The S Word: Stanislavsky and Gender

An international Zoom webinar co-hosted by the Stanislavsky Research Centre, University of Leeds and the School of Performing Arts, University of Malta.

This event is free, but advance booking is essential. 

Booking now available online.

The influence of the work and legacy of Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863-1938) endures across the broad field of the performing arts, and his prominence as a male figure receives renewed debate and criticism. In a wider and contemporary context, the proliferation and expansion of the term ‘gender’, continued inequalities and understandings of intersectionality provoke us to ask how his work and legacy might inform and unsettle our understanding and experiences of gender in our scholarship and practice today.

Panel Members

Moderator: Mark Shields, University of Leeds

Hosted by the Stanislavsky Research Centre, University of Leeds and the School of Performing Arts, University of Malta.

Stanislavsky and Female Directors

Dr Maria Ignatieva, Ohio State University.

My presentation will be dedicated to Stanislavsky’s thoughts about female directing. I will include a brief analysis of Maria Lilina, Zinaida Sokolova, Nina Litovtseva, Elizaveta Telesheva, and Kseniya Kotlubai’s directing experiences at the Moscow Art Theatre. Unlike Maria Lilina, who never considered herself “a director,” four other women had. Did Stanislavsky agree that they were? According to Stanislavsky, female directors, without whom plays could not reach their psychological depth, were, nevertheless, not able to stage the plays. Stanislavsky repeats it again and again in various letters. Olga Bokshanskaya quotes, “Telesheva and Litovtseva while working with actors as pedagogues, … cannot stage plays, and must always be paired with the directors (male director, MI) who can.” (Olga Bokshanskaya, Letters to Nemirovich-Danchenko, v. II, 375).

Dr. Maria Ignatieva is the Martha W. Farmer Endowed Professor at the Ohio State University, Department of Theatre, Film, and Media Arts. Ignatieva is a specialist in Russian theatre, film, and culture. Before coming to the US, Ignatieva taught at the Moscow Art Theatre School Studio, Russia, and worked as a theatre and film critic. Ignatieva authored a book Stanislavsky and Female Actors, UPA, 2008, and published chapters and essays about Konstantin Stanislavsky, Anton and Michail Chekhovs, Russian female actors and directors in various anthologies between 2010 and 2021.

Modernist Acting on the American Stage Pre-1923: Textual Evidence from Susan Glaspell’s Trifles (1916) and “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917)

Professor J. Ellen Gainor, Cornell University.

Studies of modernist American acting and actor training prior to the arrival of Stanislavsky’s techniques often rely on career memoirs, biographies, and manuals tracing a period that begins before 1923, but that stretches into the 1930s or beyond.  We must ask, then, if such sources truly reflect the state of performers’ work before Stanislavsky’s concepts began to impact the American stage.  The production of Susan Glaspell’s feminist modernist drama Trifles (1916) also featured her as an actor; she then adapted the play to her short story, “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917). These twinned narratives, emerging a few years prior to 1923, thus provide unique textual evidence of what Glaspell believed worked in performance (or not) through the emendations and descriptive prose that we find in the fictional form.  These pieces additionally serve as guides to her own and her colleagues’ acting, offering concrete examples of performance techniques that would soon resonate with those of the Stanislavsky System.

J.Ellen Gainor is Professor of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University. A specialist in British and American Drama/Theatre/Performance of the modernist period and in women’s dramaturgy, Gainor is the author of two award-winning monographs, Shaw’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of Gender and Susan Glaspell in Context: American Theater, Culture and Politics 1915-1948. She has edited numerous volumes of scholarly essays and plays, including The Norton Anthology of Drama, and contributed essays, reviews, and reference articles to a wide range of publications. She is also the author of the influential article “Rethinking Feminism, Stanislavsky, and Performance” (Theatre Topics, 2002).

Acting Emotional Feeling and Gender Identity in Stanislavski’s Approach

Professor Peta Tait FAHA, La Trobe University.

Olga Knipper and Constantin Stanislavski acted together to acclaim in the early Moscow Art Theatre productions of Chekhov’s plays that established the company’s reputation. This presentation considers comments about Knipper’s performance and Stanislavski’s acting and directing and instances when her interpretation had to be adjusted. English-language scholarship about a disagreement over the interpretation of emotions implicitly values Stanislavski’s analytical approach and deems Knipper’s approach to be felt or intuitive. But to what extent was a divergence in approaches due to gender experience and indicative of a wider pattern evident in twentieth-century theatre? Stanislavski’s System followed the advent of the pioneering James–Lange theory arguing that emotional feeling involves physiological responses that happen prior to mental processes. Although Stanislavski perceived that physiological feeling was difficult to act, he evaluated the performance of emotional feeling in gendered ways.

Professor Peta Tait, La Trobe University, is an academic and playwright and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She has written over 60 scholarly articles and chapters and recent books include: the authored: Forms of Emotion: Human to Nonhuman in Drama, Theatre and Performance (Routledge 2022); Theory for Theatre Studies: Emotion (2021); the edited, Great European Stage Directors: Antoine, Stanislavski and Saint-Denis, volume one (London: Bloomsbury, 2018); the co-edited Feminist Ecologies: Changing Environments in the Anthropocene (2018); the authored Fighting Nature: Travelling Menageries, Animal Acts and War Shows (Sydney University Press 2016); the co-edited The Routledge Circus Studies Reader.

Unlocking The Door of Empathy Through A Stanislavskian Relation

Dr Baron Kelly, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Baron Kelly will discuss his journey and technique to develop his one man show on Ira Aldridge. I will discuss concepts such as “the door of empathy.” How the door of empathy led me to find a greater connection with the character of Ira Aldridge.  Other topics I will touch on include how human interaction is embedded in the action between the lines. Subtext is action and action is subtext. The responsibility of the actor is to make the event of the scene happen in service to the story.  For the event to have vertical movement in the playing, the actor needs to be alive to the kinesthetic responses to the various stimuli.

Dr. Baron Kelly is a four-time Fulbright Scholar and Professor of Theatre in the Theatre and Drama Department at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Baron has performed internationally for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada; National Theatre of Norway; Yermelova Theatre, Moscow, Russia; Constans Theatre, Athens, Greece, Academy Theatre Dublin; Edinburgh Theatre Festival; Bargello, Florence, Italy; among others. Broadway: credits include Salome and Electra. Numerous classical and contemporary roles for over 30 of America’s leading regional theatres including the Oregon, Utah, Dallas Fort Worth, and Southern California Shakespeare Festivals; Yale Repertory; The Guthrie; Shakespeare Theatre Washington; among others. Dr. Kelly’s work has been published in Theatre Journal; Journal of American Drama and Theatre; African American National Biography; American Theatre; Stage Directors and Choreographers Journal; Cambridge Scholars Publishing; Peter Lang Publishers; Journal of the institute of African Studies; among others. He serves on the Fulbright Review Panel; International Institute of Education China-U.S. Scholars Review Panel; and boards of the Arden Shakespeare Series (Advisory Editorial Board), Lagos Notes and Records (Editorial Advisory Board), Harold Pinter Review (Editorial Advisory Board), Comparative Drama Conference (Editorial Board), Stanislavsky Institute Advisory Board, National Theatre Conference (Executive Committee), and the American Society for Theatre Research (Executive Committee). In 2022, Baron will be invested as a Fellow in the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. His book, titled An Actor’s Task: Engaging the Senses, is available from Hackett Publishing Company. He is currently under contract to Routledge Publishers for a co-edited/co-authored manuscript with Karen Kopryanski, The Embodiment of Text.

Working with the Queer Performer or Maker to Shift Perspectives on Actor Training.

Barry Fitzgerald (He/They)

Barry Fitzgerald is a queer, Irish performer and maker based between Ireland and the UK. Their practice is concerned with the intersections of identity. Playing with form and connecting with communities is at its heart – experimental work that is aesthetically rich, accessible, thought-provoking and fun. Barry has worked with companies such as Complicité and Punchdrunk, and devised work shown at the Arcola, Birmingham REP, Bush Theatre, Camden People’s Theatre, Contact, The Glory, Hackney Showroom and Shoreditch Town Hall. In 2021 Barry wrote and performed in The Devotions, a short film about queerness and cultural Catholicism currently screening at film festivals. They are artist-in-residence at VISUAL Carlow and an associate artist of Outbox Theatre, a company of LGBTIQ+ creatives. An experienced facilitator, director and teacher, Barry has worked on projects with the Almeida, ArtsEd London, Barbican, Gendered Intelligence, Hackney Shed, Mountview, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Royal Court, Unicorn Theatre and University of East London among others.

Stanislavsky Disparities: Dispossessed, Imperceptible, Ethereal 

Dr Samia La Virgne, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Samia will be discussing how Stanislavsky’s methods and acting techniques are taught in drama schools without being expressly identified. Utilising her personal experience with actor training, she will examine how this phenomenon, coupled with her marginalised intersectional status of womanhood and blackness, created a loss of agency and onus of some parts of her actor artistry.

Originally from California, Samia La Virgne is a classically trained black actress, director, theatre arts practitioner, and academic. She received her B.A. in Theatre Arts in the US and moved to the UK where she received her M.F.A. in Acting. She has just completed the final stage of her PhD studies in Performing Arts at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and will be graduating in January. Her PhD research examined the social stigma of blackness and womanhood through a comparative study of the stereotypical representations of black women in the performing arts industry, and the effects they have on black actresses in the UK and US. Her passion and interests lie within improving and reframing perspectives, ideologies, and representations of marginalised groups in the performing arts industry via innovative 21st century methodologies.