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CHEKHOV'S FIVE GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Michael Chekhov's technique is an imaginative approach to experiencing the truth of the moment. In On Theatre and the Art of Acting, a series of lectures given to a group of professional actors in 1955, Chekhov speaks of Five Guiding Principles. The following principles are excerpted and outlined from that series:

  1. The actor must train his or her body through the use of psychological exercises.

    The Michael Chekhov Technique seeks a connection between making an outer physical action and sensing how this movement evokes an inner response. All physical exercises are done with the intention of awakening an inner psychological response. This requires training the body to be a fine instrument--well developed, expressive, obedient and sensitive. The body becomes a kind of sponge finely tuned to respond to psychological impulses. Thus the actor strives for a complete balance and harmony between the body and the thoughts, emotions and desires. They are not independent of one another and there is a constant play between the two, one affecting the other.

  2. The actor must use intangible means of expression while acting and rehearsing to achieve tangible results.

    The primary means of expression in the Chekhov method are intangible. The tangible means for the actor--body, speech, voice--are infused with the intangible elements of feelings, imaginations and sensations. An example would be the psychological gesture, which in performance is outwardly invisible but is an inspiration all the while one is rehearsing and performing. This is also true of imaginary body, imaginary center, atmosphere and Stanislavski’s super-objective of the performer and of each character. Michael Chekhov asks that the actor cherish and foster the intangibles as they will act as a guide for the actor through all the exercises of the method and elevate the actor’s process and profession to a higher level.

  3. The actor must employ a creative spirit and the higher intellect to unify the various aspects of the performance.

    Michael Chekhov suggests that within each of us is a hidden laboratory in which sits a wise scientist who embodies our spirit--summarizing, amalgamating, drawing conclusions, unifying all our capacities. Chekhov equates this ability with our so-called higher self, our better self, which has a strong influence in developing our talents. All art is based on the synthesizing power of the spirit. Without this synthesis, one is left with disconnected elements and no sense of archetype or prototype could exist. Likewise, there could be no ensemble, no psychological gesture, no feeling of the whole of our character or of the play. That part of us which is critical divides and separates our creative need to unite. It disguises our true intellect, which is lofty and creative. What we seek is a thinking heart that combines the thoughts from our intellect with the warmth and fire coming from our hearts.

  4. The purpose of the Chekhov method is to embody each component of the method as a means of awakening all parts of the method in order to evoke a creative state of mind.

    It is the actor’s desire to evoke inspiration and a creative state of mind at will. There is a oneness consisting of many component parts to the method. However, all of these parts are connected with one another. As the actor learns to use one correctly, to truly embody one point of the method, other points will awaken by themselves. The deeper one experiences the use of points separately, the greater the possibility that other elements of the technique will appear.

  5. The actor must penetrate each separate point of the Chekhov Technique and then determine to what degree and by what means it frees his or her talent.

    An actor is not seeking a method of work that becomes a burden, but a method that will free one’s talents. Chekhov encourages the actor to go over all the various points of the method and ask to what degree and by what means they free his or her talents. This is the primary purpose of the method. The actor then gives his or her attention to how each point of the work answers that question.

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