Method acting is a phrase that loosely refers to a family of techniques by which actors try to create in themselves the thoughts and emotions of their characters in an effort 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, 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)."
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 Konstantin 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 (art).
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 may recall emotions or sensations from his or her own life and use 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, Dennis Hopper, and Ellen Burstyn.
Full article ▸