotechnique was invented by Stanislavski and was developed after many years of experimentation and research. Stanislavski began to develop the psychotechnique between 1905 and 1906 in Finland after five or six years of experimentation. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly he felt that theatre should be used as a means to educate the audience through empathy, in this way he could engage the emotions of them which he then believed would cause them to reassess their own lives and attitudes.
However the recent development of acting was melodrama. This included the star system, a declamatory style of acting, stock gestures and the same story lines. This style of drama went against what Stanislavski strived to achieve, a “sense of truth” onstage. Along with this motivation Stanislavski was frustrated with himself as an actor feeling he had a weak voice and that he lacked physical control, so from this he set out to improve himself through series of exercises and began to invent theories on dramatic performance.
Setting up an acting school called The Moscow Arts Theatre, he began to experiment over years with his students and eventually came up with the psychotechnique a process by which an actor could follow to ultimately create, “a sense of truth” onstage. This involved stages of rehearsal first beginning with play preparation, internal rehearsal before any external action.
Stanislavski believed, “all action in the theatre must have inner justification, be logical, coherent and real” and by the long preparing process, stage performance would be planned in such a detailed way that the performers every move would have a reason that had relevance to the play. In my attempt to use the psychotechnique I would play John Proctor in the play The Crucible.
The very first thing I would begin to do in my preparation, in accordance with the psychotechnique, would be regular use of exercises such as “circles of attention” which Stanislavski invented. Also I would do facial, vocal, and body exercises to prepare my body and increase my ability to characterise and convey emotion. As Stanislavski said, “Exercises contribute to making your physical apparatus more mobile, flexible, expressive and even more sensitive,” so by exercising I can increase my ability to play John Procter with a “sense of truth”.
Working together with all cast and production staff was vital to Stanislavski as it created an ensemble a unity which would in turn provide an effective performance onstage (this eradicated the star treatment as there would be no sole importance of one famous actor/character) and so with the cast we would then progress to reading the text. Stanislavski felt that the text should be read at least four times, each time on a different level. This raised the status of the text which in melodrama was basically just referred to as an idea of the story and not studied closely.
So we would read the text as Stanislavski advised each time reading on either a factual, social, aesthetic or literary level. This way one can understand the context of the play, the storyline, ideas for costume, set design etc and the style of writing. In reference to The Crucible for example the social context of the story is a puritan settlement in America without going into too much detail, but when reading the play I would actually analyse very closely.
I would also do some research into the story, for instance The Crucible is based on the true story of the Salem Witch Trials so I would research this and the puritan lifestyle and beliefs. The next thing to do would be to plot the through-line of the story, the development of the action and story, once done as an ensemble we would collectively decide on the super-objective of the play. This would be the main idea or message underneath the text that we would try to communicate to the audience. The action of the play would be developed around this.
In this case I would feel that I would want to convey the effect of an affair both on a smaller scale in family and largely within a community on a dramatic scale, and I would try to raise argument in the audience whether John should be forgiven or not if the cast all fully agreed with me. Following the psychotechnique I would then have to follow the through-line of my character John Proctor. I n The Crucible he begins by having to deal with the awkward situation with his wife to standing up to Abigail Williams to dealing with the situation of his adultery and then being accused of witchcraft falsely and taking the penalty for it.
I can now go on to dividing the texts into units and objectives. This would be firstly differentiating the change into sections where a certain situation, emotion of a character or mood of the section changes, these are the units. An example in act 2 scene one of The Crucible is where Elizabeth Procter begins talking with “What keeps you so late? ” until “”With a certain disappointment he returns to the table. ” That section would be one unit. The objective is what the ensemble feel they want the unit to establish or show to the audience, “At the heart of every unit lies a creative objective. In this case the objective would be to establish the state of the couple’s relationship with their current history of the affair. It shows their awkward feelings toward each other and the status of character with Elizabeth for the moment being in control, cold towards him and John’s desperation not to upset her and trying to get closer her. This would be done to every scene in the play to give detailed plan of what the actors are trying to achieve dramatically in each of the scenes.
It would then be important for me to work out the subtext of every character in the scenes that include John Proctor along with the cast. By establishing what we feel each character really means underneath the speech we can present a more believable presentation using speech that says one thing but using body language etc that may express another. This gives depth to the characters, a stronger sense of personality once again helping to create, “a sense of truth. Now I would work on the individual character that I am playing, John Proctor.
Stanislavski thought that you must be able to feel the emotions of the character in order to play it convincingly. One of Stanislavski’s techniques was a process called Emotion Memory this uses time as a “filter for our remembered feelings. ” This means recalling a situation or experience in our past which is similar to that of the characters, then you must relive these feelings. This will help you to convey “sincere emotions” and “feelings that seem true”. However we cannot have experienced all situations in life and Stanislavski realised this so he also created the Magic If.
The Magic If is a process where you imagine yourself in the same situation as the character and then ask yourself how you would feel. For example I would ask myself, “how I would feel if after such a long time my wife still clearly did not trust me? ” You imagine how you would feel and apply those feelings in your interpretation and representation of the character. So by using our imagination the Magic If can “act as a lever to lift us out of the world of actuality into the realm of imagination” and we can as with Emotion Memory show “feelings that seem true. The final process before any action would be to feel the internal tempo rhythm of John Proctor within each scene. The internal tempo rhythm is the pace of a characters heartbeat within each unit. This can change either increasing or decreasing with the change of tension within each character. The tempo may not reflect in the movement of the character but if felt by an actor can help to convey effectively the emotion of the character.
In my case the first unit of the first scene of act 2 the internal tempo rhythm of John’s character would be just a bit higher than his resting tempo rhythm because there is tension between him and Elizabeth and he is trying not to upset her. Once this has been planned out I will have completed the internal rehearsal process. I will know how to perform my character and have a greater understanding of the story, the characters and the relationships between them, there will be a common goal and so the performance will make more sense.
Overall the performance will effectively create “sense of truth” with the entire ensemble with identical goals and ideas. With everyone knowing what they are trying to achieve rehearsal will be less difficult and complicated. The psychotechnique will have helped me to provide a more believable character with clear intentions and motives. With all actors fulfilling the psychotechnique process the “sense of truth” onstage should help create empathy in the audience and so educate them as Stanislavski set out to achieve.