This past spring semester, 25 students from Loyola Marymount University had the opportunity to study the Stanislavski system of acting at the Moscow Art Theatre, the theater where this style originated, as part of a study abroad program. One of the most popular performance training methods, the Stanislavski system was developed by Russian actor and theater director Constantin Stanislavski.
“An actor can’t get better training than at the Moscow Art Theatre. It’s where the Stanislavski system began, and is taught in its purest form,” said Diane Benedict, professor of theater and faculty adviser for the program. “You have to study this system in some form if you want to be a professional actor.”
Before arriving in Moscow, the students spent a month in Bonn, Germany, studying theater history, philosophy, media ethics and German at the AIB (Academy of International Bildung). In addition to their studies and absorbing the German culture, the students attended two to three theatre performances a week.
“The plays were hard to understand because they weren’t performed in English. I had to watch them from different perspectives rather than just getting caught up in the story,” said Lindsay Wagner ’09, a theater major. “It really opened up my mind and my critical thinking skills.”
In February, the students arrived at the Moscow Art Theatre. They studied acting, movement and dancing in a conservatory-style environment. LMU is the only undergraduate program in the United States invited to bring acting students to participate in their courses. Other participants include students from Harvard University’s M.F.A. acting program at American Repertory Theater. Benedict said training of this caliber really helps prepare students for the realities of being a professional actor.
“There is a lot of time and repetition involved in the Stanislavski system. It is very physical demanding and requires a lot of imagination,” Benedict said. “This is perfect for the students who are really serious about a career in acting.”
The group then returned to Bonn to rehearse a play that was performed at the Bonn Schauspielhaus, Theatre am Ballsaal, in May. The play, directed by Benedict, featured interwoven portions from three of Tony Kushner’s plays – “Angels in America,” “Slav’s” and “Bright Room Called Day”- Three stories set in three powerful nations, America, Russia, and Germany, which raise the question of the moral responsibility of people in politically repressive times.
However, acting training and cultural immersion were not the only lessons that students learned from the study abroad program. “Ego goes out the window with Stanislavski training. You must have the desire to unite with your fellow human being, and connect with the group, not the self,” Benedict said.