Method Acting As ‘Therapy’, a Possibility

The Method has, at its centre, the requirement that we learn to love and honor and accept ourselves, warts and all, and use our individual qualities in our work in order to make the characters we portray real and believable. We get to know and work with all aspects of ourselves – whether we like them or not – since we have nothing other than our own selves that can be used to create “someone else”.

1. Method students learn to become still and centered through relaxation work. They are placed in a position where they can either use the opportunity to focus in on themselves and become aware of their own bodies, senses, breathing, muscles, thoughts and feelings or they can run away from the reality of their own experiences and response to life.

If they hope to do the work correctly and develop as actor-artists, they choose the former. Those who are too terrified of what they might find if they become quiet and connect and therefore get to know themselves, usually leave the course quickly.

2. This usually also happens to those who don’t really want to be actor-artists but hope to become famous and wealthy and therefore can’t see the point in doing this work at all while sitting in class waiting to be “discovered”.

3. Relaxation, however, is a must and brings the actor-artist in touch with him or herself in the most intimate way.

4. Sense Memory teaches the student to develop concentration and the ability to focus on, recreate and respond to sensory experience – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and “overall sensations” in the body. Response can be purely physical or emotional or both. Though this is not the main purpose (which is to give an honest, real performance as a character) the process does develop perception, awareness and understanding of the surrounding world and creates a deep connection with the personal aspects of self on all levels.

5. Effective and/or Emotional Memory, for instance, are two of the most important Method acting techniques and are based on relaxation and sense memory: The student recreates a heightened situation from his/her own life through either describing the sensory experiences at the time of a certain occurrence or recreating the sensory realities in the body. S/he does not tell the story or give the facts of the situation but relates only the sensory experiences to a teacher in class.

This keeps the student safe and the personal information private. These techniques are used when a strong response of fear, joy, jealousy, excitement, pain, laughter, anger, being in love, etc. is required to create the character or responses required by the character.

These heightened memories must be at least seven years old – fresh pain is never worked on – and is always to be done in class with an experienced teacher who can deal with any challenges that may arise. Less loaded or “ordinary” life memories can be worked on by experienced students without having to be taken through the process by a teacher.

Either way, as with all Method exercises that require response and expression, the only real difficulty arises when the student does not express fully and freely (through reasons like fear, resistance, being blocked, etc.), which may cause the body to start tingling and freeze up due to blocked sensation and expression. There are easy techniques to clear this and continue working.

Students that do this work successfully and repeat the memory as an exercise a number of times, get to work through the life memory and heal the experience, which loses its “kick” by becoming familiar through repetition.

The student also has the opportunity to “manage” and “observe” the past life situation from the outside, releasing any fears there may still be around the experience and taking charge of the process from a new perspective and armed with new resources. Distance is obtained and this brings about healing, self-confidence, a sense of personal power in solving life issues, maturity and insight.

6. Though acting brings up many fears and concerns about forgetting your lines, falling over the mat on opening night, looking like a fool, making a hash of things, etc. and causes major stress about not being good or beautiful or talented enough (the usual nightmares suffered by the over-sensitive actor) students do get the opportunity to work through their emotional and/or life issues during the training process, if they wish to do so.

Low self-esteem, shyness, jealousy, lack of confidence, fear of being observed or communicating with groups of people, the inability to be “yourself” etc. are often successfully dealt with over time. If actor-artists go through with the training process, they become much more self-accepting – dropping their masks – and learn to like who they are. This enables them to be honest and open and express themselves truthfully as artists.

7. We need to stress that actor training is about training actors. It has become clear to me over time, however, that the development of insight, maturity, personal, spiritual and emotional growth, becoming aware of and healing psychological issues, as well as understanding and acceptance of the self, seem to be part of the package.

Acting is a very personal process where the individual trains and uses him or herself – body, mind, emotions, voice, movement, creative ability, intellect – to create “others” truthfully. When you work with yourself in this way, truth, self-awareness and self-knowledge must result.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.