What is Method Acting?

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If you have come to this page, means you are either new to acting or curious about acting. The term method acting comes up only when you are looking to get better at acting. This is also the reason why method acting was developed. And when you see the question “what is method acting?”. Answer lies in question. It is a systematic method of acting.

A method which gives techniques and tools to evoke necessary emotions and actions using actors own experience. The theater pioneers like Constantin Stanislavsky developed a set of techniques that not only made the acting look natural but also allowed him to teach these techniques to his students.

Biggest reason method acting is so popular is because it is teachable. Before method acting, people believed acting comes naturally and the one with acting talent can only become successful actor. But when method acting became popular, acting became a learnable vocation just like any other regular vocation. All you required is love for the art.

What is method acting system doing for actor?

The basic foundation of method acting was laid out by Constantin Stanislavsky. But it was Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Meisner Sandford who made it popular by adding their own approach.

Mind you all three had their own approach, and you will find lot of differences when you train in their techniques. But all have developed their approach based on what Stanislavsky taught them.

Around hundred years ago when theater was popular, it was hard for actors to repeat same performance. More they performed, more they lost interest in it and more unnatural acting they did. They needed something that would allow them to perform same play with same interest and freshness. Method Acting offered exactly that.

What is method acting techniques offering to the actor:

  • It channelizes actor’s thoughts in order to evoke the other uncontrollable process like emotions, behaviors and actions.
  • It helps actor to find the inner motive to justify their actions on stage which makes the action so real and natural.
  • Using method acting, actor can repeat same performance again and again but every time it will feel real not only to audience but to actor himself.
  • It gave actors a proper method to use their experience, which were readily available, to relate to the given material.
  • It connected actors conscious to their body and somehow helped them perform the scenes more truthfully.

With some many benefits of method acting, actors give performances that are not only fresh but are relatable for audience.

Basic method acting techniques

You would be keen to know what are method acting techniques that you can learn. Well, you have to understand these techniques are vast subjects in itself. It takes time to master these techniques. Any school or workshop you attend, they will have their own version of method acting but make sure if you really want to learn method acting, then you must look for following topics in their curriculum:

Imagination

Imagination must be a key topic in any method acting course. Every thing a acting student has to learn comes from the imaginary situations. Actor must learn to imagine circumstances so that he can relate to it and evoke the right emotions from it.

Method acting techniques teach actors how an actor can improve their imagination. Basic thing you can do to improve your imagination is be a good observer. Observer everything that surrounds you. Create a bank of imagination, it will be very useful for you as an actor. There are proper ways of imaginations that you learn using method acting.

Emotion Memory

Whenever you ask this question, what is method acting? You will hear this term emotion memory. This one of the most important and most controversial topic in method acting. Some method acting coaches advocate it, some criticize it. Emotion memory is technique in which actor learns to evoke emotions using his past experiences. For example, if you are to feel sad for losing someone, you try to remember the moment when you lost someone and the emotions that you felt.

Now many coaches including Stella Adler didn’t like it because it takes actor into vulnerable situations. According to her, actor must only stay connected to the character and not become the real you instead of character. So her techniques focuses more on imagining an situation rather than remembering own experiences in order to evoke the emotions.

Sense Memory

Many amateurs confuse it with emotion memory but it is completely different. Sense memory is all about remembering the feelings through senses. It deals at physical level than emotional level.

Method acting will teach you have to create the real sensory feelings without having real sensory triggers. For example, in a scene you are suppose to drink a hot coffee, but you have cup filled with cold water. How do you evoke the feeling, that you are really drinking a coffee?

You will try to remember how your senses works when you actually drink coffee. What do you smell? How do you feel the warmth of the steam on your face and hot cup in your hand? What your first sip of hot coffee is like?

Learning right sense memory techniques will help create much believable and natural actions on stage or in front of a camera.

Relaxation

Acting is much easier, when your body is relaxed. Your whole body and senses are relaxed. Method acting coaches spend lot of time on teaching actors how to relax your body. Even the most experienced actors get tensioned before the performance. Hence, all have their relaxation routines.

Method acting will teach you how you can find the tension in your body and how you can shake it off. Usually, this topic is very much among the first initial lessons you as acting student will learn.

Beyond this topics, there plenty more but today method acting has so much evolved, that almost all teachers have their version of method acting, they all add or subtract something out of the basic system.

Popular Method Actors

Today method acting so popular, is because of the actors that made into the Hollywood and are so popular even today, just because of their method acting. Here are 5 popular who are known for their method acting:

James Dean: James Dean died early and appeared only in three films but he was the one who revolutionized acting in the movies. Before him, it was all about presentational acting. When his movie East of Eden came out he was already gone but that performance became a path breaking. He inspired many modern greats like Al Pacino, Robert Di Niro, and many more.

Marlon Brando: Who can forget his iconic performance in A Street Car Named Desire? He brought something fresh which wasn’t a normal style of acting in 50s. Brando was good looking and charming but his acting was revolutionary. He was a student of great method acting coach, Stella Adler.

Robert Di Niro: Another student of Stella Adler was Robert Di Niro but he was also the student of the Actors Studio. From age 16 to the age 24 he only studied method acting under several institutes. He has amazing body of work and iconic characters that shows how method acting made him what he is today.

Daniel Day Lewis: One of the modern greats in method, Daniel Day Lewis is known for being unbearable with his methods. He is known to stay in characters even off camera while on a set. Though he had own method of acting but it was based a lot closely to the popular method acting, which was a huge part of theaters in Europe when he was growing up.

Jared Leto: We had to mention Jared Leto, becomes he is among the current crop who is more known for his style of acting than his actual work. Though he is not from the traditional method acting school, but they way he prepares takes the method to extreme levels just to experience the real emotions.

Most Popular Method Acting Techniques

Today, you won’t find the right answer for your question of what is method action because there is no purest form of method acting, but still you can identify them based on the acting pioneers the institute or teacher follows. However, are the following are the most popular types of method acting techniques.

Stanislavsky

If you to say what is the purest form of method acting technique, then Stanislavsky is the answer. He is considered as the father of method acting. Every thing you have learnt so far about method acting originates from him. Stanislavsky system is well documented in his book An Actor Prepares. If you want to learn his form of acting, get the book.

Lee Strasberg

Probably this is more popular in United States of America because the Actors Studio, which has such huge list of alumni, who are successful actors. Anyone wanting to be an actor in America looks to go to the Actors Studio. Lee Strasberg’s version of method acting is extrapolated version of Stanislavski’s method acting.

This technique is more focused on psychological aspects and extensively uses emotion memory to create the performance.

Stella Adler

Stella adler was her self a student of Stanislavsky’s method acting but parted ways to form her method acting because she was opposed to using emotion memory to evoke emotions. She believed it is unhealthy for actor to use it.

Her method acting techniques revolves around nurturing actor’s imagination, action and script interpretation. You will find plenty of acting coaches teaching Stella Adler’s form of method acting.

Sandford Meisner

Sandford Meisner, another student of method acting who has formed his technique based on the Stanislavsky system. But the difference is his techniques works from outside the inside. Meisner wanted actor must get out his head to function properly as character.

This technique how to use actions to evoke the right emotions which contrary to other form of method acting.

Uta Hagen

Uta hagen’s technique also revolves around Stanislavsky’s method acting but with a twist. Her technique uses substitution. Actor substitute their experiences inside the fiction circumstances of scene in order to play it more realistically. Sole aim of Uta Hagen’s technique is to achieve most realistic acting.

So, did you get the answer to your question “what is method acting?” I hope, its yes ?. However, method acting is not something you will learn just by reading about it, you will have to practice it. If you can afford a good acting school, go to one. If you can’t read as many books as possible and practice it: not at home but with your actor friends. Join local drama club or theater, use practice the method acting technique.


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