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Practical Aesthetics

By Brentyn, published on 11/01/2019 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Acting > Discovering the Basic Principles of the Practical Aesthetics Acting Technique

“Acting is a very personal process. It has to do with expressing your own personality, and discovering the character you’re playing through your own experience- so we’re all different.” -Ian McKellen

Acting is a vulnerable, emotional and soul-bearing process. The best actors dive into roles without fear to become a vessel of another person whose story deserves to be told. A dominant performance from a seasoned thespian can make an audience cry, laugh, cheer and feel heartbreak all within a few minutes.

While many aspiring actors have dreams of making it big in Hollywood for the fame and fortune, others do it just for the love of acting. 

Theatre, film and television actors implement different acting techniques to portray characters realistically. Since there are so many acting techniques to choose from, a performer can decide to use one that best fits their artistic abilities.

Robert De Niro swears by the Method whereas Diane Keaton applies devices of the Meisner technique in all her performances. 

As a young actor new to the game, it is highly recommended to attend various acting classes that implement different performing techniques. Participating in many acting workshops is an excellent idea for new performers in the show business industry who want to stand out among the crowd of other auditioners. Budding actors need to hone their skills before auditions and screen tests to offer casting directors precisely for what they are looking.

Therefore, without further ado, Superprof will analyse another popular acting method that is worthy of acknowledgement. What is this beautiful method to which we are referring? Folks we are talking about the practical aesthetics technique. In today’s article, we will mention the origin, the elements, where to study and famous actors who use the practical aesthetics method.

Ladies and gentlemen, are you prepared for a thrilling ride of techniques used in performing arts? I sure do hope so!

Origin of Practical Aesthetics

NYC acting schools The Atlantic Theater Company was founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy and is known as the home of practical aesthetics acting. (Source: Atlantic Theater Company)

How did the practical aesthetics acting method come to exist?

Well in the summers of 1983 and 1984 in the American state of Vermont, there were NYU acting workshops held by playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy. During these summer workshops, the practical aesthetics acting technique was developed.

As a result of Mamet’s and Macy’s newly discovered acting technique, in 1985 the Atlantic Theater Company was founded in New York City along with 30 of their acting students from New York University.

Mamet and Macy were inspired to found a theatre teaching their practical aesthetics method by the historical examples of the Group Theatre, another acting school in New York City, and Konstantin Stanislavski, known as the father of modern-day acting techniques.

The Atlantic Theatre Company is still in operation today and is supported by the same belief of Macy and Mamet: the story of a play and the overall intent of its playwright are the fundamentals of the creative process.

Since its opening in 1985, the Atlantic Theatre Company has mounted hundreds of plays, a lot by new writers, using the practical aesthetics technique. Notable stage plays performed at the Atlantic Theatre include Spring Awakening, The Band’s Visit and Hangmen.

Alright, now that we have acquired a basic understanding of the origin of practical aesthetics, what is the philosophy or theory or this acting technique?

Well, it is an approach to acting that is based on the work of Sanford Meisner and Konstantin Stanislavski’s System. It is a highly practical, no-nonsense approach to acting. Mamet developed this method as a way to reduce any actor’s tendency towards self-conscious introspection.

Practically aesthetics can be understood using the following motto: invent nothing, deny nothing, accept everything and get on with it! 

More information about the practical aesthetic method can be discovered in the book, A Practical Handbook for the Actor written by Melissa Bruder and published in 1986.

Elements of the Practical Aesthetics Technique

the best acted scenes The technique of essential actions has actors focus on what they wish to achieve with their character in every scene. (Source: Maryland Morning)

While it is true that the practical aesthetics method is based on other well-known acting techniques from Meisner and Stanislavski, it has unique elements that make it very different from other popular acting methods used by actors working today.

The practical aesthetics technique is mainly made up of three components: repetition, performance technique and script analysis. 

Students accomplish many repetition exercises that start simple and then become more complex as time goes on. Examples of repetition exercises depend on the school where the practical aesthetics technique is being taught. Nevertheless, a standard activity may include observing one another without consciously looking for anything in particular and then when a thought comes to a person they make a verbalised statement.

For example, the person might say, “You’re wearing black jeans” and then the partner would repeat and say, “I am wearing black jeans.” As time goes on, complex repetition exercises are done with the purpose of remarking your partner’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour.

Repetition exercises are efficient and have the purpose of teaching budding actors to read other people’s facial expressions, hone their skills of responding quickly and appropriately at the right moment and, finally, explains to pupils that it’s not what you say but how you say it.

Another fundamental component of the practical aesthetics method is performance technique. Aspiring actors are taught about necessary actions which are what the characters are trying to achieve in each scene. 11 essential actions are part of practical aesthetics, and they are the following:

  1. To get someone on my team,
  2. To lay down the law,
  3. To draw the dividing line,
  4. To get someone to take a significant risk,
  5. To understand what is rightfully mine,
  6. To get someone to see the big picture,
  7. To enlighten someone to a higher understanding,
  8. To tell a simple story,
  9. To get to the bottom of something,
  10. To close the deal,
  11. To get someone to throw a necessary lifeline.

It is important to state that necessary actions have the purpose of focusing the actor of what their character wants to achieve in the scene, rather than force emotion and try to make you feel something that you don’t. Hypothetical situations are exercised to have students practise essential actions in the classroom or at home.

When it comes to the script analysis, the practical aesthetics method is entirely write-centred. The writer is the creator of the character and the actor analyses the notes of the writer to create a performance that is true to the script and overall more effective to the audience. The writer makes things up, and the actor complies to their ideas. That’s what practical aesthetics is all about!

It is important to mention that a thespian studying the practical aesthetics method needs to be patient, committed and have an open mind. Like all good things, mastering an acting technique takes time. Remember, Rome was not built in a day.

Where to Study the Practical Aesthetics Method

Since the practical aesthetics method is a well-known acting technique, there are many schools in the United Kingdom and abroad that offer courses, workshops and training programmes to acquire the basics of these acting devices.

The following are some of the best places in the UK to study the practical aesthetics method:

  • Play with Fire Productions: a Manchester-based production company that offers practical aesthetics workshops. They are taught by Play with Fire’s artistic director Daniel Bradford and only costs £80. The workshop introduces inspiring actors to the basics of the practical aesthetics technique,
  • Acting Coach Scotland: located in Glasgow, Scotland this school has the primary goal of teaching actors the practical aesthetics method. They offer full-time or part-time acting courses to students of all ages, and their testimonials are glowing with the kind remarks of past students who enjoyed taking classes at the Acting Coach Scotland school.

Here are a couple of the best acting schools outside of the UK to study practical aesthetics:

  • Atlantic Theatre Company’s Acting School: previously mentioned before at the beginning of this article, the Atlantic Theatre Company was founded by the pioneers of the practical aesthetics acting method, Macy and Mamet. There is a wide variety of acting programmes offered to interested ones such as the full-time conservatory, evening conservatory, spring programmes, summer programmes, part-time programmes and even courses for kids & teens,
  • Practical Aesthetics Australia: mimicked after the Atlantic Theatre Company in NYC, the PAA offers practical aesthetics classes to budding actors in Sydney, Australia. There are a few classes offered such as the introduction to functional aesthetics that is an eight-week part-time intensive class, intermediate scene class and a few master classes for those who want to be experts!

Famous Actors Who Use the Practical Aesthetics Technique

well-known actor Macy is the co-developer of the practical aesthetics method. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Actors who apply the practical aesthetics technique in the portrayals of their characters create effective performances that are truly realistic and natural.

Many actors prefer to use practical aesthetics techniques in comparison to other more strenuous systems of acting such as the Method. 

Some of the most well-known performers who use the practical aesthetics method include the following:

  • William H. Macy: he is the co-theorist of the practical aesthetics method and uses its techniques to their advantages in all of his performances. He is best known for his film roles in Fargo and Seabiscuit and his television work in the hit series Shameless,
  • Rose Byrne: known for her film performances in Bridesmaids, the X-Men franchise and Marie Antoinette, Byrne studied practical aesthetics at the PAA in Sydney, Australia to become one of the best-known actors using this acting method,
  • Felicity Huffman: the wife of William H. Macy who is best known for her Emmy winning role on Desperate Housewives, uses practically aesthetics in every one of her performances.

Learning more about the practical aesthetics method is a brilliant idea for all performers who want to become more skilled at their craft.

To become an accomplished performer it is essential to have a basic understanding of as many acting techniques as possible. The devices of classical acting, the intense approach of the Method, and Brecht’s performance techniques are all essential performing arts methods with which to become familiar.

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