West Side Story

Start Free Trial

How would you describe the dominant acting style in West Side Story?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An acting style that characterizes West Side Story is that devised by Michael Chekhov. A Russian director and actor, Chekhov believed that actors could access their unconscious mind through external physical gestures (see the link below for more information). In other words, emotions become physical, and the body is the route to access a character's inner life and psychology.

The acting style in the movie and play versions of West Side Story is very physical. Characters such as Maria and Tony show their emotions through physical gestures. For example, during the famous balcony scene, Maria stretches her arms out to Tony and leans over the railing of the fire escape. Her gesture conveys her love and attraction for Tony and symbolizes her yearning to connect to people beyond her family in her new country. Tony looks up at Maria, his face bright with anticipation, conveying also his need for love and affection on the tough gang-infested streets of New York.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I would say that one of the most dominant styles of acting in the film is the use of the Stanislavsky approach by the actors.  There is an emphasis on realism in the film.  The characters engage in song and dance almost suddenly, outside of reality.  However, there is a realism beneath the acting of the players and one that underscores their performance.  The viewer believes Bernardo's skepticism, Maria's zeal, as well as Tony's unwavering commitment to "something."  The acting style is one that seeks to bring these characters alive through reality.  Emotions are absorbed in a realistic manner.  When Maria finds out that Bernardo is dead and Tony is the murderer, she rushes to her bed and looks up to God, in a prayer that is realistic with her character.  Chino broods in a realistic manner, up to the end when his bullet is both his emotional redemption and the cause of further pain.  In describing the Stanislavsky style of acting and how it is carried out by actors, one sees how this is relevant to West Side Story:

...that the actor must experience real emotion, that he must identify with the character he is portraying, that he may use his own past emotional experiences, and above all, that he must learn to speak and behave naturally, as a human being in life.

This style is evident in the film and something that is embodied by the actors in it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team