Meisner Technique

Sanford Meisner was an American actor and a teacher greatly influenced by the previous work of Constantin Stanislavski. The lectures of Stella Adler greatly influenced him after her return from Paris, where she got exposed to his later works. He committed most of his life to extending the boundaries, realizing that the affective memory that relies on past experiences to trigger proper emotions on the stage or in front of the camera is unreliable. Instead, he based his approach on the behavioural aspects of the craft. The core concept of the Meisner Technique and the sentence that opens the very first lesson is the observation that "The foundation of acting is the reality of doing." 

Meisner defied the acting. According to him, "Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances."

The notable students of Meinser include such famous contemporary actors as: Alec Baldwin, Christopher Lloyd, David Duchovny, Diane Keaton, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Goldblum, Jon Voight, Michelle Pfeiffer, Naomi Watts, Peter Falk, Sandra Bullock, Steve McQueen, Sydney Pollack, Tom Cruise.

In reality, even if you haven't heard of Meisner before, you're most likely heard of those fantastic actors that he taught himself. If other teachers in the history of modern cinematography grew stars, he outperformed every single one of them during his lifetime and helped create a whole galaxy of them. 

While both Lee Strassberg and Stella Adler, in their take on the Stanislawski method, focused on the actor in the Meisner technique, we focus on the interaction between actors because acting is reacting. We focus on communion. Meisner exercises are always performed in pairs.

First repetition exercise

The ping-pong exercise or an emotional dialogue exercise. Two actors stand in front of each other, one makes a statement, the other repeats, then the first one repeats and so on. The nature of the exercise is to respond so fast not to let the consciousness take control and build a connection between actors.

Second repetition exercise

In the second repetition exercise the other actor responds to the statement made by the first actor instead of simply repeating the statement.

Independent action exercise

One of the things that Meisner focused on during his lessons is an independent action. This could be anything,  reading a book, drawing a picture, doing laundry or writing a letter. Independent action is something you do while playing the scene. You can practice that at home by picking up raising out of a nut and raisin mix. Challenge yourself to pick up all of the raisins when doing a repetition exercise or any other scene that you know simultaneously. Focus entirely on the independent action - picking up the raisins from the mix.

The nature of the exercise is that at some stage, the actors achieve public solitude in their conversation and they focus on emotions rather than words. 

Learn the words not the dialogue

Meisner had a specific approach to learning the text of the script. If you're to follow his guidance in this matter, then you would learn the words in a mechanical way, without emotion, almost like a robot.

This is because the essence of the scene is the action and reaction between two actors. The words are just an addition. If you memorize specific way of reading the words before you rehearse with a fellow actor, you'll already make some pre-assumptions about how the scene should be play and it'll be more difficult for you to change it or adjust it to the other person style.  

Sanford Meisner on Acting

Book co-authored by Dannis Longwell and Sanford Meiser published in 1987. Consists of a transcript of lessons given by Sanford Meisner to his students.

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