Stanislavski on Adaptation

Every trial lawyer knows a trial takes a life of its own with unexpected twits and turns. Preparation is essential, yet to succeed the lawyer must keep readjusting so the jury accepts and feels the changing circumstances and emotions. This ability which actors and trial lawyers must have is called “Adaption.”  Constantin Stanislavski, An Actor Prepares (1936)(Routledge -Translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood).

In trial we must  “adapt” to circumstances, to time, and to witnesses.  “Adaption” means the inner and outer ways we use to adjust to the variety of witnesses, court rulings, surprises and breakdown of plans that occur in any trial. As taught by Stanislavski the key to successful adaption is to be true to our natural inner feelings. We do this by trusting our inner sense of our theme.

According to Stanislavski, adaptations are made consciously and unconsciously. Conscious adaption occurs at trial when things do not go as planned. In preparing for trial we plan on the order of witnesses as well as when and how documentary evidence will be introduced. This type of preparation is “plastic” in that it is planned and will go forward as planned unless something happens to prevent the plan. For example when a witness is unavailable, conscious adaptation is necessary to continue the trial without a gap. A different witness is called or a DVD witness is played. When this is done it is important to “practice law like a duck.” On the surface the jury sees an unfazed, cool, calm and collected lawyer continuing the case uninterrupted. Below the surface the lawyer is furiously paddling to stay afloat.

Unconscious adaptation is what Stanislavsi concerns himself with. The highest level a trial lawyer reaches is during unconscious adaptation. Unconscious adaption cannot be plastic as there is no conscious preparation. It occurs during direct and cross examination as we “are in unending contact” with the witness. To reach this level we must trust our preparation. We must discard our plastic preparation. We must be a tuned and focused on the witness. We must allow our  emotions to emerge in our voice and reaction to the testimony. “The only approach is through intuition and the subconscious.” Id. Our response is then “created naturally, spontaneously, unconsciously, at the very moment when emotions are at there height.” Id. In trusting our unconscious adaptation we make “an ineradicable impression… on the memories of the [jury].” Id.

The only way we can reach this level is through an internalization of the facts before trial. An internalization so deep it is in our subconscious on an emotional level. This allows us to forget who we are, forget about the possibility of failure, live in the trial moment and project our unconscious reaction which will unprepared, natural and powerful.

    3 Responses to “Stanislavski on Adaptation”

    1. […] Stanislavski on Adaptation | Zen Lawyer Seattle […]

    2. Etsuko Ceballos says:

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    3. […] the trial, all trial lawyers know a trial takes a life of its own. We must adapt as this occurs. Adaptation means fine tuning and at times retooling in the day during trial and at night before the next trial […]

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