A technique called method acting

The controversy surrounding emotion training such as method acting still remains a poignant subject when discussing actor training (Chabora) but despite its controversy the technique called method acting is still popular, particularly in America where it was created (20thC training). In Method acting, the body is encouraged to respond to a series of stimulus that the actor has collected throughout their training. It emphasizes the importance of authenticity in a make-believe world. (method acting Krasner p5) The technique was developed using some of the ideas of Stanislavski’s system but has evolved over time with the input of various actors and directors (20thC training p129).

The teaching of the method in America was instigated by Stanislavski’s students Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, their aim was to train actors to find depth in their characters. (20thC training p130) One of their students, Lee Strasberg became one of the founding members of Group Theatre (20thC training p130) who’s ethos promoted the use of real emotion on stage as opposed to it being suggested (20thC training p130). Despite, being director most associated with the method (20thC training p134) Richard Hornby (2002) states that even though Strasberg used Stanislavski’s name in order to advertise his own method of teaching, Boleslavsky was Strasberg’s sole link to them (end of acting p182).

It was Strasberg’s belief that emotions are the most fundamental tool in the actor’s repertoire. (Chapora p231) He looks in particular at psychological processes, and is primarily concerned with the actor’s process rather than performance (20thC training p129). It is Strasberg’s affective/emotion memory that is his most controversial technique derived from Stanislavski’s work on Ivan Pavlov’s research (20thC training p135). This technique highlights the importance of actors using their own experiences and beliefs encouraging the actor to live the life of the character (20thC training p130). He believed the body to be stimulated by recalled experiences (20thC training p134) and affective/emotion memory exercise puts this belief into practice. It encourages the actor to remember corporeal feelings by way of examining personal cues, such as an object which holds emotional connotations for them. The next stage is bringing to mind memories (method acting Krasner p12 because as Strasberg noted, the most valuable memories are those buried deep in the actor’s subconscious. He suggests that the further back you explore, the more intense the memory. (Chabora p231) A common misconception about Strasberg’s affective/emotion memory is that it is the actor aim to remember the emotion contained within a memory, but this is not the case. The actor, instead of concentrating on how the event made them feel, remembers other details such as sight, sounds and smells (Chabora p231) which then cause the emotion to develop organically because “remembering a ‘situation’ in all of its vivid, sensory details…evokes a rich nexus of images that then facilitates a feeling response” (cognitive neuroscience P44). Each exploration into the ‘sensory details’ of a memory helps to build a collection which can be used during the actor’s process. (Chabora p231). Strasberg himself understood the risk of using this technique; only allowing people to train after studying their psychiatric records (Chabora p233) and also acknowledged that the emotional intensity of the memory may change over time. (Chabora p233)

Another technique used by the Method to aid actors in creating an authentic performance is one Stanislavski called perezhivanie, which means to live through. In other words the actor must experience the life of their character (Method acting Krasner p5). This technique is called personalisation is similar to affective memory in that the actor is encouraged to draw parallels from their own life to match the given circumstances and objectives of the character (Chabora p234).By personalising the role, the actor ‘draws from the self’ by using memories, experience and beliefs to create character (20thC training p132).

Strasberg placed a big emphasis on authentic behaviour on stage, stating that feelings must never be ‘indicated’, but rather the actor works from his or her passions and emotions (which is often referred to in method acting as working from the ‘inside out’) (20thC training pg 131) and when used properly method acting should aid the actor in performing with credibility (20thC training p147), “it transcends the artifice of staged contrivances, offering actors to investigate their personal experience, imagination and behaviour” (20thC training pg 147)

Despite the intricate details that many Method Actors use to bring credibility to their performance Strasberg posits the importance of knowing exactly what is to happen on stage yet experiencing it as if for the first time. “This means that the body , the voice, every facet of expression, must follow the natural changes in impulse; even thought the actor repeats, the strength of the impulses may well change from day to day” (IN method acting Krasner p11) Strasberg at the actors studio

Krasner proposes in an article entitled ‘I Hate Strasberg’ that Strasberg’s method has been severely misunderstood and misinterpreted, stating that there are several beliefs surrounding the method that are not only false but seem to contradict one another. One criticism is that the method actors performance, once created, is unyielding “QUOTE”, that the actor find a characterisation from the text and uses it to suit his beliefs about the character. Another is that the method actor depends on his self rather than the character which Krasner purports is a belief in opposition to the first. (p17) However, in ‘The End of Acting’ Hornby states that Strasberg never thought the text was enough to communicate to the audience, even going as far as to say, “the subliminal message to his students was clear: don’t study literature. It only distracts you from your job of creating emotion intensity on stage.” (end of acting p175) While this quote is entirely speculative Hornby also describes an instance in which the context of the play was edited in order to convey an atmosphere, “to get an ‘ethereal’ quality from Stellar Adler, for example, he has her imaging a scene from John Howard Lawson’s Success Story taking place on a ship, though in fact if was supposed to be on dry land.” (end of acting p176). This example shows Strasberg’s reliance on self over text, believing that the text was not enough to convey what he wanted to show.

Horny also accuses Strasberg’s affective/emotion memory of placing the actor into their own world making them unable to work with an ensemble “to the audience, the traditional method actor can seem powerful but detached, not part of the play somehow.” (end of acting p183) As well as this, due to the time affective memory takes to become effective the method actor can find him or herself behind the rhythm of the play and ultimately slowing the rest of the ensemble down also. Despite the tough criticisms of his book, Hornby does agree that method acting has its positives, in particular for film actors when given a lengthy amount of time between takes to engage with the technique (end of acting p185) as well as retaining their potency due to being used less than they would in a long theatre run. (end of acting p179)