When it comes to choosing an acting style, there is no shortage of options. Fortunately, many of these techniques are well-established and widely acclaimed by some of the most well-known names in the industry. Whether you are a budding young performer or a veteran of stage and screen, you can always up your game by studying the principles of a legendary acting teacher.
For our discussion of acting styles, we begin with Konstantin Stanislavski, who has been referred to as “The father of modern acting.” We continue with the teachings of three of his followers: Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, and Stella Adler. To learn more about these iconic instructors, click on their names below.
Stanislavski’s System was the forerunner to many of today’s acting styles. Stanislavski, a Russian actor and co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre, devised a technique that focused on using an actor’s memories to create believable characters. To help actors perfect their roles, he outlined seven questions that each performer must answer, including “Who am I,” “What do I want,” and “What do I need to overcome to get what I want.” He encouraged actors to ponder what they would do if they were in their characters’ shoes.
Practitioners of Stanislavski’s System use the concept of “emotional memory,” a technique that enables actors to base their interpretations on their own lives when they experienced similar emotions as their characters. This helps performers deliver more realistic performances.
Similar to Stanislavski’s System, Strasberg’s technique (also referred to as “Method” acting) is rooted in the concept of using emotional memory as a basis for an actor’s performance. Strasberg, however, believed that Stanislavski’s System was not sufficient because it is unlikely that actors come from the same circumstances as their characters.
To overcome this challenge, Strasberg advocated for the practice of “Substitution,” where the actor temporarily “becomes” the character he is portraying. Actors who practice this technique have been known to go to extremes to gain a deeper understanding of their characters’ situations, lifestyles, emotions, and thought processes.
A one-time practitioner of Stanislavski’s System and Strasberg’s Method, Meisner crafted his own style of acting that broke from the principle of using emotional memory. Meisner taught students a technique that focused on achieving authenticity as an actor.
Those who study Meisner’s technique practice something known as the “Repetition Exercise,” which is designed to help actors use their own natural instincts and lose their dependence on their scripts. Meisner’s students used a lot of improvisation to hone their craft and bring about more realism in their performances. Meisner also taught the concept of “emotional preparedness” to help students focus on experiencing their character’s emotions on stage, as opposed to acting these emotions.
Stella Adler was one of the few American actors to actually study with Stanislavski. While her acting technique has similarities to those mentioned earlier in this article, Adler devised her own style that focused on an actor’s imagination. She believed that drawing from personal memories as an approach to acting was too painful and not needed to achieve authenticity.
Adler believed in the independence of the actor, and encouraged her students to bring a strong mission or point of view to the craft. She also encouraged actors to make strong choices based upon their imaginations and personal interpretations of their characters. In addition, she taught students to expand their knowledge base and experiences, so they have more to draw from when delivering performances.
Which acting style is best? That is a deeply personal choice and should be based upon an actor’s beliefs, temperament, preferences, and needs. And while there are many other styles that are not mentioned in this article, you now have a starting point to begin your exploration. Would you like to share other acting styles that have worked for you? Please join the conversation on our Facebook page.