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The Complete List of Acting Methods
Many actors, regardless of their experience or training, use an acting method. An acting method is an approach to acting that guides an actor's understanding of their craft. Some take acting classes to study methods while others practice alone. While many acting styles are taught in an acting class, many different acting techniques need to be experienced to understand them.
Most actors take a psychological approach to their method. Each technique depends on how an actor understands their character's world and how they express it. Actors throughout history have developed new methods for breaking traditions in acting.
There is no simple answer as to which method is best and in practice, it's best to experiment with a mixture of different methods. Different acting techniques work for different types of people, and modern acting techniques vary wildly. Practice is the key to finding your best acting techniques.
Let's explore 13 of the most popular acting techniques actors use to master their craft.
Table of Contents
Chekhov Acting Technique
Stella Adler Technique
Uta Hagen’s Technique
Practical Aesthetics Method
Theatre of the Oppressed
Linklater Voice Method
The classical acting method was implemented in the late 1800s by Konstantin Stanislavski and Michel Saint-Denis. Drawing on Shakespearean acting techniques, classical acting tasks actors with script analysis to understand every aspect of their character and make personal connections. This allowed characters to be understood in multiple ways and portrayed differently for each actor.
Because classical acting developed before the age of film, actors who study it learn to use dramatic gestures and speech. Although many see this technique as overly intense, it is still used as an introductory course in drama schools to help many training actors explore their work. It is still one of the most popular acting techniques for actors to experiment with.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include William Shatner and Patrick Stewart.
After the invention of films made overt gesturing obsolete, Stanislavski reworked his understanding of acting to create Stanislavski's System. Stanislavski's new method involved not just analyzing your character, but feeling their emotions and desires as your own. The goal of Stanislavski's method is for an actor's feelings and their character's feelings to be as one.
Possibly the most popular technique taught today, Stanislavski's System worked off of what he coined as the "magic if." The goal of this exercise is for actors to imagine what their characters would do in hypothetical scenarios. This helps actors form a bond with their characters. The Stanislavski method is a major technique taught in drama schools and is still a favorite method for connecting to characters emotionally.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Marlon Brando and John Gielgud.
Chekhov Acting Technique
Michael Chekhov was a pupil of Stanislavski and created his method around the idea of archetypes. For the Chekhov technique, he created the idea of "psychological gestures" where an actor draws on gestures associated with a character type.
Much like classical acting, the Chekhov technique focused on physical movement to express ideas. Michael Chekhov felt that characters could be grouped into categories, and each category had expressions unique to them. This technique was very popular in the 1950s and still has potential to this day.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Clint Eastwood, and Johnny Depp.
Stella Adler Technique
Stella Adler - another student of Stanislavski - created an approach in her teachings with a major focus on the imagination. To Adler, the imagination is the fuel that sparks an actor's creative choices on set. This means an actor's ability to use their imagination affects their relationship to their character.
Students of Adler were encouraged to imagine metaphors and hypotheticals for actors to pit their characters against. Imagining these circumstances created depth in a character's world and allowed actors to create a more realistic performance.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Robert DeNiro and Mark Ruffalo.
The method acting technique was developed by Lee Strasberg and influenced by many of the above techniques. One of the most well-known and controversial of the methods, Lee Strasberg's method acting technique encourages actors to use personal memory to create raw emotion.
What this means is that actors will allow themselves to become their characters and learn from the character's circumstances. Often an actor puts themself in a new situation to live out the experiences of their character. An actor may live out in the desert for a few days or starve themselves if it connects them with their characters. Lee Strasberg saw method acting as a means to connect actors with the necessary emotions.
Method acting is dangerous under some circumstances and often makes actors hard to work with. Anyone that wishes to try this technique should understand their limits and know when to break character. A helpful substitute for lived experience is the use of "affective memory," where an actor recalls personal experiences from their lives to apply to the situation.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Alec Baldwin, Daniel Day-Lewis, James, Dean, Angelina Jolie, and Scarlett Johansson.
Sanford Meisner developed a technique to expand on Stanislavski's technique. The Meisner technique focused on an actor's instincts coming into play on stage. To do this, students of Meisner would use what he called "sense memory" to understand a character's circumstance. The Meisner acting technique relies on sense memory to capture the character's motivation.
For this method, actors are encouraged to not think too deeply about their characters and avoid planning their actions ahead of time. Instead, Sanford Meisner wanted actors to react to situations as they normally would. The Meisner technique allows for natural emotion to show in the character.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Grace Kelly, and Gregory Peck.
Uta Hagen’s Technique
Uta Hagen was a German actor who sought to refine the techniques devised by Strasberg and Stanislavski. Hagen also believed in drawing from experience to conjure emotion, but unlike method acting, Hagen encouraged substitutes by using personal memories.
Hagen believed that if an actor had not experienced the same situations as their character, then they should remember an emotional memory from their life and adjust the severity in their head. Using this emotional memory will stir emotions within the actor. This method created an experience-by-proxy that was safer than method acting.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Sigourney Weaver and Jack Lemmon.
Viola Spolin created her acting technique for the Chicago playhouses of the 1950s. For her method, Spolin had actors play "theater games" where they would practice their improv skills. Incorporating audience interaction into their acting was also encouraged.
Spolin's technique was unique because of how much it relied on spontaneity. This method encourages actors to rely more on skill than practice. While the general performance would be similar, an actor focuses more on what feels right at the moment. No two plays were ever the same when actors used these skills.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, and Gilda Radner.
Practical Aesthetics Method
The practical aesthetics acting technique is a technique created by William H. Macy and David Mamet. The Practical Aesthetics Method is an acting technique created around the belief that a character must be thoroughly analyzed to be understood. Macy and Mamet created a four-step process for actors to analyze the character they play. Each step in the four-step analysis helps the actor compare their life to the character.
The four points of dramatic analysis in practical aesthetics are:
"Literal" Analysis: As the name suggests, this is when you study the scene for what's happening. What is going on and how are the characters responding?
"Want" Analysis: This step is where you consider what your character wants in this scene. Do they want peace? Money? Recognition? Determine their current goals.
"Essential Action" Analysis: Now you need to consider what you as the actor are meant to do in this scene. What actions are you performing and how should you approach them? What is the essential action of the moment?
"As If" Analysis: The final step of analyzing a scene is trying to connect the event to something you experienced. Try to find a common link between yourself and the character; the scene should feel "as if" it is a recreation of your experience.
After going through all the points of the practical aesthetics acting technique, you should have a greater connection to your character and their goals. Practical aesthetics is a very systematic approach as it goes through each scene, so be prepared to invest in your analysis.
Famous actors that use this acting technique include Felicity Huffman, Scott Parker, and Jessica Alba.
Inspired by the work of Mary Overlie and her "Six Viewpoints" approach to art, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau created the viewpoints technique of acting. Viewpoints acting requires actors to embrace physical movement in their studies.
The goal of the viewpoints technique is to combine improv with physical movement. They wanted actors to use physical instincts on the unconscious level to connect with their characters. Bogart and Landau see this bond between the body and mind as the ideal scenario for a character to come to life.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Augusto Boal, a Brazilian actor, sought to combine the role of the actor with the role of the spectator. He gathered children's games from across the world to use as theater exercises.
Boal hoped his actors would embrace the freedom gained from free play and channel that energy into their acting.
Boal also sought to link acting with activism. He encouraged actors to tie relevant social issues into their work. This allowed a connection between the art of acting and real life.
Linklater Voice Method
Kristin Linklater's technique focused on the power of the actor's voice to create truth. Her exercises combined imaginative experiments with breathing exercises to find the actor's true voice.
The combination of vocal warm-ups and meditation not only improved the quality of an actor's voice but also connected actors with their voice's potential. Linklater hoped students would eventually discover their vocal eloquence for use on the stage.
Jerzy Grotowski took a spiritual approach to his technique. He believed actors were a vessel through which human truth was born.
Grotowski combined scientific research methods and religious contemplativeness to create a spiritually intuned actor.
By tapping into the spiritual side of humanity, an actor could access the collective connection between people. With that connection, an actor could give the most realistic performance that resonated with all fellow human.
Most Important Acting Techniques
Now that you know all of the most famous acting techniques out there, you're probably wondering what you can take away from all this. You may not care about the specific methods as long as they help you as an actor work. Many of these techniques have common practices that every actor should strive to incorporate.
The biggest connection between methods is the idea of becoming completely in tune with your character. An actor that cannot connect with their character is merely pretending to be something, rather than truly being something. This is an insult to any actor, so it's important to relate to your role.
Another closely related theme throughout these techniques is the difference between preparation and improvisation. A good actor prepares for their role but also knows how to catch themselves if they slip up. You'll want to practice both your script and your improv to give the best performance possible. Be sure to attend line readings and rehearsals.
Finally, there is an emphasis on training all parts of your body for your role. It isn't enough to know your lines or the actions you need to complete. Quality actors know that your voice, gestures, inflections, and body language all contribute to how a character is perceived. You need to have control and awareness over all your actions as an actor so the character is portrayed in your unique style. Work with all parts of yourself regardless of your acting technique.
Diversifying Your Methods
With so many different techniques available, you're probably overwhelmed with choices. It's important to remember that while each school of thought does things differently, there is no need to commit to a singular practice. It's rare for one technique to satisfy all of an actor's needs. The types of different acting do not exist in a vacuum.
Take the time to experiment with a different technique every so often, and use the aspects that work best for you. It's okay to have a blend of techniques at your disposal so long as they help you improve your craft.
You should be open to new experiences while sticking with what works. Over time, all the tools you've learned from various methods will help to shape your acting style. Acting techniques are all about practicing to improve yourself, so don't be afraid to try.
All acting techniques seek the same thing, to help actors grow and give their best possible performances. The acting techniques listed are just some ways an actor can achieve these goals, and you may find a completely different approach works for you. When you show up to a casting call, most casting directors are less concerned with a method and more concerned with performance.
Use these acting techniques as a guide to practice your acting and see what results from them. With the right dedication, these guidelines will help actors hone their craft to its best potential. Good practice leads to great acting and new methods lead to different acting.
Whether you practice these various techniques with an acting teacher, fellow actors, or on your own, the work you do will set you apart from other actors and help you rise in the industry. Find what works for you and use it to better yourself into a great actor.