In the dramatic arts, method acting is a group of techniques actors use 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" refers to the method of teaching the craft of acting, which was created by Constantin Stanislavski in order to teach concepts of acting to his students. Later, Stanislavski's method of teaching acting was adapted by Lee Strasberg for American actors. Strasberg's method emphasized the practice of connecting to a character by drawing on personal emotions and memories, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory. Stanislavski's system of acting was the foundation of Strasberg's technique. Rigorous adherents of Strasberg's technique are now commonly referred to as "Method Actors", although the "Method" refers to Stanislavski's original system.
Method actors are often characterized as immersing themselves in their characters, to the extent that they stay in character offstage or off-camera for the duration of a project. However, that is a popular misconception. While some actors have used 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)".
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 Paul Newman, Al Pacino, 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 their own life and uses them to identify with their character.
"The Method" refers to the teachings of Lee Strasberg—but the term "method acting" sometimes applies to teachings of his Group Theatre colleagues, including Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Sanford Meisner, and to other schools of acting influenced by Stanislavski's system, each of which takes a slightly different approach. Constantin Stanislavski himself said that certain techniques that are considered "method" are not true to his original system, with an undue emphasis on the exercises of affective memory.
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 state 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, the substitution.
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 sense memory and affective memory—basic techniques espoused by Strasberg through which actors access their own personal experiences to identify with and portray the emotional lives of their characters. Meisner believed this approach made actors focus on themselves and not fully tell the story. He advocated actors fully immersing themselves "in the moment" and concentrating on their partner. Meisner taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the given circumstances of the scene (as did Strasberg). He designed interpersonal exercises 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—who included Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro—also broke with Strasberg after she studied with Stanislavski himself after he had modified many of his early ideas. 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.
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:
- Richard Boleslawski, actor, film director, and founder of the American Laboratory Theatre in New York.
- Michael Chekhov, an actor, director, and author (and nephew of Anton Chekhov) whose technique enhanced and complimented Stanislavski's over the course of his career at the Moscow Art Theater and later his film work in Hollywood.
- Maria Ouspenskaya, an actress who taught at the American Laboratory Theatre. Her students included John Garfield, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasberg.
- Lee Strasberg, a director, actor, and producer whose teachings are most closely associated with the term Method acting.
- Stella Adler, an actress and founder of the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City.
- Herbert Berghof, founder of HB Studio in New York City.
- Uta Hagen, an actress and the author of Respect for Acting and A Challenge for the Actor, who emphasized the techniques of identity and substitution.
- Robert Lewis, an actor, director, co-founder of the Actors Studio, and author of Method—or Madness?
In fact, most post-1930 acting philosophies have been strongly influenced by Method acting, and schools around the world continue to teach it, 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, the Edgemar 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.
- Daniel Day Lewis
- Robert De Niro
- Al Pacino
- Jack Nicholson
- Kamal Hassan
- Nicolas Cage
- Michael Caine
- Naseeruddin Shah
- Jane Fonda
- Dilip Kumar
- Marilyn Monroe
- James Dean
- Suzanne Pleshette
- Shelley Winters
- Mel Gussow: "The Method, Still Disputed But Now Ubiquitous", The New York Times (April 14, 1987)
Major books on Method acting
- The Technique of Acting by Stella Adler
- Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
- To the Actor by Michael Chekhov
- A Dream of Passion by Lee Strasberg
- Sanford Meisner on Acting by Sanford Meisner
- Method—or Madness? by Robert Lewis
- Advice to the Players by Robert Lewis
- Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen
- No Acting Please by Eric Morris and Joan Hotchkis
- Strasberg's Method: As Taught by Lorrie Hull by S. Loraine Hull
- Life and Acting: Techniques for the Actor by Jack Garfein
- The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck
Books on contemporary approaches to Method acting
- The Intent to Live by Larry Moss
- Dreamwork for Actors by Janet Sonenberg
- O poetică a artei actorului (Poetics of the actor's art) by Ion Cojar
- Rosemary Malague: An Actress Prepares: Women and "the Method", London & New York: Routledge, 2011
- "Stella Adler, 91, an Actress And Teacher of the Method". New York Times. 1992-12-22. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "Lee Strasberg of Actors Studio Dead". Nytimes.com. 1982-02-18. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- Carnicke, Sharon. Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century. Routledge Theatre Classics, 2008, p. 221
- Meisner, Sanford. Sanford Meisner on Acting, Vintage, 1987
- Robert Lewis (2003), Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-55783-244-7, p.193.
- "Stella Adler". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. 27 October 2011.
- Larina Kase (2011), Clients, Clients, and More Clients!: Create an Endless Stream of New Business with the Power of Psychology, McGraw–Hill, ISBN 0-07-177100-X, p.125.
- S. Loraine Hull (1985), Strasberg's method as taught by Lorrie Hull: A practical guide for actors, teachers, and directors, Oxbow Books, ISBN 0-918024-38-2, p.10.
- Gallagher, Danny (2013-12-13). "Method Actors". Cracked.com. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "The Method Madness of Daniel Day-Lewis". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "Jack Nicholson Interview - Quotes about the Joker, Movies, and Richard Nixon". Esquire. 2003-12-31. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "Kamal Hassan turns 57 : Celebrities, News - India Today". Indiatoday.intoday.in. 2011-11-07. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "25 Bollywood actors (active) who can act !". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
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- "The Sunday Tribune - Spectrum". Tribuneindia.com. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
- "Talent is about being in the right place: Naseeruddin Shah - The Times of India". Articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com. 2013-04-02. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
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- "The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum". Tribuneindia.com. Retrieved 2013-10-08.
- "Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Newhart Actress, Dies". New York Times. January 21, 2008. Retrieved 2014-01-03. "Because she was a method actress, 'Hitch didn’t know what to do with me,' Ms. Pleshette said in a 1999 Film Quarterly interview with other Hitchcock heroines."
- "Shelley Winters Outspoken Oscar-winning actress who had a string of famous lovers". Herald Scotland. 2006-01-16. Retrieved 2014-03-04.
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