Stanislavsky’s Prescience

The conscious self in the system and Active Analysis as a theory of mind

Authored by: Sharon Marie Carnicke

The Routledge Companion to Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138048898
eBook ISBN: 9781315169927
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter interrogates the continuing value of Konstantin Stanislavsky’s legacy to acting in the wake of twenty-first-century discoveries in cognitive science, specifically Theory of Mind. During the first three decades of the twentieth century, Stanislavsky conducted a broad search through many fields of knowledge, including the science and psychologies of his era, for ways to verbalize his tacit experience with acting. His effort was deeply experimental, resulting in a globally influential acting System that has been successively transmitted and transformed by actors from generation to generation. While his System in its many, often distorted, forms continues to hold exceptional authority in actor training programs and rehearsal halls worldwide, that authority is also being challenged by rapid technological and dramaturgical changes that impact actors’ work. Stanislavsky himself acknowledged the inevitability of change, when in the opening pages of his autobiography he recalls everyday items from his nineteenth-century Russian childhood that his students no longer knew—candles made from lard, the horse-drawn tarantas, flint-lock muskets, and the like (Stanislavskii 19881999, vol. 1: 53). 1 By extension, neither he nor his students could have imagined the world in which twenty-first-century actors live.

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