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Monday, October 28, 2013

Notes on directing for the stage

Very few people are capable of being a good director. Very few! Students may eventually become very good actors but effective directors are few and far between. No matter how intelligent, clever or well educated, you need to be a certain personality type to be able to direct effectively. If a student has a talent for directing, that ability can be developed over time and become stronger. A student without inherent directing talent will unfortunately never become good at it and will end up leaving the actors with little guidance and no clear direction, causing uncertainty and stress.

So … if this is not your strong point, focus on the things that are and enjoy doing those! I can’t do maths or fix a car or write a computer program to save my life … and it doesn’t bother me … I stick to what I can do and leave those tasks to others!

There is so much to be said about directing a stage production! One can never really give enough guidance to the student actor / director and can only hope that the general guidelines will be further explored in such a way that the student can find his or her own style that works. Through years and years of being involved in theatre, I’ve learned how things should be done in order for a rehearsal process to run as smoothly as possible, without unnecessary waste of time and in order that the company can work for the best possible end result.

As a director, you need to understand that human beings (all of us!) have been wired to get what we want, when we want it. The human being is essentially selfish, narcissistic and unconcerned about other people’s troubles! Not a pretty picture, but there you have it! Acting students, especially, will manipulate, use blackmail (emotional or otherwise), employ the blame game – will in fact do anything and everything in order for things to work out the way we want them to. We wish to be part of the project in order to be in the limelight … but on our own terms. If we don’t get what we want then anger, negativity, gossip, bad vibes, talking behind the director’s back in order to get others on the band wagon and gain leverage, tantrums, playing on your feelings with a sad little face and a small little voice, etc., will all be employed to shift your requirements to suit the individual. If you allow this to change your path you will be in hell for the entire rehearsal process, so don’t! Ignore these attempts and, if it starts affecting the project, get rid of the guilty company member soonest … if possible without having to cancel the show. If most of the company members are doing this, cancel the whole thing before having to pay lots of money and wasting your time for nothing!


First of all, the rehearsal process has to be handled correctly. If this is not done, problems and difficulties will occur as a result.
1.       A definite, written rehearsal schedule needs to be provided to all company members - preferably for the entire rehearsal period. If the schedule needs to be worked out monthly for valid reasons, it has to be given to the company at least a week before it comes into play. This schedule will never be changed. Company members need to adjust their lives to fit in with rehearsals. Rehearsals are not to be adjusted to fit in with individual company members’ lives. In order for this to occur, company members need to know when rehearsals will take place in order to organise their lives around the schedule.

2.     Actors need to understand that, even though dates on which they are not available (due to work responsibilities or university tests and exams only – no social activities!) have been requested, they are not entitled to get that time off. It is not their right – it is a generous privilege to be granted if at all possible. Nobody will ever ask an actor whether or not it suits them to work on a certain day in the professional industry. You’re either there or you’re out.

3.       If the above is not done, the entire process will become problematic. Confusion, looseness of form and lack of structure and control will result. Informing company members when they are to be available on a week by week or rehearsal by rehearsal basis results in chaos. They will complain that they’ve already arranged this or that for that day and cannot change it. They will expect the arrangements to be adapted to suit them, causing more work for whoever is in charge of the schedule. If they have to change their other plans they will become annoyed and negative. This is unfair and unworkable. Chaos!!

4.     Since acting is an ensemble art form, working with only one person in a scene that requires four actors or working with some of the actors in a scene - but not all - is a pointless exercise in futility. This is never even to be contemplated. Actors need to rehearse with those they play the scene with – not with a stand-in or a stage manager reading the lines. They have to hit the ball back and forth with the actor playing opposite them and nobody else. Don’t even consider rehearsing a scene without everybody there! If you want to work on certain performance issues with an individual actor, this rule does not apply.

5.     Exercises to overcome speech patterns (staccato or sing-song, meaningless delivery) are done with the entire group in a specific scene. It would be pointless to work with one or some of the people in a scene. Everyone involved must be there. Focusing on daily activities and sense memory work should help the actor to get rid of speech patterns also, but then it needs to be done with focus, awareness and attention and beginner actors may find this difficult.

6.    Blocking and daily activities that are worked out with some scene partners absent has to be repeated, wasting everybody’s time and energy and causing negativity. In order for integration to take place everyone needs to be there!  In order for the final product to be successful, analysis, performance and work choices, characterization, etc. need to be worked on with all actors in the scene present. A loose, out-of-control rehearsal schedule as discussed above will make this difficult if not impossible to attain.


7.     Method actors are never without daily activities – never! Actors cannot stand around doing nothing, staring into space. This causes tension, lack of focus, speech patterns, indicating and bad work. Activities that are boring, unmotivated and repetitive are pointless though. Directors are to assist actors to think as the character to find several possible motivated and logical activities that will assist in the performance being real and believable and are things the character would logically do. Activities must add to the characterization. Beware of actors running around the stage like chickens with their heads cut off though. Motivate and justify activities.


8.     Your main concern once the blocking and daily activities have been set is acting. This is an acting school so we need to see real, believable acting. In order for that to happen the performances need attention and devotion. Directors need to assist actors (especially the beginners) to find the right work choices. You stop each time an actor needs to fly in new work for an emotional shift or new beat. The actor needs to stop and say they need time to bring in new work. The others continue working on their Method while the actor does relaxation and sense memory for the new work. When s/he is ready (and only then), the cast continues with the scene. This is the only way. If this is not done during rehearsal actors will simply indicate. This is a breeding ground for speech patterns and bad acting.

9.    In order for this work to be done enough rehearsal time needs to be allowed when working on a scene. Jumping from scene to scene quickly in order to get the technical aspects right is not enough. At least two hours need to be allowed for each scene in order to work on performance if it is a short scene and more time must be scheduled for a long scene. This work on acting dare not be left to the last few rehearsals! It is of paramount importance and enough time should be spent on it. By the time the show is performed for an audience the actors must be so comfortable with doing the sense memory work that it almost comes automatically and that they can get and keep the work easily, no matter what might go wrong on stage. This demands doing it over and over and over again.

10.   Light and shade and speaking like a real human being, as well as getting the actor to think about what s/he’s saying and why s/he’s saying it, is essential. Actors need to listen and speak to each other, responding in the moment and hitting the ball back and forth. Actors also need to know who the character is. In order for this to occur, specific character choices need to be made based on the text, with the help of the director. They need to play the intent! It is the director’s job to make sure that this performance work is done and that there is enough time spent on doing it, with the director’s input and guidance and assistance.


11.  The director needs to have a vision – ideas about what s/he would like the end-result to be – and needs to work towards attaining that vision. The vision might change over time, but there must be one! In order to achieve that vision the director must have a plan. You need to know what you want to work on before you go into a rehearsal and you must be flexible, think on your feet to find solutions and have plans how to achieve the results you wish to set in place. You cannot leave your actors rudderless by walking into a rehearsal not knowing exactly what you are going to do / what you wish to achieve during the time scheduled / how you are going to work towards achieving it. You cannot expect of the actors to come up with the solutions to blocking / daily activities / acting problems because you are not providing leadership and you don’t really know what you want or how to get there. The actors cannot direct themselves. Listen to their ideas and implement their solutions if these can work, but the ultimate responsibility is yours. You need to be in charge of and lead the process.
12.  In order for you to be capable of the above, you need to be a creative thinker and problem solver as well as a strong personality. You also need to be capable of seeing / hearing when an actor doesn’t understand or “get” the character, doesn’t have work, has the wrong work, is not thinking as the character, is not in the zone, has a speech pattern. You then have to be capable of working with that individual to understand who the character is, find the right work, get the work, think as the character, get in the zone and lose the speech pattern. This is your responsibility and you have to actively do this job. This means you need to be involved while planning each rehearsal and every moment during a rehearsal – thinking, judging, creating, finding solutions, working on problems until they are solved - actively working with actors by talking them through challenges, etc.

13.  The fact that few directors in this industry work this way doesn’t mean that you should follow their example. Looking at the results they achieve when it comes to performance means that they are not doing what they ought to do. Working with good professional actors will make the process easier than working with inexperienced student actors who still need to learn, but your job remains the same.

Written by Stephanie van Niekerk, Director, Method Actors' Training Centre

28 October 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Method Fetishes

                                                         1.     Introduction
Debby Dewes - 4th Year Project
According to Robert Lewis, author of Method or Madness, there are many misconceptions and ‘fetishes’ about Method acting. Some of these come from people’s own views based on little to no study of the technique, while others come from misunderstandings or misinterpretations by ‘young’ (unthinking, inexperienced) actors, while still others come from actors placing too little or too much importance on certain aspects of the Method (Van Niekerk: Solutions to Problems...Part #1). Whatever the case, fetishes are a reality and it is important for Method actors to avoid falling into these traps.

            2.     Method Fetishes

2.1. Method as the only answer
Many people believe that the Method is the be all and end all of acting techniques, and that the only good actors are Method actors. However, this is not true. As Lewis states: “...I know of great actors who are completely unaware of it...” (Lewis, 1957:4). The problem with this belief is that actors then tend to close themselves off from other potentially beneficial creative processes. This is in contradiction to what Lewis teaches when he says: “We must also study all new techniques, thus constantly expanding our understanding of fundamental beliefs.” (1957:74) The reality is that there are many techniques for achieving realistic and truthful acting out there, and although the Method works, it is important to remember that it is just that, a method, a technique to get the job done and should not be adhered to so religiously that it stumps creativity and exploration. Stephanie van Niekerk references Lee Strasberg:
 [The Method] is not a ‘paint-by-numbers technique to be sheepishly followed by those who are without talent, creativity and acting ability. Creating the character, telling the story, playing not only the scene but also the intent (of the character and the dramatist/script writer) is the actor’s job and can certainly be done without using Method acting. (Van Niekerk: Idiot Winds)

Another problem with this belief is that actors who fall into this fetish, may begin to see themselves as superior to other actors and may behave as such to others, or even stop attempting to work as hard because they think the Method will carry them through. No one likes a know-it-all or worse, a lazy know-it-all and that means that actors with this attitude may soon find themselves without work.

2.2. Method as a curse
The flip-side to the above fetish is that many people (usually non-Method people) see the Method as a curse to the theatre. This fetish stems from various ideas. Firstly, people may believe that the Method ruins theatre because the actors’ focus is inward, rather than on creating a character or playing a scene. I will elaborate on this idea later. Another idea is that the Method is limiting; that it can only be used for certain types of roles but is meaningless for others. The biggest argument for this comes in the form of ‘stylised theatre’ – that is to say works like Shakespeare, pantomimes, farces and so forth – where the acting ‘needs’ to be over-the-top. I say ‘needs’ because although acting in these kinds of plays does require a certain ‘largeness’, that does not negate real feeling, instead, “what the Method helps [actors] to do is to make what the character experiences real, believable, truthful and honest.” (Van Niekerk: Idiot Winds). Lewis states: “ not only for serious playing.” (1957:58) The reality is that the Method is an all-encompassing technique that addresses both emotional and physical aspects as well as working with (not against or without) basic technical theatre norms. It is a flawed notion that the Method hinders creativity and theatricality and is therefore useless in certain roles. Lewis states: “The work that you have done in preparation [for a role], the technique you have invested in your creation, should not be a preventive. If it is, it is worthless.” (1957:58) He also  writes: “...the purpose of a technique is to stimulate this creative process when you need you need it...” (1957:17) The point of using any technique is ‘to free the spirit’ (Lewis, 1957:20) and if it becomes a hindrance to performance (of any genre) then it should not be used. Stanislavsky himself said: “If the System doesn’t help you, forget it.” (Lewis, 1957:54) Then why bother using any kind of technique at all? The problem comes in, rather, with the actor’s inability to apply the techniques properly, than the method or technique being flawed. If we look more carefully at the above quote from Stanislavsky: “If the System doesn’t help you, forget it...But perhaps you do not use it properly.” (Lewis, 1957:54, own emphasis).

Finally, there is potentially a fear that the Method cannot work in a fast-paced environment and is therefore a curse to the actor in a television series or such. I remember that when I started using the Method, I couldn’t see how it would be at all possible to prepare for an hour in order to get ‘work’ in the film or television industry. But the reality is that the longer you work on the Method and the more you understand how it works, the less time you need for your body to respond to your ‘work’. Actors who ask for motivations or spend hours in preparation and cannot think on their feet and change their Method work accordingly either have a flawed understanding of the Method, or have not spent enough time perfecting their responses and techniques. That, then, is not the Method’s fault, but rather the inexperienced actor’s, but this tendency brings the Method into further disrepute with those who do not know much about it.

2.3. Method equals mumbling
One of the biggest complaints about Method actors is that they mumble. This, however, is not what the Method teaches. Stanislavsky himself focused a lot on voice placement and projection (Lewis, 1957:4-5) as Lewis writes: “Stanislavsky...did not...decide to formulate a system for mumbling...” (Lewis, 1957:5). In fact, he makes it very clear that voice placement is critical to a good performance: “ should be able to place your voice where you want it for purposes of character.” (Lewis, 1957:43).  The fact is that there are many non-Method actors who mumble and many Method actors who don’t. So why, then, does the Method illicit this belief? Lewis relates this inability by some actors to articulate properly to the ‘fetish some people make of emotion’ (1957:67). He writes that there are two types of people with a fetish about voice and emotion:
...people who think a beautiful voice or good diction cannot be achieved if disturbed by real feeling and, conversely, those who think real feeling cannot arise if it is disturbed by considerations of voice, diction, or other problems of physical characterization. (1957:67)
This is to say that some actors incorrectly believe that when they are expressing true emotion, they cannot (are incapable of) speak with clear diction, pronunciation and adequate stage volume. This is a complete myth. If they are truly incapable of doing so, it means they have no control over their body and are swept away by their emotional response. However, we all know that we are perfectly capable of controlling our bodies and emotions in equal measure – we do it all the time in real life. It simply means that the actor is too lazy to bother implementing theatrical necessities – and by that I mean too lazy to concentrate on what needs to be done – to fulfill a role completely. And a role is never complete if an audience cannot hear what is being said. Talking properly does not automatically cause ‘indicating’ and it certainly does not negatively influence emotional expression. So actors – regardless of whether they are Method or not – need to be able to hone in their concentration and willpower and embrace all their training and techniques to perform properly. There is no excuse for mumbling. And it certainly isn’t Method.

2.4. Method as secretive
The reason why this fetish exists is because there are many people who do not understand what the Method is. It also relates to those actors that I’ve previously mentioned who believe that the Method is the be all and end all of acting. Some people follow the Method as though it were a religion; or a special cult for the ‘above-average actor’. Lewis refers to them as the ‘True Believers (1957:6) and describes them as: “...the insular ones. They feel part of a holy order, and all outsiders are infidels.” (1957:6) They are the ones who religiously put into practice all that Stanislavsky teaches, right down to only ever using the ‘correct’ terminology (which I will address in more detail later), but can often fail in actually creating ‘art’. As Lewis writes: “Dogma may be all right in some quarters, but it doesn’t agree very well with artist’s study goes into his being and then comes out some way, unconsciously, in his work.” (1957:8). The strict, dogmatic adherence to technique, then, makes the Method foreign and strange to those on the outside.

There is truth in the fact that many Method actors prepare for their work in private, and the techniques used in the Method are mostly internal (such as affective memory) which does lend itself to a kind of ‘secretiveness’. But the Method is not some mystical magic trick to make actors act, and if people were more open to learning about what Method actors do for preparation, they would find that many actors are willing to share information and talk about what they are doing. Unfortunately the combination of ‘strict adherers’ and ‘false prophets’ (those who claim to know the Method, but don’t) aid in perpetuating this idea of secrecy.

2.5. Method as ‘un-theatrical’
I have already touched on this fetish under previous headings, but it is important to note that this fetish is one of the biggest reasons for criticism of the Method. People believe that Method actors cannot be theatrical due to their Method training. That these actors are so focused on real emotion that they cannot deliver free expression, move around a stage without being given reasons or play any roles that are ‘larger than life’. This is false as Stanislavsky himself made the physicality of a role as important as the inner life of the character. The easiest way to explain how the Method can be used for ‘big’ roles is that the Method actor would do all the physical requirements – the loud voice, and all the necessary ‘theatre’ acting – but then once he or she has completed that, they will find Method work to add over the stylization that will make the character real and believable even though they are big and theatrical. To illustrate this point, Lewis tells the story the actor Jacob Ben- Ami. He compares his performance of a scene in The Living Corpse to the same scene acted out by Alexander Moissi (a non-Method actor). He states near the end of the story:
The effect that Moissi made was stunningly ‘theatrical’. It was a real physical thrill....The effect that Ben-Ami made with different means was, I maintain, theatrical too. But it was not only physically exciting; there was an internal thrill to it as well. (1957:12)
The reason for this difference was because Ben-Ami managed to make the audience live inside the head of the character; to feel tremendous empathy and terror for the character. That is not to say that Moissi did not do a good performance, it was simply that there was a slightly bigger gap between reality and the audience’s suspension of disbelief. This gap was overcome in Ben-Ami’s performance due to his at once completely theatrical approach, and his additional Method work.Therefore, Method actors simply use the Method to add another, beneficial, element or layer to the character. Stanislavsky emphasises the importance of movement and technical training, and those actors who disregard these elements needed for the art are not, then, Method actors, but falsely claiming to be followers of a system they do not use correctly or understand.

2.6. Method as ‘easy’
This fetish comes from that small group of people who think that attending a short course or a few academic lectures on the Method makes them experts. They then go out into the field and either claim to be Method actors or open schools and call themselves Method teachers/coaches. Lewis warns about this in his second lecture where he states: 
I don’t want anyone hearing these talks to go out and say they studied the Method with Bobby Lewis. And what’s worse, then go and open a school! That sort of thing has been done, you know (1957:24)
He goes on to describe actor training, and specifically Method training, as working on the same principle as dance lessons. It’s all good and well to know the theory of how to dance, but without constant, dedicated practice, you will never be a dancer (1957:24-25). While there are some aspects of the art of acting that can be learned simply by attending theoretical lectures, the reality is that any acting course needs to be practical. Regardless of the technique an actor uses, they need to have actually studied it practically as well as theoretically in order to be able to use it – acting is action, and action is practical. The Method is the same as any other acting technique, it needs to be practiced. But unlike a lot of other techniques out there, it takes time to master. The technique of using technical ways of moving, i.e. covering your eyes to show that you’re crying, holding your stomach while you laugh, etc. will take a very short time to master. But the Method takes years to understand and perfect. Therefore, the Method is not ‘easy’. It takes lots of hard work, time and effort to perfect. A few classes here and there or a sense memory exercise once in a while does not adequately equip you in being able to use the Method. And the notion that it does causes many problems for actors and is one of the greatest reasons for the Method having a bad name.

2.7 Method as purely psychological/emotive
 While most of the fetishes discussed so far have been with regard to misinformation or people outside of Method circles, this one pertains to strict Method followers. These actors have often studied the Method – possibly even for years – and believe in Stanislavsky’s technique. However, they have missed out on something vital – the fact that acting is doing, not feeling. Part of the reason why this might be the case is because there is a lot of emphasis placed on the psychological and emotional responses and make-up of a character. And most of the training in Method – such as with sense memory (affective memory, personal objects, substitutions) – is related to the internal life of the actor, and hence, character. The reason why there is so much emphasis placed on training your instrument to respond to sense memory and creating an inner life is firstly, because it takes a lot of time and practice for your body to learn how to do this (Van Staden: A 4th Year Student...) Let’s face it, most of us don’t need much training in how to walk across a stage – our bodies are used to walking. But our bodies are not used to responding to things that aren’t there. They’re not used to the concentration and dedication needed to perform Method tasks. So more training in this area is required. Secondly, in order to create a real and believable character, any actor – regardless of whether or not they are Method – needs to have a basic understanding of the psychology and inner workings and motivations of that character. If the character is crying, the actor needs to determine why this is the case, based on external and internal aspects. The Method aids an actor to build this psychological background and form the needed emotional response and realism.

But, and this is a big ‘but’, that is not the only thing the Method teaches. Actors who wholeheartedly embrace the Method as a good technique to use, but fail to see it as anything other than psychological or emotive have, in essence, failed to understand the Method and Stanislavsky’s teachings. In Method or Madness, Lewis provides a handwritten table by Stanislavsky himself which sets out all the necessary requirements of the Method with regard to fully creating a character. One half of the table deals with creating the inner life of a character (circumstances, beats, sentiments etc). It is interesting to note that already ‘emotion’ only forms a small part of the complete inner process. The other half – that is 50% -- deals with a character’s external creation. That means the physical characteristics and movements, voice placement, actor relaxation and so forth. 50% of character creation deals with things like blocking, learning lines and physical activities – looking up, looking down, walking away from another character, holding hands, whatever. The point is that movement – action – is emphasized in equal measure. Not only is it important for the actor to develop the external for a character, but Stanislavsky also notes the importance of general focus on physicality such as dancing, playing sports and so on in order to develop the actor; the person who needs to be able to play any number of characters. There might be techniques out there that focus purely on the physical, while others focus solely on the internal, but the Method is not one of those techniques. Equal importance is placed on purely technical and action requirements as well as psychology and emotion. It is unfortunate that promoters of the Method fail to follow the teachings they believe in. If the originator himself did not negate action, then why should his followers?

2.8. Method terminology
This is another fetish that Method adherers love to punt – the sacredness of terminology (Lewis, 1957:79). Lewis states that even Stanislavsky, who made the terminology, sometimes forewent the term in order to create clarity, or simply because he found another way of expressing his ideas. As Lewis says: “I was glad to see that the Master could use improper terminology too – or was it simply that he was not making a fetish of his own system!” (1957:71). Focusing so much on ensuring correct use of words, could possibly lead to ‘outsiders’ seeing Method actors as pretentious. It also takes away from what the actor is required to do, or covers up the fact that they are not actually doing Method work: “They learned the terms, and then they used the terminology to cover their own perceptions which were at times creative, but mostly merely theatrical.” (Lewis, 1957:71) Yes, we all know that you have to act the intent of a character, but if you accidentally use another word instead of ‘intent’, it’s not the end of the world. As Lewis states: ‘I myself don’t care if you call it spinach, if you know what it is, and do it, because it is one of the most important elements in acting.” (1957:29). The reality is that words are just words, and if one person attaches the same meaning to a different word to what the correct term is supposed to be, then they might as well use their word instead because it will deliver the correct response or end result. Method terminology is complex and important in aiding understanding of concepts within the techniques and training, but it is dangerous to focus on the terms so much that at the end of the day you miss out on what they are there for – to help you to act.

2.9. Method as too analytical (actors can’t play the scene)
I’ve already spoken at length about the fact that analyzing the psychology of a character, as well as the play as a whole, is important. Analysis is crucial in acting. An actor needs to analyze their character – their motivations, their relationships with other characters – they need to analyze the words, the subtext of a script. They need to, in other words, understand the script. But this is true for all actors, not just Method actors. The problem comes in when actors focus so much on their character’s internal responses and executing their beats correctly and ensuring that they do their Method work that they fail to play the scene. Lewis states that this ‘wrong emphasis on certain aspects, at the expense of others’ can lead to actors lacking any sense of rhythm or movement, and finding it difficult to play ‘small scenes’ as they are too involved with the ‘crescendos’ (1957:77-78) Another problem is when the actor ‘over-analyses’, that is to say he or she goes outside of the realms set within the play in order to make sense of the play. Lewis refers to this as follows: “I feel that often not enough trust is put in the play...A good play will also play a great deal of itself by itself if you will let it.” (1957:75) I remember in my first year of studies, that I struggled to ‘play the scene’ and communicate effectively with my fellow actors on the stage. There were so many things to concentrate on, that my focus was constantly drawn to these things, or within myself, that I failed to do simple things like make eye contact. My focus (and internal analysis) on technique and my own acting, plus my ‘over-analyzing’ of a character and the play – instead of just using the play as guidance enough – caused me to, at times, fail the play. This, however, stopped once I was more comfortable with what I was doing Method-wise. Therefore, this fetish exists because of, once again, the inexperienced actor claiming to be able to do things that they can’t actually do.

2.10. Method as ‘self-indulgent’
This fetish comes from the belief that the Method is only focused inward. That is to say that people who know nothing about the Method and the way it works, or those who apply it incorrectly, believe that the Method is all about the actor. How the actor feels, how the actor responds to things, how the actor can mould the character in his or her image. There are many egocentric exhibitionists and narcissistic people in this industry –some of them may be Method ‘practitioners’, but definitely not all. A technique for acting cannot be blamed for any individuals’ self-obsession or delusions of grandeur – that is all the individual’s doing. This fetish probably stems from the other fetish of actors focusing solely on the psychological aspects of Method, but instead of applying it to fit the character, they use it for self-exploration and expression.

There is nothing wrong with self-exploration and self-expression; in fact, it is always good to have a healthy and whole image of yourself as it will make you a better actor. And the desire to express is what leads creative individuals into art forms in the first place. Van Niekerk deals extensively with the idea that Method training can be used as therapy (Van Niekerk: Method Acting as Therapy) because through the process of learning the Method, actors learn to know themselves. This is due to exercises possibly highlighting past memories, self-perceptions and so forth that might need to be dealt with, but that the actor was perhaps previously unaware of.

I would like to digress here briefly to discuss another fetish which is bred from this process – that the Method can drive people crazy (Van Niekerk: Idiot Winds) or that it is dangerous and possibly even damaging to individuals because serious matters are dealt with in an unprofessional or incorrect manner. Now this may be true for ‘Method’ teachers who actually don’t know anything about how the Method should be applied and who may force information out of their students, for instance. Method training, when done correctly, may bring to light an issue for an actor, but that issue should never be discussed or probed into by their coach. Instead, and especially if it is traumatic, the actor is told to see someone who can help them – like a trained psychologist. People who have had negative experiences with Method training in this regard, have either had bad, unprofessional or ill-equipped teachers, or they might simply be too scared to find out what lies inside their psyche and this fear prevents them from having a positive learning experience. As Van Niekerk writes: “Those who are too terrified of what they might find if they become quiet and connected and therefore get to know themselves, usually leave the course quickly.” (Van Niekerk: Method Acting as Therapy)

Now, back to the topic at hand: we have established that inward focus plays an important part in acting training and character preparation, but when you are playing or preparing for a role, it is not the time to psycho-analyze yourself, or to put yourself centre stage. It is about the character, the script, the story. You, as a person, are insignificant. It is not about you because you are simply the vessel through which the story comes to life. You don’t see a guitar stop a show and tell the audience, ‘Look at me, I’m a guitar, I’m the reason you’re hearing amazing music because I’m fantastic’, so why should the actor, who also happens to be the instrument involved in acting, call attention to themselves in a role? The Method, when studied and practised correctly, does not promote this kind of self-indulgence. Everything you do as the actor is in order to tell the story, and to create a completely different person or character that fits the story. Any Method actor, or any other, worth their salt knows that the point of acting is to tell the story. And the Method is there to aid that process. Yes, the actor uses memories, emotional responses, people and so forth from their past, yes, there is great emphasis placed on the psychology and physical development of the actor, yes, there is time spent on inner focus in the Method, but all that inner work is only ever applied to aid the scene, to help the actor become the character, not the other way around. People who (ab)use the Method for self-glorification, clearly miss the point of what acting is all about and what Stanislavsky desired to achieve through the techniques he developed.

2.11. Method improvisation
Method teaches improvisation in order to develop communication, quick decision making, scene development etc. in its actors as well as to improvise given scenes with the actor’s own words, and this is where the fetish comes in that Method improvisation takes away from what the author originally intended for their script. Sometimes, in order to get into the behaviour of a character, a Method actor (or director) may do the scene they have learnt, but in their own words. That means that they ‘forget’ the script for a moment and simply focus on playing the scene. This technique can be used if actors are struggling to find a motivation for their actions, or to find new actions, or if the actors on the stage struggle to communicate effectively, have a lack of chemistry and so on. The point of the improvisation is two-fold. Firstly to fix whatever the problem might be by focusing specifically on that aspect without the stress of being word-bound, and secondly, to focus on maintaining the action of the scene. That is to say that, although the words might not be the same as the script, the intents and purpose of the scene remain the same. Once the problem is solved, the actors need to do the scene again immediately with the scripted lines in order to remember the solutions decided on and then be able to apply those to the actual script, using the given words. Lewis states: “I believe it should be used sparingly and only for certain definite get real value from an improvisation because you are working for a solution to a particular problem.” (1957:80-81).  He says this because it is easy for actors to use improvisation as a way of ‘doing-their-own-thing’, instead of using the technique for the specific purpose it was designed for, which is to solve acting problems in order to play the script. Lewis refers to this as follows: “There is, in my view, the danger that, instead of achieving a sense of ‘freedom,’ improvisation can lead to a looseness of form. It can lead to playing ‘yourself’ at the expense of the character...” (1957:79) Actors are not meant to ‘do their own thing’, they are meant to play the scene, using the words and actions provided for them by the writer. And that is why people have problems with Method improvisation. However, if managed correctly, the technique can be very effective. And, once again, just because an actor feels led to improvise their lines, to let their emotions be freely expressed apart from the script, doesn’t mean that the Method teaches this kind of unprofessional behaviour. And it also doesn’t mean that only Method actors do this. There are many actors who have never studied Method, who will easily improvise their way through a scene because they think they can write it better that the author. It’s not just a Method problem, and it certainly is not encouraged by the Method to use improvisation unless it is used for a very specific reason.

2.10. Method characterization (animal exercises)
Stanislavsky developed animal exercises in order to aid actors to develop their physicality and provide ways of externally and visually creating a character. People with a fetish about the way Method actors go about their characterization, once again, clearly do not understand why animal exercises would be important. This, for me, is a very odd fetish to have, because all techniques to a lesser or greater degree emphasize the importance of the physical nature of a character. Once again, the reason for this fetish may be because the Method actor is going to an ‘outside source’ for inspiration instead of focusing solely on the script. Let’s say the script calls for a character who is very big and loud and aggressive. Now let’s say that the actor who needs to play this role doesn’t quite fit the part because they are a bit short and their demeanour is naturally more refined. What animal exercises allow the actor to do is reproduce movements that are representative of these outward characteristics while still being able to be believable, real and honest. They also provide ways to find less stereotypical movements that would still be correct in their final analysis – what is called playing the opposite of the obvious – the end result being what the script requires. If an actor cannot simply provide needed physicality by themselves, then why can’t they find external sources, outside of the information provided in the script, in order to be able to produce what the script asks for? And, once again, many non-Method actors use similar means of creating physicality.

The bigger issue, then, comes in when animal exercises are not used for a specific purpose, or in a purposeful and controlled environment. In essence, then, the people who have an issue with Method’s animal exercises, probably have these issues for the same reason that improvisation is frowned upon – there is no purpose and it takes away from the requirements of the script. As Lewis writes: 
I have seen people do [an animal] exercise for the purpose of simply stimulating the imagination of the actor generally and I think that is where all the funny stories come from. I agree that you can go too far in that sort of thing if you never apply the results practically. But if you have a specific objective in mind, or something that you are actually going to use in a part and you know how to incorporate it into acting, I think it is something that is as valuable as any other kind of characterization work. (1957:83)
As with all Method fetishes, it is clear that complete disregard of a technique should be questioned, but at the same time, incorrect application of the technique may be the reason for the misconception.

3.     Conclusion
As we can see, the biggest misunderstandings and fetishes about the Method can be categorized under one main heading: ‘Method actors don’t play the script’. And, let’s face it, if you don’t play the script you are not doing your job. But, as we’ve also established, actors who cannot be heard, who get swept away on their emotions, who put themselves before the character, who cannot think on their feet or who are unwilling to accept any other forms of acting and get so hung up on terminology or technique that they forget that acting is a creative art form, are either inexperienced, if not completely unqualified, and should not call themselves Method actors. And actors who use the Method for purposes other than to create a character and play the given script – like promoting their own ego –or who find the work emotionally and psychologically ‘damaging’- have not understood the purpose of the techniques taught, or have been taught them incorrectly by someone who is not qualified to teach Method. Fetishes are dangerous as they either limit the actor by creating under or over emphasis of certain aspects; or create negative stereotypes which prevent people from trying to learn the truth for themselves; or turn what should just be seen as a helpful guide and aid for creative acting into a cult-type religion with followers who worship the process and technique instead of simply creating the end product, which is the art. There are a lot of misconceptions out there and many unthinking, unrealistic, inexperienced ‘Method’ actors who perpetuate these false beliefs. It is, therefore, important to always ensure the work is applied correctly at all times and know what to do to fix incorrect working methods. It is only then that these fetishes will stop.

4. Bibliography
a.       Lewis, R. 1957. Method or Madness? New York.
b.      Van Niekerk, S. Solutions to Problems in Applying the Method Principles #1.
c.       Van Niekerk, S. Solutions to Problems in Applying the Method Principles #2.
d.      Van Niekerk, S. Method Acting as Therapy.
e.      Van Niekerk, S. Idiot Winds.
f.        Van Staden, P. A 4th Year Student Shares His Perspective On Applying Method Techniques During Performance.

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