Stanislavsky’s life’s work focused on how to portray truth through theatre, and also saw theatre as a powerful means of influence on people’s emotions. His goal was to find control over the phenomenon of inspiration when an actor in a state that is natural and spontaneous, as in real life. He believed that when the actor is in such a state he/she has the greatest possibility for influencing his audience and stirring their emotions (Monk, Fawcett, 1964, p75). This post will focus on how the actor can achieve this, and will include some exercises for students that explore Stanislavsky’s approach through psycho-physicality.

What is psycho-physicality?

This is the art of training your body to be receptive to and develop the dialogue between the body and the psyche. When you move your body it gives you signals that spark emotions, and working on a character the physicality of your movement can give as much information to the audience as your thoughts and emotions do. You thoughts inevitably have an impact on how you move, and movement has an impact on how you feel. So psycho-physicality is the internal-external transfer or dialogue.

As an actor you need to be aware that your physical actions have a psychological resonance and your psychological state also has in impact on your physical expression. (Merlin, Nick Hern, 2007, p21-4)


1. Reacting physically (only externally): As a group of actors respond physically to a selection of verbal stimuli. For example: night, traffic, roses, clock, sunset. Focus purely on the physical response, but have an awareness of your body.

2. Reacting psychologically (only internally): As a group of actors respond internally and emotionally to the same set of word. Focus purely on the feeling that is conjured up by the words.

3. Reacting with a psycho-physical resonance (internal/physical dialogue): As a group of actors respond physically to a group of words and bridge the physical to the emotion and let yourself move, make sound and have the dialogue between the internal and external.Words could include: disappointment, success, love, childhood, pain, safety. Focus on your body

LISTEN to your body, FEEL the emotion, CONNECT internal and external, BE AWARE of the dialogue and develop it

4. Reacting in context (internal/external and other actor): Repeat the words in exercise 3, but this time work in pairs to create short improvised scenes. Now be aware of your emotion, physicality and also action and reaction to the other actor/character. Discuss with your partner what you picked up on from their physicality and what emotions were stirred in you from their movement.


Read the following quote from Stanislavsky’ book ‘Creating a role‘ (London, Methuen, 2000. p237)

Our deep spiritual well springs open wide “only when the inner and outer feelings of an actor flow in accordance with the laws fixed for them, when there is absolutely no forcing, or deviation from the norm, when there is no cliche or conventional acting of any kind.”

  • What did you notice about your own physicality and how it had an impact on your internally, your psyche?
  • What did you notice about your emotions and psyche and how they had an impact on your physicality?
  • Were you able to keep the dialogue between internal and external clear and truthful? Why? Why not?
  • How will you use these exercises in your own work?