Tuesday, 08 February 2022 15:28

The madness in ‘The Method’

Everyone has a sense of what a good performance looks like. Sure, there’s some room for individual interpretation there, but whether we’re watching a movie or a play or a TV show, we have a certain baseline understanding of what “good” is.

But how does the performer get there?

Isaac Butler’s new book “The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act” (Bloomsbury, $30) is the story of one celebrated, well … method … of doing just that. From its origins in the Russian theatre scene in the early part of the 1900s to its gradual-then-rapid ascent to the apex of American acting, the Method spent decades as one of the preeminent schools of thought regarding performance.

This book treats the Method almost biographically, walking the reader through its embryonic stages with Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre through the acolytes crossing the Atlantic and delivering it to America to the splintering and development of assorted variations on the theme, all of them falling under the umbrella of “the Method.” It is, for intents and purposes, a biography of the Method. Not of those who created it or those who learned it, but of the Method itself.

Some of the greatest actors in American history – stage and screen alike – were students of the Method, though not all learned precisely the same method from the prominent and iconoclastic instructors that brought it to life in the middle of the century. Still, there’s no disputing the impact that the philosophy (however you choose to define it) had – and continues to have – on the acting world.

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