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The Method

How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act

Isaac Butler

Bloomsbury Publishing

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ISBN10: 1635574773
ISBN13: 9781635574777


512 Pages



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On stage and screen, we know a great performance when we see it. But how do actors draw from their bodies and minds to turn their selves into art? What is the craft of being an authentic fake? More than a century ago, amid tsarist Russia's crushing repression, one of the most talented actors ever, Konstantin Stanislavski, asked these very questions, reached deep into himself, and emerged with an answer. How his “system” remade itself into the Method and forever transformed American theater and film is an unlikely saga that has never before been fully told.

Now, critic and theater director Isaac Butler chronicles the history of the Method in a narrative that transports readers from Moscow to New York to Los Angeles, from The Seagull to A Streetcar Named Desire to Raging Bull. He traces how a cohort of American mavericks—including Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and the storied Group Theatre—refashioned Stanislavski's ideas for a Depression-plagued nation that had yet to find its place as an artistic powerhouse. The Group's feuds and rivalries would, in turn, shape generations of actors who enabled Hollywood to become the global dream-factory it is today. Some of these performers the Method would uplift; others, it would destroy. Long after its midcentury heyday, the Method lives on as one of the most influential—and misunderstood—ideas in American culture.

Studded with marquee names—from Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and Elia Kazan, to James Baldwin, Ellen Burstyn, and Dustin Hoffman—The Method is a spirited history of ideas and a must-read for any fan of Broadway or American film.


Praise for The Method

“Butler is the perfect guide—brilliant, insightful, and slyly funny—through the long life of contemporary performance. The Method, like its subject, is forceful, restless, and, above all, real.”—Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker

“[An] engaging and meticulously researched history . . . Like a good 19 century omniscient novelist, Butler hops seamlessly among his characters' points of view while recounting their lives and times . . . Butler's history is an indispensable account of a revolution in acting that ramified beyond the theater.”—Los Angeles Times

“Thoroughly engrossing . . . Butler makes an airtight case for the Method as an artistic revolution on par with other mid-century advances.”—The Boston Globe

“Delicious, humane, probing, and beautifully researched, [The Method is] a cultural history that reaches beyond its immediate subject to point at the currents moving under America herself.”—Vulture

“[A] vital new book . . . The Method comes across as a living, organic process in Butler's hands, one richly deserving of the careful attention he pays to it.”—Noir City

“What a production! . . . A print-form master class in The Method. This comprehensive history of the great American acting style is the present and likely future standard-bearer for books on the subject.”—Shelf Awareness

“Elegantly written, filled with remarkable detail and incisive commentary, Isaac Butler's sweeping historical epic is the literary equivalent of an irresistible binge—watch, propelled by emotional twists and turns, surprising cliffhangers, and a cast of the greatest actors, directors, writers, and teachers of the last two centuries. The fact that he has done all that while also writing what I think is the best and most important book about acting I've ever read is a major achievement. This is an essential book for anyone in the acting profession as well as for anyone who's ever wondered 'How did they learn all those lines?'”—Nathan Lane

“An intoxicating mix of history, illuminating character studies, delicious gossip, and a persuasive and revelatory argument about how the Method has been used, abused, and misunderstood. Essential reading, glorious reading.”—Megan Abbott, screenwriter and bestselling author of The Turnout

“A brilliant book that brims with exuberance, compassion and—of course—a keen eye for the dramatic.”—Glenn Frankel, author of Shooting Midnight Cowboy

“Riveting and comprehensive. A narrative one doesn't simply read, but experiences.”—Caseen Gaines, author of Footnotes

The Method is erudite and deeply researched, but it's also vibrant, energetic, accessible, and often very funny—rich with personalities and packed with insight.”—Mark Harris, bestselling author of Mike Nichols: A Life and Pictures at a Revolution

“Vividly recreates a fascinating moment of time, filled with creativity, rivalry, artistry, and absurdity, that profoundly transformed American film and theater, with reverberations still being felt today.”—William J. Mann, author of The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

“A rich, rollicking dive into one of the most influential philosophies of the century, The Method. Tracing a century of schisms, experiments, breakthroughs, and breakdowns, Butler brings to life the desperate, sometimes dark struggle to turn acting into a science and a faith.”—Emily Nussbaum, author of I Like to Watch

“Isaac Butler has turned a brilliant concept into a compulsively readable cultural history that's truly unique. I was entertained and enlightened!”—Julie Salamon, author of The Devil's Candy and Wendy and the Lost Boys

“A well-researched cultural history sure to please theater and film buffs.”—Kirkus Reviews

“An excellent, thorough history of the preeminent school of American acting . . . Butler has produced an essential study of this hugely influential theory and practice of American acting. This work should be in every collection of books on theater and film.”—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Isaac Butler

Isaac Butler is the coauthor (with Dan Kois) of The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America, which NPR named one of the best books of 2018. Butler's writing has appeared in New York magazine, Slate, the Guardian, American Theatre, and other publications. For Slate, he created and hosted Lend Me Your Ears, a podcast about Shakespeare and politics, and currently co-hosts Working, a podcast about the creative process. His work as a director has been seen on stages throughout the United States. He is the co-creator, with Darcy James Argue and Peter Nigrini, of Real Enemies, a multimedia exploration of conspiracy theories in the American psyche, which was named one of the best live events of 2015 by the New York Times and has been adapted into a feature-length film. Butler holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Minnesota and teaches theater history and performance at the New School and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.