Hate is a strong word, so I’ve provided ten reasons why I’ve used the word hate, and not dislike. To my mind, Method Acting isn’t bad or wrong; instead it’s simply unnecessary. Let me be precise. I’m not talking about the work of Stanislavski, the father of modern acting. I’m talking about the backwards, tangled mess of a method that developed in America after so many Russians escaped to the USA.
Please be aware, I can’t even say Method Acting without cringing, so don’t expect me to pull any punches.
Here are the ten reasons that I cannot abide Method Acting:
ONE: It’s Not About You
The Method centres on the actor, although they claim it is the character. But theatre was never about the creation of character, it was always about storytelling. The actor and their “creative” skills, rather than the play, is the centre of the Method. This internal, inward-directed focus creates a self-conscious performance that has little to do with the play written by the author.
The tools of any acting technique should be practicable. This means you should be able to use them immediately to work on a scene. Whatever takes you away from the scene isn’t about acting the scene. If it isn’t about acting the scene, what are you doing? Take ‘Sense Memory.’ There’s no practicable point. Developing your ability to pretend something imaginary is true? Isn’t that the outcome of certain forms of mental illness? Why would you want to improve your skills of self-delusion?
THREE: Unnecessary Focus on Emotion
Acting is not emotion. Acting is action. The incorrect focus on emotion comes through an embarrassingly arrogant view of Stanislavski’s work that was developed by Lee Strasberg and called The Method. We do not have control over our emotions. We have less control over them when we’re under the kind of stress that actors feel on stage. If we could control them, we’d be robots and no longer need therapy, counseling or Prozac! You can fake emotion (badly) and you can force out some tears, but that’s not much of a basis for acting. Truly great acting moves the audience, not the actor.
FOUR: Confusing Scenic Truth for Truth
Many Method schools believe they are teaching their students to be truthful and authentic. But there is nothing authentic or truthful about pretending. The Method schools believe that if you pretend hard enough, or develop strong enough pretending skills (how?) you will be able to believe that imagined circumstances and characters are real. So these schools teach that the best way to arrive at truth is to pretend. That just seems counter intuitive to me.
FIVE: Fake Work
I believe Method Acting (and a lot of Stanislavski’s work unfortunately) is fake work. It looks like very busy creative work, but it doesn’t actually have a practicable use when you get into rehearsals. It takes up lots of valuable time, it might even make people think hard about their character, the epoch or topic matter, but it won’t help the actor to play the scene. Give up the fake work.
The Method’s ill-educated and misguided approach to tinkering around in the mind of the actor is frightening. Stanislavski gave all of that up in favour of an approach focusing on ‘action’. Your own psychological state is not the playground of an acting teacher; you don’t know what a potentially explosive minefield of unresolved issues that you are poking around in. Messing with that stuff isn’t brave, it’s stupid.
When you’re a Method-actor, you do ‘research’. You go off and learn to fire guns so that you know how a soldier feels, you learn Swahili so that you can say three lines in the film, you talk to real prostitutes about their craft to play Prostitute Number 3 or interview real criminals to play ‘Second Crook from the End.’ Itâ€™s an excuse to do something fun and call it work, but:
None of this will help you play the scene. I’ll say it again, NONE OF THIS WILL HELP YOU PLAY THE SCENE.
If you need to learn REAL physical skills for a role, that’s fair enough and makes sense. Learn to speak those three lines of Swahili beautifully and accurately with a great accent. But don’t confuse indulgent, self-pleasuring for ‘research’. This is really a time-wasting exercise that gives the actor false confidence, instead of helping them to ‘act’ the scene.
EIGHT: Cult of the Teacher
Method acting usually revolves around the cult of the teacher’s personality. Originating with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner, the personality is still the driving force behind a Method class. Learning is about the student. Acting is about the actor. The teacher is the guide, not the topic. The class should be about the actor’s development. It’s true the personality of the teacher helps the class, but there are some very charismatic teachers that speak utter nonsense.
NINE: Out of the Scene
Delving around in your psychological past is not only dangerous but it also takes you out of the scene. If you are acting and you have to conjure an emotion, you will have to take a minor mental break from working truthfully off your partner in order to instigate your emotional preparation. In the meantime, you’re no longer in the scene. If the emotion comes out strongly, you’ll have to work to keep it under control. If it comes out weak, you’ll be distracted by trying to force it out more and feel dissatisfied with the performance. Grotowski found that action creates emotion as a truthful by-product. Leave emotion alone and focus on action as the root of Drama.
TEN: It Doesn’t Look Like Fun
If you’ve ever watched actors working with the late Lee Strasberg, it looks excruciating. Is that what you want? Do you want to take all of the fun out of acting? Acting can be great fun for committed and determined actors. Why make it so painful and such a waste of time? Enjoy your training, enjoy your process, and enjoy your performance because the profession is painful enough.
There are many brilliant Method actors alive. I simply suggest they would be brilliant without the Method too. It’s called talent and knowing how to apply it. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m saying it’s unnecessary.
Mark Westbrook is a Professional Acting Coach based in Glasgow, Scotland.