Sunday, January 27, 2008

Method Acting

There are several ways of acting, but most seem to agree that an actor should not be outside the action of the character they portray. That’s the basis of method acting, pioneered by Constanin Stanislavski. Stanislavski method, the one most commonly taught in academia, relies on the actor drawing emotion from relevant life experience to find the emotion of their character. The flaw with this method is that it doesn’t offer insight if the actor hasn’t had a relevant experience upon which to draw.

This is part of the problem I found in college. Stanislavski method was the method that all of my teachers taught, and not one of them encouraged finding another method if Stanislavski’s didn’t quite work for us. I think his method is really against the principal of acting. Acting is a pretend, but if you’re drawing from your actual experience, you’re not pretending, you’re remembering. This "outside the box" thinking is the main reason why I was never cast in any of the shows through college. They didn’t like people whos thought processes contradicted what they were intent on teaching. Isn’t that how it usually goes?

So, I went elsewhere, to the local community college, where I found a class on Mikhail Chekhov method acting. The nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, he was a student of Stanislavski and, I feel, found some of the same errors with his method that I did.

Chekhov developed a method of acting that was largely dependant on visualization and empathy. In contrast to Stanislavski’s turning of one’s own life experience to the character’s experience, Chekhov’s method involved identifying with the character and by that way feeling what they feel. It is more like becoming the character, rather than turning the character into parts of you.

I embraced this method. It was right up my ally, it used the strengths and skills I already possessed, and presented a much more fun way of exploring character. Is it not more entertaining to explore the lives of others than it is to delve deep into yourself to relate to someone? Isn’t that what you, dear blog readers, are doing right now? See how wonderful this is! I think it’s closer to human nature this way. The visualization techniques allowed me, the actor, to meet my character and chat with her, and really find out what was going on in her virtual head.

My last bit of work in college was for a character and scene study class. With a wonderful scene partner, I did an emotionally complex piece from Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. I had no life experience with which to relate to my character, so I worked on my own in the way that worked better for me. After the final presentation of our scene, a couple friends came up to me and told me they were crying. That is an accomplishment to me. The teacher of the class told me he was worried about how our scene was going to turn out and was very pleased at how well it did. I aced the class.

It’s a little odd. In preparing for my job interview-audition, I found that my preferred method of acting isn’t going to be as helpful as the method I didn’t embrace. Perhaps that’s a sign of a well-rounded actor, who can draw from within and without as necessary. Part of this conundrum is what makes me feel the monologue I’ve chosen is so right. Don’t worry, I’ll be able to tell you all about it when I’m done.

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