Listen to part of a lecture in a dramatics class.
Could I get everyone to place their chairs in a semicircle? That's it. Thank you. To day, we will discuss, ah, method acting and its importance to theatrical acting. Let me begin by giving you a definition of method acting as well as a little background. Ready? Okay. Method acting is an acting technique in which actors try to replicate in real life the emotional conditions under which the character operates in an effort to create a lifelike, realistic performance. "The Method" typically refers to the practice of actors drawing on their own emotions, memories, and exp eriences to influence their portrayals of characters.
Isn't the method an American invention?
Not necessarily. "The Method", as we will call it, um, was popularized by Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and the Group Theater in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. But, the method was derived from "the Stanislavski System," after Konstantin Stanislavski, who pioneered similar ideas in his quest for "theatrical truth." This was done through, um, friendships with Russia's leading actors as well as his teachings, writings, and acting at the Moscow Art Theater, founded in 1897. By the way, this is very important. The system is the result of Stanislavski's many years of efforts to determine how a, umm, how should I say this, how a human being can control, in their performance, the most intangible and uncontrollable aspects of human behavior: things such as emotions and artistic inspiration. Geez, that's a mouthful! Question?
Ah, you mean the Stanislavski System encouraged actors to act naturally?
Exactly! But there's more to it than that. The Stanislavski System is a complex method for producing, shall we say, realistic characters, and most of today's actors, on stage, television, and film, owe much to it. By using "The System," an actor is required to, um, deeply analyze his or her character's motivations. Stanislavski and his system are frequently misunderstood. For instance, often the system is confused with the method.
So, let me get this straight. The method is an offshoot of the system, correct?
Yes, correct. But there is more to it. The method is also an outgrowth of the American theater scene of the 1930s and 40s. This is when actors and directors such as, let's see, Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, for example, came across Stanislavski's ideas through theatrical teachers like Stella Adler. She showed Strasberg Stanislavski's system ideas, and within two years, Strasberg was artistic director of the Actors Studio and the Group Theater, teaching his version of the Stanislavski System or the Method. Actors under his tutelage there included Al Pacino, Marilyn Monroe, and Robert De Niro, just to name a few of many. I hope that's clear for everyone.
Got it! By the way, that's a pretty impressive list of actors!
Absolutely! And since all of the above mentioned actors are method actors, we can see the impor tance of method acting as related to theater and movies.
Well, I don't get it. What makes a method actor more important or better than an actor who hasn't studied Strasberg's method?
Well, maybe a little more insight into the method is needed here. In general, method acting combines a careful consideration of the, um, psychological motives of the character and some sort of personal identification with and, in some cases, possibly the reproduction of the character's emotional state in a realistic way. This process can include, ah, various ideologies and practices such as "as if," "substitution," "emotional memory," and "preparation." So, the difference between a method actor and a non-method actor would probably be the amount of preparation given for a particular part. Most method actors therefore would be considered lead actors.
Okay. But how does the method imp act a performance? Can you give us a well known example of an actor who has gone above the call of duty to prepare for a part?
Very well. There are so many examples of method actors who have put their bodies and souls into the characters that they are playing. Let's use Robert de Niro as an example. Praised for his commitment to roles stemming from his background in method acting, De Niro gained 60 pounds and learned how to box for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, ground his teeth for Cape Fear, lived in Sicily for The Godfather Part II, and learned to play the saxophone for New York, New York. He also put on weight and shaved his hairline to play Al Capone in The Untouchables. And how did de Niro's preparation impact his performances? He won two Academy Awards for doing it.