Born in Moscow in 1863, Constantin Sergeyevich Stanislavsky had a more profound effect on the process of acting than anyone else in the twentieth century. At age 14, Stanislavsky joined a theatrical group organized by his family, and soon became its central figure. Throughout the late 1800s he improved as an actor and began to produce and direct plays. It was his assertion that if the theater was going to be meaningful it needed to move beyond the external representation that acting had primarily been. Over forty years he created an approach that forefronted the psychological and emotional aspects of acting. The Stanislavsky System, or "the method," as it has become known, held that an actors main responsibility was to be believed (rather than recognized or understood).
To reach this "believable truth", Stanislavsky first employed methods such as "emotional memory." To prepare for a role that involves fear, the actor must remember something frightening, and attempt to act the part in the emotional space of that fear they once felt. Stanislavsky believed that an actor needed to take his or her own personality onto the stage when they began to play a character. This was a clear break from previous modes of acting that held that the actor's job was to become the character and leave their own emotions behind. Later Stanislavsky concerned himself with the creation of physical entries into these emotional states, believing that the repetition of certain acts and exercises could bridge the gap between life on and off the stage.
In his travels throughout the world with the Moscow Arts Theater, Stanislovsky earned international acclaim as an actor, director, and coach. Among his collaborators were the writers Tolstoy and Chekov. While Stanislavskys new method of acting supported actors in breaking from the exact lines and actions of the script, it also demanded that they pay closer attention to the important unsaid messages within the writing. This prompted writers such as Chekov to make subtler emotionally alive work.
Today in the United States, Stanislavskys theories are the primary source of study for many actors. Among the many great actors and teachers to use his work are Stella Adler, Marlon Brando, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, and Gregory Peck. Many of these artists have continued experimentation with Stanislavskys ideas. Among the best known of these proponents is the Actors Studio, an organization that has been home to some of the most talented and successful actors of our time.