Acting methods are techniques that help actors create the thoughts and emotions of characters, in an effort to develop lifelike performances. You’re going to hear a lot of jargon in LA referring to method acting... people comparing this ‘method’ or that ‘method’. Each method is a specific way people believe actors should prepare for, cultivate and deliver a performance (i.e. each method is a different style of actor training).
Following is a quick history (summarized from en.Wikipedia.org/ wiki/Method_acting) of the better-known methods dominating the acting world in the USA.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was this guy called Constantin Stanislavski who was a Russian theatre actor and director. His original technique was for actors to use their actual memories to relive and access emotion. In his later years, he explored other means of accessing emotion, like having an absolute belief in the given circumstances by using your imagination, and the implementation of a physical action (aka: ‘business’). San- ford Meisner summarized Stanislavski’s later beliefs by saying that an actor should live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
One of Stanislavski’s students Ryszard Boleslawski formed the American Laboratory theatre in 1925. Lee Strasburg (who studied under Boleslawski) went on to form the Group theatre (1931–1940), teaching Stanislavski’s methods to the members.
One of the members of the Group theatre, Stella Adler, left to study privately with Stanislavski in Paris and upon her return, informed the group that Stanislavsky’s methods had evolved. Other members of the Group theatre (including Sanford Meisner) supported the implementation of these new techniques but Lee Strasburg refused, and the Group theatre disbanded.
Stella Adler formed the Stella Adler School of Acting. Sanford Meisner incorporated Stanislavski’s new method acting techniques into his ‘Meisner’ technique at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York (the NY version of Robert Carnegie’s highly respected LA school Playhouse West), and briefly taught at the Actors Studio. Lee Strasberg went on to become the artistic director at e Actors Studio.
Two of the main acting methods you’ll hear about in LA are ‘Meisner’ and ‘Stanislavski’. These ironically both come from Constantin Stanislavski’s teachings. The method called ‘Stanislavski’ is based on his earlier teachings, and the method called ‘Meisner’ is Sanford Meisner’s interpretation of Stanislavski’s later teachings. Stella Adler’s teachings are based on similar principles to Meisner’s, but without a specific belief in any one method.