Method Acting

by Doug Stevenson 2004

This is the “Method Acting” Issue

“We are actors. We’re the opposite of people.” From Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

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METHOD ACTING TECHNIQUE: Inner Monologue

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Many of the best actors working today studied a form of acting called Method Acting. Method Acting is a process whereby an actor builds a characterization from the inside out. The actor considers the character’s motivation and strives to think and act like the character. Since the actor is NOT the character, the actor must use his or her own thoughts and emotions in place of the character’s.

While I understand that you have no intention of becoming an actor, let’s explore how Method Acting technique can inform and enliven your storytelling in business presentations.

One of the subtle Method Acting techniques that actors use, especially in movies where the slightest nuance of thought or feeling is magnified a hundredfold onto the big screen, is called inner monologue. Where a dialogue is a conversation between two people, a monologue is a conversation one has with oneself. An “inner” monologue is a conversation one has with oneself, silently in one’s own head. Since we all talk to ourselves, sometimes out loud and sometimes silently, it would seem that this technique would be easy to master. But it isn’t.

For the majority of my students, the inner monologue is one of the greatest revelations they experience during the Story Theater Retreat. It is an awkward experience at first, but it becomes effortless in a very short period of time. It requires the actor/storyteller to fill a silent moment with thoughts and emotions while the audience watches and interprets what is going on. Inner monologue fills what might previously have been an empty pause in the flow of the story.

There is a point in every good story where the storyteller reacts to a stimulus – either someone else says or does something, or something interesting happens. This stimulus causes the storyteller to react. In the narrative form of storytelling, this reaction is verbalized, explained.

Perhaps during the explanation, the storyteller adds an inflection to their voice that colors the explanation of the reaction. This is old school storytelling. In Story Theater we do things differently. We “act out” the reaction.

When reacting to someone or something, strive to SHOW rather than tell, especially during the most powerful and dramatic moments of your story. Don’t tell people how you reacted or responded, react! To understand how this aspect of Method Acting works, do the following exercise.

Let’s imagine your story is about having an important meeting across town and getting stuck in traffic on the freeway due to a fender bender. Not only are you stuck, it’s July in Mobile, Alabama and your air conditioner isn’t working. So you grab your cell phone to call your office and let them know your situation, only to discover that your cell phone battery is dead.

For the next ten seconds you won’t say anything. You will fill the silence with “inner monologue” – the thoughts that are going on inside your head. What would the self-talk inside your head sound like? What exact words would you be thinking? Imagine that this scenario has just happened to you and after a few sweaty minutes of fuming at the heat and your dead cell phone battery, think the following “inner monologue” thoughts and feel the accompanying emotions.

“This can’t be happening. I can’t believe this. I knew I should have stayed off the freeway. This is screwed up. Now what? What do I do?

Options…what are my options? I could ram this idiot in front of me that’s blasting rap music. Next option. Pull over to the side, park my car and run for it. Nope. That won’t work. Too far. — Shoot myself. No gun. Too chicken anyway. Too messy.

Focus moron. Do something!!!!!!! Okay, I’m going to miss the meeting. It’s not the end of the world. They’ll understand. I’ll catch a lot of flack for missing it, but life will go on. (traffic starts to move) Thank you God.”

Do it again, this time as if you are sitting behind the wheel of your car.

Visualize the scene.

Feel the heat.

Let the frustration build.

As you move sentence by sentence through the monologue, change your attitude to reflect each thought. Accompany each thought with the proper emotion. Allow your body to reflect the emotion you are feeling. Don’t choose themovements, let the emotions tell your body what to do.

Use the “inner monologue” technique judiciously in your stories to amplify your reactions. Think the thoughts that you thought in the moment. Feel the feelings that you felt in the moment. Replicate your reality. Simply do it in silence.

Remember…silence speaks.

The best acting is invisible. It appears natural. It looks and feels real. With The Story Theater Method, it is my intention to reveal to you how to utilize the skills and techniques that actors use, to make your presentations more powerful. Techniques like the “inner monologue” work on a subliminal level. They stimulate the listener to relate to your non-verbal cues as well as your verbal cues. If you choose to integrate these skills into your storytelling, you will reach deeper into the heart and soul of your listener, thereby increasing the odds that you will influence a change in their behavior.

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Copyright 2005 by Doug Stevenson. Reprinted with permission. Doug Stevenson is the creator of the Story Theater Method. He is an author, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. Reach Doug at www.storytheater.net or 800.573.6196