- Classical acting technique
- Stanislavski method
- Method acting technique
- Meisner technique
- Chekhov technique
- The Practical aesthetics acting technique
- Uta Hagen technique
- Viola Spolin technique
Everyone seems to think they know what acting techniques are. Techniques just help you get to a certain place, but if the thing is happening just by itself you don’t need those techniques.Richard Gere
It takes a lot of commitment and hard work to study acting. You can never fully perfect the craft of acting as there is always an opportunity to learn something new. Learning the different acting techniques is one of the ways of learning something new in acting.
We are here to take you through the basic acting techniques you need to learn when aspiring to be an actor. When you choose to study acting, there are various methods you can choose to learn. You can choose to learn a single technique and make it your craft’s foundation or learn several techniques as additions to your repertoire.
Whatever option you choose, there are basic techniques you should learn that are critical to your success in acting.
Classical acting technique
The first basic acting technique we’ll look at is the classical method. The Classical method is a combination of different acting techniques used together. This method focuses on the body, voice, and imagination of an actor. The classical method evaluates an actor’s ability to understand a script and portray their character.
Although the classical acting technique is hard to pin down as it’s a combination of different methods, it’s viewed as a mixture of Michael Saint-Denis teachings and the Stanislavski’s system.
Many drama schools offer lessons on the classical method of acting. An actor is trained in the Stanislavski’s method and how to be vocally and physically free and open. Textual analysis is also taught in classical technique.
The Stanislavski technique is a training method that’s systematic, developed by Konstantin Stanislavski in Russia. The development of this method changed how acting takes place. Prior to its development, the focus areas of acting were superficial, presentation, and performative style.
What Stanislavski introduced was a way of using realism during acting and this idea changed the film industry forever. Most acting methods are built on the Stanislavski technique and therefore, it’s crucial you consider familiarizing yourself with it as an actor.
Using the Stanislavski technique, a role is divided into actions and tasks. As an actor, you consider the circumstances of a character including:
- Who Am I as the character?
- What is my location?
- When is it – time or era?
- What do I intend to do?
- What are the reasons for doing what I want to do?
- How will I get what I want?
- What do I require to overcome?
Under these circumstances, for an actor to find a character’s problem or task, they ask: ‘What do I want?’ or ‘What do I require the other character to do?’ As an actor, the Stanislavski technique lets you imagine yourself in a character’s situation. During rehearsals, actors learn to hone an imaginary stimulus. Imaginary stimuli allow actors to put themselves in a character’s situation. Interesting, right?
Method acting technique
The next basic acting technique you should consider learning is the Method acting. Lee Strasberg, an American actor and teacher, originally came up with this way of acting. Strasberg was a follower of the Stanislavski system when his career was starting. As Strasberg’s career grew, a few key elements in the Stanislavski system fascinated him.
The key elements that fascinated Strasberg were substitution, affective memory, sense memory, and animal work. The main purpose of these elements is to make actors emotional performances as realistic as possible. Actors are urged to draw from personal experiences when performing emotional scenes. This technique involves remembering, from your past, a powerful emotion and the results are emotions that are real.
People often misconceive that the method technique of acting involves actors engulfing themselves in a role by remaining in character even when off-screen. This is not how the Method technique works.
The Meisner technique is also derived from the Stanislavski system. This acting method was developed by Sanford Meisner, a colleague of Lee Strasberg. Meisner came up with this method after working at the Group Theatre in New York, together with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. Meisner, Strasberg, and Adler collaborated using the Stanislavskian systems before parting ways and each person developing their unique methods.
Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler went ahead to build their schools that are still in existence today. Meisner on the other hand created the Meisner acting technique. This method forces an actor to get out of their head and think outside the box. This method teaches actors to focus more on responding to pure instinct rather than intellectualization.
This technique’s main purpose is to free the actor from any habits and to open an actor to be more responsive. The Meisner method is often described as ‘being in the moment.’ There are exercises that form part of this technique. These are repetition exercises developed to push an actor to be spontaneous and free.
Here is an example of how this method works. Two actors sit facing each other and use a repeated phrase to respond to each other. The phrase reflects what is happening at the moment, such as ‘You look happy right now.’ The goal is for the actors to say this phrase freely and spontaneously without overthinking. How free and spontaneous an actor is becomes reflected physically and vocally.
These exercises teach an actor how to get rid of any predispositions on reading a line and performing it in a specific way.
We cannot speak about basic acting techniques and fail to mention the Chekhov method. This acting method is a creation of Michael Chekhov. Chekhov was a nephew to Anton Chekhov, a playwright trained by Stanislavski.
Michael was an actor and as he carried on acting, he felt that his acting was too naturalistic, a character he did not like. Michael, therefore, decided to develop his technique that would mainly tap into the subconscious mind and bring out the universality of humanity.
Chekhov’s technique employs physical exercises to reach the subconscious and express how universal a sense of humanity is. One of the exercises performed in the Chekhov method is referred to as psychological gesture.
Psychological gestures allow an actor to use gestures to physically portray an internal desire or need. By continuously performing this gesture, an actor can re-internalize the emotions that the physical movement has generated and use them during acting.
The Chekhov acting method focuses uniquely on physically with less focus being put into less realistic performances. This method clearly portrays reality, a characteristic that distinguishes it from the Stanislavski’s technique.
The Practical aesthetics acting technique
David Mamet, an American playwright, and William H. Macy are the brains behind the Practical aesthetics acting technique. This technique is drawn from the teachings of Meisner, Stanislavski and Epictetus the philosopher.
When using the Practical aesthetics method, actors divide a scene using an analysis involving four steps. The four elements of this acting method are:
- The literal
This is the basic descriptions of current happenings.
- The want
What is it that one character wants to be said or done by another character?
- The essential action
Essential action is what an actor requires for a given scene. You need to understand the difference between what a character is doing, and an action being undertaken by the actor.
- The ‘as if’
It draws are relation between the ‘essential action’ and an actor’s personal life.
Uta Hagen technique
Uta Hagen technique is another basic acting method you should consider learning. The creator of this method, Uta Hagen, built it upon Stanislavski technique. One of the practices involved in Uta Hagen method is substitution. Substitution works similar to emotional memory and an actor replaces fictional events on a script with personal events when role playing.
The goal of coming up with the Uta Hagen technique was to create an emotional reaction that was nothing but realistic.
Viola Spolin technique
Last but not list in our basic acting techniques, is the Viola Spolin method. Improvisation is the basis of this technique. Viola, the creator of this method, called her acting exercises Theatre Games. The idea behind these games is to persuade actors to be spontaneous on stage and make decisions as they would in real-life situations.
Many actors have been influenced by this technique. However, the primary impact of the Violin Spolin technique was on the improvisational theatre movement in America. Second City actors drew their inspiration from this method and they still use it to train upcoming actors.
basic acting techniques
There is no specific acting method that we can recommend for you. Acting is personal therefore, to find the method that you feel most comfortable in, you need to experiment. The methods we have gone through are the basics that will help you embody the character you are playing.
Many actors use different techniques to display emotions that are real and convincing. The advantage of learning different techniques is that you use the unique features that each method offers. Using different techniques also keeps you from feeling creatively stunted.
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