Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Developing Your Own Method

I want to clear something up.

It seems that everywhere I turn, I hear the same faulty logic with regard to the craft of acting.  People seem to think that they know what does and does not work for their acting.  They don't.  It's that simple.  If you take a little bit from here and a little bit from there, you end up with a whole lot of nothing. 

I'll quote from a comment that our Managing Director, Erin Cronican, left on Ben Hodge's blog a few weeks back:
When trying to help my students understand the purpose of choosing a teacher/technique, I often liken the process to finding a good therapist. You want to find someone you feel safe with, but who will challenge you to open up in ways that will be useful for your progress. And you want someone rooted in a specific philosophy that has a structure, so that as you go deeper into yourself you have something to tether yourself to. If I were to go to three therapists to try to address why I'm having trouble relating to my sister, I'll definitely learn 3 different approaches to getting what I need but it will either a) confuse me because I'm bouncing back and forth between ideas or b) take me three times as long to get to where I need to be because I'm constantly retooling myself for each new technique.
I really think that says it best.  Our goal should not be academic in nature.  We don't need to understand acting to be good actors.  We need to understand ourselves.

But we can't just leap-frog to that result.  It's a process.  In my studies, I've learned that it takes about a year to become comfortable enough with a teacher and a process, so that the two of you can really start to break down the habits that get in your way and build new ones.  That kind of personal development not a very comfortable thing to do.  In fact, it's excessively uncomfortable.  And it feels wrong.

Let me interject for a moment to clarify one thing:  I am not referring to scene study classes.  This blog is about technique-driven classes (which may include scene-study, but emphasis is placed on building the actor's instrument).  A scene study class can be a good place to keep your work fresh, but it's really a better place to maintain a previously-formed craft than to build one.  Most of what can be learned in a scene study class has to do with script interpretation and learning how to function in relation to directors.

Back to technique training.  For the first while that you're working with a new teacher, you learn a set of exercises.  The exercises, themselves, are generally random and inconsequential.  They've been created as a medium for you to work on your instrument.  So, it's not about doing them the right way or the wrong way.  But there is a way that they will work more effectively than some others.  And you'll be guided to that way of working.  Simply learning the exercises takes a good amount of time.

Once you learn the basic exercises, then there is a frame of reference for your work, and you can begin to address the places where your exercise work is not as strong.  It's important to separate your work on your instrument from scenework, because character and story throw too much into the mix for you to be able to focus on yourself.  The ego is hard enough to overcome without your performance habits interfering as well.  Generally, I'm able to address my difficulties in exercise work long before I'm ever able to address the same issues in scenework.  After you start to identify the habits that are inhibiting your work, you can begin to affect those same changes in your scenework - and eventually in your acting in the marketplace.

The biggest worry I hear is that people don't want to pick a way of working because they'll turn into some kind of cookie-cutter actor.  And that does happen sometimes, but usually only in the beginning stages of a craft.  But without training, most actors get locked into cliches of expression, anyway. 

Keep in mind that the goal of technique training is to give you access to yourself.  If you see it through to an understanding of your body, rather than stopping at the mental process, you will literally transformLearning yourself cannot be likened to intellectual knowledge.  It's like riding a bike.  It's learning how your body balances.  So, when your worries arise, remind yourself that you're not being brainwashed.  And don't feel the need to do your classroom work in the marketplace.  Let that happen as it happens.  Until then, do whatever works when you're outside the classroom.

There are all sorts of teachers that rely on Stanislavski's admonition to "Develop your own method.  Do not slavishly rely on mine."  And that's all well and good.  But you can't just create your own method out of thin air.  It has to be in a structured environment with a good coach.  It's not about doing what feels good.  Standing in front of a bunch of people at 8pm every night, pretending to be someone else, and giving into the pains and pleasures of life is NOWHERE CLOSE TO NATURAL BEHAVIOR.  It requires a skill-set.

Think of this all like learning to dance.  It would be ridiculous for a dancing teacher to tell you to feel out the rhythms and see what your body does.  There would be no logic to the dancing.  In order to improvise, you first have to learn some basic steps to various types of music.  Once you have that framework in place, you can begin to let your body do what it wants to do within that structure.

For more information of acting teachers, check out our blog series on training.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Let's hear it!  :O)


  1. I think the understanding I've walked away with, in this post, is not only why having one teacher/technique is a good thing while building a craft, but also the difference between scene study and technique classes. Actors often feel like they are working on their craft when they work on scenes and monologues in class, but there is a big difference between that and technique.

    With my students, again, I explain the difference by talking about athletes:

    • First, acting technique training is akin to working out at the gym with a trainer. You work on different muscle groups to strengthen them so that all of the pieces will flow together when asked to run the 100 meter dash.

    • Then, scene study is akin to doing practice runs with your teammates and your coaching staff. You may run 200 meter dashes to increase your endurance, or 50 meter dashes to practice your short sprints. It might look like racing but you're still just practicing your skills in preparation for the "real thing."

    • Finally, you have performance, which is akin to running that important race where everything is on the line.

    An athlete would never dare confuse the three aspects of their physical work - as such, it's vital for actors to separate these three aspects of their creative work.

    Taking this one step further, and regarding what was said about separating your classroom work with the marketplace: Running a race is not about being able to lift weights, just like performing in a play is not about flashing your acting technique. Both are tools that are used behind the scenes to help an actor or athlete understand and hone their instruments, to be able to use them to their fullest potential when called into action.


    End of soapbox... :)

  2. PS: Thanks for the shout out. I feel all smart now. :)

  3. Great blog! I agree that you have to find a technique and teacher that works for you and jump in with both feet.

    1. I was always one who believed you should study with more then one teacher and I was guilty of alot of the philosophies you cited. But you are absolutely right that you benefit the most when you spend more than one year with one teacher. Because not only is their an intimacy and a rapport but their is a significant time frame for an honest evaluation of your work through whatever technique your teacher espouses.

    2. Thank you so much for your comment, Claire. It means a lot to me (and us) that you stopped by! :)

  4. I think the hang up with finding a technique occurs when actors put too much emphasis on the discovery of the technique rather than settling in on a technique or training style that works best for them. With this in mind, it becomes easy to simply say "I don't ascribe to any one theory" or training. As your blog states clearly: this results in more of a cookie-cutter approach which can often lead to a "whole lot of nothing." I have found that the best "method" of acting has to do with freeing myself to do what needs to be done onstage. Much of my training is geared to help young actors be comfortable with themselves first and then they can begin diving into the scene study as you mentioned. My final point is this: I still don't think there is anything wrong with SEARCHING for a variety of technique or theories...we just have to remember that we should at some point SETTLE in on a coach, teacher or style that works for us.

    1. REALLY great point, Ben! I agree 100%. What's unfortunate is that most University acting programs function best as a powerful, hands-on introduction to various avenues of study, but profess to fully train actors - so that actors come out of their programs feeling finished. In reality, finding your path is a BEGINNING to your life's work.

      Before I landed on Lee Strasberg's work with Fran Gercke (and now with HIS teacher, David Gideon), I spent about a year, reading all sorts of books on acting, watching videos, and researching teachers. For me, it finally boiled down to the fact that Lee had a distinct practicality and clarity in his teachings, and I identified with his thinking. He's also very funny, and that certainly helped.

      Thanks for sharing with us!

    2. You are very welcome. Thanks again for a great discussion. I've started my next blog series on training teen actors over at my blog. Feel free to chime in there as my readers would certainly benefit from your thoughts and experiences as well. Thanks again. benhodgestudios.blogspot.com

  5. Good points, all.

    I've often found in scene study class that, even though you feel like you're learning things, it's almost by accident, just the way you learn when you're working on a play. Good scene study teachers are often really good directors. And if you stay with the same scene study class for a long time, then eventually the teacher will be able to learn your bad habits and help you with them.

    But if you want to come away with a new set of skills that you can rely on, you need to be in a technique class, and stay for a while.

  6. Agree with David and congratulate Erin on her clear breakdown of the difference between a technique and scene study class. David cites a good point about good scene study teachers being good directors. I think more specifically that they would be likely to be able to guide you to a deeper understanding of your character and play but not necessarily be a good director. The difference is that a good director has a vision and the ability to shape a play. A good teacher can help and nurture actors to discover, free and shape their instruments so that their imagination, instincts and intelligence serve them and is available to them. If you have a good technique class, use it to keep your muscles honed and stay with it because if you don't use those muscles, they will not be there when need them. The trick is to find those teachers and then be consistent with your training. I agree with David, that if you find a good scene study teacher to continue with them but I think it must be as long as you feel that there is growth. -MA


We're so passionate about creating a conversation in our community - thank you for leaving your thoughts!