5+ Essential Acting Techniques Actors Must Know

5+ Essential Acting Techniques Actors Must Know

Learning various acting skills takes a long time since an actor must be dedicated to the profession and open-minded to comprehending the many vital approaches in order to improve.

To truly improve as an actor and advance towards being the best possible actor, an actor must constantly learn and develop their style, as well as step outside of their comfort zone.

There is no one-size-fits-all acting approach or path that an actor must take to become a great actor. However, if you’re unsure which acting technique to use to begin refining your talents, it’s crucial to know the most common acting techniques that will help you improve your acting ability over time.

Throughout my filmmaking journey to become a better director, I’ve always strived to learn how to be a better actor so that I can connect more effectively with the actors on set and assist them deliver their greatest performances.

That’s why it was crucial for me to learn the most common acting techniques that many actors employ to immerse themselves in their characters and improve communication on set.

In this post, we’ll look at some of the most prominent acting techniques to help actors and filmmakers pick the best way for their future performing careers.

5+ Essential Acting Techniques Actors Must Know

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What Is the Stanislavski System, and How Does It Work? The Stanislavski system or method, according to Masterclass.com, is a theatrical and screen acting approach devised by Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. The approach strives to generate an emotionally expressive and authentic performance through preparation and rehearsal. 

Actors use this technique to absorb the inner life of their characters, including their goals and emotional states. 

Konstantin Stanislavski was a Russian theatre director and performer. In his early amateur career as an actor and director in the early twentieth century, he enjoyed a lot of success.

He founded the Moscow Art Theatre in 1898. Stanislavski worked on rehearsal procedures and training in addition to his work as a director and actor and developed the Stanislavski system. Stanislavski’s method gained him international acclaim and had a significant impact on the development of acting techniques and schools around the world. He wrote an autobiography and the famous theatre training book An Actor Prepares

The Stanislavski method is a popular acting style that consists of key ideas that aid performers in emotionally connecting to their characters and the material:

  1. The Magic If: Foundational to the Stanislavski method are the concepts of “given circumstances” and “the Magic If.” According to Stanislavski, the actor ought to imagine themself in the circumstances as given by the play. This approach can activate the actor’s imagination and intimately connect them to the material, bringing life to the character. 
  2. Objective: The Stanislavski system focuses on motivation and emphasizes the character’s objective. When rehearsing each scene, the actor should ask themselves about the objective of the character in that moment. Taken altogether, these moments create an emotional throughline over the course of the whole play, which can be thought of as a “super-objective.” 
  3. Emotional memory: One route to a successful portrayal is through “emotion memory” or “emotional memory.” This involves the actor drawing upon personal experiences to inflect their performance, giving it greater urgency and authenticity. For instance, an actor attempting to depict grief might draw upon their own similar experience, if they had previously lost someone close to them. 
  4. Tempo-rhythm: Stanislavski’s technique aims to create a rhythm or tempo in the play in congruence with the emotional intensity of the performances. 
  5. Method of physical action: The method of physical action was a later development of Stanislavski’s. This was a shift, as it led to a greater emphasis on physical movement and improvisation over verbal discussions and reflection. 
  6. Subtext: Stanislavski believed that the overall meaning and emotional thrust of the play was only partly implied by the text, and so part of the role of the actor was to discover and understand this submerged content, which he called the subtext of the play. The actor then expressed this subtext through the details of his or her performance. 

Related Article: Top 7+ Best Online Acting Classes, Courses + Training

Uta Hagen’s Acting Technique

According to Backstage.com, Hagen’s acting techniques motivate actors to avoid over-intellectualizing their processes and instead embed themselves in rigorous observation of daily life. The five key principles of Hagen’s technique are substitution, transference, specificity, authenticity, and preparation.

You can read more in her book “Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting . . . which is a relatively small book. But within it, Miss Hagen tells the young actor about as much as can be conveyed in print of his craft.” –Los Angeles Times.

Here is a break-down of each one down below:

  • Substitution: Hagen’s substitution is a variation of emotional recall. But unlike Strasberg’s Method(which we will mention later), which asks actors to mentally recreate the emotional conditions of their lives onstage, Hagen’s technique focuses on identifying moments where activities or feelings from an actor’s lived experience intersects with the scene at hand. For Hagen, substitution is more about the actor convincingly offering themselves in the moments of the performance, rather than importing their own life’s defining moments into their work.
  • Transference: The actor’s duty, according to Hagen, is to find their relationship to the character based on their own experience and perspective—a process she terms “transference.” Hagen is also very clear that an actor should never substitute circumstances on stage that they’re uncomfortable talking about or exploring publicly. 
  • Specificity: Hagen taught that an actor knows what to do and how to behave on stage by interacting with objects that would realistically be in the environment of the scene. Hagen insisted actors rehearse with the specific props that they would use in the final performance and visualize specific objects when looking at blank walls or into the audience. 
  • Authenticity: In her studio, Hagen pestered students to fully utilize props, costumes, or even architectural features of the venue to motivate authentic action. During scene work, Hagen’s students always had a pile of props and furniture on the stage because it was their relationship to objects that manifested in naturalistic behavior.
  • Preparation: Hagen asserted that developing authentic behavior and performing a role fluently requires rehearsal. She believed that a two-minute exercise based on an actor’s life required at least an hour of rehearsal. Hagen created a series of exercises to help actors observe human behavior and recreate it on stage to assist with preparation.

Hagen’s technique is a favorite among actors because it’s a middle ground between internal (representational) and external (presentational) work. 

These methods are also helpful for actors who wish to be self-sufficient or maintain autonomy in their training process. Before Hagen ever gave critiques to actors, she asked how they felt after their performances and if anything felt unusual or off. 

This gave the actors a voice in how their performances were interpreted and also reinforced skills of self-observation and reflection—which Hagen insisted were paramount to develop for a professional working actor. 

Sample of students of the Hagen Technique:

  • Gene Wilder
  • Robert DeNiro
  • Steve McQueen
  • Orson Bean
  • Faye Dunaway
  • Gene Hackman
  • Jerry Stiller
  • Charles Grodin
  • Harvey Korman
  • Matthew Broderick
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Amanda Peet
  • Jack Lemmon

Related Article: 5 Awesome Tips For Acting And Directing At The Same Time

Meisner Acting Technique

According to Wikipedia, the goal of the Meisner approach is for the actor to not focus on themselves and instead concentrate on the other actors in the immediate environment. To this end, some exercises for the Meisner technique are rooted in repetition so that the words are deemed insignificant compared to the underlying emotion. 

In the Meisner acting technique, there is a greater focus on the other actor as opposed to one’s internal thoughts or feelings associated with the character. The Meisner technique is different from method acting taught by Lee Strasberg, although both developed from the early teachings of Konstantin Stanislavski.

The Meisner technique involves three main components that work hand in hand: emotional preparation, repetition, and improvisation. You can read more about the Meisner acting technique in the book, Sanford Meisner on Acting.

Meisner explained emotional preparation as doing whatever is necessary to enter a scene “emotionally alive.” He instructed actors to use whatever affected them personally to put themselves in their character’s emotional state. 

Actors could use imagined circumstances or real personal memories. But the prepared emotion was only to be played in a scene’s very first moment. After that, all action and reaction must be based organically on what other actors in the scene are doing. 

In this way, Meisner created a symbiotic ecosystem in a scene where actors build off one another. 

Meisner used repetition exercises to develop his students’ skills of observation and instinct. He believed that repetition gets actors out of their heads, so they can rely on their organic instincts. Meisner taught that these authentic instincts, as provoked by another person in the live moment, capture realistic human behavior. 

All the preparation ultimately leads to improvisation and flexibility in performance. Meisner preached that an actor should not make any choices until something provokes them, thereby justifying their behavior. 

To react to justified and organic stimuli improvisationally, actors must be fully connected to the other actors, so they don’t miss meaningful actions or reactions. This creates an abundant inner life for all of the characters in a scene.

Actors who have trained in the Meisner acting techniques include:

  • Amy Schumer
  • Carrie-Anne Moss
  • Chadwick Boseman
  • Christoph Waltz
  • Diane Keaton
  • James Gandolfini
  • Jeff Bridges
  • Jeff Goldblum
  • Mary Steenburgen
  • Robert Duvall
  • Sam Rockwell
  • Tom Cruise

Related Article: How to Never Get A Job On A Film Set Again – 10 Best Ways To Never Get Called Back

Lee Strasberg Method Acting

According to the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, at its core, Method Acting is therefore a systematic approach to training the living material that is the actor’s “instrument,” as well as a means for preparing a role. The use of Lee Strasberg’s exercises both develop the content of the actor’s talent and provide a roadmap to the individual’s creation of a character. 

The use of one’s own life experiences in the creative imagination infuses each choice with genuine thought, desire, sensation, action, and feeling resulting in psychologically in-depth behavior. It builds upon the work of Stanislavsky, and as Lee believed, accomplished what Stanislavsky set out to achieve. 

The Method trains actors to use their physical, mental, and emotional self in the creation of a character and stresses how personal experience can fire the actors’ imagination. It eschews clichés and pursues individual authenticity and a reality deeply grounded in the given circumstances of the script. 

So what is Method Acting? As Lee Strasberg said, Method Acting is what all actors have always done whenever they acted well. But The Method–it’s how you get there.

The Key elements of Method acting are defined as a regimented technique that enables actors to behave realistically under imaginary circumstances. Some key elements of Method acting include: 

  • Removing tension: Strasberg believed that actors need to be a blank slate before they could embody the life of another person. To do this, actors must understand where they store tension in their bodies and release it before creating a character. 
  • Focus and deliberateness: Once they release tension, actors are encouraged to absorb the world differently—honing in on specific sounds, for example, or filtering others out. A hyper-attention to the senses is necessary for actors to replicate believable stimuli in their work. The same sorts of exercises are done with vision, touch, and even taste.
  • Using sense memory: Once the senses are attuned, actors move into sense memory, the Method’s version of Stanislavsky’s affective memory. This is the most controversial component of the Method.
  • Identification and replication: The ability to identify sensations and replicate them prompts an authentic response that gives the actor artistic autonomy. Rather than be a puppet, Strasberg believed, the skilled Method actor influences the work’s very nature as much as the writer or director.

The emphasis on identifying and replicating detailed stimuli is one part of Method acting that sometimes gets out of hand. In the pursuit of detailed stimuli, some Method actors choose to immerse themselves in their character’s environment, like Robert DeNiro working as a cab driver in preparation for his iconic role in “Taxi Driver.”

To learn more about the Strasberg Acting Technique, check out the definitive sourcebook on acting A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method by Lee Strasberg.

Which is the best acting technique? Here is a small Sample List of Method Actors Of The Strasberg Technique, and judge for yourself.

  • Christian Bale
  • Anne Bancroft
  • Warren Beatty
  • Candice Bergen
  • Cate Blanchett
  • Marlon Brando
  • Adrien Brody
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Michael Caine
  • Jim Carrey
  • Sacha Baron Cohen
  • Bradley Cooper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Matt Damon
  • Claire Danes
  • Daniel Day-Lewis
  • Robert De Niro
  • Benicio del Toro
  • Johnny Depp
  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Tom Hanks
  • Ed Harris

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Michael Chekhov technique

The Michael Chekhov acting technique is a powerful method for actors that is less known than it should be. Many acting schools don’t even teach it, although many aspects of the Chekhov technique, such as the use of the psychological gesture, are very useful to modern actors who must be ready to get into character at a moment’s notice on a film set.

For Chekhov, actors are not here to imitate life but to interpret it, to bring out its hidden meaning to the audience. For this, they must be able to act with ease, bring form and beauty to their creative expressions, and see the big picture so they can convey it in their performance.

  • Sensitivity of the Body – The actor’s body must be trained to be receptive so it can convey creative impulses to the audience. Through psychological exercises, the actor’s body can be developed from the inside. The actor must learn to radiate the inner life of its characters and to create an imaginary center within his body that will allow him to connect to the various energies of many different characters.
  • Rich Psychology – The actor must penetrate the psychology of its characters. He can train by observing others and figuring out why they act or feel a certain way. Unlike method actors, Michael Chekhov firmly believed that drawing from real feelings from one’s life kills inspiration and should be avoided. Creative feelings on the stage come from the actor’s ability for compassion.
  • Creative Imagination – Our creative imagination constantly draws pictures in our minds. We can learn to collaborate with these images by asking questions from them and sometimes ordering them to show us what we are looking for. For example, you can ask your character, “show me how you would approach this part of the scene” and keep asking questions until the answer you get stirs you up emotionally and helps you start to enter the inner life of the character. Once you have a very clear inner vision, you can start incorporating it by copying one aspect of your vision at a time. Similarly, the actor can use his imagination to create an imaginary body for his character. This allows the actor to really feel like another person and to start exploring his character’s reality, movement and speech from the inside.
  • Atmosphere, quality, and sensations – whether it is happy, sad, calm, hectic, nervous, etc. – have a tremendous impact on the way we act. An actor can create an atmosphere, imagine it “in the air” and submit to it. He can imagine at outer atmosphere for a scene and an inner atmosphere for his character, contrasting them. These atmospheres will permeate his body and psychology when he acts. Similarly, he can choose to give quality to his movements. For example, if he chooses to move calmly, the physical sensation that results from his movements will attract similar emotions without any effort at all. This could be called working “from the outside in”, except in this acting technique, the actor doesn’t fake anything, he just lets atmospheres and sensations inspire his performance.
  • The Psychological Gesture – Just like we can access our emotions through atmospheres and sensations, we can access the will to pursue objectives through a gesture that encompasses all the needs and wants of the character. The actor starts with his first guess of what the character’s main desire may be and from there, develops a gesture with his hand and arm that encompasses this desire. He gradually expands this gesture to the entire body, changing it until he feels satisfied as an artist. The psychological gesture should be strong but not tense, simple but definite, and archetypal in nature.

Michael Chekhov believed that the actor’s greatest practical tools, aside from their body, were their intuition, imagination, and artistic vision. As such, you can expect to rely on your instincts much more than you ever have in more traditional training which is one of the perfect acting techniques for everyday life.

Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, and Jack Nicholson are all students of the Chekhov Technique.

For reading material, check out the book To the Actor: On the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov to learn more about the Chekhov acting technique.

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Stella Adler's Acting Technique

Adler’s acting technique is founded on an actor’s ability to imagine a character’s world. Adler believed that over-reliance on personal, emotional memories limited an actor’s range. Her technique encourages actors to expand their understanding of the world, in order to create compelling performances. 

Adler taught her actors to deliberately observe the textures, aesthetics, and sounds of everyday life, enabling them to conjure detailed and realistic mental images on stage. When those mental images are nuanced—and the actor can authentically express this imagery to the audience—the actor delivers a truthful performance.

In addition to imagination, the Adler technique also relies on: 

  • Discipline: Because Adler grew up in a family of professional actors, she believed in acting as a lifestyle. This belief manifested itself in an undying insistence on discipline. To Adler, the discipline required actors to maintain their health, stand by their commitments, and strengthen any weak points—from a quiet voice to a bad back—that could limit their performance. 
  • Text analysis: Adler taught her actors to analyze the text for key elements that dictate the character’s nature. Adler also emphasized learning history and prized an actor’s ability to understand many time periods, languages, fashions, and geographic locations. 
  • Action: According to Adler, an “action” is something one character does to another character to elicit a specific desired response. First, the actor must identify ways to convey the play’s circumstances by completing an action. Second, the actor’s actions must honestly reflect what the actor has observed from life.

Check out The Art of Acting by Stella Adler for more acting techniques.

Famous actors who studied with Adler or at her studio include: 

  • Robert De Niro
  • Benicio Del Toro
  • Phyllis Diller
  • Christopher Guest
  • Salma Hayek
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Kate Mulgrew
  • Diana Ross

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Now that you understand the main types of acting techniques that many actors have studied throughout the years, it’s up to you to figure out which one suits you best starting today.

Again, there is no right or wrong acting technique or path an actor must follow towards being a better actor, but understanding the popular acting methods will help you develop your acting ability over time.

Let us know in the comments below what acting technique have you may have tried, and what your experience has been in developing your acting skills.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

5+ Essential Acting Techniques Actors Must Know

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