Acting Methods, Part 3: Hagen and Chekhov

Most American actors use methods pioneered by Konstantin Stanislavsky (see “Acting Methods, Part 1,” 9/12/13). At the same time that his work was being interpreted by teachers such as Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Sanford Meisner (see “Acting Methods, Part 2,” 9/19/13), Uta Hagen and Michael Chekhov were putting their own spin on the basics.

Acclaimed actor Hagen pushed her students to “become” the character—as opposed to pretending to be the part. While she encouraged deep study of the text, she also suggested creating a hybrid of the facts of the play and the facts of the actor’s life to motivate truthful behavior. In her early career she advocated the use of “substitution”: a technique in which one replaces fictional events from the script with personal events from one’s life to create an authentic reaction. Hagen later finessed the approach and renamed it “transference.”

Michael Chekhov was a student of Stanislavsky’s; his teaching focused on opening the subconscious through external, physical practice. As opposed to “substituting” one’s own father for the father in a scene, or using “affective memory” to personalize the relationship, he advocated creating a fictional father through the use of “archetype” and imagination. He developed the “Psychological Gesture”—a rehearsed confluence of the character’s thoughts, feelings, and desires into a single expressive, physical gesture—to align the senses quickly and with great potency.

Which method is the best? Where should you study? Next week we’ll investigate acting training today and look at a few of the teachers continuing to define this complex craft.

Jackie Apodaca is an associate professor and the head of performance at Southern Oregon University.