What makes great acting? The answer is actually quite simple – inspiration. But what is inspiration and how does it occur?
For many actors, inspiration is something that happens at random. Some nights they go on stage and everything flows extremely well and everything they do has meaning. Other nights, nothing feels right and they stumble through to the best of their ability, uninspired.
The first man to address this issue was Konstantin Stanislavski. He was an Actor, Director and Producer during the late 1800’s-early 1900’s, and he formulated the first concise process for actor training, which he called ‘The System’. This later became the premise for ‘the Method’, developed by Lee Strasberg. Within Stanislavski’s investigation as to how the actor could inspire himself, he categorised actors into three types; creative, imitative and stage hacks.
Creative actors are able to stimulate their instrument (the human body) to come alive on stage, using real experiences. They actually generate real experiences within their performances, which brings them to life.
Imitative actors are not able to have real experiences on stage, but imitate what the character is experiencing. For example, in a scene where the character has an explosion of anger, an imitative actor would not actually experience any anger, but would rather imitate what anger looked like. Imitative acting is very common to this day and can be seen in many soaps, where imitation is the standard.
Stage hacks are worse than all the rest. A stage hack is an actor who doesn’t really care about the character, but is more interested in themselves, the actor, and being adored by their audience. As a result, their performances fail to reveal the life of the character and although they may strut around with confidence and sound beautiful, their performance is emotionally empty.
Stanislavski noticed that with his own performances, he was sometimes being a creative actor, and at other times, an imitative actor. He wanted to remain creative consistently, and started to understand where inspiration came from. He talked to a lot of actors of the time, including Elenora Duse, a brilliant Italian actress, and discussed how she approached roles. She told him that her own life was very challenging, she was drawn to drunk and abusive men, she was an Italian in America and spoke with a broken English accent, she was only as good as her last performance which dictated her future roles and that she had to carry all her costumes and belongings across America by herself! However, instead of seeing this part of her life as a distraction to her acting, she used it as inspiration. She understood that her own personal experiences could be used to inform the characters’ experiences.
From this understanding, the Method approach to acting was born.