Friday, April 27, 2012

What's the "Best" Acting Technique?

It seems like we are constantly in conversation with people, talking about this technique or that technique.  There are many, who seem to thrive on getting a little bit from here and a little bit from there.  In most cases, these actors end up with a whole lot of nothing.

I'll come right out and say it:  I don't believe in different acting techniques.  And I believe that any of the great acting teachers would have been hard-pressed to describe their work as such.  So far as I'm concerned, I could care less how someone trains, so long as that actor has developed a functional understanding of his or her individual actor's instrument. 

There seems to be a need within this community to think of a craft as a series of tools or tricks.  But there are no shortcuts to self-enlightenment.  Stanislavski invented nothing new. He went about understanding what we all do at the moments when everything comes to life for us, so that we can repeat the successful efforts.  When it comes down to it, a well-trained actor should be able to excite his own imagination and express himself freely.  That's a big task. 

When we look at a craft of acting as a knowledge of ourselves, it's hard to see how we can benefit from jumping from one line of study to another.  Usually, people arrive at an intellectual understanding and move onto the next thing.  Much of the time, they do that right at the point where things become personal, so they spend their whole time in training avoiding themselves.

Sandy Meisner used to say, "It takes 20 years to become an actor."  Lee Strasberg talked about people beginning to get a sense of themselves after about ten years of study.  It takes a large, concentrated effort to learn ourselves.  It's not something on which we can place a curriculum or a time limit.  And yet, that is exactly what the academic expansion of the study of acting has supported over the last several years.

It's not a popular opinion, but a conservatory or university education in acting is a good starting point for the training of an actor.  It's possible to get a lot out of these programs.  But mostly, they serve as a good introduction.  Even with a solid basis of voice and movement that many of these programs provide, we still have to learn how to apply those in the critical kinds of moments we will be called upon to enact.  An actor has to be both expressive and understood. 

When I first sat down to decide what I was going to study, I read all of the major books on acting and landed on Lee Strasberg, because he spoke to me.  He was one of the single-most practical people ever to exist in the theatre.  But the work of Sandy Meisner, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Stanislavski, Bobby Lewis, and a whole slew of other people is every bit as valuable.  They all agree more than they disagree.  And mostly, the differences some of them have spoken about are based more in ego than anything else.

David Gideon (my teacher) constantly refers to a quote from his teacher (Lee Strasberg) during a drive down from Los Angeles to San Diego.  At one point, Lee asked, "How many people do you think I've taught over the years?" (which of course is a who's who of American Theatre)..."Never two the same."  David has written a book that uses that line as its title.  I hope it gets published soon, so that we can put some of these myths around "the Method" to bed.  In the meantime, I hope this blog can provide a forum for understanding.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure who I got this from, but I've always talked about acting technique as something you use when things aren't coming naturally. If you're fully in the moment, reacting from yourself and responding openly to your scene partner, then maybe in that moment you don't need acting technique. It's in the moments when things aren't happening naturally that acting technique really comes into play. How do you deliver a truthful performance, one that tells the actor's, director's, and playwright's story, when all cylinders aren't clicking?

    One of the things I love about performing with The Seeing Place is that, no matter what technique the actor uses, we are encouraged to work from ourselves, and we work tirelessly through rehearsals to play out the given circumstances no matter where we, as actors, are coming from. If I walk into rehearsal with some stress from the day, I'm encouraged to work that out in rehearsal rather than trying to leave it at the door. It takes a strong foundation of technique, in whatever form speaks to you, to allow yourself to work through the things that make us human. It's refreshing to be able to work with a company that values the actor's process in this way, and I think it makes for compelling theater that is alive from performance to performance.


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