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The Michael Chekhov Acting Technique

The of Michael Chekhov Acting Technique

Michael Chekhov, the nephew of Anton Chekhov, was an actor, Academy Award-nominee, director and theatre practitioner who, during his career, developed his own technique of acting.

Whist studying Stanislavski’s ‘system’ at the Moscow Art Theatre as an actor and director he was considered to be one of the studio’s most promising students.

Later on in his career he was the leader of the Second Moscow Art Theatre. Chekhov split from the Moscow Art Theatre believing that the Stanislavski technique was too dependent upon a realistic style of performance however, in response, Stanislavski considered Chekhov’s system as a betrayal of the principles that Stanislavski had taught him at the Moscow Art Theatre.

The acting technique of Michael Chekhov, which began development in the 1920s, was a more metaphysical system that worked from the outside in, it was a physical and more imagination-based style that had the ‘psychological gesture’ as its trademark. This gesture (molding, floating, flying, etc) was created when the actor physicalised a character’s need in the form of an external action. This movement was then turned inwards and left as a physical memory that would inform the actor’s performance. By freeing the intellectualization and allowing the physical work to have an unconscious life within the eventual performance, Chekhov was trying to access the artist’s creativity through non-analytical means.

Because of World War II, Chekhov moved to America in 1938, but was overshadowed by other teachers who at this time were busy gaining popularity interpreting Stanislavski’s system for American students; namely Lee Strasberg and ‘Method Acting’. However there has been a recent surge of interest in Chekhov’s work with the release of his book On the Technique of Acting (published in 1991) and To the Actor, which was reissued in 2002.

Famous actors such as Anthony Quinn, Jack Palance, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe, Yul Brynner, Martin Ritt, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack all claim to be followers of Chekhov’s acting teachings.

A note about Michael Chekhov's famous uncle Anton.


Anton Chekhov (1860 – 1904) was not only a Russian playwright but also an accomplished short-story writer and physician. As a dramatist he created the popular, classic plays The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, all of which are still produced today in contemporary theatre companies all around the world. These four plays were also performed by Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre which in turn had a massive influence on theatre artists such as Lee Strasberg who went on to form the Group Theatre in America in the 1930s (with Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler among its members) which in turn had a phenomenal effect on Western styles of acting for the generations to come.

Towards the end of his life Chekhov lived in exile from the other intellectuals of Moscow and eventually died in 1904 of tuberculosis. He is now considered as one of the greatest storytellers of modern times.

As a serious actor, you will read up on different techniques so as not only to know the difference between the most widely-used ones, but more importantly to be aware of the fact that all acting techniques are not the same and that it is important to find the one that works for you!

Acting Class on DVD with the Masters!

Other pages you might find helpful and interesting:

You will want to be familiar with the other, widely-used acting techniques other than that of Michael Chekhov.

23 Benefits to taking acting classes

Interview with a New York acting teacher who teaches the Meisner Technique of acting

How you go about choosing the right acting school for you

What you need to research at the beginning of your acting career

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