The Meisner Technique
What is the Meisner Technique?
The Meisner Technique is an approach to acting which was developed by the American theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner. The Meisner Technique was developed directly from the work of Konstantin Stanislavsky and Stanislavsky’s work with the Moscow Art Theatre.
This work was ground-breaking at the time of its development due to the truthful, naturalistic performances it allowed, a stark difference to the more vaudeville and melodramatic styles common at the time.
The Moscow Art Theatre toured to New York in 1923. The work was so well received that several members of the company remained in New York to train a handful of artists who would later go on to found the Group Theatre. Notable practitioners of the Group Theatre included Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner. Each went on to develop their own individual approach to actor training creating enigmatic actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.
The Meisner Technique differs from its more famous cousin, Method Acting, by turning its back on emotional memory (the use of actual events in an actor’s life to find emotion). The use of imagination; further development of Stanislavsky’s ‘What If?’, as well as putting your attention on your scene partner are what distinguish it from other techniques.
Who was Sanford Meisner?
Sanford Meisner (August 31, 1905 – February 2, 1997), also known as Sandy, was an American actor and acting teacher who developed an approach to acting instruction that is now known as the Meisner Technique. Meisner maintained an emphasis on “the reality of doing,” which was the foundation of his approach along with the use of “imaginary circumstances”. The most unique element of the Meisner Technique is the repetition exercise, a tool used to train the actor’s instrument and “flex the emotional muscle”.
Following his work at the Group Theatre, Meisner became Director of Acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York, and eventually moved to LA, where he set up the Sanford Meisner Centre, and continued teaching until shortly before his death in 1997.
In later life, Meisner’s health suffered; a car accident damaged his left leg and hip, and throat cancer left him without ability to speak. He taught himself to speak again by inhaling air into his oesophagus and forcing out sounds, and walked with the use of his cane. Despite these challenges he continued teaching with passion and commitment well into his 90s.
Why choose the Meisner technique?
The Meisner Technique is systematic in its approach. Actors are trained in core exercises, most notably the ‘repetition exercise’ to achieve greater emotional freedom and versatility. The rigorous use of imagination is also key and explored through exercises in emotional preparation, character, text and scene work. Truthful, moment-to-moment acting is focused on from the very beginning of the training. Actors are trained to maintain ease and grace in performance whilst sustaining connected, emotional depth with themselves and their partners. In short: ‘living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’, being present and reacting in the moment.
Where can I study the Meisner technique in London?
Right here with the salon:collective at the Cockpit theatre central London. Book here for Meisner Stage 1.