Psychological Gesture: Michael Chekhov Exercises on Physicalizing the Objective

Document Type

Contribution to Book

Source Publication

Objectives, Obstacles and Tactics in Practice

Publication Date

Winter 12-9-2019


Hillary Haft Bucs and Valerie Clayman Pye




New York and London








9781138335974 pub: 2019-12-09

First Page


Last Page



Theatre & Dance

Publisher Statement

Objectives, Obstacles, and Tactics in Practice is the first book that compiles practical approaches of the best practices from a range of practitioners on the subject of working with Stanislavski’s "objectives," "obstacles," and "tactics."

The book offers instructors and directors a variety of tools from leading acting teachers, who bring their own individual perspectives to the challenge of working with Stanislavski’s principles for today’s actors, in one volume. Each essay addresses its own theoretical and practical approach and offers concrete instructions for implementing new explorations both in the classroom and in the rehearsal studio.

An excellent resource for acting and directing instructors at the university level, directing and theatre pedagogy students, high school/secondary theatre teachers, and community theatre leaders, Objectives, Obstacles, and Tactics in Practice serves as a resource for lesson planning and exploration, and provides an encyclopedia of the best practices in the field today.


Michael Chekhov was one of Konstantine Stanislavsky's most beloved actors and was the teacher Stanislavsky chose to lead the second incarnation of The Moscow Art Theatre. As his student, Chekhov's understanding and approach to Stanislavsky's work was always from a playful point of view rather than from memory, strict authenticity or an intellectual understanding of narrative. Chekhov's work strayed even farther away from intellectual approaches after a spiritual reawakening mid career when, after a breakdown, Stanislavsky supported Chekhov's return to health by introducing him to hypnosis, Eastern spirituality and the work of Rudolph Steiner which in turn, introduced Chekhov to Anthroposophy. The definition of Anthroposophy is "a philosophy that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world, accessible to human experience through inner development."[1] Towards that end, Chekhov's approach to objectives, obstacles and tactics embodies a playful spiritual point of view and asserts that performers can draw down visceral corporeal imagery from a Jungian type of creative unconscious, housed in the actor as well as in the whole of the community of art and artists throughout time. This takes the pressure off the actor to comprehend the "correct" objective for his character and instead encourages the pursuit of inviting possibilities for character objective through the exploration of imagery and physicality.

Within this powerful method is one of Chekhov's most useful tools: Psychological Gesture. This tool not only engages the physicality through vivid imagery, it does so through intuitive kinesthetic response which asks the actor to "play with" the physical "will force" archetypes in multiple creative ways. Trying on different sets of movements with a character to see what resonates deeply for some yet unknown reason enters the game of finding an objective backwards, allowing performers to intuit what characters need rather than deciding intellectually what they should need. This also allows actors to find a metaphoric shorthand for the character that can offer any number of variations resulting in a nuanced but consistent performance as the character grows and changes throughout the course of a play. Once this physical vocabulary is created, the actor takes the next step and colors it with detailed broad strokes related to the emotional qualities the actor associates with the character. This takes the focus from "the will force" to the "heart center." Once the will and heart areas of focus are established, then the actor can begin to find ways to justify the objectives, tactics and obstacles through the given circumstances of the play as well as the imagined extension of these circumstances. This end component of analysis, rooted in the intellect, completes the comprehensive process of character development.