Mention the name ‘Sanford Meisner’ to many of those with even the most undeveloped interest in acting, and they are likely to think of the guru and teacher who practically changed the face of the art.
And the late American — who died in 1997 — may have been exposed in his formative years to what we now know as method acting, but the school of acting thought he ushered in himself turned out to be something very different.
What do I mean by that? I am, of course, referring to the Meisner acting technique, which departs from method acting in its emphasis on seeking out external sources of inspiration for one’s acting — including from the behaviour of one’s fellow actors.
This is as opposed to the internal memory and emotional recollection that you are likely to be taught to draw upon if you learn method acting.
Basically, the Meisner acting technique is about responding to stimuli and trusting your instincts as an actor. And there is no shortage of esteemed practitioners of the art, such acting greats as Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Grace Kelly, and Jeff Goldblum having all refined and perfected the technique.
What are the three fundamental components of the Meisner acting technique?
One of the first things you should know about Meisner acting is… well, let’s start that sentence again, because there are strictly three things.
The three essential tenets known as emotional preparation, repetition, and improvisation all feed into what the Meisner acting technique is. These components work together to enable actors to tap into an organic and authentic approach — including remaining present and observing their scene partner, instead of counting on memory or rehearsal.
Three, two, one, those ‘tenets’ are, to go over them in a bit more detail:
- Emotional preparation, which entails building on the “imaginary circumstances” in the life of the character one is playing. Meisner was a big believer in the importance of this kind of prep work for producing an authentic performance reflecting the emotional life of the character.
- The repetition exercise, which is one of the most ‘famous’ aspects of the Meisner acting technique. Basically, it entails two actors facing and repeating a given phrase to each other, while building on what the other person has just said. While — when engaging in this exercise — you will be using more-or-less the same words each time, you will have the chance to vary your intensity, emotion, and tone with each iteration of your response.
- Improvisation, which helps bring genuine spontaneity to a given scene, all while you effectively intimately ‘occupy’ the character. With the Meisner acting technique, you won’t be merely ‘acting out’ the responses you speculate the given character might have to various interactions and situations — you really are that character, behaving with an instinct and emotional connection that are the character’s own.
Is there a lot to absorb with this deceptively simple acting technique, which is based so much on picking up impulses rather than mere cues? You can bet there is — and yet, the Meisner acting technique is also utterly accessible, enabling actors to quickly start creating authentic characters and convincingly instinctive and honest performances, without having to dredge up troubling personal emotions.
While I always like to remind everyone that “acting is a physical activity and must be experienced through the doing”, brushing up on the Meisner technique could be an excellent way to expand your ‘vocabulary’ as an actor. And you can simply contact Studio Ferrera to learn more about how my complete acting academy could make it possible for you.