Method acting

Method acting

Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques used by actors to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances. It can be contrasted with more classical forms of acting, in which actors simulate the thoughts and emotions of their characters 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, pioneered by Constantin Stanislavski and advocated by Lee Strasberg, 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 in their characters to the extent 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 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)."[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.



Method acting was first popularized in the United States by the Group Theatre in New York City in the 1930s and was subsequently advanced by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio from the 1940s until his death in 1982. It was derived from the system created by Constantin Stanislavski, who pioneered similar ideas in his quest for "theatrical truth." Stanislavski developed his system through his friendships with Russia'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 Theater. It was also influenced by then-current ideas about Realism.

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, Dennis Hopper, and Ellen Burstyn.


"Method acting" or "the Method" 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.

In general, however, 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. In this sense, according to Marlon Brando, the actor does not so much become someone else as he becomes himself.[2] 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 or emotional 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/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 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 believed that this approach caused actors to focus on themselves and not fully tell the story. He advocated fully immersing oneself "in the moment" and concentrating on one's partner. Meisner taught actors to achieve spontaneity by understanding the given circumstances of the scene (as did Strasberg) and through interpersonal 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."[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 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. 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:

  • Richard Boleslavsky, actor, film director, and founder of the American Laboratory Theatre in New York.
  • Michael Chekhov, an actor, director, and author whose technique, largely an outside-in approach and somewhat more metaphysical, diverged from and returned to Stanislavski's over the course of his career.
  • Maria Ouspenskaya, an actress who taught at the American Laboratory Theatre. Her students included John Garfield, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasberg.
  • Lee Strasberg, a director, actor, and producer whose teachings are most closely associated with the term Method acting.
  • Stella Adler, an actress and founder of the Stella Adler Conservatory in New York City.
  • Herbert Berghof, founder of HB Studio in New York City.
  • Uta Hagen, an actress and the author of Respect for Acting and A Challenge for the Actor, who emphasized the techniques of identity and substitution.
  • Robert Lewis, an actor, director, co-founder of the Actors Studio, and author of Method—or Madness?

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, Fla., American Conservatory Theater, Shelton Studios and Shelley Mitchell's Actors Center 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

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 by Ion Cojar


  1. ^ Stella Adler, 91, an Actress and Teacher of the Method New York Times, December 22, 1992.
  2. ^ Bray, Christopher (2008-11-25). "Marlon Brando: 'You get paid for doing nothing'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-09-10. 
  3. ^ Carnicke, Sharon. Stanislavsky in Focus: An Acting Master for the Twenty-First Century. Routledge Theatre Classics, 2008, p. 221
  4. ^ Meisner, Sanford. Sanford Meisner on Acting, Vintage, 1987
  5. ^ a b Robert Lewis (2003), Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life, Hal Leonard Corporation, ISBN 1-5578-3244-7, p.193.
  6. ^ "Stella Adler." Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. 27 Oct. 2011.
  7. ^ Larina Kase (2011), Clients, Clients, and More Clients!: Create an Endless Stream of New Business with the Power of Psychology, McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-0717-7100-X, p.125.
  8. ^ S. Loraine Hull (1985), Strasberg's method as taught by Lorrie Hull: A practical guide for actors, teachers, and directors, Oxbow Books, ISBN 0-9180-2438-2, p.10.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • method acting — Method Meth od, n. [F. m[ e]thode, L. methodus, fr. Gr. meqodos method, investigation following after; meta after + odo s way.] 1. An orderly procedure or process; regular manner of doing anything; hence, manner; way; mode; as, a method of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • method acting — ► NOUN ▪ an acting technique in which an actor tries to identify completely with a character s emotions …   English terms dictionary

  • Method Acting — Als Method Acting bezeichnete Lee Strasberg seine auf der Lehre Konstantin Stanislawskis beruhende Methode, die Schauspielerei zu erlernen. Es ist eine US amerikanische Variante des Naturalismus im Schauspiel. Der Schauspieler arbeitet dabei mit… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • method acting — noun an acting technique introduced by Stanislavsky in which the actor recalls emotions or reactions from his or her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed • Syn: ↑method • Hypernyms: ↑acting, ↑playing, ↑playacting …   Useful english dictionary

  • method acting —   a style of acting first expounded by Konstantine Stanislavsky in the early 1900s, and popularized by Lee Strasberg (1899 1982) in the US in his Actors Studio; refers to actors who gave realistic performances based upon and drawn from their own… …   Glossary of cinematic terms

  • Method-Acting — Me|thod Ac|ting [ mɛθəd|ɛktɪŋ ], das; s [amerik.]: schauspielerische Methode, bei der die Darsteller authentische Gefühle in kontrollierter Form erleben. * * * Me|thod Ac|ting [ mɛȓəd ɛktɪŋ], das; s [engl. method acting, aus: method = Vorgehen,… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • method acting — UK / US noun [uncountable] theatre, cinema preparation for an acting role in which the actor gets real experience of the life of the type of character that he or she will play Derived word: method actor noun countable Word forms method actor :… …   English dictionary

  • method acting — /ˈmɛθəd æktɪŋ/ (say methuhd akting) noun an acting technique by which actors try to immerse themselves in the emotional world of the character they are portraying so that the responses required by the part have a feeling of authenticity because… …   Australian English dictionary

  • method acting — n [U] a way of acting in which actors try to identify completely with the characters they are playing. It was based on the ideas of the Russian director Constantin Stanislavsky, and developed in the US by Lee Strasberg at the Actors’ Studio in… …   Universalium

  • Method-Acting — Me|thod Ac|ting [ mɛθədɛktiŋ] das; s <zu engl. method »Methode« (vgl. ↑Methodismus) u. acting »Schauspielerei«> Art der Schauspielerei, die darin besteht, dass der Schauspieler sich auf sich selbst konzentriert, auf eigene Erfahrungen… …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

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