If you’re a Stanislavski Geek like me and you’ve read everything written about him in the English language, you’ll love Stanislavky in Focus. The second edition of Sharon Marie Carnicke’s book. Her care and attention, as well as her experience as a Russian speaker, a professional actor and director mark this book out for special attention.
Carnicke knows her stuff, she really goes at this with 100% and I’ve loved reading it, furthering my knowledge, filling in gaps and reassuring myself of things I thought I knew. But there’s a small problem. In a couple of sections, I’m being asked to take Carnicke’s word that she’s able to read between the lines of the Russian texts (things I’m clearly never going to read) in order to glean the REAL meaning. Okay, I used to be an academic, I know that the reading between the lines is not a robust way to make a conclusion about anything. I know Carnicke is highly experienced (I utterly respect her and wish I could do my PhD with her) but I’m concerned about this reading between the lines business. It doesn’t smack of the same authenticity as the rest of the book. Still you should buy the book, it’s a great read but don’t expect a practical guide. This is Stan Geekery at our best.
Carnicke’s short rebuttal of Mamet’s views on Stanislavski leads me to believe more than ever W H Macy’s claim that Practical Aesthetics is ‘the next generation of Stanislavsky’. Rather than persuading me that Mamet is wrong (sorry NAME DELETED), it’s convinced me that Mamet is much closer to a stripped bare version of Stanislavski. Anyway let’s not get that into debate. The book (and many of my own critics) offers a perspective quite close to ‘if Mamet knew what ‘I’ knew about Stanislavski, he would realise that he’s wrong. Well, okay, that’s possible. HOWEVER, and this is a MASSIVE however, the Stanislavski that Mamet knows, that almost EVERYONE in the world knows is NOT the Stanislavski that Carnicke knows. The poorly translated, Method, US-biased books, the censored USSR version, – instead, the Stanislavski that we all know is the Stanislavski that anyone had a chance to know. Strasberg and Meisner didn’t meet Stanislavski in person. They were never taught by him. None of us were. None of us have had a chance to get to know the ‘real’ Stanislavski until Carnicke’s book. After my reading of the book, I’m more convinced than ever that Practical Aesthetics is the convertible edition of Stanislavski’s work, stripped back, essential and fun. If you want to do other stuff on top of PA, that’s fine by me. Whatever floats your boat.
Buy this book if you’re interested in the history of the development of Stanislavski’s system and the Method. I’m waiting til the Whyman book goes paperback before I buy it, but apparently according to NAME DELETED it’s going to show me how wrong I am and how wrong Mamet is. Well, I wouldn’t be too surprised if it showed that Lee Strasberg was actually Stanislavski, because each of us reads these texts, picking up the parts that strengthen our individual argument and ignoring those that don’t.
An example of this comes in Carnicke’s book. She talks about university programmes teaching Stanislavski and she speaks about ART (the American Repertory Theatre) and Brustein and the relationship with Harvard Institute of Advanced Theater Training. The MFA Acting students go to Russia, they learn Stanislavski there etc etc. Yet, she fails to mention that this highly regarded course begins with… an intensive training in Practical Aesthetics from Scott Zigler (warning GRUMPY photo), one of the authors of A Practical Handbook for the Actor and Director of the Institute. Is this Carnicke making a mistake, or avoiding muddying her reader’s perspective with ART/Institute’s condoning Practical Aesthetics? I don’t know, I hope she reads the blog some day and tells me!
Mark Westbrook is a professional actor trainer and acting coach in Glasgow, Scotland and according to most of his critics is uneducated, under-trained, poorly trained, wrongly trained, badly trained, badly misinformed, misdirected, deluded, eluded, avoided and persuaded. Read here what his students think.