What is The Method?

Lee Strasberg

"The Method" is the name originally given by the media in the 1950's to a new 'style' and technique of acting that was practiced by a new generation of film actors, spearheaded by James Dean and Marlon Brando. The technique they were using, which made them more real, complex and vulnerable than actors ever before, was taught to them at the Actors Studio in New York by the prominent acting teacher of the time: Lee Strasberg. Strasberg expanded and refined The Method over his long career in the theatre, but by his own admission, it is a collection of exercises and procedures that train the actor's 'instrument' to be responsive and expressive, logically analyze a script, and then behave truthfully as their character would, under the circumstances given in the script. While it includes many exercises that tackle these various aspects of the actor's work (such as the 'Relaxation', 'Private Moment', 'Song & Dance' and 'Animal' exercises), the core of The Method is the work with 'Affective Memory': i.e. Sense Memory' and 'Emotional Memory' exercises, which use a specific type of memory to enable the actor to create any reality that is required for their character by the play or film, and truly experience it.

How did it come about?

Konstantin Stanislavsky

For centuries, actors used to indicate what their characters were feeling using conventional external gestures. This convention of acting drastically changed with the appearance of Konstantin Stanislavsky (1863 - 1938) - a Russian theatre director, actor and teacher who posited that in order for acting to be good, the actor needs to really experience what their character is experiencing according to the script, and not merely pretend to or indicate it with fake gestures. Stanislavsky formed the famous Moscow Art Theatre, and devoted his entire life to developing a 'system' which would enable actors to do exactly that. In 1923 the Moscow Art Theatre came to tour the US, and a young amateur theatre lover by the name of Lee Strasberg (1901 - 1982) saw their performances in New York. He was completely taken aback by what he saw, mostly by how 'real' every member of the ensemble seemed to be on stage, which was a sharp contrast to the conventional "acting" he was used to seeing at the time on Broadway. When two members of the Moscow Art Theatre stayed in New York after the tour and opened a theatre school, Strasberg was quick to enroll in it. There, he was exposed to 'The Stanislavsky System', and from that moment on he devoted his life to further developing these techniques and adjusting them for the American stage and screen.

  Lee Strasberg and Al Pacino

In 1931 Strasberg and fellow students formed the groundbreaking Group Theatre, which had many future 'giants' among its ranks, such as acting teachers Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner, playwright Clifford Odets, and directors Harold Clurman and Elia Kazan. There, he put into practice the teachings he has absorbed from Stanislavsky's disciples, when working with the Groups' actors on exercises and full-length plays. But the bulk of his work with actors was done after the Group disbanded, at the famed Actors Studio in New York - a membership place for professional actors to hone their craft - of which he was the artistic director from 1951 until his death in 1982. It was the Actors Studio under Lee's leadership that produced the first "Method Actors": James Dean, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Marilyn Monroe, who used the techniques they learned there to create real and moving performances on the stage and screen. They became instant idols for the 'youth generation' of the 1950's, and "The Method" became a household name in America. Over the next decades, The Actors Studio under Strasberg has produced scores of film stars, such as Shelley Winters, Eva Marie Saint, Eli Wallach, Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, Sally Field, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. These actors helped cement The Method's status as the most prominent acting technique in America, and the very foundation of modern American Acting.

The Method, Adler and Meisner

The other two prominent acting teachers who came out of the Group Theatre - Stella Adler and Sandord Meisner - like Strasberg, have taken their favorite part of the 'Stanislavsky System', and over decades of working with actors, enhanced and expanded them further into full-fledged acting techniques of their own. While Strasberg worked mostly with memory, Adler favored the imagination, and Meisner the connection with one's acting partner. Several known actors of the time (including Method Actors Brando and De Niro) have studied with Adler, while others (James Caan, Robert Duvall) have studied with Meisner - a fact that helped cement these teachers' status as leading American acting teachers, next to Strasberg. Despite their differences, given that all three were disciples of Stanislavsky and 'graduates' of the same revolutionary work done in the Group Theatre, we can now safely say that their respective acting techniques complement one another perfectly. They are different angles of the same coin. Together, they form the most complete acting training there is, for the modern, professional actor.