The Great Acting Methods


Constantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) was a Russian actor, director, and theatre practitioner who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of modern theatre. He is best known for his development of the Stanislavski system, a system of acting that emphasises psychological realism and the use of an actor's own experiences and emotions to create a truthful and authentic performance. Stanislavski was a co-founder of the Moscow Art Theatre and directed many of its most famous productions, including Anton Chekhov's plays. His work had a profound impact on the development of modern theatre and continues to influence actors and directors around the world today.

The key components of the Stanislavski system include: 

Inner Monologue: Actors use their imagination to create an internal dialogue between the character and themselves, exploring the character's thoughts and feelings. 

Physical Actions:  Physical actions can help actors to fully embody a character, and the Stanislavski system encourages actors to use physical movements and gestures to build a deeper connection to the character. 

Emotional Memory: Actors are encouraged to use their own personal memories to access emotions that they can then bring to the performance. 

Sense Memory: Actors use their five senses to recall specific physical sensations, like the smell of a particular perfume, which can help them to bring a sense of reality to their performance. 

Objective: Actors have a clear understanding of what their character wants, and this objective drives their behaviour and actions throughout the performance. 

Conflict: Conflict between a character's objective and the obstacles in their way is a key aspect of the Stanislavski system, as it provides the tension and drama that drives a performance forward.

The Meisner Technique

The Meisner Technique is a comprehensive acting training method that was developed by American actor and teacher Sanford Meisner (1905-1997). It is a highly respected approach to training actors, and is widely used in acting schools and workshops around the world.
The Meisner Technique is based on the idea that acting is not about pretending or putting on a show, but rather it is about living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. In other words, actors must believe in what they are doing and saying, and respond truthfully to their scene partner, in order to create an authentic and engaging performance. 

Here are the basic steps and exercises involved in the Meisner Technique: 

Repetition: This is the foundational exercise of the Meisner Technique. Two actors sit facing each other and repeat simple phrases, such as "you're wearing a blue shirt," back and forth. The actors must listen carefully to each other and respond truthfully to what they hear, without adding any new information or interpretation. 

Emotional preparation: This exercise helps actors connect with their emotions and impulses. Actors are given a task, such as recalling a personal memory or imagining a specific scenario, and then must focus on how it makes them feel. 

Active listening: In this exercise, actors practice listening to their scene partner and responding truthfully. One actor speaks while the other listens, and then they switch roles. The focus is on staying present in the moment and responding authentically to what is happening in the scene. 

Improvisation: This exercise involves improvising scenes with a scene partner, while staying true to the given circumstances and the emotional truth of the scene. 

Scene work: Once actors have developed their skills through the previous exercises, they can begin to work on scenes from plays or films. The emphasis is on staying present in the moment, connecting with their emotions and impulses, and responding truthfully to their scene partner.

Stella Adler

Stella Adler (1901-1992) was an American actress and acting teacher. Her acting technique is a method of acting that stresses the use of the actor's imagination and emotions to create a character that is believable and engaging for the audience. It is based on the teachings of Russian actor and director Constantin Stanislavski, but with some modifications by Adler to suit the needs of modern actors.

The following are the main principles of the Stella Adler acting technique:

The actor's imagination: Adler believed that an actor's imagination is the key to creating a convincing character. She emphasised the importance of the actor's ability to visualise the world of the play and to create a vivid inner life for the character. 

Emotional truth: Adler believed that actors must be emotionally truthful in their performances, and must be able to connect with the emotions of their characters. This requires the actor to be vulnerable and to use their own experiences to inform their performance. 

The actor's body: Adler believed that an actor's physical presence is essential to their performance. She focused on the use of the actor's body to convey emotion and to create a sense of physical reality on stage. 

Script analysis: Adler believed that actors must have a deep understanding of the play and the characters they are portraying. She emphasised the importance of analysing the text and understanding the historical and cultural context of the play. 

Given circumstances: Adler believed that actors must have a strong sense of the given circumstances of the play, including the physical environment, the relationships between characters, and the social and historical context.

Action and objectives: Adler believed in the importance of the actor's objectives in a scene and the actions they take to achieve those objectives. She believed that actions should be physical and visible, and should be rooted in the character's emotional truth. 

The actor's instrument: Adler believed that an actor's instrument is their voice and body, and that actors must train these tools to be effective in their performances. She emphasized the use of voice and movement exercises to develop the actor's instrument. 

Overall, the Stella Adler acting technique emphasizes the importance of imagination, emotional truth, and a deep understanding of the text and given circumstances in creating a convincing and engaging performance.

Method Acting

Method Acting invented by Lee Strasberg (1901-1982), is an acting technique that emphasises emotional authenticity and the use of personal experiences to create believable performances. The method is loosely based on the teachings of Stanislavski.

The Strasberg Method is grounded in the belief that actors should draw on their own experiences and emotions to create characters that are believable and emotionally truthful. The method emphasises the use of sense memory and emotional recall to help actors access their own feelings and experiences, which they can then channel into their performances.

Sense memory involves using the five senses to recall past experiences and create a sensory experience in the present moment. For example, an actor might recall the smell of a particular food or the feel of a particular texture in order to create a sense of place or environment in their performance.

Emotional recall involves drawing on past emotional experiences to create a similar emotional state in the present moment. For example, an actor might recall a time when they felt angry or sad in order to create a similar emotional state for their character.

The Strasberg Method also encourages the use of physicalisation, or the use of the body to convey emotion and character. Actors are encouraged to use their bodies to express emotions and physicals their characters' actions and reactions.

One of the key principles of the Strasberg Method is the concept of the "private moment." This involves creating a sense of privacy on stage or on camera, so that the actor can access their own emotional state without feeling self-conscious or exposed. 

His teachings were controversial at times, with some critics accusing him of encouraging actors to become too self-absorbed and indulgent in their performances.

However, the Strasberg Method has been influential in the world of acting, and many famous actors have studied under Lee Strasberg or other teachers who have taught the technique.


The Viewpoints technique is a system for training actors that consists of nine different Viewpoints, which are as follows:

Spatial Relationship: The actor's relationship to the physical space and objects around them. 

Tempo: The rhythm and pace of the actor's movements and speech. Shape: The actor's physical posture and movement, including gestures, facial expressions, and body language. 

Duration: The length of time an action or event takes place. 

Architecture: The structure and organization of the performer's movements and actions. 

Topology: The flow and movement of the performer's energy and attention through space. 

Task: A specific, defined physical action the actor is asked to perform. 

Emotion: The actor's emotional state and its influence on their movements and speech. 

Improvisation: A process of spontaneous creation, often used to explore and develop the other Viewpoints. 

In Viewpoints training, actors work with each of these elements in isolation and then integrate them into a complete performance. The goal of the technique is to help actors develop greater physical and emotional awareness, as well as a heightened sense of presence and authenticity on stage. By exploring and practicing the Viewpoints, actors can gain a deeper understanding of how movement and emotion are interconnected, and how they can use this connection to bring more depth and nuance to their performances.


Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999) was a Polish theatre director and theorist who is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in 20th-century theatre. He was born in Rzeszów, Poland and studied theatre in Kraków before founding his own experimental theatre company, the Laboratory Theatre, in 1959. Grotowski's approach to theatre is often referred to as "poor theatre" because it stripped away the traditional trappings of theatre, such as elaborate sets and costumes, in favour of a more direct and intimate relationship between actor and audience. His technique was centred on the actor's physical and vocal abilities and was designed to develop a deep level of concentration, awareness, and presence.

Some of the key elements of Grotowski's technique include:

Physical Training: Grotowski believed that the actor's body was their primary tool for expression and sought to develop a strong, flexible, and expressive physical instrument. He used a variety of physical exercises, including yoga, dance, and martial arts, to develop strength, flexibility, and control. 

Vocal Work: Grotowski also believed that the actor's voice was essential to their performance, and he developed a rigorous system of vocal training that emphasised breath control, resonance, and articulation. He believed that the actor's voice should be capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and states of being. 

Improvisation: Grotowski believed that improvisation was essential to the creative process and encouraged actors to explore and develop their own material through improvisation exercises. He believed that this process would lead to a more authentic and personal performance. 

Presence and Concentration: Grotowski emphasised the importance of the actor's presence and concentration, and he developed a variety of exercises designed to help actors develop a deep level of awareness and focus. He believed that this state of heightened awareness was essential to creating a powerful and transformative theatrical experience. 

Overall, Grotowski's technique was designed to create a direct and intimate relationship between the actor and audience and to explore the deepest aspects of the human experience through physical and vocal expression. It emphasised a rigorous and disciplined approach to training, improvisation, and creative exploration, and continues to be influential in contemporary theatre and performance art.

Hagen Technique

Uta Hagen (1919-2004) was a renowned German-American actress and acting teacher. She is best known for developing the "Hagen Technique", a practical and personal approach to acting that focuses on the performer's internal truth and honest emotional life.

The Hagen Technique consists of several key elements, including:

Respect for the script: Actors should approach the script with respect and care, seeking to understand its intention and meaning. 

Objective: The objective of a scene is a specific and tangible goal that the actor wants to achieve. The objective guides the actor's actions and informs the emotional life of the character. 

Inner Monologue: The inner monologue is a tool used by the actor to explore the character's thoughts, feelings, and motivations. It helps to clarify the character's objective and bring depth and authenticity to the performance. 

Emotional preparation: The actor should take the time to deeply explore the emotions of the scene, to fully understand and embody the character's emotional life. This is achieved through exercises and techniques that help the actor access their own emotions and memories. 

Action verbs: Hagen encouraged actors to use action verbs, rather than emotional states, to describe their objectives in a scene. This helps to clarify the character's actions and motivations and creates a more active and dynamic performance. 

Personalization: The actor should personalize the character, bringing their own experiences and emotions to the role. This makes the performance more authentic and emotionally rich. 

Overall, the Hagen Technique is based on the idea that acting should be an honest and truthful exploration of the self. By using the techniques and tools provided, actors can create rich and meaningful performances that resonate with audiences.

The Method of Physical Action

The Method of Physical Action is an acting technique developed by Nikolai Demidov (1896-1973), a Russian actor and director. The technique emphasises the use of physical actions and movements to create a believable and naturalistic performance.

The method is based on the idea that an actor's physical actions can help them access their emotions and create a more truthful portrayal of their character. The process involves breaking down the script into specific units of action, which are then translated into physical movements or gestures.

According to Demidov, there are four main types of actions that an actor can use: technical, tactical, inner, and expressive. Technical actions are practical, physical actions such as walking, sitting, or picking up an object. Tactical actions are actions taken by the character to achieve a specific goal, such as persuading someone or winning a fight. Inner actions are actions that reveal the character's emotions and inner life, such as crying, laughing, or expressing anger. Expressive actions are movements that communicate a particular mood or tone, such as a slow, deliberate walk or a quick, sharp gesture.

To use the Method of Physical Action, an actor would first analyse the script and break it down into units of action. They would then select specific physical movements or gestures to accompany each unit of action, based on the type of action being portrayed. For example, if the character is trying to persuade someone, the actor might use gestures that emphasise their words, such as pointing or using open palms.

Once the actor has chosen their physical actions, they would rehearse them until they become natural and instinctive. This process helps the actor connect with their emotions and stay present in the moment of the performance, allowing them to create a more authentic and believable portrayal of their character.

Overall, the Method of Physical Action is a technique that emphasises the importance of physicality and movement in acting, and it provides a structured approach for actors to create a more truthful and naturalistic performance.

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