What Actors Get Wrong About Technique

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Considering the importance of techniques in the life of an actor, there is still so much that is mysterious about these things. If you ever find yourself confused about the fact and fiction of technique, you’re not alone—just ask these Backstage Experts.

Be wary of teachers’ technique commitment.
“Acting teachers are often guilty of desperately clinging to the validity of the technique they teach. When you stake your honor and your mortgage payments on one technique, you're probably not going to be super objective about it. You may even talk smack about another technique in order to build yours up. But make no mistake. There is no one correct way to act. No technique can guarantee that you'll book work or be a brilliant actor. If a teacher tells you that her or his way is the only way, walk away lickety-split.

“You should probably check out any and all methods and approaches and discover which one resonates with you. More than likely you'll take little bits of goodness from a number of different techniques. Learn them all, take what you like, and leave the rest.” —Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun, co-owners of the BGB Studio and Backstage Experts

You probably practice Stanislavsky—even if you don’t know it.
“Although we pick and choose among the specifics, most of us are working in the same basic ‘Stanislavskian’ milieu.

“Constantin Stanislavsky was a Russian actor and director whose innovations in acting technique had major repercussions on the theater world. Developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Stanislavky’s ‘system’ advocated naturalistic behavior and believable emotions—a stark contrast to the melodrama and musical theater styles of the era. A product of its time, the ‘system’ gained prominence alongside modern psychology and, not coincidentally, as gas and electric lighting in theaters began making performers’ faces more visible to audiences.” —Jackie Apodaca, associate professor and head of performance at Southern Oregon University

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Techniques work if you want them to.
“I realize actors have been sold on certain techniques that they swear by for success. And the truth is they work...they all work.

“But acting techniques are like diets and methods to quit smoking. If applied and practiced, you will reach your goal. But you’re reaching that goal because you want to reach it, not because any one technique is better or more effective than another.

“There isn’t a wrong way of how to be or become. Every way you are is right in that moment, in your craft, in life. How you get to any one place, thought, or emotion is insignificant; getting there is the goal. You are already great at being human. You are flawed but perfect, ignorant but learning, dying but living. You are all these things without thinking of how to be or become them, so the secret is to move subconsciously in your craft and characters.” —Dorian Santiago, filmmaker, director, acting coach, and Backstage Expert

Trust the process to ground your technique.
“Process makes the concept of technique so much more palpable. The whole point of process is to get to the result and then repeat it, to be an artist with craft. Your values become intrinsic, not standardized. Great acting is a balance of precision and vulnerability. You must hold out a promise of being yourself without apology.” —Deena Levy, founder of Deena Levy Theatre Studio

Practice is the one technique that’s non-negotiable.
“Though I have studied various techniques, such as Meisner, I wouldn't say that I have a particular method that I learned and practice, but I do believe in the old saying ‘Acting is reacting.’ If your scene involves a partner or a group, you really have to respond to those people in the moment. If you're alone, you're reacting to the circumstances around you. In any scene, you use your imagination in order to believe and react to your character's situation. I really do feel that it comes down to being honest and listening; that's my own method. I'm a big fan of cold readings. That's when I can really live in the moment, going from sentence to sentence, word to word.

“Each actor's approach to the work is really specific and subjective. Some actors may attend different types of classes and eventually find the technique they will use for years, which is great, but I personally don't think that classes will work for everybody. For every actor, however, practice is always essential. What's great is that one can gain practice by acting in something smaller, like a student film or play, for example. And even though I'm not a fan of certain techniques, I would definitely take a workshop to play, practice, and gain another perspective.” —Alexandra Ackerman, New York-based actor

Technique is the outline you get to fill in.
“Think of acting technique or conservatory training as a scaffolding or blueprint that is necessary for learning how to create characters and to start the journey of living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. Rather than clinging to that scaffolding for dear life during a scene, audition, or performance, the final step is kicking it away when you’re finished with it. The process unveils the difference between acting which smells of technique and the kind that does not. Masterful acting never seems safe or planned. Instead it oozes an organic quality and a sense of danger. This is in part because the scaffolding is gone.” —Joseph Pearlman, on-set acting coach and Backstage Expert

Find out how you can choose the right acting technique!

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the senior staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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