Meisner Technique: What Is The Meisner Technique In Acting?

29th July 2021

Meisner Technique: What Is The Meisner Technique In Acting?
Maria Hanlon

Maria Hanlon

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. 

sanford meisner

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!

Who Was Sanford Meisner?

sanford meisner

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.

What Is The Meisner Technique?

actors in drama school

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. 

What Does The Meisner Technique Involve?

actors and director

The three main components of the Meisner Technique in performing arts include:

  • Emotional preparation
  • Repetition
  • Improvisation

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.

Emotional Preparation

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.

Repetition Exercise

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.

Meisner Technique Vs Method Acting

actors performing with meisner technique

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:

Method Acting:

  • Focuses on internal information to develop a character.
  • Draws on memory and emotional recollection.

The Meisner Technique:

  • Relies on reaction and spontaneity.
  • Encourages actors to improvise in response to external incentives.

Is The Meisner Technique Right For You?

drama school actors on stage

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:

  • You find yourself overthinking your emotional responses as an actor. Actors who tend to get caught up in analysing their character’s emotions instead of naturally reacting when studying or prepping for scenes find the Meisner Technique really helpful. The technique gives you the tools to react authentically, without over thinking it. 
  • You want to learn how to draw out authentic responses on set as a director. Understanding how to guide actors so they can spontaneously react, will help make your films and/or plays realistic.
  • You’re interested in exploring human emotion and authenticity as a writer. Practicing techniques like The Meisner Technique challenges you to dig deeper into who a character is and result in more life-like characters, realistic dialogue and stories that capture the human experience in a more engaging and authentic way.

That Was Our Guide On The Meisner Technique

theatre curtains

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!

Allow Center Stage to sky-rocket your career and surface your talents to casting agents, booking agents, directors, and modelling agents worldwide. Pre-register by clicking the button below!

Share this article


sign up to
center stage

Register for the pre-launch!