Essential Acting Techniques Every Actor Should Know

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Acting techniques are a systematic approach to amplify your performance and connection to a script. Examples include Stanislavski’s System, Method Acting, Viewpoints, Grotowski’s Poor Theatre, Laban Movement Analysis, Suzuki and Practical Aesthetics Method, Meisner, Stella Adler, Chekhov, Uta Hagen, and Alexander Technique.

This article will introduce you to these techniques and give you a basic understanding, helping you narrow down your preference. Let’s get started!

1. Stanislavski’s System

Developed by Konstantin Stanislavski, a Russian actor, director, and co-founder of the renowned Moscow Art Theatre, this method emphasizes the psychological realism of the actor’s performance. 

It involves emotional memory, the “magic if” to stimulate the actor’s imagination, and the actor’s quest for internal justification of a character’s actions.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Al Pacino: He studied at the Actors Studio and is known for his deep character immersion.
  • Marilyn Monroe: She was also influenced by the teachings of Stanislavski through Lee Strasberg.
  • Sir Alec Guinness: He was known to employ techniques from Stanislavski’s system.

2. Method Acting

Stemming from Stanislavski’s work, Method Acting was further developed by practitioners like Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner. 

It encourages actors to draw upon their own emotions and experiences to reach the truth of the character. 

Strasberg’s approach focuses explicitly on using affective memory and sense memory. It’s one of the most popular acting techniques today.

Read an in-depth article on method acting here.

Famous method actors include:

  • Marlon Brando: Often cited as an early and influential adopter of Method Acting.
  • Robert De Niro: Known for his intense use of the Method, including physical transformations for roles.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis: Famous for his extreme dedication to his roles and staying in character throughout the filming process.

3. Meisner Technique

Developed by Sanford Meisner, this technique emphasizes spontaneous response to the environment and other actors. 

The “repetition exercise” is a cornerstone of the technique, designed to develop the actor’s listening and responsiveness.

You can read more about the Meisner Technique (and how it compares to the Stanislavski Method) here.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Diane Keaton: Studied under Meisner and uses his techniques in her performances.
  • David Duchovny: Has credited the Meisner Technique as influential in his approach to acting.
  • Gregory Peck: Also known to have studied Meisner’s approach.

4. Stella Adler Technique

Like the Meisner Technique, the Adler Technique is also inspired by Stanislavski. That is no surprise, as Adler was one of Stanislavski’s students who later became an actor and highly regarded acting teacher.

According to Stella Adler, if you find truth in the text (how your character is feeling, where their words are coming from, etc.), then you will be able to portray any script, even this one, in an honest way.

While this sounds similar to the Stanislavski Method, Adler discourages creating scenarios outside the script to aid your performance, saying that it can make your portrayal inconsistent.

The technique calls for five crucial components to be used successfully. These help maintain the structure of the world around you while in a scene, something that actors can regularly struggle with. These assets are:

  • imagination
  • script analysis
  • character development
  • emotional recollection
  • the reality of doing.

I recommend you read this in-depth article on the Stella Adler Technique for more details on these elements. Adler’s method is one of the modern acting techniques that are still applied today (there is even an acting school named after her in New York!).

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Mark Ruffalo: Has spoken highly of Adler’s influence on his acting.
  • Benicio del Toro: Studied at the Stella Adler Conservatory.
  • Salma Hayek: Also a proponent of Adler’s techniques.

5. Chekhov Technique

Michael Chekhov, a student of Stanislavski, developed a system focusing on physical actions and psychological gestures. He encouraged actors to explore the physical manifestation of a character’s psychological state.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Anthony Hopkins: Known to have used elements of the Chekhov Technique in his work.
  • Johnny Depp: Has also been interested in the physical aspects of the Chekhov Technique.
  • Jack Nicholson: Has expressed appreciation for Chekhov’s approach to character development.

6. Viewpoints

This method was originally developed by choreographer Mary Overlie and adapted for actors by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau.

It focuses on movement and physicality, encouraging actors to explore space, time, emotion, and their relationships with other actors in the moment.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Mary-Louise Parker: Worked with Anne Bogart and has used Viewpoints in her acting.
  • Felicity Jones: Has been involved in workshops and training using the Viewpoints method.

7. Uta Hagen’s Technique

Uta Hagen’s approach emphasizes realism and the creation of a character’s backstory.

Her exercises help actors build authenticity in their performances by focusing on the character’s objectives and actions.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Matthew Broderick: Has spoken about using Hagen’s techniques in his work.
  • Sigourney Weaver: Studied with Uta Hagen and has utilized her methods.
  • Whoopi Goldberg: Also a student of Uta Hagen and influenced by her techniques.

8. Laban Movement Analysis

Developed by Rudolf Laban, this system is used for actors, dancers, and choreographers.

It provides a language for describing, visualizing, interpreting, and documenting human physical movement. Actors use it to explore character through physicality.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Cate Blanchett: Has used Laban for character development, particularly in embodying physicality.
  • Hugh Jackman: Known for his versatility and physicality, partly attributed to Laban training.

9. Alexander Technique

Developed by F.M. Alexander, this technique improves posture, movement, and breathing to reduce unnecessary tension.

It’s not an acting method per se, but actors use it to enhance performance and prevent strain or injury.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Paul Newman: Was known to practice the Alexander Technique to improve his performance.
  • Juliette Binoche: Incorporates the Alexander Technique into her acting preparation.
  • Hilary Swank: Has used the Alexander Technique to enhance her physical performance.

10. Grotowski’s Poor Theatre

Jerzy Grotowski’s approach minimizes the importance of sets, costumes, and music, focusing instead on the physical and emotional connection between the actor and the audience.

It’s a demanding, physical process that pushes actors to explore their limits.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Peter Brook: While not an actor, Grotowski’s work has deeply influenced the influential director and collaborated with him.
  • Ian McKellen: Has explored elements of Grotowski’s techniques in his theater work.

11. Commedia dell’Arte

Though not a modern acting technique, this ancient Italian theater form is based on improvised performances around stock characters and scenarios.

Modern actors sometimes study this to understand physical comedy and improvisational performance.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • Roberto Benigni: His comedic style and performances show influences of Commedia dell’Arte.
  • John Turturro: Has studied and performed in the style of Commedia dell’Arte in theater.

12. Suzuki Method

Developed by Tadashi Suzuki, this method is highly physical.

It builds the actor’s awareness of their body, especially their center of gravity, and enhances their presence on stage.

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • ​Willem Dafoe: As a founding member of The Wooster Group, Dafoe has trained in the Suzuki Method.
  • Anne Bogart: Although known more as a director, she has incorporated Suzuki into her acting training.

13. Practical Aesthetics Method

Developed by David Mamet and William H. Macy, this technique combines some elements of Stanislavski’s system with the philosophy of pragmatism.

It focuses on what is literally happening in the scene and what the character wants to achieve (“as if” scenarios).

Famous actors practicing this method include:

  • William H. Macy: As one of the developers, he naturally practices this technique.
  • Felicity Huffman: She has studied and used practical aesthetics in her work.
  • Rose Byrne: Has trained in this technique as well.

Where to learn these techniques

There are many educational opportunities for you as an actor- through personal experiences, online learning, acting coaches, reading books, and more, you can unlock your potential to be a fantastic actor through what you learn and apply.

​Acting and Drama Schools

Acting schools can be found both in and out of the United States and encourage different acting methods, dedication, perseverance, and challenge. If you decide to major in acting (film or theater), there will be much to learn, but it pays off and will help you.

Here’s a list of the most prestigious acting schools in the world.

Here’s a list of the best colleges to major in acting.

Here’s a list of excellent online places to take acting classes.

Books on Acting

If you seek alternative learning methods, acting books are the way to go

You can learn all about various acting styles, how to apply them, who uses them in the real world, and why you should use them. They are typically written by people who have been in the industry and know what to expect.

You can also learn how the acting career goes, what struggles may be in that environment, and how to prepare for them. One of the keys to becoming a great actor is knowing it.

Closing Thoughts

Since you are researching acting, you have probably already encountered these different methods of approaching a scene or a character. 

Different instructors and writers favor one idea over another, and you will most likely prefer a certain technique. Actors often train in multiple techniques and may combine elements from different methods to create their unique approach to a role. 

It’s also common for actors to continue training and exploring new techniques throughout their careers to keep their skills sharp and to find new ways to connect with their characters.

This makes acting a hodgepodge of various concepts that you are taught throughout your career. 

However, different acting styles can sometimes contradict one another (the Stanislavski Method encouraging personal memory relation and Stella Adler discouraging it is an example of a main difference). 

It’s encouraging to know that these acting methods were each developed by someone living in their acting career when they came up with them. They knew what their scene was missing and how they could find it, and they wanted to help future actors like you accomplish the same things.

Since all these techniques are reputable and helpful for actors globally, how do you know which of these types is the right one for you?

Well, the best way to find out is to try researching each one yourself! 

Looking into these methods in more detail, and maybe trying one or two out, will help you decide what you like best and what is most beneficial for your career as a professional actor. 

Remember that even if you have a friend who encourages the Stanislavski Method but prefers the Meisner Technique, you can decide independently, regardless of your friend’s career. 

None of these approaches are better than the others; they are equally helpful to you for different reasons. All assist with character development and your character’s emotional state, and give you the best performance possible.

If you take on the technique that works best for you instead of what anyone else tells you to, you will flourish because you will be more confident and comfortable.

So, do your research, trust your gut, and get out of your comfort zone!

Author

  • Richelle Talor

    Richelle Talor is an actress with talent agencies based in the Midwestern area. A driven creative, she uses her creative skills to write and direct her own short films when she's not on the other side of the camera.

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