Where the Gurus of Method Acting Part
Published: Monday, May 4, 1987
To the Editor:
In an article on the ubiquity of Method acting in America (April 14), you fail to distinguish between the approach of Lee Strasberg and the actual teachings and writings of Konstantin Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky's ideas were much broader than those of Strasberg, who centered the teaching at the Actors' Studio on emotion memory, a relatively minor aspect of Stanislavsky's theories.
American acting teachers and theorists of the last few decades have faulted Strasberg's approach for its excessive introspection, its Cartesian mind-body polarity, its antiliterary bias. Our Method actors tend to be better on film than on stage; in psychological realism than in classical drama; in hysterically emotional roles than in comedy (in a country with a rich comic tradition!); in promoting themselves rather than in becoming the character or serving the play as a whole. As Robert Brustein observed, the Method feeds a personality-oriented, commercial theater, rather than an artistic one.
Stanislavsky stressed many things that Strasberg and his disciples barely touch on, such as character development and an affective physicality. Stanislavsky set up studios to explore new styles and was continuously revising his methods, while Strasberg taught in pretty much the same manner for 50 years. Stanislavsky's Method of physical action is an integrated mind-and-body approach, while Strasberg and his followers treat the actor as a ghost in a machine - lonely, self-conscious, alienated from fellow actors and the world of the play. RICHARD HORNBY Theater Critic, The Hudson Review New York, April 14, 1987
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