Classical acting is not a technique on its own. It encompasses different complementary acting techniques. This school of acting brings together whole-body movements, imagination, different voice qualities, personalization, improvisation, external stimuli and script analysis.

I find that actors who are wanting to pursue TV or Films don’t seem to have much interest in classical theatre.

Renee O’Connor

Once you immerse yourself into the acting scene, you will realize just how diverse Classical Acting is. In this article, we look at the different techniques of one of the most common schools of acting that you will encounter-classical acting. Unfortunately, nobody can precisely define what classical acting is. You can even read all types of journals and books, but you will not find a clear answer.

We can say that classical acting surfaced as a reaction to the 19th-century acting scene’s perceived shortcomings, making it more of a tradition. Do not worry if you feel lost. You will understand this better as we delve deeper into the subject.

History of classical acting

Classical acting is attributed to Constantin Stanislavski and Michel Saint-Denis, who were both actors directors and theorists. Stanislavski authored ‘An actor prepares,’ one of the most invaluable books an actor can read. At the time of this death, the book had been translated into English and was in circulation.

Michael was a drama teacher in London who taught students including the legendary Alec Guinness. He even directed the Royal Shakespeare Company at some point in his life. Do not get confused when you hear somebody referring to this school of acting as Shakespearean, British or English acting. This is because classical acting has widely embraced the techniques of its famous founders.

Stanislavski believed that an actor must first identify with the audience before they do the same, which is one of the fundamental principles of classical acting. To identify with the audience, the actor must employ his experience, memorability, play analysis, compartmentalization, research or rely on the famous Creative If.

‘Creative If’ is a belief that an actor can leave the ordinary world, transport him or herself and get deeply immersed in the creative world. Other techniques include focusing on the objective of the character.

What classical acting focuses on: The Classical acting technique

Voice and the body

Drama schools employ physical training to achieve body control, which is essential for creating expressions, a necessary part of acting. Most of the exercises target your awareness and ability. Classical acting is not that different. It uses the body to express a character and action. If you are a bit lost, try and visualize what dancers do. A classically trained actor has heightened awareness and control of his or her body, which he uses to tell a story.

Just like most drama schools do, classical acting also concerns itself with voice quality. This involves vocal ability and expressiveness. A classically trained actor is subjected to several exercises aimed at strengthening the range of his or her voice to achieve clarity and improve overall voice performance.

A good example would be the controversial Othello, a play by Laurence Olivier. It explains how a classical actor is required to change his or her body and voice performance. You will see this from the way the actor moves his body in different scenes.

Classical acting targets both the voice and the body, which are two powerful vessels in an actor’s craft.

Personalization and identification

One of the most powerful means of engaging your audience and drawing them in is by identifying with a character. Classical acting handles memory and personalization with care and precision. In case you are wondering how the second part(identification) acts, then here is something for you. ‘

Identification requires that you relate events and your life experiences to help you understand action and do it better.

On the other hand, personalization requires that an actor share his or her feelings with a character. These feelings will guide them as he or she acts.

Therefore, classical acting draws from real-life experience. In short, actors use real-life experiences to deliver a powerful performance. The only problem is that a scene may seem unbalanced if classical actors do not make good use of personalization and identification.

Improvisation and external stimuli

By now, you obviously know how improvisation is essential to an actor. Unfortunately, you will not apply it during a classical performance. Classical acting only employs improvisation to test your level of preparedness in relation to your character, which also entails his or her behaviours. This can be achieved through exercises that involve games.

You will be required to play ‘in character’ and subject your characters to extreme versions of events. On the other hand, external stimuli refer to how foreign objects and forces can influence an actor, including the actor’s mental and emotional world. Classical acting, therefore, focuses on how external factors can affect an actor emotionally.


Classical acting is dependent on the script. You should know that this diverse school introduced new words into the acting scene, such as unit, objective, and motivation. Back to our main subject, this field of acting ensures that actors use the script to locate and follow their character’s objectives.

The actor and the director usually decide this. What then, is an objective? An objective can either cover the entire play or exists for just a while, maybe a scene. There can also be shorter objectives to serve one super-objective. The unit, on the other hand, refers to the period of action in the script, which is set by the actor and the director doing rehearsals. It is not the writer’s work to compose the different scenes in the units. Both the actor and the director will partition the scene, name them differently, and rehearse the segments individually.

Why is this process necessary? Dividing a scene into smaller units makes it easy to examine and manage a character throughout the play.


Here is something that you ought to know. Classical acting uses Shakespeare in combination with a strict system to handle dialogue in most of the plays, which helps teach actors the right type of language classic acting dictates. This includes having an in-depth insight into what the prose and the structure of a verse entail in Early modern plays. Classical acting also calls for exactness since actors are not allowed to alter the script, which can be seen from the pattern of Shakespearean lines.

You will realize that classical plays treat lines as poetry, with a high level of precision. Some of the things that actors must be aware of include the verse. Shakespeare used both rhymed and unrhymed poetic forms to achieve different effects in his plays and creations. His verses are structured so that the lines do not extend to the margins of the page. Classical actors are therefore trained to pay close attention to the rhythm and the music of language, which plays an essential part in delivery.

Classical actors are also taught to identify prose by looking whether a section of a play runs to the margin of the page. This does not, however, change the tone and the music of the words. Assonance is also essential in Shakespeare’s delivery. What is assonance? Assonance is simply the repetition of vowel sounds in a text, which can be seen in Shakespeare’s works in King John. There also exists consonance, where only consonants are repeated instead of vowels. You can check this up in Henry V.

Shakespearean delivery also includes alliteration, which is an important type of consonance. For alliteration to occur, the repeated consonants must appear at the beginning of the words. It is easy to identify. Lastly, actors are taught to look out of onomatopoeia, which uses sound to portray an object. Onomatopoeia is diverse and includes imitative words such as bark and words that suggest an imitation of a sound.

Is there any difference between method and classical acting?

I hope that you have quite a clear understanding of what classical acting is by now. If you do (which I know you do), we can now differentiate these two based on their theories and practices. Here are the differences:

  1. Classical acting is more concerned with precision and action, whereas method acting deals with emotional response and realism. Classical acting is, therefore, more decent and respectful than method acting. Christopher Plummer once referred to the method acting as Italian Street acting because of actors such as Robert De Niro, which I know you have heard of.
  2. Classical acting involves the personalization of a character through analysis to bring him or her to life in strict adherence to the script. It does not provide room for improvisation. Method acting is quite relaxed. Actors can improvise and typically live the life of the actor.
  3. Method acting goes deep, especially if it is a heightened scene or situation. You can even refer to it as self-indulgent. It is therefore suited for extreme characters in tight or heightened situations. On the other hand, classical acting does not go all that deep. You will not see the experience you expect when a situation is quite heightened.

An excellent hack that would help you compare these two is by reading some of the plays by Bertolt Brecht, such as the Caucasian Chalk Circle. You will get to see how his style goes against several classical acting beliefs.

What are some of the advantages of classical acting?

You should know some of the advantages you will enjoy when you choose to be a classical actor. Classical acting requires powerful skillsets to help you capture and make an impression on your audience. It also makes you diverse. You can, therefore, take up different roles in several projects and make a powerful delivery. You are also made ready to play roles that the average actor cannot. It opens you up to the acting scene.

What avenues do classic acting offers?

Classic acting is not only chained to a style of delivery. It is quite diverse. Most classic actors work on stage and require a lot of rehearsal time. They also must discuss the parts they play in the film. Most people believe that this school of acting only limits you to Shakespeare and Roman or Greek, which is false. Some of the plays that employed classical acting techniques include London Road. Classical actors are trained and prepared for different circumstances, which makes them all-rounded.

The only problem comes with film and Television shows. Schools such as method acting permit script modifications during a performance, which is not a luxury to classical actors, who are trained to stick to the script no matter what happens.

Are there any classical actors that have left a mark?

You want to get into a field that has produced successful people. The good news is, there are several famous classical actors. These include Laurence Oliver, whose play we recommended when talking about body and voice. One of the biggest competitors of Laurence Olivier was John Gielgud, who also happens to be one of the biggest classical actors. You can even lookup Judi Dench and Ian McKellen, who acted Macbeth, a play that you would find helpful.

To see how voice matters in this school of acting, look up Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, some of the famous classical actors on the planet. Others include Orson Welles of “The Third Man” and Cate Blanchett of “Carol.

What can I do if I want to be a classical actor?

You will need training and need professional assistance to master classical acting. It does not matter whether you will settle for short classes, a private trainer, or a long-term commitment. However, for the best training, we have some fantastic referrals. You can attend The Drama Centre in London, which teaches everything that Michael Saint-Dennis believed in. Remember, Michael is one of the founders of classical acting. You will also get to experience a bit of Russian Drama Scenes.

The National Theatre School of Canada can also serve you quite well. It is one of the few schools that were built to teach the works of Saint-Denis. Luckily enough, you will also learn different diverse elements that are essential in acting.

Who does not love Yale Art school? If you have some money, you can register with Yale School of Drama and experience classical acting one on one. Yale also has some of the best instructors in the whole world. After all, it is an Ivy League University.

If you live in Bristol, then the Bristol Old Vic Drama school will serve you just as well. This school was established by the great Laurence Oliver, who is one of the biggest classical actors the world has ever seen. You will get to learn in a facility that runs on the principles of classical acting. What more can you want?

For Americans, the Juilliard School in New York is one of the coolest places you can learn classical acting. It even has two programs for those who would like to learn about classical acting. Lastly, the CNSAD in Paris is worth your money and time. The only problem is that it has a higher threshold in its selection. On a brighter side, it is one of the best on the entire planet.

What are some of the tips that can help you master classical acting?

  • Joining a good acting school
    The acting school you attend is critical. You should settle on one that teaches you to embrace and enjoy classical acting and not grooming you to be an actor. Through this, you can comfortably learn and master different classical acting techniques. You should be trained to be diverse and prepared for different roles. The right school will also teach you to be confident and believe in yourself since this filed of acting is not for the second guessers. You will probably make a noticeable mistake if you do not believe in yourself while on stage. Your school should of choice prepare you for the Contemporary theatre scene by teaching you some contemporary drama techniques. Remember, you must be diverse enough to fit any field. Also, if you can act classics getting into modern drama can never be a big deal.
  • Being attentive to details
    You must be attentive to master classical acting. This field usually involves names that more of leas sound the same and can be quite confusing. Your learning should help you handle a range of projects. Make sure that you watch out for Shakespeare’s repertory and the works of different American classic play writers.

Actors Takeaway:
classical acting technique

Classical acting is one of the most diverse schools of drama you can think of joining. It prepares you to handle even bigger projects and learn from the best. We have looked at some of the techniques that this type of acting entails. Once you have made up your mind, choose any of the schools we have outlined and begin your journey to stardom.