Acting Methods


Exactly What Are They And What Will They Do For You?

Acting Technique, Acting Methods, Acting Styles

Let's clear a few things up first about these different terms and what they really mean.....

Acting Technique

Teaches you how to analyze and breakdown a script, discover who your character is, their relationship to others and their place in the story, explore what actions they do and how to justify them .

It's how you train to be an actor. It's the foundation, a repeatable process, by which you base how to act.

Acting Methods

Here are the top four to look out for:

Stanislavski - the first one to implement change in how actors use actions, emotions and imagination to invoke a truthful performance. This is known as 'The System' not the Method.

Three other actors followed his work but couldn't agree on how to interpret his 'system' and branched off separately to pursue and develop their own 'acting methods', namely:

Stella Adler
Sanford Meisner
Lee Strasberg

Is simply an interpretation of how to teach acting technique.

Over the years several different teachers pioneered their own methods to help actors to produce a realistic approach to understanding a character and making them believable.

This why there are various schools of thought, first started by Stanislavski and inspiring other methods to branch off from this by Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg.

Because these acting methods originated from the one source, they all cross over each other with things in common as well has having differences.

And then came another acting method called practical aesthetics but that's for another day, I don't want to confuse you.

Acting Styles

Now this is a different kettle of fish altogether!

To me it means the medium in which your performing.

Let me explain.....although you use your acting technique to prepare for acting roles, you have to understand what your performing in.

Acting for film and television is a different acting style compared to theatre acting. Comedy sitcom acting, although it's television is a different style to television drama. Voice-over acting is different to commercial acting.

These are all different acting styles which you apply your acting technique to.

What Is Method Acting?

Method Acting is an acting technique used by many actors to create a realistic character out of imaginary circumstances.

Encouraging the actor to rely on their own personal memories and past experiences to build a character and their life around them.

Originally known as 'The System' it was developed by Constantin Stanislavski in the late 1890's out of the Moscow Art Theatre. And continued throughout the twentieth century with the foundation of the Group Theatre and the Actor's Studio in New York.

However..... three actors in the group, Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg couldn't agree on how to teach this new method of acting technique and soon parted ways, branching off to form their own methods. Using their own interpretation of how this acting technique should be taught.

It was from here that Strasberg adopted the term 'The Method'.

So What Are The Differences Between These Acting Methods?

To tell you about the differences I have to introduce the teachers who taught them.

Just so you get a better understanding of why they tweaked the original Stanislavski method to suit what they thought would be better for the actor.

So let's play a game of Who Is....?

Who Is Stella Adler?

Stella Adler was the only one of the three who actually trained under Stanislavski intensively for five weeks, after moving to Paris in 1934 with her then husband Harold Clureman.

Her disagreement with Strasberg was that actors should rely upon imagination and the use of actions to produce a realistic, truthful response, and not their own personal memories. Stating that:

'' Drawing on the emotions I experienced, for example, when my mother died to create a role is sick and schizophrenic. If that is acting, I don't want to do it! ''

Taking this to Stanislavski, he agreed and revised his old theories, saying he had abandoned emotional memory work. ( I don't think Strasberg got that memo!)

Both believed instead that extensive research was required by the actor to understand characters experiences of different values and different cultures. For example, if a character is a boxer then the actor has to research boxing.

Stella Adler combined this technique with sense memory exercises, physical characterization of the body and vocal training.

In the years after the Group Theatre disbanded, Stella Adler set up her own school and taught the likes of Marlon Brando.

Yes boys and girls, he was an Adler student, not a Method student! Even writing the foreward in her book ' The Art of Acting '.

Who else were Adler students? Let's see.....Robert DeNiro, Benicio del Torres, Mark Ruffalo, Selma Hayek, Sean Astin from the Lord of the Rings, the Fonz! Henry Winkler, Antonio Banderas and his wife Melanie Griffith.

Who Is Sanford Meisner?

Sanford Meisner, having been a student of Strasberg, also rejected emotional memory work in favour of his own acting method.

Emphasis being placed on an actor's response to other people and circumstances, resulting in a specific behaviour to produce an emotional, truthful performance without 'faking it'.

Sounds very similar to the Adler Technique, since a specific behaviour is really an action, only the acting training differs.

One acting exercise Meisner used was a repetiton exercise involving two actors facing each other, repeating a phrase over and over until it takes on new meaning, tone and intention.

Teaching the actors to listen to each other and respond naturally.

Who Is Lee Strasberg?

Lee Strasberg took on the mantel of Method Acting relying on Stanislavki's earlier teachings involving the use of emotional memory work. (Later Stanislavski was to agree with Stella Adler that this was harmful to the actor.)

Basically encouraging actors to use their own personal memories to remember past experiences in their own life to summon emotions for a character during a scene.

This what Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner didn't agree with.

Even Stanislavski went back on this and revised his own teachings!

Everything else to do with use of actions, research and sense memory seems to have remained largely the same as the other techniques.

If These Acting Methods Came Out of America, What Came Out of Britain?

The British acting method was born out of British Theatre and was referred to as a more classical acting technique.

Emphasizing precise dialogue delivery and stylized reactions in a more refined and controlled manner.

Actors often committed the whole play to memory rarely deviating from the original text.

A complete contrast to the American methods using improvisation techniques and 'getting in touch with your feelings '.

However.....famous students of this classical acting technique are now all Knights and Dames appointed by Her Majesty the Queen of England and include, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Dame Judy Dench and Dame Helen Mirren.

 How Do You Choose Which Method To Study?

Since most of these acting methods were born out of the one source, they all cross over, sharing similarities.

The main end result being, to produce a realistic, truthful performance where the audience forgets they are watching an actor at work.

So take your time to research the various methods before choosing which one might suit you.

Other acting methods have also flourished and stood the test of time with the likes of Michael Chekhov and Uta Hagen.

A new one on the scene is practical aesthetics, developed by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy. Based on the teachings of Stanislavski and Meisner. But these are discussions for another day.

Where Does My Heart Lie?

I chose to study the Stella Adler Acting Technique based on the fact that, like her, I didn't want to relive emotional memories from my past to elicit an emotion for a character.

I don't want to have to keep remembering how sad, upset and tearful I was when in mourning for the loss of my teenage cousin, just to be able to cry during a scene.

What nonsense, it's just not healthy for an actors mental health.

I'm so biased towards this method because I had an amazing, nurturing experience there.

Being taught by teachers who are also working actors and who trained under Stella Adler directly. Cutting my teeth performing on stage in Hollywood, surrounded by talented, creative people.

I was completely and utterly inspired and in my element!

One More Thing.....

Whichever acting method you choose, master it and you can't go wrong.

It will provide such a strong foundation for you that even if you take a break for a while and put your acting on the back burner, you can always go back and pick up where you left off.

You will always have your training!


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