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Using Stanislavsky's Toolkit for Shakespeare's Richard III, Part II: Research on the Self in the Play

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2013


An actor's training continues throughout his/her professional career, yet they rarely have the time or inclination to write in detail about their processes, when building a character, to provide documents for inquisitive peers. In this two-part article, Bella Merlin articulates the discoveries made playing Margaret in Richard III at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Summer 2012, directed by internationally acclaimed actor-director Tina Packer (co-founder of Shakespeare and Company with Kristin Linklater in 1978). Merlin highlights how the shift from teacher to actor reactivates the ‘willing vulnerability’ that she demands of her own students. She focuses on Stanislavsky's three avenues of research: on the playtext; on the world of the play and playwright; and on the self. There can be resistance by some theatre practitioners to the application of Stanislavsky's tools to Shakespeare's texts, often due to a perceived over-psychologizing. In these articles Merlin challenges some of these resistances. She demonstrates that Packer's insistence on connecting voice with thought to release the imagination implicitly harnesses Shakespeare's structure with Stanislavsky's underpinnings. Packer also lays emphasis on contemporary resonance, freeing the natural voice, and the significance of Shakespeare's female characters in Richard III for awakening an audience to the consequences of violence. The journey is unsettlingly personal and startlingly global. In Part I, in NTQ 113, Merlin addressed research on the text and research on the play, drawing upon history, biography, accounts of grief, and chilling footage of the Rwandan genocide. In Part II, which follows, she uses the immediacy of a rehearsal journal to address research on the self. Bella Merlin is an actor, writer, and actor-trainer. Acting includes seasons at the National Theatre with Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint Company. Publications include The Complete Stanislavsky Toolkit (2007) and Acting: the Basics (2010). She is currently Professor of Acting at the University of California, Davis.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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