Meisner Acting Technique - Meisner Method Acting excercises

Meisner Acting Sanford MeisnerTechnique - Meisner Method Acting excercises

Meisner Technique Repetition Exercise

What is the Meisner technique?

‘To be an interesting actor - hell, to be an interesting human being - you must be authentic and for you to be authentic you must embrace who you really are, warts and all. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to not care what people think about you? Well, that's what we're here to do.’ — Sanford Meisner

  •  The Meisner acting technique is a technique developed by the American theatre practitioner, Sanford Meisner. He developed the technique after working with Less Strasberg and Stella Adler at the Group Theatre.
  •  The technique teaches the actor to think less, react to stimuli and get in touch with their instincts. Meisner noted that you should ‘Act before you think – your instincts are more honest than your thoughts.’

Many famous actors have trained in the Meisner acting technique, including Grace Kelly, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Diane Keaton. The playwright Arthur Miller once said of Meisner, ‘he has been the most principled teacher of acting in this country for decades now, and every time I am reading actors I can pretty well tell which ones have studied with Meisner. It is because they are honest and simple and don’t lay on complications that aren’t necessary.’

  • If you are teaching this technique you should first create a safe space for your students to work in. The facilitator should explain that mistakes are ok and polished thought out performances are discouraged. The technique is liberating, encouraging the performer not to think, but instead to just do.

This Meisner method teaches the actor to be in the now, to respond to stimuli and trust their instincts. Improvisation plays an important role during the training as it allows the student to bring spontaneity into the scene. Meisner believes that the actor must do what the character does; if the character is listening, the actor must really listen. The actor doesn’t pretend to listen, they really listen and they really react. For acting students who are serious about Meisner , I would recommend practicing meditation; this is another effective means of training yourself to exist in the now.

Meisner’s acting approach is very practical: students won’t find themselves writing on their scripts and analysing them. Thinking is almost discouraged.

  • Meisner’s main principle is that you should ‘Act before you think - your instincts are more honest than your thoughts.’

The technique focuses on external rather than internal stimuli, making it different from method acting. Meisner noted that his approach to training ‘is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there’s no mentality to it.’ Meisner taught his students to ‘live truthfully under given imaginary circumstances.’

  •  Meisner’s method acting most famous exercise is ‘the repetition exercise’, which trains actors to respond ‘truthfully’ and encourages them not to think, but instead to respond to circumstance.

Meisner Repetition Exercise.

Technique example:

  • For this exercise two actors sit facing each other.

One person says a phrase about how the other person looks or behaves, for example, ‘you are wearing a black top.’ The other person responds by repeating the phrase but they replace the word ‘you,’ with I; so they say, ‘I’m wearing a black top.’ The conversation carries on like this, with one person making observations and the other repeating the observations back to them. Some phrases can be repeated. Here’s an example:

           ‘You’re wearing earrings.’

            ‘I am wearing earrings.’

            ‘You’re wearing earrings.’

            ‘I am wearing earrings.’

            ‘You scratched your eyebrow.’

            ‘I scratched my eyebrow.’

            ‘You have blonde hair.’

            ‘I have blonde hair.’

 By doing this, the actor stops thinking about what to say and do and responds to the other actor more freely and spontaneously. Meisner’s principles of listening, responding and being in the moment are key to this exercise. One thing to note is that there shouldn’t be judgment in the observational phrase, for example, ‘you look tired,’ wouldn’t be appropriate as this is a judgment and not a fact.

  •  Later, as the repetition exercise evolves more can be added, such as, given circumstances, relationships and actions and obstacles.

 Written by Sam Marsden

 Recommended reading

 - ‘Sanford Meisner on Acting,’ by Sanford Meisner.

- ‘Actor's Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique,’ by William Esper.

 Whether you're an experienced drama teacher or straight out of college, my new book Teach Drama: How to Make a Living as a Freelance Drama Teacher will help you get work as freelance drama teacher.

 

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