Method Acting – the Lee Strasberg way

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One of the most enjoyable activities from Moss Vale High School’s New York trip was the opportunity to take a two hour workshop at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. We were introduced to the notion of being ‘real’ in a role by participating in a series of relaxation and sense memory techniques. The ideas outlined below will become part of my junior drama classes (within the English Faculty) with the idea of introducing students to different ways to approach a role.
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Our teacher for this session was the incomparable Irma Standey who is the senior educator with the Lee Strasberg school (read about her illustrious career via the linked image above).

We completed an introductory lesson as outlined on their website:

This class is designed to introduce the actor to Lee Strasberg’s systematic acting technique known throughout the world as the Method. Students train in this technique to develop the actor’s ability to respond with real behavior to imaginary stimuli. This four hour class consists of two parts: work on one’s self and work on the character.

The first part of each class begins with Lee Strasberg’s relaxation technique and moves to his sequence of sensory exercises which train the actor’s concentration, ability to respond to imaginary objects, and organic expression. The relaxation exercise is done each week to ensure that the physical and mental tension within the body, which inhibits the actor, diminishes throughout the duration of the course. The sensory exercise starts with the actor’s ability to recreate objects which s/he encounters every day. The exercises become more complicated when additional objects of concentration are added and when the frequency with which the actor encounters the objects of concentration diminishes.                                                                                    Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Insitute

The exercises are designed to be completed while sitting on a chair – a typical space available before an acting performance:

  • systematically examine each area of your body for stress by rolling shoulders, stretching arms, lifting a bent knee and stretching a leg away from the body, aligning the head with the spine. These exercises are not the same as traditional tightening and relaxing individual areas – such as clenching and releasing fists – although you could incorporate some of your own exercises.
  • when relaxed, a series of actions are undertaken to encourage the body and mind to recall specific sensual memories, such as
    • close your eyes and feel yourself in your usual chair at home, sitting at your usual table
    • move your hands to feel the height and texture of the table
    • place your hands around your usual cup of a hot beverage – non alcoholic
    • feel the shape and texture of the cup
    • place one hand over the top of the cup – stretch out your fingers and move your hand across the top of the cup
    • turn your hand over – move your nails and thumb over the space
  • Can you feel the cup? Can you feel the temperature? Raise your hand if you can feel steam on your palms. Did you notice any difference in the feel of the back of your hand? Remember these differences – it will allow you to be ‘real’ in the act of drinking a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. The same exercises could be used to develop a memory sense of a cold drink
  • Hearing can be a difficult memory, so
    • sit comfortably, eyes closed, and hear the voice of someone dear to you
    • reach out and hold their hand – feel this person sit next to you – put your arm around them
    • continue to hear them speaking and move your hand across their face, feeling the shape and contours that you know well
    • recall the emotion that this voice brings – this exercise can help you establish a real emotion for a scene
  • Once this ‘hearing’ technique is established, you can replace the person with someone you associate with a particular emotion that is required for a character and/or scene
  • Place yourself in a comfortable room from the place you call home – a childhood space that you most readily identify as ‘home’
    • close your eyes and look at the wall in front of you – see the wall of your room
    • explore every element of that wall: windows, doors, wall hangings, furniture
    • now, look to your left and see this wall in your room. Take your time to identify every element
    • turn your head and look at the back wall: what do you see?
    • finally, see the last wall of your room and feel comfortable within this space
    • now with eyes open, remaining on the stage, and not breaking the fourth wall, move around your room, stopping at teach wall and examining everything you remembered
  • So this exercise helps you recall a space, and can help put an actor within a suitable frame of mind for a scene. But real acting requires an emotional response
    • sit down and close your eyes
    • examine your body for any tense areas
    • be in your room, but this time, be with a loved one who shared that space with you
    • feel them sit beside you – reach out and put your arm around them, feel their face and experience the emotion you shared
  • Again, once this technique is established, the room or space and person can be varied to suit the needs of a performance
  • Finally, we were required to think of a song we knew well and could sing
    • sitting with eyes closed, sing this song to ourselves and experience the emotion
    • now, without the song, choose a familiar place that we associate with this music and words
    • examine this space by systematically seeing each wall or boundary if it is an outdoor space
    • hear the song again – sing it to yourself
    • now, with open eyes, stand and walk around the stage space, singing your song aloud
    • explore the space as if it is the familiar space – engage with elements of this space if possible
    • return to your seat and share your experience

Irma was encouraging and positive and reminded us that acting require a constant focus and regularly attending classes can keep your skills honed. Her advice was to take any role offered and keep learning. She answered our questions with patience, and I was particularly interested in her response to my query about feedback: in class, only the teacher can give constructive feedback to students of any experience as she acknowledged the sensitivity of people undertaking acting. Irma described typical feedback as beginning with the actor describing what they were trying to achieve in the scene before the teacher guided their understanding of areas for improvement. It can be seen that this method of responding is aimed at nurturing an actor’s ability to self critique and continue working on their skills in a positive way.

* these activities are based on my notes and recollection of a specific workshop I attended on April 14, 2016

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