Most likely, one of things you’ll face as an acting school student is choosing a certain type of technique or method to study. There are a lot of them out there and different acting schools specialize in different methods, but undoubtedly the dilemma will rear its head at some point, and you’ll wonder which to follow. Though no one can make that decision for you, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the types of different acting techniques out there. Here are some of the most popular acting techniques/methods that you’ll come across when you’re in acting school.
Stanislavsky Acting System
No doubt you’re already familiar with this one. Probably the most popular acting method in America, the technique has been made all the more popular by the many famous actors who use it and the many techniques that have come out of it. Names like James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and Ellen Burstyn easily come to mind, and more recently, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Naomi Watts, Selma Hayek and Denzel Washington.
Constantin Stanislavsky developed his technique in the early 20th century; it was then further advanced by Lee Strasberg, where it became known as “method acting.” The technique became most popular in the 50s-70s, as acting schools around the country embraced it, and rising young film stars became known for their devotion to it.
Though it’s gotten a few strange raps over the years, including the largely misguided perception that those who study it try and actually become their characters in real life, the technique still has a stronghold on American acting students and acting schools, and it carries with it a certain sense of romantic nostalgia, as a result of all the famous actors who’ve employed it.
At the time it came into existence, the technique very much revolutionized the way acting was performed, focusing on the internal aspects of the character, as opposed to the external ones. The technique focuses on the actor analyzing the emotions and motivations of the character they’re portraying in order to play their character with absolute realism and truth. The actor also uses emotions and reactions from their own life and personal experiences to help them identify on a deeper psychological level with their character. Imagination is key to the technique, as is truth, as Stanislavsky believed that truth in performance was essential for great acting to occur.
Stella Adler Acting Method
Similar in some ways to method acting, in that Adler believed that imagination was vital to acting, Adler disregarded the idea that actors had to recall their own life experiences to portray realistic emotions, and instead focused on the idea that an actor should translate their imagination into actions. Knowing the motivation behind every line and move your character makes is at the core of the Stella Adler Acting Technique, as is observation of the world around you. Adler’s mantra of “in your choices lies your talent” largely encompasses her school of thought.
Many of Adler’s ideas actually came from her study with Stanislavsky, and she was the only American actor ever to do so. Adler was also a member of the Group Theatre with Lee Strasberg, but disagreements with Strasberg on how the Stanislavsky system should be taught led her to leave the theatre group and develop her own technique based on Stanislavsky’s ideas.
Adler was also Marlon Brando’s first acting teacher, and he revered her for many years. Her book, The Technique of Acting, contains a foreword by Brando. Though Adler herself was a well-known actress, her acting career consisted mainly of stage roles over films, and though many famous film actors studied under her tutelage, she actually only appeared in three films herself: Love on Toast (1937), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and My Girl Tisa (1948).
A fellow acting school student once told me that he felt Adler’s technique was the most versatile of the Stanislavsky systems. He may be right. Stanislavsky himself was said to have supported Adler’s teaching method.
Meisner Acting Method
Another technique that draws from the Stanislavsky system, though it contains some notable differences, is the Meisner acting technique. Meisner’s method takes the actor out of their head and focuses instead on spontaneity and developing the actors’ instincts during training.
Like Adler, Meisner embraces more of an action-based approach, revolving around the act of doing itself. Taking it a step further away from Stanislavsky’s technique, Meisner disregards the idea of imagination being at the core and focuses instead on the real experiences of what is happening onstage. Doing so, he believes, frees the actors’ impulses and takes them out of their head.
The Meisner technique involves basic repetition exercises that are later used at a more advanced level, in order for the actors to achieve the spontaneity found in real life behaviors.
Like Adler and Strasberg, Meisner also worked at the Group Theatre, and his ideas and methods came out of his experience there.
Though choosing an acting technique when you’re in acting school can be a difficult process, the positive aspect of it is that many acting schools actually offer classes in a variety of these techniques, so you’ll be able to sample each of them and see where you fit best as an actor.