If you’re struggling to figure out which technique works best for you, don’t despair. It’s a struggle many actors face. How do you decide when so many schools claim the same A-list talents as former students. The following teachers provide clear-cut descriptions of their techniques and how they work for actors. Check them out, and you may just find the perfect fit for you.
The Strasberg Technique
David Strasberg – The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute
“The Strasberg technique is distinguished by its exercises, sequence and progressive approach to Stanislavski’s intention. My dad [Lee Strasberg] would say that it’s about training your talent. The technique helps actors become more sensitive and allows their talents to engage more consistently and more often. For people who start with a great deal of sensitivity, the technique offers a process that allows them more control and more structure.
“There’s a misunderstanding about the technique that actors stay in character all day long. That’s not how it works. You train to get in and out of character. The other misconception is about emotional memory. Actors don’t need to push emotional overdrive all the time. Our minds naturally use it to understand situations and come up with the proper response. In other words, emotional memory is constantly active in our life to help us make sense of the world. When actors understand that, it’s a matter of activating it when they need to. It’s a force to be cultivated, but it’s not a required technique for every actor. Experience, though, is the core of our technique. The part that many people miss is that it doesn’t have to be a past experience, and it doesn’t have to be a real experience. But it has to be an actual experience that the actor is having in the moment. That’s the most important part.”
The Meisner Technique
Ranjiv Perera – The Sanford Meisner Center
“The biggest reason the Meisner technique works well is it’s one of the most structured and linear acting programs when it’s taught the way it was designed. When it comes to acting training, it is one of the most specific, step-by-step programs out there. It’s meant to be taught by one primary teacher with the same group of students that go through it over two years. It’s not ongoing. It has a beginning, middle and end, and then you’re done.
“Repetition is a key element [of] the Meisner technique. It’s the first major block that students study in their first year along with emotional preparation and relationship work. The first year is all about emotional truth. If you don’t know how to bring your emotional truth and depth to the work, everything else you put on top of it is going to be nonsense. The second year adds on to that foundation of emotional truth with character work, and it dives deeper into text and text interpretation. I truly believe this two-year program came from Meisner’s mentality of wanting to help accelerate beginning actors into becoming mature actors.”
The Heller Technique
Brad Heller – The Heller Approach
“There are a number of things that make the technique unique, and there are a number of people who influenced me as an acting teacher. My main influence was the director Don Richardson who wrote the book ‘Acting Without Agony: An Alternative to the Method.’ The idea behind it is there’s a way of working as an actor in which you don’t have to delve into your history or personal nightmares in order to evoke emotion or play a scene. But then the question is what to use if you’re not drawing from your own personal stuff. That’s where the technique comes in.
“It allows the actor to evoke emotion without delving into anything personal. We can feel emotion simply by saying the name of the emotion. For example, if I say the word ‘joy,’ I smile a little bit. Or if I say ‘anxiety,’ I feel a little tingle in my stomach. It’s not enough to use for the scene, but it is something to build off of. From there, I teach a breathing technique that helps reinforce our natural physiological response to emotion and creates muscle memory. This is all during the preparation stage, which includes thinking about your objective, which is a controlled obsession. While building the scene, you’re constantly thinking it to dig a groove, if you will, in your brain. That way, when you exit the preparation stage and enter the execution stage, the stage when you’re actually acting the scene, you can just let go. At that point, you’re no longer intentionally breathing or thinking about your objective, you’re just in the scene. And a great thing about the technique is it allows you to get where you need to go in a very fast manner.”
The Strasberg, Meisner and Heller techniques vary greatly in their approaches, but they all have the same goal: to train actors to operate at the highest level of their craft. That in mind, apply yourself to the technique that works best for you. From there—and with a lot of hard work—you could end up being the star name that acting schools want to claim.