The science of acting in the Russian theatre at the beginning of the twentieth century - from the modern epoch to the avant-garde

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Colleges, School and Institutes


K.S. Stanislavsky’s System remains the basis for actor training in conservatoires in the UK and more widely and Vs. E. Meyerhold’s Biomechanics is increasing in popularity as a training method in the twenty first century. Both methods were rooted in scientific understanding of the modern epoch to the avant-garde and it is important to question how or why this remains relevant to today’s practice. This essay explores responses in Russia from the nineteenth century to the 1930s to Diderot’s Le paradoxe sur le comédien (The Paradox of the Actor), which, essentially, questioned whether “head” or “heart” should be primary in acting. A.N. Ostrovskii and P.D. Boborykin discussed this from the 1860s in relation to the new science of I.M. Sechenov, which proposed a reflex theory for the generation of emotion. This had implications for the debate between “experiencing” and “representation” in acting. The development of I.P. Pavlov’s reflex conditioning had further implications for Stanislavsky and Meyerhold and the “heart” and “head” and “experiencing” and “representation” debates. In the 1930s, L. S. Vygotsky proposed a new response to Diderot’s Paradox) and N.A. Bernstein’s neurophysiology, pushing against the Soviet Pavlovian paradigm suggests a new context for reassessment of the work of the great directors.


Original languageEnglish
JournalRussian Literature
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 Aug 2020


  • Science of Acting, K.S. Stanislavsky’s System, VS. E. Meyerhold’s Biomechanics, Diderot’s Paradox of the Actor, Reflex theories, N.A Bernstein