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Method acting is a technique in which actors try to engender in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters in an effort to create lifelike performances. It can be contrasted with more classical forms of acting, in which actors simulate thoughts and emotions through external means, such as vocal intonation or facial expression. Though not all Method actors use the same approach, the "method" in Method acting usually refers to the practice by which actors draw upon their own emotions and memories in their portrayals, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory.

Method actors are often characterized as immersing themselves so totally in their characters that they continue to portray them even offstage or off-camera for the duration of a project. However, this is a popular misconception. While some actors, notably Daniel Day-Lewis, have employed this approach, it is generally not taught as part of the Method.

Method acting has been described as "revolutionizing 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)."

Origins

Method acting was first popularized by the Group Theatre in New York Citymarker in the 1930s and was subsequently advanced by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studiomarker from the 1940s until his death in 1982. It was derived from the system created by Konstantin Stanislavski, who pioneered similar ideas in his quest for "theatrical truth." Stanislavski developed his system through his friendships with Russiamarker's leading actors, whose work he observed and analyzed; his collaborations with playwright Anton Chekhov; and his own acting and teaching at the Moscow Art Theatermarker.

In Stanislavski's system, actors deeply analyze the motivations and emotions of their characters in order to personify them with psychological realism and emotional authenticity. Using the Method, an actor recalls emotions or sensations from his or her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed.

Strasberg's students included many of America's most famous actors in the latter half of the 20th century, including Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Eli Wallach, Alec Baldwin, Robert De Niro, Jane Fonda, and Ellen Burstyn.

Technique

Method acting usually refers to the teachings of Lee Strasberg, but the term is sometimes also applied to the teachings of his Group Theatre colleagues, including Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Sanford Meisner, and to other schools of acting derived from Stanislavski's system, each of which takes a slightly different approach. Even Stanislavski himself modified his system dramatically over the course of his career.

Method acting is frequently considered difficult to teach. This is partially due to the common misconception that there is a single Method, but in fact no one Method has been laid down. This plurality and ambiguity can make it hard to teach a single Method. It is also partially because sometimes Method acting is characterized by outsiders as lacking in any specific or technical approach to acting, . In general, however, Method acting combines a careful consideration of a character's psychological motives and personal identification with the character, possibly including a reproduction of the character's emotional state. It is often contrasted with acting in which thoughts and emotions are indicated, or presented in a clichéd, unrealistic way. Mostly, however, the surmising done about the character and the elusive, capricious, or sensitive nature of emotions combine to make Method acting difficult to teach.

Among the concepts and techniques of Method acting are substitution, "as if," sense memory, and affective or emotional memory.

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 the subjects of sense memory and affective memory, basic techniques espoused by Strasberg through which actors access their own personal experiences in order to identify with and portray the emotional lives of their characters. Meisner found this approach too cerebral and advocated fully immersing oneself in the moment. He taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the given circumstances of the scene and through exercises he designed 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 Method actors should not become familiar with the style of acting required by classical authors such as Shakespeare and Moliere because, according to Strasberg's teachings, their plays are too stylized and therefore far removed from the actor's own life experiences. 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 Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert De Niro, also broke with Strasberg after she studied with Stanislavski himself, the only Group Theatre teacher to do so, after he had modified many of his early ideas about acting. 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. 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." She often preached, "We are what we do, not what we say."

More information about the origins and history of Method acting can be found in the book Strasberg's Method, by S. Loraine Hull. Hull, who taught for Strasberg for 12 years, interviewed director Elia Kazan, Cyrilla Falk (Stanislavski's granddaughter), members of the Moscow Art Theatre, and others about the Method. Before his death, Strasberg read the manuscript and called it "historically correct."

Teachers

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: In fact, most post-1930 acting philosophies have been strongly influenced by Method acting, and it continues to be taught at schools around the world, 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 and the Larry Moss Studio in Santa Monica, Calif., HB Studio in New York, Le Studio Jack Garfein in Paris, Palm Beach Playhouse in Palm Beach Florida, Shelley Mitchell's Actors Center and the Shelton Actors Lab in San Francisco, Hull Actors Studio in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, Calif., and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles and New York.

Major books on Method acting



References




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