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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Nikolaos Balamotis

Terminology of the Stanislavski system

The Stanislavski system is a big and strange affair (see here why.) Today there are various approaches and offshoots of the Russian system started by Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski. My own contact with the system came from my teacher in directing Katie Mitchell who studied the technique with Lev Dodin, who studied with Boris Zon, who was a student of Konstantin Stanislavski.

Below is an epigrammatic list of some of the basic terms of the system. I have divided them into two categories (rehearsal and training) without this division being strict. The tools of the system feed into each other, helping each other. Usually the limited rehearsal time does not allow time to train an actor in all the elements of the system. That's why I put in the Rehearsal category, those that are usually more applicable in the rehearsal process. Understanding the terms requires practice and study.

For the rehearsal

Intention/objective: what I wish to achieve as a role within a unit/event. My need. It's always about the other character(s) in the scene.

Super objective: what I want throughout the play.

Obstacle: what I have to overcome to achieve the objective.

Action: the way to achieve my objective. It is divided into internal action, external/physical action, verbal action.

Through action: the sum of a character's actions to achieve their super objective.

Given circumstances: divided into spatial, temporal, and biographical (who, where, when.) There are also the Immediate Circumstances (or the small circle of circumstances.)

Event: initial, main, unexpected. Something that changes my intention and action.

Active analysis: a rehearsal methodology.

Etude: improvised dramaturgy. A tool for studying and embodying a playwright's work.

B plan: the cargo I carry as a character, through my personal given circumstances. It is affected and changed during the project.

Inner monologue: what I say in my head during the scene, and how it fuels my actions.

For the training of the actor

Imagination: the ability to treat hypothetical situations as if they were real.

Rays: the way of non-verbal and extra-corporeal communication on stage.

Free body and voice: the achievement of a competent body/vocal instrument, free from tightness and tension.

Tempo-rhythm: our rhythm, both mental and physical, the speed of everything around us and what we do.

Concentration – Attention: the internal (concentration) and external (attention) skill of the actor to focus unhindered on the objective and the action on stage.

Psychophysical: the combination of thought and action. The harmonious cooperation of what we think and do.

Belief: the actor's psychophysical ability to honestly commit to the given circumstances and actions.

Discipline: the control of physical, mental and spiritual abilities to achieve the creative condition of the actor.

Inspiration: the achievement of a full creative state in which the actors truly live the life of the role on stage.

Stage ethics: the behavior on and off stage of an artist.

Germ: (or seed of a character.) A core quality of a character around which we build the role during rehearsals.


Maria Knebel, Active Analysis, 2021, Taylor & Francis Group.

Bella Merlin, The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit, 2007, Nick Hern Books Limited.

Katie Mitchell, The Director’s Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre, 2009, Routledge.

Nick O'Brien, Stanislavski in Practice: Exercises for Students, 2011, Routledge.

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