Passing the Torch – Russian Master Leads Melbourne Acting Workshop

Drawing on a lifetime of experience working in the Russian acting traditions of Konstantin Stanislavsky, Michael Chekhov and Maria Knebel, master director Leonid Verzub will lead his Action Analysis workshop in Melbourne throughout July. Bethany Simons spoke with organiser actor/director Ashley Wain about why this opportunity is so valuable for Australian actors.

Leonid Verzub (standing third from right) with Maria Knebel and members of the Stanislavsky Heritage Laboratory
Leonid Verzub (standing third from right) with Maria Knebel and members of the Stanislavsky Heritage Laboratory

Like Chinese whispers, traditions are often simplified and watered down over time. The methods and teachings of the revolutionary Russian director Stanislavsky are, unfortunately, no exception. That’s where Leonid Verzub comes in. Now in his seventies, Verzub represents a direct and rare link to the work of Stanislavsky as taught by Maria Knebel in the famous Stanislavsky Heritage Laboratory in Moscow. Verzub has devoted his entire life to working within the living tradition of Russian Theatre and will be passing on Stanislavsky’s Action Analysis device in an exclusive acting workshop here in Melbourne until July 25. Ashley Wain has been lucky enough to work with Verzub a number of times in his career as an actor, director and teacher.

He says, “when I first worked with Leonid [Verzub], I thought I knew a lot about Stanislavsky. I had read everything Stanislavsky had written that was available in English, and had read much of what had been written about him, but when I started working with Leonid I realised I really didn’t know anything! The spirit and energy of the work was on a completely different level. A lot of it was unrecognisable to me.”

Generally when an actor thinks of Stanislavsky, they think of naturalism and emotional memory. but, as Wain explains, this is not at all the full picture.

People’s understanding in Australia is rudimentary to say the least, including professionals and those who train actors. Most people have a conception of Stanislavsky as being a naturalistic director and most of their associations with him actually come from the American method, which is a development from some elements of his early work. Stanislavsky was about liberating the actor’s entire nature. He worked on the Action Analysis device continually until he died.

As a rehearsal method Action Analysis involves investigating events in the play with the entire being (mind, heart and body). The approach to the text is through structured improvisations called ‘etudes’. Wain says, “The work is intimate, detailed, challenging and rigorous. You begin by looking at a particular event. The actors play it in their own words then come back to read the text again. Through this investigation they find the organic and essential need for the text.”

Verzub’s Action Analysis workshop began in Melbourne last week, but there are still limited auditing places for the final two weeks of the workshop (15 – 25 July). Wain paints a very intimate picture, revealing that the small group of auditors will not only be introduced to Verzub and the participating actors, but will also be included in discussions on the text and the work taking place. For this reason it is critical that auditors can commit to reading the play and doing their homework.

Though Verzub speaks some English, he will be teaching the workshop using a translator. Wain explains, “You don’t notice the translation that much. The Action Analysis approach to teaching draws upon the director’s ability to be able to communicate beautifully and evocatively to inspire the actor’s imagination. Leonid likes the translator to transmit his energy – a stretch for anyone, as he [Verzub] is a force of nature with tremendous energy and presence! It’s as if he embodies an entire living tradition in his being. What can feel like a technique and a system in the hands of other teachers with Leonid feels like life, feels like art.”

Following day one of the Action Analysis workshop there was no doubt from Wain that this promises to be another transformative experience. “After so long working with him, I was sitting there in awe, wondering how he does it. We worked on two or three pages of Miss Julie and the whole vista of the play opened up: universal, particular, thematically rich and precise. The whole of the play is in every moment, every little event. It left us buzzing.”

See you at the Action Analysis workshop next week?
Sounds like a plan, Stan.

Stanislavsky’s Action Analysis with Leonid Verzub
15 – 25 July, Monday – Thursday, 7-10.30pm
Location: ACU Recital Room, 17-29 Young Street, Fitzroy

The chosen text for the workshop is taken from the Michael Robinson translation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Auditors are expected to have read the play and are encouraged to bring their copy to class.

Apply to audit (strictly limited places)

Watch Leonid Verzub talking about Action Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *