Each spring, 25 LMU students have the opportunity to travel to Europe to study the Stanislavski system of acting at the Moscow Art Theatre, the theatre where this style originated. One of the most popular performance training methods, it was developed by Russian actor and theater director Constantin Stanislavski.
“An actor can’t get better training than at the Moscow Art Theatre. It’s where the Stanislavski system began, and is taught in its purest form,” said Diane Benedict, professor of theater and faculty adviser for the program. “You have to study this system in some form if you want to be a professional actor.”
Before arriving in Moscow, the students spend a month in Bonn, Germany, studying theatre history, philosophy, media ethics and the German language at the Academy of International Bildung. In addition to their studies and absorbing the German culture, the students attended two or three performances a week.
“The plays were hard to understand because they weren’t performed in English,” said Lindsay Wagner ’09, a theater major. “I had to watch them from different perspectives rather than just getting caught up in the story. It really opened up my mind and my critical thinking skills.”
After arriving at the Moscow Art Theatre, they study acting, movement and dance in a conservatory-style environment. LMU is the only undergraduate program in the United States invited to bring acting students to participate in their courses. Other participants include students from Harvard University’s M.F.A. acting program at American Repertory Theater.
Benedict said training of this caliber helps prepare students for the realities of being a professional actor. “There is a lot of time and repetition involved in the Stanislavski system. It is very physically demanding and requires a lot of imagination,” Benedict said. “This is perfect for the students who are really serious about a career in acting.”
The most recent class returned in May 2013. Their capstone production was an original adaptation by Benedict of John Steinbeck’s novels “Grapes of Wrath,” “The Pearl,” “Of Mice and Men,” and “East of Eden.” Titled “Mother Road,” it referred to Route 66, where all the characters from each story met and ended up working on the Trask Farm. Some of the students designed lights, sets and sound; another student stage managed and directed the music; and one double-major in film, created excellent video sequences. “It was a tight-knit ensemble,” Benedict said.
A previous group of students rehearsed and performed a play at the Bonn Schauspielhaus, Theatre am Ballsaal. The play, directed by Benedict, featured interwoven portions from three of Tony Kushner’s plays – “Angels in America,” “Slav’s” and “Bright Room Called Day”- three stories set in three powerful nations, America, Russia, and Germany, which raise the question of moral responsibility in politically repressive times.
The 2015 group going abroad will be performing an original adaptation of three real-life accounts of student resistance to the Third Reich, “The White Rose,” “The Edelweiss Pirates,” and “The Swing Kids.”
However, acting training and cultural immersion were not the only lessons from the study abroad program. “Ego goes out the window with Stanislavski training. You must have the desire to unite with your fellow human being, and connect with the group, not the self,” Benedict said.