Method acting is one of many acting techniques and was developed by the Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski in the early 20th century. Method acting was gathered through the Stanislavski System. The Method is one of the many ways to help develop your character and the material needed for any kind of audition. Below we will discuss what it is, how to use it and certain examples of actors who are known to use this process to create their work.
Since its inception in the 1930’s, method acting has evolved and changed, but the core principles remain the same. The goal is to create a lifelike character, one that you would see in everyday life.
I. Use these basic steps
Method acting is an acting technique which requires an emotional bravery to help create a truthful performance. All actors can use these basic steps and adapt them to fit their needs. No actor practices the Method the same, it’s what’s comfortable for you that matters. Here is a guide to method acting:
- Script Analysis – This is crucial to understanding your character. List out the actions and objectives of characters. Try to understand everything about your character. Where does he live and how does that affect his existence ? Who is he speaking to and how does that affect the way he will speak ? Why does he want to speak at that specific point in time ? What just happened before he started speaking ?
- Create a Back Story – When you have all the answers to the questions above (don’t hesitate to ask even more questions), you will have a clearer idea of your character. From there, you can use two different technique that both stem from the Method : a physical one and an emotional one.
- Physical approach : This consists of doing certain actions that will trigger an adequate response in your body. For example, let’s say that your character is waiting for a friend to come and rescue them from a dangerous situation. When your friend arrives, you tell them how annoyed you are that they made you wait for too long. In that case, a good way to use the physical approach could be to pace back and forth for several minutes. If you do that, your heart rate is going to go up, your breathing is going to change, and when you start your monologue it will be at a total different level !
- Emotional approach : If we use the same example as above, the emotional approach would either be using your own memory of a similar situation, or you could simply try and imagine the context to “create” a “fake” memory in your mind. If the situation is one that is emotionally demanding (your character experiences violent or dark emotions for example), it is recommended to either work on imagination or on the physical approach. Don’t use painful memories if you think that it could damage your mental health !
- Practice, explore, try many ways – After all this prep work and before your audition or performance, find a place where you can practice your piece, getting it to full performance level. There is no point when you can have prepped “too much” as long as you keep it varied. Try to explore the physical, imaginative, and the visual approach. Try your monologues in many different ways, to see what works best. When doing the physical work, try many different actions ! The more you do, the better !
After all this preparation with the Stanislavski Method, you should be in such a great place that when you get into that audition room and the nerves kick in, you have attached yourself so heavily to the emotions required, that it will basically perform itself. Connecting emotions and actions to lines is another great way of learning them without even realising it!
II. Don’t live your character constantly!
A widespread misconception about the Stanislavski Techniques compares method actors with actors who choose to remain in character when they are not performing. Stanislavski said in his early directing career that he “required his actors to live ‘in character’ off stage”, but that “the results were never fully satisfactory”. I also assumed this was the case, but doing the Method means having a very different process to this. You only need to use this technique to recreate the emotions in the piece, not when you are having your lunch, or walking down the street!
Before performing your piece for practice or for the actual audition, try some techniques to help you slow down and relax. The more relaxed you are, the more you will be able to employ the techniques of method acting as it will enable to fully reach down and connect with your emotions. You could try:
- Tai Chi
V. Observe Actors who are advocates of Method acting
Students of these techniques included many high profile actors from the last 50 years or so, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Joaquin Phoenix, Dustin Hoffman, James Dean, Christian Bale, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Mickey Rourke, among others.
VI. Places to learn this method
You might want to put the Stanislavski Method it into practice before using it for your own auditions. If that is the case or if you are looking to get an initial insight into how the process works, here are a few places that teach it:
There are many different ways of interpreting the Stanislavski Techniques, as it is for all of the other acting techniques out there. Work with tools that are best suited to you and give you the best possible results when in the audition room. Something that works for you may not necessarily work for others. It’s all about trial and error and having fun during the process.