Method Acting and Relaxation

Published: 16th February 2009
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This is part one of the basics of Method Acting. The study of Method Acting begins with a definition.

Definition
Method Acting is the term for the type of acting taught by Lee Strasberg. Lee Strasberg based his teachings on the works of Constantin Stanislavsky. Method Acting addresses the question of how can an actor both really feel and also be in control of what he needs to do on stage? How can the actor make his real feelings expressive on stage?

Relaxation
The first step in method acting is relaxation. Michael Chekhov called relaxation the "Feeling of Ease". Lee Strasberg said that one of the biggest problems an actor faces is the inability to relax. Strasberg created a relaxation exercise to lose the tension in your body created by your personal life. The objective is to lose the expressions, mannerisms and energies not necessary for your character.

Relaxation Exercise
First, attempt to find a relaxing position in a chair. The idea is to find a position not used in everyday life. You want to find a position that is not habitual for your body. You are trying to break down habits and mannerism. When this exercise was first developed the actor would simply try to fall asleep in a chair.

Next, begin exploring each area of your body one area at a time. The fingers are usually the first areas to explore, then moving on to the hand, wrist and arm. You'll want to continue exploring all areas of the body to release tension in each area. You explore for tension by contracting and then stretching individual muscles. While flexing muscles in this manner, ask yourself if there is tension. You will instruct the muscle to "let go" of the tension. Mentally will your body to release the tension and allow the muscle to relax. Moving the muscle you are addressing helps you achieve the command to relax.

You'll want to pay special attention to areas of your face. Your face is where your mental stress hides. Flex your eyebrows and temple. Relax the bridge of the nose. Explore the jaw by opening your mouth as wide as possible and releasing. Stick out your tongue and move it in circles. Attempt to release your everyday expression.

Also pay special attention to your neck and back. Explore the arch of your shoulders. Flex your lower back. Tension and stress gather in these points.

For some actors, the movement in the relaxation exercise has become movement for the sake of movement. You are attempting to release tension and everyday stress and become a clean slate. Excessive movement is not necessary.

Generally first sign of falling asleep in the relaxation exercise is that your eyelids will flutter. At this point, produce sounds like "ahhh" from your chest. Do you sound angry or sad when releasing the "ahhh"? Did something happen to you today to make you angry, sad or some other emotion? Are you anticipating something? Do you feel nervous about participating on stage? As you ask yourself these questions, you may find yourself becoming angry or sad. It is beneficial to have a fellow actor or instructor ask these questions. The other person can prod and provoke the emotional release from you by questioning you. You are attempting to connect with emotions and experiences that have affected you. As you express these feelings, you release them and you relax.

This exercise can take up to an hour for a beginner. An experienced actor can relax in twenty to thirty minutes. It requires faithful practice everyday. After practicing this exercise, you should eventually become adept at locating tension within your body. Ultimately, you will use this awareness of your body on stage. You will be able to identify and release tension in front of an audience should it creep into your performance.

The exercise requires a great of concentration. By practicing the relaxation exercise, you will also be improving your concentration.


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