The method writers project
What do Homer, Shakespeare and Dickens have in common? They are all authors who also performed their works. This original organic link – with writer and performer as two sides of the same creative coin — is one that has been lost in the modern era. It is this that the Method Writers project aims to restore.
Preparation & Performance
We’re used to reading stories about the extremes some actors go to in preparation for their latest role, whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio consuming a hunk of raw bison liver on the set of The Revenant, or Robert De Niro sporting a pair of Al Capone’s underpants to prepare for playing the gangster in The Untouchables. Although some of these anecdotes smack of the marketing department, there are serious actors who deploy an immersive process, as just one strand of teaching among many developed in New York Method Acting schools by the likes of Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. The question is, if it works for actors, why don’t writers try a similar approach? Why shouldn’t they?
With this in mind, the Method Writers are adapting the techniques of Method Acting and applying them to the challenges of creative writing. The aim is to help writers push through a creative block, to give a spur to those putting off a project, and to offer an adrenaline shot of true feeling to any work, which will help it stand out from the crowd. There’s an old story of how Marlon Brando, to prepare for playing a paraplegic in his first major Hollywood movie, The Men, spent weeks wheelchair-bound in the company of authentic paraplegics. One day, they were in a bar when a Christian evangelist came in and declared that, if they believed in God, they would be cured. Brando promptly leapt up from his wheelchair with a cry of “Hallelujah!” and began to dance a jig.
We won’t force you to dance a jig, but we hope to get you leaping out of your chair.
Thomas W. Hodgkinson is the author of the novel Memoirs of a Stalker and two works of non-fiction. He has spoken about the ways he uses Method in his writing on Radio 4, and written on the subject here.
The cultural link between writing and performing. Homer, the oral poet; Shakespeare, the actor-playwright; and Charles Dickens, author, impresario and rock star. The three elements that writing and acting have in common.
Exercise: basic relaxation, geared towards negative capability
How Stanislavski’s System arose in response to the realism movement in theatre. The invention of cinema. Why a rift arose in the way Method acting was taught, between those in favour of emotional memory and those against.
Exercise: Strasberg’s emotional memory, tailored to work in progress.
The forerunners of Method among actors. The forerunners of Method among writers. Three ways in which Ernest Hemingway anticipated Method Writing. His Iceberg Theory of writing as set out in Death in the Afternoon.
Exercise: character biog-writing and group short-story reading
From Stanislavski to you, via Brando and Day-Lewis.
Exercise: living in character, with secondary biog-writing exercises.
From Meisner to you, via Burroughs and Kerouac.