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Title:Attention, absorption and habit: the Stanislavski System reexamined as a cognitive process using the "Theatre of Consciousness" model of Bernard Baars
Author(s):Harman, Scott A.
Advisor(s):Hohman, Valleri J.
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Acting Theory
Cognitive Science
Abstract:Konstantin Stanislavski stated that “Art should be on good terms with science.” This was far from an unqualified statement, as he stridently resisted the “scientific sophistries” that some actors used to replace true creative art. He recognized right away that art must make use of science in order to find nature, but that art was ultimately intuitive and outside the realm of science. He recognized, however, that science, particularly psychology, had an aim similar to his own – the exploration and explanation of the business of being human. We know for certain that Stanislavski was intensely preoccupied with psychologists. He went so far as to directly cite one in particular – Theodule Ribot – as a direct source for some of his work. Many of the psychological foundations on which he built are no longer tenable. Any work such as his, that is steeped in the time of Freud, Ribot, and William James, is in danger of obsolescence, as those theorists have been modified, built upon, and even discarded. One might expect that Stanislavski should likewise be considered obsolete; a mere curiosity of a time long past. Close and thoughtful study can, however, reveal that the exact opposite is true. Many things we have learned about the human mind and its connection to the body in the decades since Stanislavski’s death can serve to reinforce his work, as well as provide an exciting way forward for actors and acting teachers. This study uses a study from one such contemporary theorist to do exactly that. Psychology as James and Freud saw it still thrives today, but it has added to itself the newer field of Cognitive Science. This field’s major occupation is the study of cognition – the process of thought – and its function in the human mind. I use the 1997 work In the Theater of Consciousness by neurobiologist Bernard Baars to reorganize the Stanislavski System in more empirical and Cognitive terms. Demonstrating a kinship between these two seemingly disparate thinkers makes the case that Konstantin Stanislavski, while developing his System over some three decades, did more than just revolutionize acting in the West. We find that, as Rhonda Blair argues, he intuited “something fundamental about how we, as human beings and as actors, work.” Demonstration of this immutable connection between the System and workings of the human mind allows us to understand the System itself in more empirical terms. It also reinvigorates the possibility of continuing Stanislavski’s process of exploration just as he might have. Had Stanislavski lived to see the staggering advances in both theoretical psychology and neuroscience, he would almost certainly have continued developing and refining his own work. This study serves as a reminder that the truest way to practice the Stanislavski System is to constantly reexamine and refine how we understand ourselves as actors and thinking beings.
Issue Date:2010-05-19
Rights Information:Copyright 2010 Scott A. Harman
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-05-19
Date Deposited:May 2010

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