The depth of the characters requires a complex preparation that is perfectly matched with the many exercises that comprises the famed system that many actors still use as a guide, despite being completed 75 years ago. Chekhov and Stanislavski worked closely throughout their careers, until Chekhov’s death in 1904 and although they certainly shared a mutual admiration for each other’s work, it was recorded that Chekhov was sometimes exasperated by the lengths that Stanislavski would go to achieve results – surely a fault that Stanislavski himself would admit to, as it corresponds with his statement that his system was a “way of life”.
It is certainly true that the system requires a great amount of dedication and commitment to the part if an actor is willing to complete the full preparation that Stanislavski demanded from an actor. The various exercises formed the basis of what we today call method acting, with such theories as the magic if, aims and objectives, hot-seating, given circumstances, circles of attention, super objectives and tempo-rhythm creating a comprehensive scheme which must be compiled to convince the audience that what they were seeing on stage was reality.
These theories can all be used by an actor playing one of the characters in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ to provide depth to the characters and to completely understand the complexities of the role so that the character is completely believable. Stanislavski was particularly intrigued by the sub-text and subtlety of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ and although Chekhov was dissatisfied with Stanislavski’s interpretation of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ it cannot be denied that his system perfectly brings out the unsaid in Chekhov’s script.
Chekhov’s plays were written with the aim of portraying difficult issues within a realistic setting, with believable characters and the slow pace of everyday reality. The meandering pace of the play, along with the aimlessness of the main characters could on the surface prove difficult when attempting to establish the character’s aims and objectives in a scene. In order to apply the system to this play, an actor must constantly consider exactly what their character is attempting to achieve scene by scene.
For example, in Act Two, Lyubov Andreyevna and Lopahkin have completely contrasting aims in the scene where Lopahkin is trying to convince Lyubov Andreyevna to sell the cherry orchard, although their super-objectives for the act correspond – they both want to ensure the financial security of the family. This exercise is instrumental in this case in making sure that the actor can interact with the others on stage and if an actor is following Stanislavski’s system to the letter, then they must think about the aims and objectives of their character at all times when rehearsing a scene.
In order to enhance the various contrasting aims, a director could use tempo-rhythm as a means of emphasising each character’s purpose in a scene. This practise should not merely be used to provide the scene with the obvious contrasting pace between characters, but also to experiment with alternating tempo-rhythms to add another dimension to the characters. Lopahkin’s status could be dramatically altered by whether he is hysterically attempting to reason with family or keeping his head and speaking calmly and rationally.
These two techniques work particularly well when used in conjunction with each other during rehearsals for plays such as ‘The Cherry Orchard’. However, Stanislavski’s sweeping statement that his system is “a way of life” cannot be applied to a technique alone, as an actor or director could easily do these exercises in rehearsal and forget about them until the next time that they go into character. When combined with the other techniques in Stanislavski’s system, though, a procedure is constructed that cannot be left at the theatre and must be taken home by all the actors so that they can fully step inside the character and live as them.