Acting Methods, Part 2: Stanislavsky’s Successors

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Most modern American actors practice Stanislavsky’s methods on some level, but how we translate his system differs depending on where and how we study. In early 1930s New York, several Group Theatre company members took his work in different directions, forming the basis of many of the techniques actors study to this day.

Lee Strasberg—father of “method acting” and co-founder of the Group—focused on improvisation and affective memory to mine authenticity from his students. Also known as “emotional recall,” affective memory is a technique used to summon actors’ personal memories to repurpose the emotions they produce into a scene.

Although he pioneered the practice, Stanislavsky moved away from affective memory in his later work, seeking more reliable and expressive forms. After personally studying with Stanislavsky, Group member Stella Adler denounced Strasberg’s work with emotional recall and began teaching a version of acting technique focused on given circumstances, imagination, voice, and body. She put herself in opposition to Strasberg and his work at the Actors Studio, setting up her own school in 1949.

Sanford Meisner, another Group member disenchanted with affective memory, began experimenting with his own techniques while teaching at the Neighborhood Playhouse and later, in the 1980s, at his studios. Meisner’s methods vary distinctively from Adler’s and Strasberg’s, focusing on specific exercises such as the well-known Repetition Exercise, aimed at getting the actor into the moment so he or she can respond truthfully.

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