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The Method : How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act - Isaac Butler

The Method

How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act

By: Isaac Butler

Hardcover | 3 May 2022

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“Entertaining … a remarkable story.”-- The New Yorker

“Delicious, humane, probing.”-- Vulture, Most Anticipated Books of 2022

"The best and most important book about acting I've ever read."-- Nathan Lane

From the coauthor of The World Only Spins Forward comes the first cultural history of Method acting--an ebullient account of creative discovery and the birth of classic Hollywood.


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.

About the Author

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.

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