How to Use Meisner Techniques in Acting Class

Sanford Meisner was one of the most important and influential figures in American Theatre during the Twentieth Century. When Meisner broke away from The Actor's Studio to form his own style of teaching, he founded The Neighborhood Playhouse. Today, the Meisner technique is taught in acting schools and independent classes around the world.

Get yourself "in the mood." Sanford Meisner was a great believer in not indoctrinating any one specific method of preparation. He emphasized the only important thing in performance was that the audience believes in what was happening on stage. To do this, he suggests that actors "get in the mood" prior to going onstage. According to Meisner, there is no cut and dry rule to accomplish the task. While many actors find it helpful to listen to a piece of music before going on stage, other actors may find it helpful to read a poem or passage from a book. Experiment to find a technique that works best for you.

Improvise an "unstoppable force/immovable object". To do this, one actor will start by doing a physical activity. The actor must act as if the activity is a matter of life or death. For example: You break a vase that contains your father's ashes twenty minutes before your mother is expected to arrive home. If she discovers the vase, she will deny you of your million dollar inheritance. At this point, a second actor will enter in search of something extremely important from the first actor. For example: You need her to sign a stack of documents that will allow your uncle to have a heart transplant. The catch is, she must complete the task within the next thirty minutes, or your uncle will not receive the heart. With these two forces attacking each other, it is a battle of action and objective. No one will win, ultimately, if done well, but a lot will be learned about how each actor works organically in the space.

Use the "repetition exercises" with your scene partner. This is perhaps the best known, and often misused, mocked and misunderstood, aspect of the Meisner technique. With your scene partner, sit across from each other with full eye contact. Let the moment come naturally, and when you are ready (or when your partner is ready) make a simple, objective observation about the other person. For example: "Your eyes are blue." Your partner will then repeat back to you, "my eyes are blue." Repeat back and forth to create a neutral ground from which objective and natural reactions can flow between the two people.

Continue until there is a change in mood.. As soon as there is a difference in your partner's appearance, mood or behavior, change the phrase to another objective observation that describes the new occurrence. For example: "You are smirking." He will then repeat back "I am smirking." Keep repeating back and forth, ONLY changing the phrase when an unforced and organic change in behavior occurs. Doing this with your scene partner on a regular basis will connect the two of you, making it easier for both of you to listen and react honestly on stage and during performance.

Leave your work at the door. When you are ready to perform, leave every ounce of work, intellectual and otherwise, at the door. That is to say, don't think, just do. Meisner was a big believer in de-intellectualizing the acting process. In consciously "forgetting" the prep work you have done, you trust yourself to remember what is important. In the end, this is what will allow you to relax into the moment-to-moment behavior you need to believably perform on stage.

Tips & Warnings

This is a type of acting training that takes most people three years to perfect. Give yourself time and have patience with yourself.