Sanford Meisner developed his technique to bring truth to the actor’s performance. He saw that although an actor could be technically perfect and emotionally true – there was still something missing from the performance – genuine connection and truth. As he developed his ideas he found that emotion is only real when it comes from the action of striving for something whilst being genuinely connected to those with whom one is acting.

“The foundation of acting…is in the reality of doing” Sanford Meisner.

Sanford Meisner developed his technique to bring truth to the actor’s performance. He saw that although an actor could be technically perfect and emotionally true – there was still something missing from the performance – genuine connection and truth. As he developed his ideas he found that emotion is only real when it comes from the action of striving for something whilst being genuinely connected to those with whom one is acting.

"..a way of making yourself one with the text and getting you to work off of the other fellow.'' Sanford Meisner

To aid with this he created ‘Repetition’ - an exercise designed to encourage the actor to be alive in the moment, reactive, truthful and instinctive; to focus on the person you are with and work off them. The benefits of this exercise are numerous…it is, for me, one of the single greatest exercises any actor can do. You develop your empathy, your understanding of yourself and others, all the technical aspects and, an added bonus, being honest and listening to one’s true instincts is incredibly cathartic! Beyond repetition, Meisner developed further exercises such as Activities and Doors to create a technique which delves into the heart of acting, exploring instinct, imagination and personal truth as conduits to produce rich, detailed characters and truthful acting.

The Meisner Technique embraces an instinctive approach to acting and it is within instinct that the soul of art lives; it can allow you to live truthfully and freely under any given circumstances.

 ''You don't have to play at being the character; it's right there in your doing it.'' Sanford Meisner.

The roots of the technique lie in Russia with Constantin Stanislavski who spent many years developing his ‘System’. It’s a wonderful journey which culminated with his visit to America with the Moscow Art Theatre. (try to read up on it!)

Sanford Meisner created his technique from the ‘System’ which was the result of Stanislavski's many years of effort to determine how someone can control in performance the most intangible and uncontrollable aspects of human behaviour, such as emotions and art inspiration. The most influential acting teachers, including Richard Boleslavsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Michael Chekhov, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Harold Clurman, Robert Lewis, Uta Hagen, Ion Cojar, Andrey Vasilyev and Ivana Chubbuck all traced their pedigrees to Stanislavski, his theories and/or his disciples.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ernest Hemingway

However, despite learning much from Stanislavski, Meisner felt that reliance upon emotional memory was too limited and that an actor should develop their imagination to be able to deal with the myriad collection of characters and situations that exist within theatre and film. This was at the heart of the split between himself and other teaching luminaries Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler and in 1935, he joined the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.

In 1933, he became disillusioned with Method acting, and 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.'' He began teaching at the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1935 and the next year took over as its head.” From the NY Times. 1997.

He continued as the Director of the Acting Department until his retirement in 1990. It was here where he first established himself and his technique before also joining the Actors Studio in 1947.

Sanford Meisner’s contribution to acting cannot be measured in words. He taught and influenced some the greatest creative forces in film and theatre.  I personally always loved the end of Sydney Pollack’s forward to ‘Sanford Meisner On Acting’:

“I believe there are only a few people who can really teach the technique of acting. Most are well-read, intelligent and confuse their ability to theorise and intellectualise about the subject with an ability to cause real growth in an actor. There are almost no good books about acting. This is one of the best. I envy all of you who may be discovering Sandy for the first time.”

The Journey

This the first part in a series of videos which follows Sandford Meisner's teaching with commentary from those who studied with him.

 

Please do watch it - provides good insight.

Why Study Meisner?

Through this, I believe, the greatest performances can be achieved.

 

This cannot be realised, however, without hard work and dedication. How one approaches class is an extension of one's will to succeed; it is the training ground for the real world and must be treated as such.

 

If you would like to find out about classes please follow the link below.

“Emotions are the natural result of striving for something…The best thing for an actor to do is take your attention off of how you feel about it and put it on striving to obtain a particular objective. The happy result is that it brings out all this unexpected stuff in yourself.”William. H. Macy.

Every teacher will always put their own mark on whatever they teach. Certain elements strike home more perhaps. I speak having studied Meisner intensively for 4 years before moving into directing and teaching. 

 

The point of learning this technique is not to be an ‘actor’ but to learn how to be a human being under the given circumstances. To be free and instinctive; passionate and driven; to deliver truth moment to moment. Yes - you are an actor by trade; but your soul is art.

For me, the strength of this technique is in its simplicity. It’s ability to breed connection and empathy. To understand intellectually and emotionally an unlimited range of situations and characters. To create a life on stage that is existing now; which is truthful and alive – moment to moment; performances which are dangerous in the sense that the actor doesn’t’ know what they are going to do in a seconds time and the audience certainly doesn’t. It creates lightning on stage – stunning and completely unique each time.