In the dramatic arts, The Method is a group of techniques actors use to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters, so as to develop lifelike performances.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "R" is for "real")
It happened back in the 1950s. There was an earthquake in Manhattan.
(Odd, because they almost never had earthquakes in New York City.) But this was a different kind of seismic event.
A young actor named Marlon Brando was appearing in a play and was sort of shaking the earth, or at least his audiences, with a hugely different style of acting. It was raw, vivid, real.
What was the theatre like before, say, World War II?
Well, the art of acting in America then emphasized diction, fencing, dancing and singing. And the business was very successful: there were a great many productions – mysteries, musicals, classical dramas and drawing-room comedies (“Tennis, anyone?”). But in dramatic terms it was all rather weak; the school of realism of Ibsen and Zola had not impacted Yankee actors and directors.
This new type of dramatic presentation required the actors to use what was called “emotional memory.” They had to find within themselves the means to express the emotion they were trying to portray on stage.
If the script called for a murderous rage, the actors should look deep in their pasts, into their emotional memory, to find a moment when, maybe as a child, they had felt this same murderous rage against another kid who was tormenting them.
An interesting idea. It had literary justification. Surely you’re familiar with Marcel Proust, who dipped the little cookie known as a “madeleine” into his cup of tea and experienced a whole world of – emotional memory.
It was an American thing. The great actors of the United Kingdom, Sir Laurence Olivier and others, for example, looked with amused condescension on these strange Yankee rituals. They believed that it was training, technique and talent that made for great acting, not necessarily personal emotional involvement.
The story is told of a famous British actor who played a tempestuous scene and was later asked by an eager drama student what he had been thinking about during his shouting and groaning in that wildly emotional moment on stage.
“The size of the house,” he replied; “how many tickets had been sold.”
But there must have been something to the American deal. For quite a number of years, thanks to Brando and other such stars, this was taken up by thousands of American actors who adopted this style and would take it to a point where it was a bit absurd. They had to have time out to dig deeply into themselves before they felt they were ready to deliver their lines in a play or a film.
Starting back in the Fifties, this way of doing things got to be well known; it entered into our national consciousness. It had a name. What was its name?