Open City Acting Studio

8 Acting Techniques Every Actor Needs to Know

Studying acting takes a lot of commitment and hard work. Like many art forms, acting is a craft that can never be perfected. There is always an opportunity to learn and building a solid foundation through the mastery of acting techniques is always a great approach. Additionally, there are plenty of examples of great actors placing importance on continuing education, learning and professional development by attending acting classes in Los Angeles. Here at Open City Acting Studio, we have the privilege of coaching many of today’s working actors while they are preparing for their tv, film, and theatrical roles. In this article we are going to share with you some of the acting methods that we commonly see used by the top actors.

The Best Acting Techniques

If you are interested in studying acting, there are a wide variety of options available to choose from and there is no one method that will work for everyone. It is up to you to decide whether you want to commit to a single technique as the foundation of your craft or whether you want to add variety to your repertoire. Either way, it is critical that you are at least aware of these 8 best-known and most successful acting approaches that we will share with you in this article. 

Stanislavski Method

The Stanislavski Method, is a systematic training technique developed in Russia by Konstantin Stanislavski. The system was the first of its kind in the industry because up until Konstantin invented this method, acting had largely been focused on the presentational, superficial, and performative style of acting. Stanislavski introduced the idea of bringing a sense of realism to the stage and it revolutionized the industry forever. As a professional actor it is critical that you educate yourself on Stanislavski techniques because most of the other acting techniques were built off of this framework. 

In this method, a role is broken down into tasks and actions. An actor considers the character’s given circumstances, including:

  • Who Am I?
  • Where Am I?
  • When Is It?
  • What Do I Want?
  • Why Do I Want It?
  • How Will I Get It?
  • What Do I Need To Overcome?

Within these circumstances, the actor finds the character’s task or problem by asking, “What do I want?” or “What do I need to make the other character do?”. 

Actors also use the “magic if” or the practice of imagining themselves in the circumstances of the character. In rehearsal, the actor develops imaginary stimuli, usually including imagined sensory elements, which help them to enter into the character’s given circumstances. 

Classical Acting Technique

Classical acting is a term that encompasses a range of acting techniques being used together. Its focus is on every element of the actor’s instrument – the body, the voice, the imagination, and the actor’s ability to analyze the script and embody their character.

While classical method of acting is hard to pin down (as it is a combination of a variety of methods), it is commonly thought to be a mixture of Stanislavski’s system along with the teachings of Michel Saint-Denis. 

Classical training is provided at most British drama schools, along with many drama schools across the world. The actor is trained in Stanislavski’s method, but they are also trained to be physically and vocally open and free. They are also trained in textual analysis. The focus on text leads many to confuse classical acting with Shakespearian acting.

Method Acting Technique

The method was originally developed by American actor and teacher Lee Strasberg. Early in his career, Strasberg was a disciple of Stanislavski’s system. As his career progressed, he became fascinated by a few key elements of Stanislavsky’s system, namely substitution, “as if,” sense memory, affective memory, and animal work.

These elements are all designed to make the actor’s performance emotionally as realistic as possible. Actors are encouraged to use their own experiences in performance. This affective memory technique involves recalling a particularly strong emotion from your past, resulting in real, unaffected emotion.

There is a widespread misconception that method acting involves immersing oneself in the role by staying in character off stage or off-screen. A few method actors, like Daniel Day-Lewis, use this technique, but it was employed by Strasberg in his teachings.

Meisner Technique

The Meisner Technique, developed by Sanford Meisner, contemporary and colleague of Lee Strasberg, is also an offshoot of the Stanislavski system. Meisner developed this technique in the 1930s after working with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler in New York at the Group Theater. Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler worked together using Stanisklavskian methods; however, they eventually parted ways, creating their own unique techniques.

Both Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler went on to create their own schools after splitting from Meisner which are still around today. Our faculty here at Open City Acting Studio has actually taught at and/or studied at both schools in the past before opening up Open City Acting Studio which takes acting to the next level for today’s working actors.

Meisner’s approach is about forcing the actor to get out of his own head – in other words, to stop intellectualizing and to start responding to pure instinct. The goal of the technique is to rid the actor of any habits or affectations and to make him or her open and responsive. Being “in the moment” is often used to describe Meisner actors.

The study of the technique involves a few distinctive exercises, which build on each other. These repetition exercises are designed to encourage the actor’s spontaneity and freedom and to eliminate any predispositions to “read” a line or perform a movement in a certain way.

Chekhov Technique

Michael Chekhov, the nephew of prolific playwright Anton Chekhov, was originally trained by Stanislavski. However, he began to feel that his acting was too naturalistic for his liking. He developed his own technique that aimed to tap into the subconscious mind and a sense of the universality of humanity.

His technique uses physical exercises to tap into these notions. In one of these exercises, known as psychological gesture, the actor physicalizes an internal need or desire into a gesture. By repeating or using this gesture, the actor can then re-internalize the emotions generated from the physical movement and use it in their acting.

The technique, though stemming from Stanislavski’s method, places a unique focus on physicality and aims for less realistic performances, but rather for a heightened portrayal of reality. 

Practical Aesthetics Acting Technique

The practical aesthetics method was conceived by American playwright David Mamet and William H. Macy and is derived from the teachings of Stanislavski, Meisner, and philosopher Epictetus. 

In this method developed by David Mamet, actors break down a scene using a four-step analysis.

Four Elements of Practical Aesthetics

  1. The literal
  2. The want
  3. The essential action
  4. The “as if.”

These terms are, for the most part, reconfigurations of Stanislavski’s given circumstances, objectives, and “magic if.”

Uta Hagen Technique

Uta Hagen also built upon Stanislavki’s technique. In this method, Hagen uses substitution, a practice similar to emotional memory where actors use personal events in place of the fictional events within the script. Hagen believed that this practice would create a truly realistic emotional reaction.

Viola Spolin Technique

Viola Spolin’s technique is based on improvisation. She called her exercises Theatre Games. These games were designed to encourage actors to use spontaneity on stage, making choices as they would in real life. 

While her method has influenced many actors, its primary impact was on the improvisational theater movement in America. Her technique influenced Second City actors and is still used by the company’s current generation. 

What Acting Techniques do Successful Actors Use?

Here are a few examples of actors and the techniques they use. There are many actors that used multiple methods of acting and many choose to use Stanislavski’s system along with another method.

Classical Actors

·       Helen Mirren

·       Ian McKellen

·       Maggie Smith

·       Mark Rylance

·       Vivien Leigh

Method Actors

·       Daniel Day-Lewis

·       Christian Bale

·       Robert De Niro

·       Marlon Brando

Meisner Actors

·       Diane Keaton

·       Jack Nicholson

·       Anthony Hopkins

·       Allison Janney

·       Gregory Peck

Chekhov Actors

·       Ingrid Bergman

·       Marilyn Monroe

·       Clint Eastwood

·       Johnny Depp

Practical Aesthetics Actors

·       Felicity Huffman

·       Jessica Alba

·       William H. Macy

·       Rose Byrne

Uta Hagen Actors

·       Gene Wilder

·       Whoopi Goldberg

·       Lee Grant

·       Victor Garber

Viola Spolin Actors

·       Steve Carell

·       Tina Fey

·       Amy Poehler

How to Choose the Best Acting Technique for Yourself

The methods outlined above should be used as tools you can draw upon when you need help finding and embodying a character. Acting is very personal, so it is recommended that you experimented to find something that makes you feel comfortable and open on stage or on screen.

Final Thoughts

Many contemporary actors in Los Angeles and New York draw upon a range of methods to generate emotion and create convincing, realistic characters. While each of the methods outlined in this guide has its own distinctive features, very few actors use just one method exclusively. Acting is a fluid practice. Following one method, rigidly often leads to actors feeling creatively stunted. Dip your toe into a few and continue to challenge yourself by trying new approaches to the craft. 

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