5 Popular Acting Techniques
What They Are, Who Uses Them, and Which One is Right for You
You’ve probably heard of at least one or two different acting techniques, but you may not know exactly what they all are. Each performer has their own way of doing things, and different techniques help different actors get in character, connect with a role, and create a believable performance.
Some of the most common acting techniques are:
- Classical Acting
- Method Acting
- The Meisner Technique
- Chekhov Acting
- The Alexander Technique
Rooted in the British theater, classical acting is sometimes called “the Shakespearean style.” Classical actors tend to focus on movement and action rather than just emotion. Unlike some techniques that rely on improvisation to create an authentic performance, classical acting is all about sticking to the script.
Of course, it’s also about delivering lines effectively, and when done well, classical acting can make quite an impression. But since it relies so much on movement and precision, it can sometimes feel a little exaggerated to modern audiences.
Method Acting Techniques
Where classical acting is about precision, Method Acting is about emotion. Based on techniques developed by Konstantin Stanislavski, it became a popular style in the US in the 1930s. Some famous method actors today are Dustin Hoffman, Christian Bale, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
People tend to associate Method Acting with “getting lost” in a character, or going to excessive lengths to “become” your character, like Daniel Day-Lewis supposedly not bathing while filming The Crucible.
But Lee Strasberg, who created Method Acting, never endorsed this. Instead, he encouraged actors to draw from their own experiences and emotions to make a character come alive.
Method Acting is a systematic approach that prepares an actor for a role. In Method Acting, a performer creates a character and makes acting choices for that character based on their own life experiences. Method Acting techniques include substitution, animal work, and “as if.”
In substitution, you connect to a character by comparing elements in their life to elements in yours. For example, if you’re playing Hamlet but haven’t lost your father in real life, you could think back to a time in your life when you lost someone or something you loved, and remember what that felt like.
With “animal work,” actors study animals in a zoo, on a farm, or in nature, then mimic their movements and behaviors. This way, they learn to move in new ways and can draw on what they’ve learned to capture the physicality of a character.
There’s also the “as if” technique, in which you act as if you’re already the character you’re portraying, and the sense memory technique, in which you recall physical sensations to help you connect to a certain emotion or experience.
To list all the Method Acting techniques would take too long, but there’s plenty of acting courses that will teach you how to use the method to get into character.
Looking for More? Try This: What is Method Acting?
The Meisner Acting Technique
Founded by American actor Sanford Meisner, the Meisner acting technique focuses on being in the moment, acting instinctively, and responding truthfully to your acting partner.
Meisner believed that actors should live in the present moment, not recall past emotions that might take them out of the scene. To create honest acting, he encouraged actors to be fully present and closely observe their scene partner. This way, actors build off of each other. He also taught that every acting choice needs to be provoked, which means improvising as needed so that everything you do comes off as a realistic reaction.
Another key element of Meisner’s technique is repetition. By repeating lines and scenes, you learn to rely on your instincts as an actor, which makes for more authentic performances. You also get more comfortable in a scene and learn to trust your intuition.
At the end of the day, you could sum up the Meisner technique as acting from your instincts and relying on your partner to build an authentic scene together. Actors trained in the Meisner technique include Diane Keaton, Jeff Goldblum, and Stephen Colbert.
When you hear the term “Chekhov acting,” you might think of Anton Chekhov, but Chekhov acting is actually named after Michael Chekhov, a Russian-American actor who was a student of Stanislavski.
Chekhov saw the actor as a being with both a body and a psyche, and the ideal actor as someone who seamlessly combines the two. His technique aims to express a character’s internal psyche through outward movements.
Chekhov acting doesn’t pressure the actors to become their character like Method Acting. Instead of relying on personal experience and affective memory, Chekhov encouraged his students to use their imaginations to create believable characters.
Ingrid Bergman, Clint Eastwood, and Marilyn Monroe are famous examples of Chekhov actors.
The Alexander Technique
The Alexander technique is a method for releasing tension and improving posture. Essentially, it helps pinpoint habits and movements that cause you tension or pain so you can learn to move in a more efficient way. Many people use it to get rid of things like back pain or carpal tunnel.
But it can also be useful for actors. The Alexander technique leads to greater balance, freedom of movement, and coordination, all of which are helpful skills for actors and performers to have. Rather than a simple series of exercises, it’s often described as “a reeducation of the mind and body.”
Which Acting Technique Is Right For You?
In the end, there’s no be-all, end-all acting technique. In fact, most actors use a combination of the above techniques and others.
To paraphrase Stanislavski, the technique isn’t what’s important. What is important is figuring out which exercises and techniques help you become the best actor possible.
So if you need to loosen up, you might benefit from the Alexander technique. If you want more spontaneity in your performance, you might try the Meisner technique. Classical acting can be helpful too, especially if you’re working with classic source material or a part that requires heavy precision and control.
Of course, if you’re struggling to connect with your character, Method Acting can be a great tool. Just don’t carry it too far. (A.K.A. please don’t skip baths.)