What is the Meisner Technique?
First, we better start with WHO. Sanford Meisner was an American teacher, actor and director. He was one of the founding members of The Group Theatre (along with Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman), all of whom went on to revolutionise actor training in the 20th Century.
“My approach 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.” – Sanford Meisner
In 1933 he became disenchanted with Group Theatre’s “method acting” approach. He wrote “actors are not guinea pigs to be manipulated, dissected, let alone in a purely negative way. Our approach was not organic, that is to say, not healthy.”
In 1936 he lead the Drama Department at The Neighborhood Playhouse and this became the eventual home for his work.
Meisner defined acting as “living truthfully under given circumstances”. He believed that an actor should never be manipulated or negatively impacted to be able to act – instead, he aimed for solid, organic truth, rooted firmly in instinct.
The cornerstone of the technique is an exercise called ‘repetition’’. Repetition consists of a series of exercises to train the actor to discover their instinctive impulses, develop the ability to observe and respond and to live truthfully, moment to moment.
It is what it says on the tin – actors repeat a sentence (this has very specific rules which you’ll learn in class) and as their technique builds, Meisner’s analogy of the text being a canoe and their emotions being the water comes into being.
“Acting in a scene is like paddling a canoe from a pebbly beach on to the river, the writer builds the canoe, and the actor provides the river. The river is the actor’s thoughts and emotions.”
At Impulse, we teach a series of 5 exercises. Simple, concise (not easy!) all distilled from the work of Sanford Meisner to train the actor to live truthfully, be in the moment, train the muscles actors need to be sharp (and it’s probably not what you think) and how to approach analysing text.
Arthur Miller on Sanford Meisner: “He has been one of the most principled teacher of actors 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 want to find out more about what we teach at The Impulse Company, read our next blog and visit us online at www.impulsecompanyaustralia.com.