Acting is an incredibly expressive art that aims to convey a story, emotions and character motivations so innately that an audience associates an actor with that character.
Like most other art forms, such as painting, sculpting and writing, whilst there is a vast universe of concepts, ideas and techniques where a developing actor can form their own style, it can be easier at first to think of acting as using one of seven different methods.
This is similar to Vladamir Propp’s theory of seven basic plots and seven basic characters in fiction, which are then explored, combined and experimented with as writers improve, and adult acting classes focus on these techniques as a basis for actors to develop their style.
Classical (Or “Stanislavski”) Method
Konstantin Stanislavski created a systemic approach to learning acting which was designed to help actors no matter the role, location or time, by focusing on the essential qualities of acting.
Mr Stanislavski wanted actors to focus particularly on:
- Memorising Emotion,
- Physical Method And Skills,
- Placing Oneself In The Shoes of An Actor,
- Understanding given circumstances,
- Subconscious Improvisation,
Ultimately, Mr Stanslavski saw his method as a starting point that you should break once you find a method that works for you.
A lot of people mistake the Stanislavski Method with method acting, as both involve improvisation and getting personally invested in the role of a character.
However, method acting takes this principle to another level and involves an actor thinking, acting and essentially being the character for the length of the production, often by putting themselves in the situation their character is in.
Whilst many great actors such as Al Pacino, Daniel Day-Lewis and Bryan Cranston have wholeheartedly adapted method acting, it was not always popular.
Probably the greatest conflict regarding The Method happened on the set of the 1976 film Marathon Man, where Dustin Hoffman stayed up all night as part of his method preparation to match his character’s situation for the film’s torture scenes.
Laurence Olivier, famed classically trained theatrical actor, infamously quipped to Mr Hoffman “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?”
The Chekov Method
Created by Stanislavki’s pupil Michael Chekhov and popularised by Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe, this method aims to focus internally on the character’s mental and emotional state and express it outwardly and unconsciously.
Viola Spolin loved the idea of spontaneity in theatrical performances and created a technique that focused less internally and more on the moment, with a strong emphasis on improvisation and intuition, rather than intense levels of preparation and tense anxiety.
Similar in part to method acting, Sanford Meisner’s technique was focused on making actors look and act like human beings rather than actors putting on a performance, as well as feeding off of the responses of their co-actor.
A combination of Meisner, Stanislavski and the works of Epictetus, Practical Aesthetics is about breaking down a scene into four elements that are worked into a performance:
- The Literal – What is actually taking place in the scene.
- The Want – What the character’s desired outcome from a scene is.
- The Essential Action – The universal human desire that relates to this specific scene.
- The As If – The part that connects the essential action to the actor’s real life.
The Laban Movement, named for dance artist Rudolf Laban focuses on the four physical elements of acting and how they interact, intersect and work to convey emotions:
- Body – How the body moves and is connected to itself.
- Effort – The reason why someone moves.
- Shape – How the body changes when it starts to move.
- Space – How the body reacts to the space around it, such as how the body walks, picks up an object, interacts with other people.
The Laban Movement is a fundamental part of training, as it highlights exactly how an actor conveys emotions and tells a story with their body.