When I was new to acting, I would do hours of preparation. Be it character or script, I knew my process. But at the time of execution, I didn’t know how to transform that preparation into performance.
Somewhere I felt my body wasn’t responding the way I thought it would.
After a while, I found out that the issue was my mind.
Being an introvert I thought too much. I needed something that would get me out of my head and bring my preparation into action. This is when I learned about the Michael Chekhov technique.
This technique lies somewhere between psychology and physiology. This is why it is called a psycho-physical technique.
To know if it is for you, you need to understand its core pillars. Also, you should be absolutely sure if it is right for you because it is really hard to switch from or to this technique.
Six Pillars of Michael Chekhov Technique
As I have already mentioned Michael Chekhov’s technique is a psycho-physical technique, there are a few concepts that you need to understand in order to use the technique. I am going to describe them in the simplest way possible.
Michel Chekhov believed in creating characters that are way different than the actors themselves.
When you are starting out as an actor, you tend to fall into the trap of looking good. So you copy the mannerism of the actors you idolize. This leads to a series of bad habits like hamming, one-dimensional performance, etc.
To counter these bad habits, Michael Chekhov’s technique has so many exercises that make actors pay attention to their imagination and create characters out of it.
With Michael Chekhov’s technique, you get a step-by-step process to imagine a character and play with it.
If you want to learn these exercises I recommend you to buy his book To The Actor: On The Technique Of Acting.
2. Psychological Gesture
If you have heard about Michael Chekhov, you might have heard about the psychological gesture too.
For me, the physical gesture is the main pillar of Michael Chekhov acting and this is what makes it different from other styles of acting.
For a second, just think about the other styles of acting like Stanislavsky, Meisner, or Stella Adler. With these techniques, you work inside to outside. What I mean by that is you prepare your mind, emotions, and senses to bring about natural physical actions.
But with Michael’s technique, you work outside to inside. You do the physical action to bring out the emotions and thoughts.
In his book, you will find several gestures that stimulate specific emotions. I feel it is one of the most powerful tools to have as an actor.
Just by changing the physicality, you can bring several changes to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
If you want to experience the power of physical gesture, just smile and observe how your thoughts change. It is hard to think about sad things when you are smiling.
I urge you to try this right now. Just smile and observe!
Using Checkhov’s method you find the right physical gesture or PG for your character. This is where you start creating a fully alive character with this acting technique.
3. Creative Individuality
To understand creative individuality, let’s take an example. You and your friend are asked to draw a picture of the same object. You will observe that the drawing made by you will differ from what your friend has drawn even though the object was the same.
This happens due to creative individuality.
This is also evident when you see actors playing the same characters. The best example is the Joker from the Batman universe. All the actors that have played the character have different flavors.
Using Michael Chekhov’s technique you will be able to find your creative individuality so that everything you do looks fresh and has your impression.
Characterization is a feature that you assign to a character. Overall, it is the amalgamation of several features that will define the character.
Checkhov had a unique way to approach characterization. You use something called a center. It is nothing but focusing your attention on different parts of your body. As you change your center you will see the change in your feelings, emotions, and thoughts.
For each characterization, you will have to find the right-center.
5. The Chart for Inspired Acting
If you want to ensure complete preparation, Michael Chekhov gives you a chart that you can follow to create the performance.
The chart includes all the necessary elements of the technique that helps you to create a complete and believable performance as an actor.
If you want to get into Michael Chekhov acting technique, I advise you to learn every element included in this chart and also learn how each of them come together.
So, Is It For You?
I believe choosing the acting technique is an individual choice. You must understand who you are as a person before you choose an acting technique.
Over the years I have realized there are two types of actors. One who is mentally active and the other who is physically active.
If you are a person who can bring physical changes just by thinking about emotions and situations, this acting technique is not for you.
But if you are like me who needs to be in action in order to develop emotions and feelings, you should definitely go for this technique. It is perfect for you.
Where Do You Learn It?
If you have decided this acting technique is right for you, you can begin your search for the right acting school. Let me help you with some useful information that can help start your search.
Here are some of the Michael Checkhov Acting Schools that you can go for:
1. Michael Chekhov Acting Studio
The studio is situated in New York and run by Lenard Petit. Lenard is one of the members of Michael Chekhov Theater School. He is also the co-founder of Michael Checkhov or famously known as MICHA.
The studio doesn’t have a full-fledged degree program but has intensive classes that you can take advantage of.
2. Michael Chekhov School
If you are looking for online sessions and workshops, I would suggest you check out this school. It has one of the most experienced ensembles of acting teachers which includes teachers like Fern Sloan, Ted Pugh, and Ragnar Freidank.
3. Terry Knickerbocker Studio
If you are new to acting and you are looking for an intensive two years of acting course, I would suggest checking out Terry Knickerbocker Studio. It has a two-year actor conservatory program that will train in Michael Chekhov acting technique for two years.
I have tried to offer an overview of everything you need to know before you dive into the Michael Chekhov technique. If you are not sure, I would suggest trying a few workshops to get hang of the technique. Once you feel it is right for you, you can take dip dive in it.