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Remember the bony structure of Christian Bale in the film The Machinist when he lost some 60 pounds? His body fat was so low that his body structure resembled that of a skeleton. Actors who go to such lengths to become as close as possible to the character they are playing are known as Method Actors. Method Acting, the most famous of all acting techniques, is a set of practices in which actors attempt to replicate the emotions, thoughts, and behavior of their characters. The goal of Method Acting is to help actors create lifelike performances that feel authentic and emotionally expressive.
The Method, as it is commonly referred to, is an elaborate system of acting techniques developed by Russian theatre artist Konstantin Stanislavski in the early 20th century to help actors create realistic, three-dimensional characters across a wide range of emotional states in a short period.
Stanislavsky believed that acting had its basis in real experience and that ‘the most important thing in art is sincerity’. To this end, he developed several acting exercises intended to give the actor access to his or her subconscious. He wanted actors to tap into states of genuine emotion, both while they were performing and offstage, so as to bring authenticity to their work.
The Group Theatre—a troupe of actors in New York City—built on Stanislavski’s acting method and took it further. The company’s founders, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner—three influential teachers with their own methodologies—emphasized physical activity as well as mental processing while acting. They combined Stanislavsky’s work with American-styled naturalism and incorporated elements from the work of other artists in Europe, including Elia Kazan.
The Method begins with a simple question: What makes you feel? This is where your imagination is unlocked. The simple choices of what you actively want to feel, how you want to act, what you want to be thought of, and how you wake up every day become the inspiration for your character.
It focuses on using one’s own life experiences to create a character that is entirely believable, complex, and authentic. The goal is to deliver a lively performance focused on human truths that come from inside and not off-the-shelf cliches and scenes. The use of one’s own life experiences makes it possible to not only create a character with psychological depth but also empower the actor by offering a sense of reality and truth within their performance.
Method Acting is a challenging approach to acting, where an actor ‘becomes’ his or her character. It effectively helps shape the actor’s identities and improves their performance to make them look more realistic and believable!
GETTING RID OF STRESS/RELIEVING TENSION
In order to appear natural and relaxed onstage, actors have to learn how not to hold on to muscular tension so tightly that they lose their range of motion or power of expression. Learn where you hold tension in your body, and how to let it go. You want to move like water, like honey, like a goose feather—all those things you can imagine being soft and smooth.
FOCUS AND DELIBERATENESS
Actors pay attention to the world around them, absorbing all the sights and sounds they can, like a sponge. Their goal is to use these stimuli to create believable scenes. You can do the same thing in your daily life: focus on certain sounds, while ignoring others; absorb everything that’s going on around you, and act like you’re actually there in another country or place.
USE OF SENSE MEMORY
Sense memory is a technique that allows an actor to create a real response during a performance by drawing on memories from their own experience. This can include recalled images, sounds, smells, and even physical sensations. It helps you access emotions that were once useful when dealing with a real-life situation.
IDENTIFICATION AND REPLICATION
A Method actor uses the subconscious to replicate a real response. By being able to recognize and replicate feelings, they can perform with freedom. Listen to your feelings and allow them to influence the work. It’s important to be spontaneous and not let your thoughts dictate your performance.
The most important thing to keep in mind with Method Acting is to be yourself. While the technique is useful for illustrating a character’s unique emotions, it should never become a hindrance or distraction.
Once you have internalized the role, it will be up to you to make every word and action your own. Keep this fact in mind, and your performance will be effective regardless of how you choose to let your character shine through.
Method Acting is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean its use will continue to be divided strictly along generational lines. It isn’t about age, it’s about the style in which one wishes to portray a role. Some actors have found personal success with Method Acting and others only need their voice and ability to spark an emotional response in an audience. But if nothing else, Method Acting gives us a better understanding of the art form and how each performance brings different perspectives to the same story. And that’s worth it alone.