What Is the Meisner Technique?

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The Meisner Technique is an acting technique that emphasizes emotional connection and instinctual behavior. Learn about the technique's history and how actors around the world use it.

The Meisner Technique is a method of acting developed by theater actor and acting teacher Sanford Meisner. The Meisner method of acting focuses on three components: emotional preparation, repetition exercises, and improvisation. The Meisner Technique aims to connect actors with their scene partners and help them respond instinctively to stimuli. Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Robert Duvall, Alec Baldwin, and Diane Keaton were among the many famous Broadway and Hollywood actors who studied Meisner's acting technique.


A Quick Overview of the Meisner Technique

In the 1930s, Sanford Meisner created the Meisner Technique. Consider its progression:

The Group Theatre: In 1931, Meisner joined The Group Theatre, a New York theatre collective founded by actor and teacher Lee Strasberg, a leading proponent of the Method Acting approach and director of the Actors Studio; director and cofounder of the Actors Studio Cheryl Crawford; and director and critic Harold Clurman. The Group Theatre's approach to acting, known as The Method, is based on the system of theater practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski. The Method focuses on "affective memory," also known as emotional recall.

Neighborhood Playhouse: Meisner and another Group Theatre member, Stella Adler, were against affective memory, which they saw as manipulative. Disagreements over the Method approach led to the dissolution of the theater collective in 1941. Meisner was the acting program director at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. There, he developed a training program based in part on Stanislavski's system and Method Acting techniques developed by Lee Strasberg. Meisner's training is founded on the principle of "living truthfully under fictitious circumstances."

Meisner/Carville School of Acting: In 1983, Meisner founded the Meisner/Carville School of Acting on the West Indian island of Bequia with long-time collaborator James Carville. In 1995, two years before Meisner's death in 1997, a second Meisner/Carville School of Acting, later renamed the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, opened in Los Angeles.

Legacy: Sanford Meisner on Acting (1987), co-written by Meisner and actor Dennis Longwell, outlines Mesiner's actor training philosophy. The Meisner Technique is still used to train actors all over the world.


3 Principles of the Meisner Technique

The Meisner Technique is comprised of three critical components:

1. Emotional preparation: Meisner training requires an actor to enter a scene emotionally, either through imagination or through a real-life experience, in order to access a character's emotional state. Actors should then concentrate on their scene partners and instinctual human behavior to drive the action of the scene.

2. Improvisation: According to the Meisner Technique, actors should only react when provoked by naturally occurring stimuli in the scene. When actors fully engage with a scene and the other actors, improvisation becomes organic, and reactions reflect reality.

3. Repetition: A key component of a Meisner class is the repetition exercise. The "Word Repetition Game" involves putting two actors across from each other. One actor makes a remark about their scene partner, who then repeats it. Repetition eventually leads to different perspectives ("I'm standing next to you" becomes "You're standing next to me") and fosters natural, improvised dialogue as well as focused connection between scene partners.

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