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You might have heard the phrase ‘Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances’. Well, legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner coined the term. He created The Meisner Technique to encourage his students not to ‘think too much’ whilst acting.
We’re going to delve deep and discover what the Meisner acting technique is, what it involves and if it’s right for you, so get ready!
Sanford Meisner was one of the most highly respected and influential acting teachers of the 20th century. Furthermore, in the early 1930s, Meisner and a group of actors including Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler formed a theatre company called The Group Theatre.
They were influential in developing Method Acting and had also studied Stanislavsky’s naturalistic approach to acting. Eventually, though, Meisner distanced himself from the Method Acting approach and developed his own instead: The Meisner Technique.
Firstly, the Sanford Meisner technique encouraged actors to use personal prompts to place themselves in their character’s emotional state. Actors could use imaginary circumstances or personal memories to provoke this.
However, the prepared emotion should only be used during the very first moments of the scene. After that, the acting must be based on what the other actors in the scene are doing.
All the preparation ultimately leads to improvisation and flexibility during each performance. Meisner preached that an actor should not make any choices until something provokes them, thereby justifying their behaviour. To achieve this, actors must fully connect to the other actors so they don’t miss meaningful actions or reactions.
The three main components of the Meisner Technique in performing arts include:
These components all work together to help actors connect with other actors and remain present in the scene, without worrying about remembering their lines or rehearsing.
Additionally, focusing on preparation, repetition, and improvisation, actors can access creative reactions, realistically responding to the other actors around them.
Meisner believed actors should carry out emotional preparation in order to develop the ‘imaginary circumstances’ in their character’s life. According to Meisner, an actor must portray the full emotional landscape of a character to be engaging.
This acting technique allows actors to gain an understanding of the emotions of their character, deepening a connection with their character’s personal experiences. The preparation stops actors trying to act as a character and instead reacting realistically.
The Repetition Exercise trains an actor’s responses. Rather than learning a long dialogue, two actors use repetition by facing each other and repeating the same phrase again and again whilst creating a realistic reaction. Meisner likened this to a game of ping pong, with each actor bouncing off each other.
The words stay pretty much the same. However, the actors change their tone, emotion and body language whilst speaking. The idea behind this exercise is to guide actors away from their comfort zone, encouraging natural reactions in the process.
Improvisation plays a key role in the Meisner Technique. Meisner’s form of improvisation allows actors to act before thinking and spurs spontaneity. He encourages students to feel how the character feels based on instinct and emotional connection, without relying on lines.
Additionally, actors skilled in the Repetition Exercise can create an impromptu reaction, often without words and in between lines, in any scene.
Chances are you’ve heard of Method Acting? Though Meisner and Method acting are often confused, they are actually very distinct.
Here are a couple of key components from each:
The Meisner Technique:
Once you’ve learnt the basics of Meisner Technique examples, you might wonder if this technique is right for you? Whether you’re looking to develop your acting skills or want to bring out the best in your actors as a director or writer, this technique can equip you with the tools you need to give the best possible performance.
The Meisner Technique could work for you if:
Class dismissed! We hope you have learned lots about Sanford Meisner and his influential instinct-based technique, The Meisner Technique.
Best of luck practicing the Meisner Method!
We hope you’ve found this useful and hopefully you’ll be in the background of some future films we watch! Whilst you’re here, why not check out some more of our articles on our blog? We recommend The Ultimate Guide On How To Learn Lines and How To Audition For A Movie to get you started!
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