The Michael Chekhov Acting Technique
Who was Michael Chekhov?
Nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov. Michael Chekhov was invited to become a member of the first studio of the Moscow Art Theater (MCHAT) directed by Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky speaks of Michael as his brightest student. During the Soviet regime, Chekhov was forced to leave Russia at the top of his career. His work was too ” experimental” for the taste of the Soviets. He therefore left Russia and traveled to Europe for a few years. In 1938 the threat of war forced him to move again. Thus he came to America. Chekhov became the coach of the Hollywood stars, acted in some films and published his book: “To the Actor.”
Called professor, after his arrival in Hollywood in 1943 , preceded by great fame, he had among his students Marilyn Monroe (from 1951), Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman (who worked with him in I’ll save you) Paul Newman, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, Yul Brynner, Anthony Quinn. His technique was also essential for Anthony Hopkins, Jack Nicholson.
Chekhov died in 1955 in Los Angles, California.
The Michael Chekhov technique
All true artists carry within a desire, deeply rooted and often unconscious, towards transformation” MC
This technique aims to awaken in the artist his ability to inhabit the transformation . It trains talent and results in inspiration.
The method uses basic and simple principles at the same time.
First of all Chekhov addresses the actor as a Human Being , freeing him from the smallness of individuality and the “personal”.
In this sense, the actor draws on a universal and imaginative dimension through simple exercises that has nothing to do with private life.
“In our technique there are no purely physical exercises, all the exercises are psycho-physical. The external physical actions awaken an internal psychological response ”MC
The body is entirely involved in the work and becomes a vehicle for transmission to the inner world, which receives images and sensations and then transforms them into impulses, feelings and actions .
For Chekhov it is very important that every artist knows how to feel, receive (incorporate) and that he knows how to express, transmit (radiate) images to the outside.
To do this, gestures are used, in which the whole body participates, which express that image / archetype / character, and which involve the interiority, the energy behind the gesture. This happens through a process called “artistic frame” which makes the gesture psychological. That is, a gesture that gives us back a certain psychology.
The psychological gestures are used in relation to the key actions, the archetypes, you can work on a psychological gesture for us encloses a character; every little variation of the gesture changes its essence.
The energy centers on which one works are those of thought, feeling and will.
The energy contained in these three spheres of the human being is specific and speaks a very specific language. The heart has its own language, and so do the characters linked to feeling. If it is the intellect that prevails in the psychology of a character, he will be very different from one who is tied to the sphere of the will. And not all personalities connected to one of the three centers are the same, each has its own psychology, which is why different images are used.
To inhabit an image , whether linked to a direction of space, to a sensation, to an atmosphere, to an archetype or to an element of nature (quality of movement), to transform ourselves through it and use it to act on stage: this essentially it is the beauty and usefulness of the Chekhov technique. The medium is the body, the physical and the energetic.
Finally, Chekhov reminds us that on stage as in rehearsals we must take into account the feeling of ease (eliminating tension, working with confidence and fluidity), of the beauty (understood as authenticity) of the form and of the entire artistic process (the directorial ability, of vision of the whole).
Having said that, direct experience is the only way to learn this technique. Because as Anton Chekhov said “Knowledge has no value if we don’t put it into practice”!