Should I have opened my big mouth?

Well, I did.

I launched into an answer to the Ten Reasons I Hate Method Acting post. I couldn’t resist.

Nice to see that there is still so much passion for the topic. In fact, Method Acting has encountered these same critiques for more than 50 years. It seems many folks simply do not agree with what we do. I can live with that I guess. My father said that if it doesn’t work then we shouldn’t be doing it, and if it does work, then what is there to argue about?

As usual, he was right, of course. We choose techniques that show themselves to be successful and drop the ones that have, as Lee  would often say “no value for the actor.” It is not about being thought right. The battle has always been to train great actors.

On that site I addressed points #1 & #2 of why this Scotish acting coach – inspried by Mamet (of course) – hates Method Acting. You can look there in the comments for that answer, but I would like to take on his reason #3. he writes:

“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.”

This is one of the most common misunderstanding about our work – that we focus entirely on emotion. So why do people believe this? Doesn’t Strasberg use Emotional Memory? We certainly do… sometimes. There are many actors who never need to do the affective memory. They don’t need it! But for those who do, it is a god send. But our approach to emotion is often overblown. It is not the goal of an actor.

I often see our newer actors try to push an emotional result into a scene. That is almost as bad as a superficial line read where the actors indicate their emotional state with melodramatic gestures. We don’t want that.

Yet to exclude the subtext of an action – the emotional content of the moment – is to deprive the story of its living, beating heart. So I do believe that we need more than action. In fact, action without emotion looks a lot like those robots our Scotish friend mentions. But we also don’t need anguish in every moment, and sometimes a stoic response is the best one.

My dad said that “work for the actor lies in two parts, the ability to create a reality and the ability to express that reality.” What that means is that I want an actor to generate a reality that he or she chooses, inspired by the story. From that simple truth, they must live out the natural consequences of the moment.

We ask our actors to create a reality that they can experience. When they do, the audience finds themselves sitting right there in the scene with you. They feel the pains, the joys, the failure the triumph, as much as or more so than the actor themselves. In fact, the beauty of The Method is that we do not decide what the audience should feel and then give it to them. We simply live out truthfully under imaginary circumstances and the audience is moved each according to their own sensitivities.

We do not dig for emotion. We do not dredge it up. We do not push it or pull it. We simply encourage an actor to relax their self-conscious habits for a moment as they focus on a simple physical truth. Then, gently, almost magically, emotion bubbles up freely and organically of its own accord. You don’t stuff it into a scene, you immerse yourself in a moment – any moment – and the emotion finds its own way out.

Published in: on February 12, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes, you definitely should have opened your mouth! It’s important to keep this debate going because there’s better acting for all of us at the end of it. We disagree on fundamental points about the creation of truth and reality. This massively separates our techniques and lies at the heart of our disagreement

    I do want to say that your final sentence is something that we TOTALLY agree on. Which is good no?

    Your ScotTish friend


    • Thank you Mark. I appreciate the gentlemanly debate.
      In your own comments section, you lay out some fair points – if less inflammatory ones than your original post. You are correct that at my core, I see the ability to BELIEVE as a core talent of acting. That this conviction is a trait that raises the actor above a mere interpreter to the level of a creator – hence the word creativity.

      I think that speaking a line without contributing your creative voice is to become a middleman – a messenger carrying a bag of words from the author to the director. You may well disagree with that portrayal, though I think you advocate a lack of additions from the actor. I find that unsatisfying.

      That said, I plan to keep reading your blog and see what you are up to. Good luck with your work and thanks for your debate!

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