Classical acting

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Classical acting is a type of acting that is based on the theories and systems of select classical actors including Konstantin Stanislavski and Michel Saint-Denis, including the expression of the body, voice, imagination, personalizing, improvisation, external stimuli, and script analysis.


The origin of classical acting stems from an acting system created by Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski who rose to prominence in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His system was that of both script analysis and personal exploration to find "the truth" of a part—or rather what would be truthful to the actor portraying the part.[1] The precise system was based on having an expressive and responsive body to relay detailed and nuanced character portrayals, as well as addressing the creation of an inner life.[2] Stanislavski's theories were published in the translated 1936 book An Actor Prepares. The training included:[3]

  • An emphasis on physical acting, or physical actions
  • Imagination as a way to find character and relate to other actors
  • The super-objective and "through line of actions" in analyzing the script, including the main essence
  • Exploring subtext
  • Personalizing through emotional memory— real life and imagined experiences

Another influential theorist of classical acting in the early-to mid-1900s was Michel Saint-Denis, a French actor and theater director who founded the London Theatre Studio and dedicated much of his career to experimental theatre. He incorporated many of Stanislavski's techniques into his teaching, as well as improvisation and sense memory, seeking a balance between external and internal techniques. Actors Alec Guinness, Jessica Tandy, and Laurence Olivier were some of his first students. Later on, he developed a training model that was incorporated by many university drama programs.[4]


Classical acting today is available for study in universities, drama conservatories, and acting studios across the world. Schools that are attached to or affiliated with a professional classical theatre company give students exposure and opportunity beyond simply the education.[5] Examples of schools or studios with classical acting programs include:

  • University of London's Drama Conservatoire: This Masters of Acting program draws on theories of Michel Saint-Denis with training of the body, voice, and imagination. There is an emphasis on re-interpretation and re-imagining, with equal parts of art and craft in the education. Classical texts of Greek tragedy and Shakespeare are utilized, as well as modern plays.[6]
  • CNSAD The Conservatoire national supérieur d'art dramatique (English: French National Academy of Dramatic Arts): France's national drama academy located in Paris. It is a higher education institution run by the French Ministry of Culture and, with an acceptance rate of two to three percent and an average graduating class of thirty students, widely considered the most selective acting conservatory in France, is consistently regarded as a top world-class performing arts institute renowned for its excellence in theatre education.
  • The Juilliard School Drama Division in New York: The School has both a B.F.A. and M.F.A. program that emphasizes intuition and spontaneity, as well as discipline, technique, and intellectual development. There is both vocal and physical training, with script and word analysis, style work, and risk taking with imagination.[7]
  • Montreal's National Theatre School of Canada: This three-year conservatory training program focuses on learning the craft and art of acting through the contemporary theatre, applying techniques of voice, singing, and movement. The School ascribes to the philosophies of Michel Saint-Denis, which includes exploration, writing, studio presentations, imagination, improvisation, "the mask", and audition preparation.[8]
  • The Berg Studios in Los Angeles: The Studios offer a series of classes at various levels to explore classical acting technique and imagination, including developing of a repeatable acting system, script analysis, physical movement, self-discovery through imagination, and illuminating the dialogue through subtext.[9]
  • Andrew Wood Acting Studio in Los Angeles: Andrew Wood Acting Studio offers classes in which students learn an approach to acting taught at the Yale School of Drama. The approach emphasizes visceral activation of the actor through deep examination of circumstances and personalization.[10]
  • Yale School of Drama in New Haven, Connecticut: In its M.F.A. program, a strong imagination is encouraged and developed, along with physical and vocal work. Actors are also given extensive production work opportunities, working with director, dramaturgs, and playwrights to create theatre pieces and learn from the collaborative process. Using the body as a source of inspiration and expression of work is a focus of the first year training. Later, text analysis, voice, and speech work are integrated.[11]
  • The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, United Kingdom: Opened in 1946 by Laurence Olivier, this South West England school offers a highly selective B.A. Honors of Professional Acting conservatory program. The first year focuses on voice and body, moving onto public productions, and then to preparation for a professional career.[12] The school also provides short courses for the general public who has had some experience or training in acting and wants to broaden skills; the classical acting classes include learning opportunities in voice, movement, verse speaking, improvisation, and stagecraft.[13]
  • London Academy of Performing Arts (LAPA), was a boutique Classical acting school, until its closure in 2005.
  • Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts was founded in 1911 by actress Italia Conti, their drama school course offers a BA (Hons) in Acting. Their stage school, called the Theatre Arts School offers training in classical acting, including Shakespeare[14]

Classically trained actors[edit]

Many world-renowned actors and actresses are students of Classical Acting, including Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Dame Maggie Smith and Ralph Fiennes and Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Eddie Redmayne, and Cate Blanchett.

Some well-known classically trained actors include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Constantin Stanislavsky". 2004. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  2. ^ Bella Merlin (January 2008). "An Actor's Work is finally done:A response to the new Jean Benedetti translation of Stanislavski's An Actor's Work" (PDF). Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  3. ^ Moore, Sonia (1960). The Stanislavski System: The Professional Training of an Actor (Second Edition Revised ed.). USA: Viking Penguin Inc. ISBN 0140466606.
  4. ^ Baldwin, Jane (2007). "The Rediscovery of Michel Saint-Denis, a biography". Archived from the original on 21 February 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  5. ^ Lilly, Destiny (22 June 2012). "Getting Started as an Actor Part 2". Casting in the City. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  6. ^ "MA Acting Classical program". University of London. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  7. ^ "Juilliard Drama program". Juilliard School. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  8. ^ "Acting program". National Theatre School of Canada. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  9. ^ Berger-Sobeck, Gregory. "Technique". The Berg Studios. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  10. ^ Wood, Andrew. "Technique". Andrew Wood Acting Studios. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  11. ^ "Acting program". Yale School of Drama. Archived from the original on 17 June 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2012.
  12. ^ "Three year Professional Acting (BA Hons) (UK/EU)". Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Archived from the original on 20 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  13. ^ "Short Acting Courses". Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Archived from the original on 13 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  14. ^ "Juniors Secondary School". Italia Conti.