Russian actor, director, and theoretician. He co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre (1898) and his theories later formed a basis for the development of ‘method’ acting.
Born in Moscow, the son of a manufacturer, Stanislavsky started acting at the age of fourteen in his family's amateur dramatic group. The theatre gradually became an absorbing interest and in 1888 Stanislavsky formed a permanent company of amateur actors who staged their own productions. These attracted the attention of writer and director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko (1859–1943), and in 1898 the two men founded the Moscow Art Theatre and staged an outstanding production of Chekhov's The Seagull. Stanislavsky was determined to develop a more naturalistic mode of acting, breaking with the stylized artificiality of the theatre of his day, and to this end demanded of his actors a much more psychological approach to the development of the characters. He went on to direct the first production of Chekhov's other major plays, including Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). As well as directing he also appeared in several Chekhov plays, Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, and Turgenev's A Month in the Country, among others; he continued as the leading actor of his theatre until 1928. In all some three studios were attached to the Moscow Art Theatre and through world tours its reputation spread. Stanislavsky also became increasingly involved with the Opera Studio at the Bolshoi Theatre; his production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin (1922) was highly acclaimed.
Stanislavsky's theories and methods were to have far-reaching effects, particularly through his publications. These included My Life in Art (1924), An Actor Prepares (1936), and Building a Character (1950). ‘The Method’, a naturalistic style of acting evolved in the USA in the thirties, which blossomed at the Actors' Studio during the forties and fifties, was based on the teachings of Stanislavsky.