Monday, September 28, 2009

Acting without Method

I have long been anti-Method, pehaps stemming from my visit to The Actors Studio in NYC in the mid 1960's and watching the members who included many well known professionals savage a young man who was auditioning for membership. Later reading about Strasburg and The Method shaped my opinions that Strasburg was merely a good PR man and a fraud as an acting teahcer, and that The Method was created from a misinterpretation of Stanislavsky, does not represent Stanislavsky's teaching on acting, and is a fatally flawed approach to acting.

The major problem with The Method is that is lives on in a constant flood of PR. Articles are written that 75% of Oscars since the year 2000 have gone to Method actors. So how does one identify a Method actor? You certainly cannot tell by watching their performance. Effective acting is effective with or without The Method. Even if someone has taken a class or classes in Method acting, that person may not be a Method actor. I think the only way you know if someone is a Method actor is if they say they are and there is anecdotal evidence to prove it. But an actor may use Method technique in one role and not in another. It is widely acknowledged that Method acting is not the most effective approach to Musical Comedy, Classical Theatre or Comedy in general. Finally there are the 25% who won who were not Method, by whatever meansurement. Therefore, we have to conclude that Method acting is not the reason why people will Oscars. It is more likely Politics that determines the winners.

One of the problems with Method acting is that if purports that actors create characters when , in fact, characters are created by the storytellers, the playwrights, novelists and screenwriters whose stories are being presented, What an actor does is stand in lieu of the character on the stage or before the camera. David Mamet is quite adamant on this topic in his book "True and False." The actor may, with the help of wardrobe and make up, create the physical appearance or 'vessel,' as I call it for the character. This includes posture and mannerisms, voice and dialect, and other part of the physical being of the character. But the vessel only holds the character that the playwright (or other writer) has created. The actor has no part in the psychology, enviroment, and history of the character. Method exercises which have the actor invent these things, filling in information that the playwright has not included in the script are not only truly useless in being faithful to the script, but may be in conflict with it or with the director's interpretation of it.

A recent email I received from a Method student was asking help in "letting go and throwing herself more completely into her acting" because her teachers said she was holding back in her perforamces. I explained to her that she was waiting for her Method technique to supply her with her responses and that that wait was obvious in her performance Method acting doesn't aways work. Affective memory sometimes gets stale and does not produce an instant emotional response as needed in a given moment of acting. Affective memory may also not give the proper response as if the affective memory is of the death of a pet and the actor is doing a scene in which the character has lost his dearest love. Not the same response. My solution to this student's problem was to stop acting. The more modern acting teachers, Tony Barr, Eric Morris, Harold Guskin, myself, and many others, favor non-acting. What the non-actor does is react rather than act; give an honest response instead of a pretended one; and , instead of creating a character, uses his or her own emotional responses to the immediate circumstance of the script rather than trying to call up some childhood memory to respond. This eliminates holding back and creates an honest, individually unique, and vulnerable performance of the role.

This is new territory for the Method actor. It it actually what Stanislavsky originally favored, that the personality of the actor be the actor's creative contribution to the play. That the actor has to rely on him or her self instead of Magic If's and Affective images. It takes the Magic If of Stanislavsky at its word. "What if this were really happening to me?" That is how the actor responds, as him or her self in the given circumstances of the play. And because the actor must use the playwright's words to accompany the responses the actor and the character become one in the performance.

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