Stanislavski, Seek Beauty & Its Opposite

I bought a copy of An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski during my second attempt at theatre school in 2000. I think I skimmed it. I wasn’t a serious actor and didn’t care about the method –– this quality about myself remains true. Over the Christmas break, while cleaning out my apartment preparing for a huge life move, I cracked the book again and well… holy shit.

An Actor Prepares is more than an acting manual. Stanislavski wrote about somatic experiencing thirty years before Esalen formed. I’m revisiting this 1936 book, now disconnected from my ambition and youthful arrogance. There are some excellent exercises to help us navigate all the shit going on in our lives, from loss of concentration to nervous system regulation. I’m going to share some quotations from this book over the next few posts starting with this one:

“How can we teach unobservant people to notice what nature and life are trying to show them? First of all they must be taught to look at, to listen to, and to hear what is beautiful. Such habits elevate their minds and arouse feelings which will leave deep traces in their emotional memories. Nothing in life is more beautiful than nature, and it should be the object of constant observation. To begin with, take a little flower, or a petal from it, or a spider web, or a design made by frost on the window pane. Try to express in words what it is in these things that give pleasure. Such an effort causes you to observe the object more closely, more effectively, in order to appreciate it and define its qualities. And do not shun the dark side of nature. Look for it in marshes, in the slime of the sea, amid plagues of insects, and remember that hidden behind these phenomena there is beauty, just as there is loveliness there is unloveliness. What is truly beautiful has nothing to fear from disfigurement. Indeed, disfigurement often emphasizes and sets of beauty in higher relief.

“Search out both beauty and its opposite, and define them, learn to know and to see them. Otherwise your conception of beauty will be incomplete, saccharine, prettified, sentimental.”

An Actor Prepares, Stanislavski


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