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TO BE OR NOT TO BE A METHOD ACTOR

SOMETHING OR OTHER got me thinking about the Method as it pertains to acting. Here are tidbits on the Method, gleaned from books around here and my usual Internet sleuthing.

Konstantin Stanislavski. An amateur actor and director until age 33, Russian Konstantin Stanislavski went on to devise innovative means of actor training, preparation, and rehearsal. Brewer’s Theater: A Phrase and Fable Dictionary, HarperCollins, 1994, says Stanislavski “sought ‘inner realism’ by insisting that his actors find the truth within themselves and ‘become’ the characters they portray.”

Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski, 1863–1938, Russian theater practitioner extraordinaire. Co-founder of Moscow Art Theatre.

In 1898, Stanislavski and director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko co-founded the Moscow Art Theatre. Wikipedia shares the tale that “On 22 June 1897, the two men met for the first time at the Slavyanski Bazar for a lunch that started at 2 p.m. and did not end until 8 a.m. the next morning.”

Wikipedia continues, the result was “a venue for naturalistic theatre, in contrast to the melodramas that were Russia’s dominant form of theatre at the time.” Out of this came “The System,” an approach to acting that Stanislavski described as the “art of experiencing,” contrasted with the “art of representation.”

Stanislavski’s System, as diagrammed in his Plan of Experiencing, 1935: The inner (left) and outer (right) aspects of a role unite in the character’s supertask.

The Method. By the 1950s, Stanislavski’s theories and practices evolved into The Method, as taught at the Actors Studio, New York City, under the directorship of Lee Strasberg.

Israel Lee Strassberg, 1901–1982, Polish-born American actor, director, and theater practitioner.

According to Wikipedia, “Although other highly regarded teachers also developed ‘the Method,’ Strasberg is often considered the ‘father of method acting in America….’ ” One of his students, director Elia Kazan wrote, “He carried with him the aura of a prophet, a magician, a witch doctor, a psychologist, and a feared father of a Jewish home…”

Wikipedia offers a list of method actors, 78 of them ranging alphabetically from Christian Bale to Kate Winslet. Marlon Brando and Eli Wallach were prototypical method actors, as are Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep.

Eli Herschel Wallach, 1915–2014, American film, television, and stage actor. One of the founders of the Actors Studio, Wallach had a career spanning more than six decades.

Other Views on the Method. The Method contrasts with “technique,” “classical,” or “Shakespearean” acting. Cited by quoteinvestigator.com, Noel Coward said in 1954, “The only advice I ever give actors is to learn to speak clearly, to project your voice without shouting—and to move about the stage gracefully, without bumping into people. After that, you have the playwright to fall back on—and that’s always a good idea.”

Quote Investigator also credits Lynn Fontanne’s view in 1955, “We read the lines so that people can hear and understand them; we move about the stage without bumping into the furniture or each other; and that’s about it.”

Nor does the Method guarantee foolproof results: As cited in the Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2010, “Once, after he had run into a spot of trouble during a scene with the heralded actress Katharine Cornell, [Eli] Wallach asked [Lee] Strasberg for some help, and the advice he received has proved indispensable: ‘Wait for your cue.’ ”

On Experiencing the Method. Pioneer film actress Lillian Gish said, “It’s ridiculous. How would you portray death if you had to experience it first?”

My favorite Method reposte comes from Orson Welles. Barbara Leaming writes in Orson Welles: A Biography, Limelight, 2004, “An actor would say, ‘Why am I over here?’—the old cliché of what’s my motivation? He gave cliché answers: ‘It’s your salary on Friday!’ ” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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