3 Reasons: Why Study the Meisner Technique?


Meisner Trained Actors Create Fully Realized Human Behavior

In 1935, Sanford Meisner began his teaching career at the Neighborhood Playhouse and developed over many decades one of the most fool-proof ways of instilling actors with fundamental skill and technique. When taught accurately, the full two-year actor training should accomplish two things; year one creates a truthful acting instrument rooted in fundamentals, and year two teaches the actor how to read and interpret a script, break it down, and create a character.

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Most actors pretend and indicate. They do not listen; they wait for their cue’s, ready to “act” their line readings. The most important reason to immerse yourself in Meisner training is to develop your ability to truthfully do under an imaginary circumstance. That is where acting takes place. This means you must develop for yourself an inviolate sense of truth, and acquire the ability to respond personally from unanticipated moment to unanticipated moment.

An actor must be able to listen truly. It is the bedrock of acting and is the seed for a truthful reality. Of all the characteristics of the Meisner actor, the ability to truly listen is the most significant. This requires the actor to have their attention off of themselves, out of their head, and onto their instinctive impulses, with the capacity to respond personally in every moment. This takes an acting instrument that is vulnerable and sensitized. This is another wonderful quality of a Meisner trained actor. We are all parented, socialized and educated, and have developed many ways to protect ourselves from being hurt or embarrassed. Those defenses must be chiseled away if you want to be an exceptional actor, one who can truly create vivid, organic human behavior. The Meisner Technique accomplishes this, but it cannot happen in six weeks or even six months.

The brilliance of the Meisner Technique is it instills these important fundamentals so that they are second nature. Meisner training, which begins as simple repetition, evolves into a very profound and sophisticated improvisational exercise that hones an actor’s ability to do truthfully.


Meisner Training Creates A Vulnerable And Emotionally Deep Actor

Many untrained actors can be confused or misinformed about the place of emotion in acting. Most amateurs or those poorly trained believe that the more emotion you have, the more talented you must be. This causes actors to be self-indulgent, with a compulsion to show an audience that they are alive, or strain and squeeze every last drop that is inside of them. The Meisner Technique, and particularly the first year work teaches the actor how to truly come to life in three different ways: through truly listening and taking personally what is being said to you, through truthfully doing, and finally through emotionally preparing off-stage to connect to a previous circumstance.

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This is where Meisner made the biggest departure from the training created by Lee Strasberg, known as The Method. Meisner did not believe that actors needed to use literal past life experiences (sense memory or emotional recall), to manipulate themselves emotionally. He and many actors found it uncreative and unhealthy. The Meisner Technique teaches the actor how to prepare off-stage through the power of imagination and daydreaming emotionally. Harnessing what we already do in life spontaneously to craft is a very powerful part of the Meisner actor’s skill. Throughout the nine months of first-year work, and actor becomes keenly aware of the difference between quality vs. quantity when it comes to emotion. The fluidity of emotion is the mark of a well-trained Meisner actor; one who understands that inner life must ebb and flow from moment to moment.


The Meisner Technique Teaches Actors How To Be Spontaneous With A Script

When Meisner was teaching his acting classes in NYC, he understood that his exercise work had no value if it could not be applied to scenes. Most actors, if they train at all, put together a hodge podge of workshops and scene study classes, which leave many feeling like they still don’t know what they are doing. Crafting is everything for an actor, and to consistently create truly vivid, organic, human behavior, it must happen in a simple, precise, and personal way. Any serious actor should know how to craft a previous circumstance, an acting relationship, shared circumstances, objective, and then pin down their actions. Meisner training instills this ability so that it is second nature, and then teaches you how to bring this to text with instincts, spontaneity, and freedom. Bad actors wait for their cues, and “act” at the other people on stage or camera. There is no real experience taking place.

A trained Meisner actor knows how to be fully present, out of their head, connected personally to the issues of the character, with the capacity to respond personally in every moment. A Meisner actor does not adjust to the text, do line readings, or manipulate themselves emotionally to fit a line. They have the skill to subvert the text to their inner life rather than the other way around. Meisner actors do not practice how they say their lines, figuring out the best way to indicate what the character is doing or feeling. They possess one of the most important qualities to any outstanding actor, spontaneity. That is where your uniqueness resides, in your spontaneous response. Ultimately, the ability to break down and interpret a script, with insight into psychology and character issues, and then allow the moments to unfold inevitably yet spontaneously, is the mark of a trained Meisner actor. This is when an actor becomes an artist, capable of illuminating the human condition in all its aspects.

Meisner Technique

The Meisner Technique in its entirety is a professional actor training program that takes two years to teach. Any reputable Meisner teacher should be trained in the technique as an actor with years of professional experience, and also should have been mentored as a Meisner teacher by a true master who has a reputation for accurately teaching the work.

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