Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my Blog!
I created it so that I could share acting tips with you; things I've learned over the years, working on set, teaching classes, coaching actors, auditioning actors, etc.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Method vs Meisner, Part 2: Method Acting

As an acting coach for movies and TV shows, I work with actors that are trained in different methodologies. So I see how different training affects different actors.  
Last week we examined the Meisner Technique so this week, as promised, we will look at Method Acting.  If you haven't read my post on the Meisner Technique I strongly suggest you click here to read that post first - else you may think I favor one technique over the other!
A young Lee Strasberg
Method Acting, unlike Meisner's technique, is rooted firmly in your own imagination.  All the fundamental Method exercises can be practiced by yourself, whereas Meisner's exercises must be practiced with other actors. 
Method Acting is also the most misunderstood technique in the world. Much of what you read on the internet about it is wrong. And yet you hear the phrase used often to describe an actors performance - usually when they're overacting or throwing tantrums on set or "living as the character" off-camera too. In reality, none of these things have anything to do with  Method. Nothing.  In fact, when actors say things like "Method acting is bad" or "actors don't need to train in a formal technique" it just shows how limited their understanding really is.  Clearly they know not of which they speak.
I suggest that the next time you hear someone describe an actor as being "Method" ask them what Method acting is. The correct answer is; "Method Acting is the technique created by Lee Strasberg."  Period.  But that's not what they will say.  Most likely they will mention "emotion" and perhaps "self-indulgence" but they won't have a clue as to what the Method actually is.  And these are ACTORS!?  The Method has been called everything from "brilliant" to "dangerous" (and I believe it can be both)... but it's still here.  
There's a reason that the ranks of Method trained actors include:

So here's the thing about The Method. It's true that Meisner's Technique anchors you in the imaginary circumstances and helps you to be connected to the other actor, better than any acting technique that exists (IMHO).  But Method acting helps you feel the required emotion, reliably, take after take, WITHOUT THE NEED OF OTHER ACTORS and more powerfully than any technique I've ever seen.  
In a nutshell, Meisner, and other techniques work well in the medium and wide shots, Method kick's all their asses in the close-up.  
I'll be getting hate mail for that but it's the truth. It's not biased, it just is. I'm not saying Method is better than Meisner in every way.  It's not.  But when you're in a tight close-up and your eye-line is a piece of tape on a C-stand, and you need to be feeling ANY strong emotion, Method acting will serve you better than anything else. With Method you don't need anyone else. You can trigger a completely real emotion over and over again - and when you're acting on-camera, this is the most important thing.  
Daniel Day-Lewis "working off" of a camera (as opposed to another actor)
Interestingly, Method, like the Meisner Technique and most other techniques in use today, was created for the stage not the screen.  The very characteristics that actors saw as negative about the Method for theatre (not connected to other actors, really feeling emotions as the primary focus, etc.) are now being recognized as incredibly positive characteristics for working on-camera.

Understand, any technique is like medicine - you only use it when you need it.  If the imaginary circumstances make you feel what you need to feel then great!  You don't need to use Method or Meisner or anything...BUT...after 7 or 14 or 20 takes of an emotional scene, when you're "losing your light" and the pressure is on, you may find that you need a technique.

Method teaches you to trigger emotions using your senses. You imagine your using your senses thereby triggering emotions that were previously felt.  This is a gross over-simplification but generally accurate.  First, you do sense-memory exercises to improve your ability to trigger your senses (smell, sound, touch, etc.) through your imagination.  Then, when you're able to feel the imagination-triggered senses adequately, you use them in emotional recall exercises like Affective Memory, Object Exercises, Animal Exercises, etc. which in turn, help you trigger real emotions as you need them.

This blog's purpose is to teach you ABOUT different techniques - NOT to teach you the actual techniques themselves.  For that you need a good teacher to work with on an ongoing basis.  Like anything worthwhile, it takes time and practice to master the Method. But there's a reason the biggest stars in film still use it...  It works.