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Method, The

  The Method is the name (formerly a nickname) given to a kind of training for actors originated by Stanislavski in Russia in the 1900s, and developed in the USA during the 1930s to 1950s by Lee Strasberg and others (notably at the Actors\' Studio in New York). It is still practised, but its ideas are now part of the mainstream of acting theory, subsumed into what most actors do as a matter of course. Debate about the technique—it is often scorned—goes to the heart of what acting actually is. Does an actor create a role from inside, using the psychological theory of emotional memory to project himself or herself into the ‘reality’ of the person depicted, using his or her own feelings, emotion and experience to help ‘become’ that person during the performance? Or is a role put on like a suit of clothes, the imitation of action (in Aristotle\'s phrase) being a matter of technique and illusion only? The dichotomy is present in other performing arts—to what extent does a performer in a musical work, or a conductor, ‘become’ the experience? but acting, because it is essentially representation rather than reality, focuses it most clearly of all.

Stanislavski and the teachers at the Actors\' Studio favoured the first approach, absorbing themselves in the background and psychological, emotional and physical nuance of each of the characters they played; ‘traditional’ actors favoured the second (Olivier used to come offstage, after playing some gut-wrenching and utterly engrossing scene, and take up his crossword puzzle where he had put it down as he heard his cue). It could be argued that neither approach is sufficient in itself, that good acting involves parts of both and certainly many outstanding actors refuse to reveal the inner processes which go to make their art. One reason for the prominence of the Method in the 1950s and beyond was that it seemed especially appropriate not to stage performance, but to the more intimate media of film and television. Many fine film actors (Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep) have used Method techniques and have also remained, quintessentially, themselves. Others (Spencer Tracy, Charles Laughton, Bette Davis) have had nothing to do with it and were not noticeably worse or better actors than their Method colleagues. That the Method is precisely what its name states, a method and no more, is demonstrated in the case of one actor who trained in the style and proceeded to make absolutely no use of it whatever in performance: Marilyn Monroe. TRG KMcL SS

Further reading Jean Benedetti, Stanislavski; , Lee Strasberg, A Dream of Passion.



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