The Method

  • Fiona Cuskelly

    Actor

    Hi

    I've recently been told not to touch the method with a bargepole.

    Interested to hear of anyone's experience with it as a tool or in training.

    Thanks

    • 29th Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    Different things work for different people. Trust your instincts and do waht works for you.

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Beau Rambaut

    Actor

    Hi Sorry to sound thick but are you talking about method acting or.... what is 'the method'??

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    If you've been told to avoid 'The Method' then does whoever told you know that Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro or many others who trained in this form of performance at 'The Actors' Studio' in New York?

    I should be so lucky to have the same level of commitment to my performance as these guys (and girls)!

    Stanislavski was the man who helped develop 'The Method' as the first to use one's own experience as a template of the character development and many others took it on further than him.

    So to 'knock it' is, I would say, short sighted and probably the ravings of someone who has not thought through their advice.

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    But if the type of method they're talking about is the rhythm one then I agree whole heartedly!!

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Leila Reid

    Actor

    I have been method trained and it works for me as I find it helps me to er how do i put this connect with the character better so i don't just feel like me wearing a costume pretending but I actually feel I am this person and frankly I think it comes across a lot better.

    The thing with the method as you put it is that you are supposed to do all the character work at home and then come in with it but there are some actors who believe that the director should tell them what to do which is probably why you have been told not to touch it as thoose artors are incapable of coming up with anything themselves like what motivates the character. ok summarising if you do the work yourself then method is a pretty good approach but if you are lazy then print in the other direction as fast as you can!!!!!!

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    Ah, 'Method' acting. Time for a technical discussion?? (Due warning: this is my usual essay...)

    As far as your work is concerned, Fiona, I think being told 'not to touch Method with a bargepole' is rather a big generalisation. Certainly, there are a lot of working practitioners out there who claim they can teach 'Method' acting, and haven't got the first clue about what it actually entails, and certainly, there is a bit of a backlash against 'Method' training in the British theatre as a whole. For what it's worth, my thoughts:

    1.There are different 'schools' that advocate 'Method' practices, and each formulate their particular approaches and emphases slightly differently - Lee Strasberg's setup was not the same as Sanford Meisner's. If you are planning on training under 'Method' teachers, I think it is worth checking out whether they are themselves people who have trained under the great 'Method' originators, or at the schools they founded - these are the teachers who will be closest to the values of the actual founders of the systems. Most 'Method' schools place similar value on qualities like being able to imaginatively reconstruct 'unreal circumstances' in great depth of detail (smells, sights, tastes etc.); being able to recollect and reproduce emotional memories; and so on. They are, in this sense, very 'introverted' systems of acting teaching. Some schools have individual elements which are increasingly promoted as useful acting tools outside of the 'Method' system - Meisner Technique, for example, which is increasingly popular as a tool to teach actors how to respond believably 'moment to moment' by becoming deeply aware of their surrounding environment and reading another actor's actions (though, in fact, the 'technique' was just the first ingredient in Meisner's own take on the 'Method'). Other popular teachings (Grotowski, Michael Chekhov, Boal, Le Coq) teach different ways of attaining a 'convincing' performance - generally through the application of movement and physicality of one stripe or another, which is something the 'Method' is weak on.

    2.Alan is right to say that Stanislavski is the father of all this. In his own writings, Stanslavski was attempting to reform what he saw as a theatre that was big on rhetorical flourish, and very low on 'believability'. He tried over many, many years to formulate various 'rules' that would allow the actor to access the elements of him/herself that would allow any character they portrayed to be convincingly realised - these included rules/exercises for helping the actor to feel emotions they did not actually feel at the time they performed, to conjure up the reality of a place or a person they perhaps could not see, to respond to an environment in a way that would be distinct to the way in which they would respond to that environment as 'themselves' and so forth. In a sense, Stanislavski crafted a system for naturalistic acting that is now so ingrained in any teaching you can ever take up in the western world that you don't really need to have studied him to find that your 'normal' acting practice follows many of the rules he set down - they are, in the main, even the ones that the drama teacher directing the school play will have been following, for instance, and what we don't emphasise today (and have to specifically learn) are older traditions like being able to declaim verse beautifully, or improvise in the style of commedia - generally, we are told that 'good acting' is 'real', and that comes from Stanislavski.

    3.But 'Method' is not quite Stanislavski, either. It was invented in the 1930's -1950's in the USA, by American followers of Stanislavski, in their different schools. Stanislavski is often said to have created a complete system for actor training, but, although that is what he wanted to do when he set out, he never quite managed it, changing his mind many times over the years as to which of his exercises worked best for attaining the end result of 'making a good actor'. The practitioners of the 'Method' picked up heavily only on certain elements of Stanislavski - they accepted his emphasis on things like 'emotion memory' and then jettisoned the rest of the writings. This is what gradually led the 'Method' school to become so focused on finding 'real' (often disturbing) emotions deep within the actor, and of allowing the actor to 'get into' the mind of the character through very direct attempts to 'live the life that the character would lead' as much as possible (whether that demanded training as a boxer for months on end, living in solitary confinement, etc.). Because of some of these extreme tendencies, the 'Method' has often got a bad name. The simple truth, though, is that part of its claimed brilliance is due to the context in which it emerged. 'Method' is a particularly wonderful tool for generating the sort of reactions that are demanded on film, and it is not coincidental that it has its greatest popularity in the USA (where it originated) and where most actors do little stage work and spend the majority of their working lives on TV and film. Equally, its greatest exponents, Marlon Brando, De Niro, Hoffman etc. were/are all screen actors. This is no coincidence, either. Brando made the 'Method' famous because before he transferred it to the screen, no-one had ever seen a film part performed in such a subtle, understated 'real' way before. Armed with the camera close up, and the ability of the microphone to pick up the quietest sounds, even his famously 'mumbled' delivery of lines carried. It has never been as popular in this country, where the stage emphasis has traditionally been much greater. Still, now that we, too, are increasingly moving towards needing actors who primarily appear in film and TV work, 'Method' techniques are becoming seen as more important in training. But they are still of very little use in the theatre, especially when performing , say, Shakespeare. Meisner used to say that he found 'Method' techniques could work as well on stage as on film, but this was probably because he used to work on plays like those of Clifford Odets, which are very domestic and 'naturalistic'; the same might be said about performing Chekhov. But vast amounts of theatre doesn't lend itself well to 'Method' teachings at all - though some of Stanislavski's original ideas are brilliant for the stage actor still.

    To sum up, then: I think 'Method' training is worth doing if you work with a well-qualified practitioner; that it will almost certainly improve screen acting skills; that it may be less useful for stage acting, if you tend not to perform in 'naturalistic' pieces; that it can be a tiring, and needlessly painful, form of training, and you shouldn't pursue if you don't feel up to it emotionally; that you must beware its very American bias, which doesn't always suit the British actor.

    • 21st Jan 2008
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  • Rebecca Probyn

    Actor

    at the end of the day

    (hate that saying) do what works for you.. if you find it gets you closer to a character.. go for it.. what works for one doesn;t always work for another

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Fiona Cuskelly

    Actor

    Thanks for your replies. The person who said it to me was a casting director who knows more about acting than the rest of us put together - apparently!!!!

    Like other peope have said I believe in whatever works for you and you should try everything but was just curious why some people are so negative about it and also if anyone had worked with a particular teacher they found inspiring in this area as it is something I want to explore having studied some Stanislvaski, some Meisner and some Michael Chekhov.

    Thanks for replying all the same and Lee I honestly don't know where you get the time, Fair play to ya.

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I think some of the problem with "The Method", is that when working with an actor who is using "The Method", they sometimes are so deep into the character that they don't stop when off-stage or the director shouts "cut". I have heard stories of big names (Val Kilmer, Daniel Day Lewis) who are this intense when acting that they can become a real pain to work with. As I say, these are stories I've heard. I've never worked with anyone who was that intense, so I don't know first-hand!

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    The danger with method is that it can often panda too easily to the actor's ego (we all have them right!?) and by getting so involved in BEING the actor actually forgets to communicate to the audience and other actors. It may feel like you gave the best performance in the world because you were so into your character but actually we, the audience, lost something. And hence, the danger with method is that it becomes self-indulgent which is why you usually need a good director there to hold the reins.

    Having said that I think that it is worth researching and putting into practice a lot of different acting 'methods' as it helps a hell of a lot if you have more than one way of unlocking a character.

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Simon Nader

    Actor

    Hi fificus,

    I wouldn't worry what one specific casting director said about using the Method because at the end of the day, no matter how much casting experience he/she has, they don't cast everything. Plus, if you go into a casting and just do what you do normally for a role you never have to explain how you psyche yourself up unless they ask. In my experience, casting directors and project directors are just more interested in whether you can do the job rather than how you go about it. And how you go about your work is, as others have said, entirely up to you as an individual actor. If Method works, as aspects of it do for me, then use it.

    Regards,

    Simon

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Blake J Askew

    Actor

    It IS true that many have a negative impression of the Method, but I see it that if it gets what you need out, then go for it.

    There are many who have a negative impression of Meisner and treat Sanford Meisner like the head of a cult, and this is a very dangerous thing- they say how the meisner technique helped them in their personal lives etc- and Ive met professional people who feel ths is not a good thing.

    The METHOD can also be seen that way- but you are being paid or seen for a job, not to discuss technique.

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    Whether you trained under Method or Meisner or Micklewhite you do what you need to do to get the job!

    The main thing is to work the 'internal conversation'. For film and TV anyway.

    Stage doesn't work well with 'small' movements so your training will come to the fore as long as you understand where your character is 'coming from'.

    As Lee and all the others say Method, Meisner and others work best in film and TV for the subtleties.

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I think there are dangers in method acting - one being that it can be incredibly emotionally draining to experience (rather than merely simulate) strong emotions repeatedly. Could you, for example, use memories bereavement night after night if portraying a bereaved character?

    Another is that you need to get yourself 'in the zone' (apologies, I hate that phrase, but can't think of another way to say it) emotionally to do this. There is no guaranteed way to achieve this, so what is left in your performance if you fail?

    Thanks to Leeravitz - that post was an education!

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    Good point there! I could no more keep 'seeing my cat dead' every night without it affecting me very deeply on a long running play.

    The thing to bear in mind is that with experience (and I mean a LOT of experience) it becomes easier to take off the character as you take off the costume.

    There are 'dangers' of people 'staying in character' past the dailt wrap time. But I think that is often a personal thing rather than a potential psychiatric condition!

    Lee is a mine of information. I love reading his posts when I have the time. This one is a revelation though! Thanks for reminding me of my old drama school!!

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    Thanks for the thanks, guys. Loads of very intelligent reasons as to why the 'Method' is often thought of as a limiting, rather than liberating, tool have now been flagged up, and it's true: being a totally 'Method' actor can make you a nightmare to work with; it can turn you into the kind of actor who cannot perform unless you are 'in the zone' (which cannot always be guaranteed); it can make you convinced that the only 'good' acting is contained and introverted acting, which is generally of no use whatsoever, say, in the West End (and why so many actors who have never anything other than TV performing fail dismally to command an audience as soon as they get on stage).

    It can, on the other hand, if it happens to chime well with what motivates your acting turn you from a mediocre actor to a good or a great one, because it gives you a conscious 'system' to work from. The different 'Method' schools place different emphases on what should motivate the actor anyway; Meisner, for instance, was concerned that Strasberg's version of the teaching made no room for the work of the imagination, and he tended to argue that a good imagined scenario was as capable of, say, generating a 'true' emotion as recollection of a real scenario would be. For Michael Chekhov, who taught something that is vaguely Stanislavskian, but not 'Method', there was an attempt to use movement in the body to generate emotion, in order that what the actor says and what the actor does do not become separate from one another. And so on.

    It is sometimes worth remembering that Stanislavski himself does not seem to have been a fan of the 'Method'. He thought it was too literal a way to train an actor. Towards the end of his life, he repudiated his earlier thinking on, for exammple, 'emotion memory' - he had decided it was frequently too difficult and too painful for the actor to get hold of emotions repressed within themselves, and use them on stage, and was starting to think that imagination, movement, appropriate preparation etc. could get an actor's emotions to the same pitch without the risk of damaging the actor. He was making these comments in the late 20's/early 30's i.e. when Method first got started. But, as I said before, it proved so good a training for *film* acting that it revolutionised that industry.

    A further problem with 'Method' is that, because it emphasises being able to dredge up emotion and so forth, it can make those who are not very adept at doing this feel as if they can't act. Again, Stanislavski was concerned by this, and decided it was an unfair criteria on which to judge an actor, because actors could find all sorts of other ways to help them deliver a convincing performance.

    Still, whilst I think we've now discussed at great length why a casting director might consider learning 'Method' to be flawed and/or pointless, I don't think that's the same as saying 'Method' *is* flawed/pointless.

    For some actors, using 'Method' techniques is what makes them better actors - for others, it doesn't work at all, and some other 'way in' is better off being adopted. As I've talked about, this was what Stanislavski believed as well, and if it was good enough for him...

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    I have to say, further to my previous comments - I'm not against method acting. It can be incredibly powerful, and even on stage (perhaps in a smaller space) it can have a very direct effect on an audience.

    I also feel that any system is generally better than no system at all.

    So if it suits you, go for it.

    However, being able to use a variety of methods gives you a greater chance of succeeding in a variety of roles - and also means you ahve something to work with if you're expecting the method to kick in, and it doesn't. (Been there!).

    (Maybe it's the topic, but I seem to be expressing myself in Americanisms . . .)

    • 22nd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    DO WHAT YOU WANT. MUST SAY THOUGH, The actors studio/Lee Strasberg is a bastardisation of Stanislavski. And this was told to me by someone who new stanislavski's niece.

    • 23rd Jan 2008
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  • User Deleted

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    knew his niece even!

    • 23rd Jan 2008
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