Sanford Meisner
the Meisner Acting Technique

If you're wondering about Sanford Meisner's acting technique, read on. Here you'll find the basics of the Meisner technique, along with what to expect in Meisner acting classes and acting schools through sample exercises you can try at home. You can also look at a list of Meisner actors and other information to help you decide if this acting method is for you.

sanford meisner basics

1) What is the Meisner acting method?

This acting method was inspired by Stanislavski. Sanford Meisner studied with Lee Strasberg at the Group Theatre but then developed his own method, rejecting sense memory and anything that keeps the actor "in his head". The goal of his acting technique is to prepare the actor to follow his instincts and be spontaneous on stage.

The reality of doing
Sanford Meisner believed that an actor has to be involved in something real onstage for the audience to be really engaged. The actor becomes the character by doing, by committing to the action and acting on his impulses. Meisner often reminded his students to play.

Moment-to-Moment Acting
The only thing that's real is what's happening in the moment. One actor responding to another in the moment. Instead of deciding in advance on objectives and beats, the Meisner-trained actors strive to experience each scene now. Meisner devised several "repetition exercises" and improvisation exercises to help actors put their focus on their partner so they can experience the scene as it is happening rather than be cut off from the moment by being self-conscious.

Imagination and preparation
Meisner actors use their imagination to enter each scene charged with the emotion of the given circumstances of the play. Meisner believed that "the fantasy of daydreaming" is much more powerful and reliable then the use of sense memory or emotional memories from our own past. Meisner students are encouraged to make up fantasies that will make them feel like the character. For example, if a character enters a scene in a rage but the actor playing the role can't relate to the given circumstances of the play, the actor will "daydream" a situation that would put him in a rage. This is only used as preparation to start the scene. Once the actor is in the scene, he lets go of his preparation and reacts moment-to-moment.

Meisner acting schools

2) What can you expect?

  • A lot of exercises
    Whether it's improvisation or repetition exercises, you'll do a lot of exercises before you get to the actual dialogue from your scenes. In order to stay spontaneous on stage, you'll be asked to learn your lines "flat" (mechanically), without deciding in advance where to pause or how to say the line, so there won't be much traditional rehearsal homework.
  • A challenge
    Sanford Meisner said, "It's all right to be wrong, but it's not all right not to try." In this acting method, every line uttered by the actor has to come out of a genuine impulse. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when you're eager to act. Learning moment-to-moment acting is a challenge and you may often feel frustrated.

Continue to page 2 to discover Meisner acting exercises and to find out if Sanford Meisner acting classes or acting schools are right for you.

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