Method Acting Tips
This page will lead interested individuals to descriptions of various techniques and procedures of so-called "method"
acting. What you will find here is not copied from books. It's in my own words, and composed for you with
definitions, analogies, descriptions and examples of this work which I am able to relate to you after studying,
teaching and using it as an actor for the past 35 years. I hope you enjoy as well as learn. There are many fine
books about this subject, and I have listed my favorites, with descriptions of their contents at this site.
Method acting is any of a family of techniques used by actors to create
in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to
develop lifelike performances. Though not all method actors use the
same approach, the "method" in method acting usually refers to the
practice, influenced by Constantin Stanislavski and created by Lee Strasberg,
in which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals,
aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and
affective memory. Method acting shares similarities with Stanislavski's system.
Method actors are often characterised as immersing themselves in their
characters to the extent that they continue to portray them even offstage
or off-camera for the duration of a project. However, this is a popular
misconception. While some actors have employed this approach, it is generally
not taught as part of the Method.
Method acting has been described as having "revolutionized American theater."
While classical acting instruction "had focused on developing external talents,"
the Method was "the first systematized training that also developed internal
abilities (sensory, psychological, emotional)."
Method acting continues to evolve, with many contemporary acting teachers,
schools, and colleges teaching an integrated approach that draws from
several different schools of thought about acting.
"The Method" was first popularized by the Group Theatre in New York City
in the 1930s and subsequently advanced by Lee Strasberg and others at
the Actors Studio in the 1940s and 1950s. It was derived from the 'system'
created by Constantin Stanislavski, who pioneered similar ideas in his quest
for "theatrical truth." This was done through his friendships with Russia's
leading actors, his collaborations with playwright Anton Chekhov, and his
own teaching, writing, and acting at the Moscow Art Theatre (founded in 1897).
Strasberg's students included many of the best known American actors of
the latter half of the 20th century, including Marlon Brando, Paul Newman,
Robert De Niro, Al Pacino,James Dean, George Peppard, Dustin Hoffman,
Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke, and many others.
Using the Method, the actor also recalls emotions or reactions from his or
her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed.
"The Method" refers to the teachings of Lee Strasberg, but the term
"method acting" is sometimes applied to the teachings of his Group Theatre
colleagues, including Stella Adler,Robert Lewis, and Sanford Meisner, and to
other schools of acting derived from Stanislavski's system, each of which takes
a slightly different approach. Constantin Stanislavskihimself has been noted
saying that certain techniques that are considered to be "method" are not true
to his original system, with an undue emphasis on the exercises of affective
memory. However there is no one correct way of method acting, for each
different method technique is simply a different teachers' understanding
of the Stanislavski System.
Generally, Method acting combines the actor's careful consideration of
the character's psychological motives and personal identification with the
character, possibly including a reproduction of the character's emotional
tate by recalling emotions or sensations from the actor's own life. It is often
contrasted with acting in which thoughts and emotions are indicated, or
presented in a clichéd, unrealistic way. Among the concepts and techniques
of Method acting are substitution, "as if," sense memory, affective memory,
animal work, and archetype work. Strasberg uses the question, "What would
motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does?" Strasberg
asks the actor to replace the play's circumstances with his or her own,
Sanford Meisner, another Group Theatre pioneer, championed a closely
related version of the Method, which came to be called the Meisner technique.
Meisner broke from Strasberg on the subjects of sense memory and affective
memory, basic techniques espoused by Strasberg through which actors access
their own personal experiences in order to identify with and portray the
emotional lives of their characters. Meisner believed that this approach
caused actors to focus on themselves and not fully tell the story. He advocated
fully immersing oneself "in the moment" and concentrating on one's partner.
Meisner taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the
given circumstances of the scene (as did Strasberg) and through
interpersonal exercises he designed to help actors invest emotionally
in the scene, freeing them to react "honestly" as the character.
Meisner described acting as "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances."
Robert Lewis also broke with Strasberg. In his books Method—or Madness?
and the more autobiographical Slings and Arrows, Lewis disagreed with the
idea that vocal training should be separated from pure emotional training.
Lewis felt that more emphasis should be placed on formal voice and body training,
such as teaching actors how to speak verse and enunciate clearly, rather than
on pure raw emotion, which he felt was the focus of Method training.
Stella Adler, an actress and acting teacher whose fame was cemented by the
success of her students Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro,
also broke with Strasberg after she studied with Stanislavski himself, the only
Group Theatre teacher to do so, after he had modified many of his early
ideas about acting. Her version of the Method is based on the idea that
actors should conjure up emotion not by using their own personal memories,
but by using the scene's given circumstances. Like Strasberg's, Adler's technique
relies on carrying through tasks, wants, needs, and objectives. It also seeks to
stimulate the actor's imagination through the use of "as ifs." Adler often taught
that "drawing on personal experience alone was too limited." Therefore,
she urged performers to draw on their imaginations and
utilize "emotional memory" to the fullest.
Contemporary Method acting teachers and schools often synthesize the work of
their predecessors into an integrated approach. They reject the notion that any
one of the major Method teachers of the 20th century was completely correct
or incorrect, and they continue to develop new acting tools and techniques.
Some modern acting theorists and teachers have noted that Lee Strasberg,
Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, and others often misunderstood each other's work,
and that their criticisms were based on this misunderstanding. For example,
they all taught actors to use their imagination, to connect with each other in
performance, to analyze the script for wants, needs, and objectives. Meisner
often said that Strasberg actors were too focused on themselves, but Strasberg
trained many of the most respected actors of the 20th century.
In addition to taking an integrated approach, contemporary actors sometimes
seek help from psychologists or use imaginative tools such as dream work
or archetype work to remove emotional blocks. Techniques have also been
developed to prevent the world of the performance from spilling over into
an actor's personal life in destructive ways.
Stanislavski described his acting system in a trilogy of books set in a
fictional acting school: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and
Creating a Role. He also wrote an autobiography, My Life in Art.
Acting teachers whose work was inspired by Stanislavski include:
In fact, most post-1930 acting philosophies have been strongly influenced
by Method acting, and it continues to be taught at schools around the world,
including the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York and
Los Angeles, the Actors Studio Drama School in New York, the
Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York and Los Angeles, theEdgemar Center
for the Arts in Santa Monica, Calif., HB Studio in New York, Le Studio
Jack Garfein in Paris and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
Major books on Method acting
Books on contemporary approaches to Method acting