25 Sep 2013

Method Acting

Submitted by Stephen Winters
TitleMethod Acting
Publication TypeWeb Article
Year of Publication2013
Access Year2013
Access DateSept 25, 2013
Last Update DateSept 23, 2013
Keywordsmethod acting

Method acting

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In the dramatic arts, method acting is a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. Though not all method actors use the same approach, the "method" in method acting usually refers to the practice—influenced by Constantin Stanislavski and created by Lee Strasberg—in which actors create characters by drawing on their own emotions and memories, aided by a set of exercises and practices including sense memory and affective memory. Method acting is similar to Stanislavski's system.

Method actors are often characterised as immersing themselves in their characters, to the extent that they stay in character offstage or off-camera for the duration of a project. However, this is a popular misconception. While some actors have used this approach, it is generally not taught as part of the Method.[citation needed]

Method acting has been described as having "revolutionized 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)."[1]

Method acting continues to evolve, with many contemporary acting teachers, schools, and colleges teaching an integrated approach that draws from several different schools of thought about acting.


"The Method" was first popularized by the Group Theatre in New York City in the 1930s and subsequently advanced by Lee Strasberg and others at the Actors Studio in the 1940s and 1950s. It was derived from the 'system' created by Constantin Stanislavski, who pioneered similar ideas in his quest for "theatrical truth." This was done through his friendships with Russia's leading actors, his collaborations with playwright Anton Chekhov, and his own teaching, writing, and acting at the Moscow Art Theatre (founded in 1897).

Strasberg's students included many of the best known American actors of the latter half of the 20th century, including Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, James Dean, George Peppard, Dustin Hoffman, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke, and many others.[2] Using the Method, the actor also recalls emotions or reactions from their own life and uses them to identify with their character.[citation needed]


"The Method" refers to the teachings of Lee Strasberg—but the term "method acting" sometimes applies to teachings of his Group Theatre colleagues, including Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Sanford Meisner, and to other schools of acting influenced by Stanislavski's system, each of which takes a slightly different approach. Constantin Stanislavski himself said that certain techniques that are considered "method" are not true to his original system, with an undue emphasis on the exercises of affective memory.[citation needed] However there is no one correct way of method acting, for each different method technique is simply a different teachers' understanding of the ideas of Stanislavski and others.

Generally, Method acting combines the actor's careful consideration of the character's psychological motives and personal identification with the character, possibly including a reproduction of the character's emotional state by recalling emotions or sensations from the actor's own life. It is often contrasted with acting in which thoughts and emotions are indicated, or presented in a clichéd, unrealistic way. Among the concepts and techniques of Method acting are substitution, "as if," sense memory, affective memory, animal work, and archetype work. Strasberg uses the question, "What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in the way the character does?" Strasberg asks the actor to replace the play's circumstances with his or her own, the substitution.[3]

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 sense memory and affective memory—basic techniques espoused by Strasberg through which actors access their own personal experiences to identify with and portray the emotional lives of their characters. Meisner believed this approach made actors focus on themselves and not fully tell the story. He advocated actors fully immersing themselves "in the moment" and concentrating on their partner. Meisner taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the given circumstances of the scene (as did Strasberg). He designed interpersonal exercises 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."[4]

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 vocal training should be separated from pure emotional training.[5] 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.[5]

Stella Adler, an actress and acting teacher whose fame was cemented by the success of her students—who included 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. 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. Like Strasberg's, 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." Adler often taught that "drawing on personal experience alone was too limited." Therefore, she urged performers to draw on their imaginations and utilize "emotional memory" to the fullest.[6]

Contemporary approaches

Contemporary Method acting teachers and schools often synthesize the work of their predecessors into an integrated approach. They reject the notion that any one of the major Method teachers of the 20th century was completely correct or incorrect, and they continue to develop new acting tools and techniques.

Some modern acting theorists and teachers have noted that Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, and others often misunderstood each other's work, and that their criticisms were based on this misunderstanding. For example, they all taught actors to use their imagination, to connect with each other in performance, to analyze the script for wants, needs, and objectives. Meisner often said that Strasberg actors were too focused on themselves, but Strasberg trained many of the most respected actors of the 20th century.

In addition to taking an integrated approach, contemporary actors sometimes seek help from psychologists[7][8] or use imaginative tools such as dream work or archetype work to remove emotional blocks. Techniques have also been developed to prevent the world of the performance from spilling over into an actor's personal life in destructive ways.


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 schools around the world continue to teach it, 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 in Santa Monica, Calif., HB Studio in New York, Le Studio Jack Garfein in Paris and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.


Further reading


Major books on Method acting

Books on contemporary approaches to Method acting

  • The Intent to Live by Larry Moss
  • Dreamwork for Actors by Janet Sonenberg
  • O poetică a artei actorului (Poetics of the actor's art) by Ion Cojar
  • Rosemary Malague: An Actress Prepares: Women and "the Method", London & New York: Routledge, 2011

See also


  1. Jump up ^ Stella Adler, 91, an Actress and Teacher of the Method New York Times, December 22, 1992.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Lee Strasberg of Actors Studio Dead The New York Times, February 18, 1982
  3. Jump up ^ Carnicke, Sharon. Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century. Routledge Theatre Classics, 2008, p. 221
  4. Jump up ^ Meisner, Sanford. Sanford Meisner on Acting, Vintage, 1987
  5. ^ Jump up to: a b Robert Lewis (2003), Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-55783-244-7, p.193.
  6. Jump up ^ "Stella Adler." Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. 27 October 2011.
  7. Jump up ^ Larina Kase (2011), Clients, Clients, and More Clients!: Create an Endless Stream of New Business with the Power of Psychology, McGraw–Hill, ISBN 0-07-177100-X, p.125.
  8. Jump up ^ S. Loraine Hull (1985), Strasberg's method as taught by Lorrie Hull: A practical guide for actors, teachers, and directors, Oxbow Books, ISBN 0-918024-38-2, p.10.
  9. Jump up ^ Hari Bansha Acharya: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  10. Jump up ^ The Ghost Rider himself answers your questions Empire
  11. Jump up ^ Michael Caine 'uses painful secret to cry on set' The Telegraph
  12. Jump up ^ Jane Fonda Is Actress with a Character AP, Gettysburg Times – Jun 14, 1962
  13. Jump up ^ http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20100627/spectrum/main7.htm
  14. Jump up ^ What I've Learned: Jack Nicholson Esquire
  15. Jump up ^ Suzanne Pleshette, 70, ‘Newhart’ Actress, Dies The New York Times, January 21, 2008
  16. Jump up ^ Shelley Winters Outspoken Oscar-winning actress who had a string of famous lovers 16 January 2006 Herald Scotland



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