Michael Chekhov and His Approach to Acting in Contemporary Performance Training
Michael Chekhov was an actor, director, and teacher who was determined to develop a clear and accessible acting approach. During his lifetime, his ideas were often viewed as too radical and mystical. Over the past decade however, the Chekhov method of actor training has enjoyed an expansion of interest. The following thesis will examine who Chekhov was, and what the major points of his technique were. It will also consider why and where his techniques are experiencing growth in our contemporary performance environment. Chekhov was a student of the great acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski. After studying with him for several years, Chekhov concluded that many aspects of the Stanislavski method of creating a role were potentially dangerous and unnecessary. Both men were constantly searching for new and improved ways to create and direct a role. Chekhov began to design his own approach which placed heavy emphasis on imagination and movement. He developed what became known as the 'psychological gesture'. This is a physical movement or gesture which captures the total essence of a character and is executed inwardly while an actor portrays a character. Many contemporary actors and teachers are now acknowledging Chekhov and his development of this 'psychological gesture'. Upon parting ways with Stanislavski, Chekhov studied with spiritualist Rudolph Steiner, a writer, philosopher, and movement specialist. By taking his own ideas and combining them with some of Steiner's and Stanislavski's, Chekhov developed a fresh approach to performance that many contemporary actors and teachers are finally discovering. This thesis will be an exploration of his ideas and how they successfully apply to the present day performer. The first chapter of this thesis will examine the life of Michael Chekhov and his two major influences, Constantin Stanislavski and Rudolph Steiner. Chapter Two will explore the major elements of the Chekhov technique and how they differed from Stanislavski's. The resurgence in interest and usage will be discussed in Chapter Three. This section will unmask the people and places that are presently working with and teaching the Chekhov techniques. Will the Chekhov technique continue to expand, or is it just a passing phase in the contemporary performer's search for a reliable and accessible method of performance? The thesis conclusion will examine how Chekhov's work has been promulgated over the years. A final analysis of the method and its expansion will also be formulated in the final chapter.