1) The Stanislavski System
First, note that all the major acting techniques currently taught in American acting schools are based on the work of Constantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor and director who developed an acting method to help actors be real on stage. Here are a few highlights of the Stanislavsky system you’ll want to be familiar with as an actor:
In order to believe in the given circumstances of the play, Stanislavsky actors use the magic if: “”What if this was really happening to me?””
Actors break down the script into objectives (what the character wants to accomplish) and actions (what the character can do to try to reach his objective). Each action is an active verb (to help, to hurt, to convince) that helps the actor concentrate on doing rather than feeling.
Actors learn to relax their muscles and practice concentration so they can focus on the given circumstances of the play and deal with stage fright.
Actors access their own memories to call upon emotions needed to play certain scenes and acting roles.
2) Method and Meisner
The other two major acting techniques taught in acting schools are method acting (also known as “”The Method””) and the Meisner technique. Both of these acting techniques were inspired by Stanislavski and both help the actor create real thoughts and emotions under imaginary circumstances, but they do it very differently.
Method Acting turns the focus inward. Actors learn to use their five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) to recall objects, experiences and emotional memories. These sense memory exercises allow actors to draw from their own experiences in order to create the character and connect with the play.
Meisner Acting turns the focus outward. Actors train to shift focus from themselves to their acting partners so they can react truthfully to what is happening in the moment. They rely on their imagination rather than their memories to prepare for a scene. (Stella Adler, another student of Stanislavski, stresses the importance of imagination in her acting technique.)
3) Other Acting Techniques
Stanislavski, “”The Method””, Meisner, Stella Adler… These are the acting techniques most actors have heard about, but if you’ve already explored these acting methods and want to try something new, there are plenty of acting classes that teach lesser known techniques like Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints method, Viola Spolin’s improvisation technique or Tadashi Suzuki’s physical training for the actor, to name a few.
4) Which technique to choose
Is there one method that is superior to the others? Each one of the major acting techniques has been studied and used by great actors, so the point is not which acting technique is the best, but which one works for you.
Think about what you’ll be doing in class. Are you more interested in doing a lot of solo exercises or do you respond more to improvisation and scene study? Also consider the kind of acting you want to do. For example, The Method works great for film acting while a Spolin class is a great choice if you are mostly interested in theater and improvisation.
Also think of your strengths and weaknesses as an actor when you decide what to study next. For example, a Viewpoints or Suzuki acting class is a good choice if you need to work on your presence on stage or if you want to get more comfortable in front of an audience.
Although it is important to try to pick the acting technique that speaks the most to you now, remember that acting school is not the end of your acting journey, but the beginning. As your career grows, you will adapt your acting training to different acting jobs and eventually develop your own method, a unique way of rehearsing, creating a character and finding the truth in a scene.
Alex Swenson has worked as an actor, writer and film editor for the past 15 years in New York and Los Angeles. She has created the website Acting-School-Stop to help young actors start an acting career. You can view a complete description of the major acting techniques, along with sample acting exercises, on her site at http://www.acting-school-stop.com/acting-techniques.html You can also discover lesser known acting techniques at http://www.acting-school-stop.com/acting-training.html
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