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Method acting

  • 1.  Method acting

    Posted 06-18-2020 15:44
    I am writing an online 20th Century theatre history course and am
    defining Method Acting. This is what I have written.

    "Method Acting: An acting technique, based on the Stanislavski System,
    that focuses on the emotional core of the role rather than a physical
    characterization. The “method” actor tends to immerse themselves in
    the role, often using emotions from personal experiences (emotional
    memory) to make the performance dynamic. From the beginning this
    emotion-centered approach was challenged. Stanislavski shifted away
    from emotional memory as unreliable. Acting teachers Bobbie Lewis and
    Stella Adler considered it emotionally and psychologically unhealthy.
    Other critics have called it the “School of Mumblers and Grumblers”
    for the lack of diction and articulation in the method actor’s pursuit
    of realism."

    Is there anything that I have left out, or put something in that
    should be left out.

    Thanks for the help.


    "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." —

  • 2.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-19-2020 09:09
    Hi James - I don't consider myself an expert on this, though what you've written generally syncs with my understanding. The thing that has to be brought up in a discussion of method acting for me is that the term has morphed to mean something completely different. We generally call Daniel Day Lewis a Method Actor, because he stays in character throughout the filming of a movie. So Method has come to mean the total immersion into the life of the character - and THAT is completely opposite from "focuses on the emotional core of the role rather than a physical characterization". Well maybe not completely opposite, but very much relies on physical characterization in order to separate the character from the person playing the role. And the original "method" as I understand it is what you write - focusing on your own history to get to the emotional truth of what the character is doing. It doesn't feel like that is what DDL does in, say, Lincoln.  SO... any discussion of Method gets you into this weird worm hole because each person defines it completely differently. What does a word mean - what it originally meant or what it means now?

    Nick Hoffa
    Drama Director
    South Pasadena Unified
    South Pasadena CA

  • 3.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-20-2020 04:04
    Great question,

    I agree with some of the helpful comments here.  My two cents..

    "The method" is Lee Strasberg's American technique, inspired greatly from the active memory/psychological research and beginning exercises on concentration, observation, and emotional recall of Russian Actor/Director/teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky who developed "A System" of training codifying human behavior...took his whole life, with two training studios at the Moscow Art Theatre.

    Lee Strasberg goes his own way, his work and training you can look up in his training centers in LA and NYC, think NY playwrights of this time, William's, Miller, Odeats, Lorraine Hansberry, etc....Stanislavsky's System, at his death, greatly influenced by Vakhtangov and Michael Chekhov, his students, into the world of imagination, transformation, and active/event analysis...think the works of Anton Chekov and Ibsen, but also Goldoni and Shakespeare.

    Method Acting, generally, speaks to realism, practionairs use a variety of techniques from affected memory to sense memory, psychological pathology to build characters, sometimes steeped in neurosis... actors/teachers Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, Utah Hagen, and Stasberg teach this 'method', some of the  immersion of self made famous by the actors servicing the needs of the playwrights of the 50s, 60s, and 70s...the training of acting is servicng the playwright or screenplays calling for realism.   

    Daniel Day Lewis is his own creature and studied acting in London...he has a technique that works for him, same with Joaquin Phoenix,  same with Meryl Streep.  A combination of transformation plus personal truth,imagination combined with the playwrights demand...

    Short answer:  Stanislavsky's developed a system which takes a 180 from where he started, resembles more European clown at the end then what we may think of the naturalism of ANTON Chekhov's The Seagull...Stanislavsky's famous acting training contributions today are all steeped in imagination,  "play this scene 'as if' you were already a master at it" or 'do something to make your scene partner feel something."

    Lee Strasberg coined his Method, which was not Stanislavsky's System but his own....sure he borrowed some similiar approaches in "truthfulness" in creating authenticity in 'real' behavior suited to the imaginary circumstances, but the method is his his bag, I dont think Adler, Mesiner, or Hagen called their technique 'the method' fact what Strasberg meant to brand as 'the method' was already articulated by HAMLET'S advice to the players 400 years ago...listening and responding truthfully,  in the moment.

    Daniel Day is a genius and probably doesnt speak in terms of acting pedagogy.  Meryl Streep famously said, "my acting comes from behind me" or you can tell, I love this stuff.


    Hope that helps.

  • 4.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-23-2020 11:03
    Edited by Michael Frederick 06-23-2020 11:04
    Hi Nick (and others in this thread),   Just a note on Daniel Day Lewis...  In 1971 I started my training as an actor at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England. This is the same acting school that Daniel Day Lewis attended for three years in the late '70s.  We both had the same acting teacher at BOVTS, his name was Rudi Shelly and Rudi was a true master craftsman in teaching acting. Studying with Rudi was magical, extremely challenging, and almost 50 years later leaves a profound mark on my life. Every time I watch Daniel Day Lewis act, it makes me smile as I am very aware of Rudi and his physical approach to acting. Of course, DDL is brilliant and has made his acting training his own and definitely is not a "second-hand actor" simply repeating something he learned when he was young. At the same time, we all have mentors from our youth that live in us today and this is what I see in DDL.

    Michael Frederick
    Alexander Technique Teacher
    Los Angeles, Ojai, & Santa Barbara

  • 5.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-19-2020 09:51
    Is it your intent to suggest that the whole thing was a bad idea and bad for acting and actors? Because that's how it comes off.

    You probably ought to include Lee Straberg, the Actors Studio, and Elia Kazan as well.

    People trained in this acting discipline dominated serious acting in New York and Hollywood for several decades, and there was some very good work being done by Method actors.

    Nathan Rosen
    Baltimore MD

  • 6.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-19-2020 15:27
    A minor edit might be helpful.  Rather than simply "based on the Stanislavski System", it might be better, "based on the portion of the Stanislavski System."

    While this psychological and emotional core of the character is discussed in his best known work "An Actor Prepares", it is only one of the three volumes that were written.  A second volume, "Building a Character" focuses on physical characterization.  As E. Teresa Choate put it in one of her lectures, method acting is a bastardization of the Stanislavski System.

    I like the statement about using personal experiences and emotional memory for "method" acting as this is certainly a trademark of this approach.  This contrasts with Stanislavski who based his ideas of character analysis using the rapidly growing field of psychology.  This was designed so an actor would understand the internal struggle of the character allowing emotions to manifest.  With my actors I contrast these with phrases like "putting on a costume" and "letting the character out".

    Jym Kinney
    Tacoma, Washington

  • 7.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-19-2020 16:18
    Dear James,
    I'd suggest including Lee Strasberg who continued to train actors at The Actor's Studio under his interpretation of the method. You might also add that some of the finest and most lauded actors have used method acting effectively to play certain roles.

  • 8.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-21-2020 12:18
    Hi, James! I am going to throw my two cents in here, too!
        I agree with most of the comments posted already by the other gentlemen.

       I'd like to give an analogy that I use in class:

         Stanislavsky called what he was doing "A System." By doing so, he wrote, taught, and practiced that there are many means to get at a result: the development of a character. Think of the pipes in your house. The water from the 2nd floor drain travels through a different series of pipes than the water in your kitchen drain, yet both reach the street eventually. Actors are the same: some need a strong "as if" to create a character, while another needs an emotional memory to reach the core of it. Stanislavsky proposed different means for actors to use.

        On interpretation, however, it was translated as "The Method." A method usually indicates a singular way to achieve a result, i.e. righty-tighty, lefty-loosey for opening an item, or "toes go in first" for putting on socks. I know that this is a gross oversimplification, but Strasberg and many American teachers used elements of Stanislavsky's System and they have worked for many actors. Are they "mumblers and grumblers"? They were those that forgot that Stanislavsky did write that speech was still an important element, because they focused on the emotional and psychological elements of his work. Are they wrong? No, they are engaging in elements of the system.

        I tell my students that if there was a true "method" that everyone could apply, every actor would be excellent, since they could apply the "method," and voila! And then I ask them to name a few that are excellent, and a few that need improvement. System at work every time, no matter where or with whom they have studied.

        Thanks for the food for thought!

    Marlene Goebig
    Theater Teacher
    The School District of Philadelphia
    ]The School District of Philadelphia

  • 9.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-21-2020 23:31
    The Method originates in the fascination New York actors had for the Moscow Art Theatre, which visited the city in the early 1920s, leaving behind former MAT members Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskyaya.  Those two opened the American Laboratory Theatre to teach Stanislavski's system and continue the experimentation the MAT had begun.

    Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Harold Clurman were all students there.  A year into a two-year course of study, they left to form the Group Theatre.  Look at the members of the Group Theatre, and you'll find the remainder of our American cast of early master teachers of modern acting.

    The Great Depression finished off the American Laboratory Theatre, and Boleslavsky and Ouspenskyaya took off for Hollywood, where both found success.  Boleslavsky wrote a series of articles for Vanity Fair magazine, which were gathered into a slim volume, Acting: The First Six Lessons, in 1933.  It presents the major points of the Stanislavski system pretty succinctly.

    Boleslavsky also disavowed the American Method, saying they concentrated on the affective memory portions and ignored the critical importance of dramatic action.

    And I think it is important to remember that the members of the Moscow Art Theatre did a tremendous amount of physical training that somehow didn't get passed along to the students of the American Laboratory Theatre: voice, gymnastics, fencing, dance, etc.

    Lee Strasberg is generally considered to be the father of the American Method, but each of the members of the American Lab and Group Theatres took their acting teaching in a different direction.

    C. J. Breland
    Retired Theatre Arts Educator
    Asheville NC

  • 10.  RE: Method acting

    Posted 06-23-2020 12:37
    Totally as a sidebar, but I couldn't resist:

    For many years, I've heard techies and stagehands refer to actors "going method" when they start breaking stuff that's not supposed to be broken.

    George F. Ledo
    Set designer