How Does the Meisner Technique Work
Who was Sanford Meisner?
As New York-based actors in the 1930s, Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, and Stella Adler formed a theatre company called Group Theatre and became the founding members of their system. Inspired by Stankovlaski’s naturalistic approach to acting, Group Theatre and Sanford Meisner developed the Meisner technique studio, emerging a new type of training for aspiring actors.
What is the Meisner technique?
Do you praise certain actors when they fully embody the character they’re playing? Acting techniques we see in movies and television started from somewhere, and the Meisner technique has influenced a range of methods that we see today. You may want to incorporate this technique into your practice!
Meisner vs. Method acting
In comparison to method acting and modern acting techniques, Meisner’s acting techniques focus on impulses rather than thinking too much about the character’s background. Method acting was also developed by Lee Strasberg.
The Meisner technique is based on being able to react instinctively rather than just pretending to play a character, whereas method acting is becoming the character, on and off the set. The Meisner technique is not just about reading and comprehending the script but putting yourself into the character’s life and having a deep understanding of their motivations, understanding their lives, hopes, and dreams!
The Meisner Technique
– Encourages actors to play authentic performances by using external stimuli, such as props used as surroundings.
– Meisner acting relies on a fast reaction along with spontaneity.
– Involves emotional recollection and draws on your memory.
– Has a focus on internal information to further develop a character for the screen.
Components of the Meisner technique
The Meisner technique focuses on three components, emotional preparation, repetition, and improvisational methods. Instead of simply relying on memory, this helps actors in training to focus on their scene partner, building a truthful performance.
– Emotional preparation. Have you ever had a moment in real life that genuinely affected you, like a relationship breakup or a family death? This Meisner technique proves how torturous personal emotions can be used to enhance the emotional state of the actor, creating a more honest performance.
A healthier way of doing this is to imagine that the character’s turmoil is your conflict, building a convincing character for the screen. For this acting technique, you can also interview people who have gone through similar experiences. In the TV series How To Get Away With Murder, Annalise breaks down after finding out that Wes died, showing how Viola Davis is superb at crying for television.
– Improvisation. Have you ever tried something out of the ordinary and were surprised at how well it worked out? This Meisner technique encourages being spontaneous, limits thinking, and allows characters to interact as naturally as possible. Tony Stark, for example, improvised a scene in The Avengers by offering Captain America and Bruce Banner a blueberry, as he always decided to eat snacks on set. This way, deeper connections are being drawn between the actor and the character.
– Repetition. This Meisner technique is a word repetition game to encourage “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”, and to train actors’ responses. Developing instinct and observation skills, the repetition exercise can help capture realistic and interesting human behaviour.
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Meisner’s repetition exercise
Have you struggled with being able to create honest performances? Sanford Meisner created the repetition exercise, calling it the “Word Repetition Game”. Two actors are told to see the other person, stating a single line of dialogue to each other and repeating this process. This Meisner technique can help with line delivery over time, flow, emotional connection, and being present in the moment! Why don’t you try this repetition exercise with a friend?
What actors use the Meisner technique?
In the world of acting, this is the most used technique. Famous Meisner actors use the Meisner approach in feature films, including Robert Duvall, Jeff Goldblum, Diane Keaton, Gregory Peck, Alec Baldwin, David Mamet, Sydney Pollack, and Mary Steenburgen.
What other acting techniques should you know?
– Classical acting. This is a classic technique with a focus on voice, memory, physical mannerisms, emotion, and more, but it goes by the book.
– Stanislavski’s system. Similiar to the Meisner technique, this draws on emotional life and behaving instinctively.
– Chekhovs psycho-physical tasks. Focusing on transformation encourages an actor to make creative decisions based on their imagination and impulses.
– Practical aesthetics. David Mamet created this acting technique, inspired by Meisner and Stanislavski. Actors are told to adapt to a character’s circumstances, such as their backstory.
– Brechtian method. Founded by playwright Bertolt Brecht, this is a non-emotional approach to acting, focusing on reflecting on things logically.
– Stella Adler’s method. Stella Adler was a student of Stanislavski and believed that emotional recall was important, telling students they should imagine a world for their characters.
– Uta Hagens method. Hagen believed in realism and told students not to overthink and to grow a character based on their daily lives. These stages were substitution, transference, specificity, authenticity, and preparation.
– Viola Spolin’s theatre games. Viola’s method was spontaneity and improvisation, often used as a warmup before a performance to help actors get in touch with their inner creativity.
Where can I study the Meisner technique?
Do you want to feel confident enough to apply for casting calls near you? You can learn the Meisner acting technique by completing Meisner training at The Actors Pulse, which focuses on an organic step-by-step approach to acting. Feel free to encourage other actors to do the same.
Billy Milionis is one of the few Australians to have ever studied under the legendary master teacher, the late Sanford Meisner. Billy has also studied story structure and scene analysis techniques with John Truby and later at UCLA. He has also spent several years doing improvisation in Hollywood with the L.A. Connection. In addition, he trained in the technique of Stella Adler, Practical Aesthetics and Lee Strasberg’s method.