The Meisner Technique, also known as the “Meisner Approach,” is a method of acting developed by the American actor and teacher Sanford Meisner. It emphasizes the use of improvisation and repetition exercises to help actors develop their ability to respond spontaneously and truthfully in the moment.
The foundation of the Meisner Technique is the “repetition exercise,” which is designed to help actors develop their ability to listen and respond to their scene partners in a natural and authentic way. In the exercise, two actors perform a simple scene, such as meeting for the first time, and repeat a line of dialogue back and forth to each other. The goal is for the actors to focus on each other and the reality of the scene, rather than their own emotions and thoughts. This exercise is repeated multiple times, with the actors experimenting with different emotions, attitudes, and behaviors each time, in order to fully understand the scene.
Another important aspect of the Meisner Technique is improvisation. Meisner believed that the key to creating believable and authentic performances is to be fully present in the moment, and to respond truthfully to what is happening around you. Improvisation exercises are used to help actors develop this skill. These exercises can take many forms, such as pretending to be a different person in a given scenario, or reacting to unexpected events in a scene.
The Meisner Technique also emphasizes the importance of “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” This means that while the actor is not in the scene, they should be living within the reality of the scene. This can be achieved by doing research, preparing the backstory and motives of the character, and also by constantly being in contact with the script and the given circumstances of the scene.
Meisner believed that an actor’s true instrument is their own life, and that the most powerful performances come from actors who are able to use their own experiences and emotions to inform their work. He encourages actors to be open and vulnerable with themselves, to let go of their self-consciousness and not to be afraid to make mistakes.
Overall, the Meisner Technique is focused on helping actors develop their ability to be present, spontaneous and emotionally authentic in their acting. It is known for its emphasis on practical, repetition-based exercises to develop the actors listening, focus and reaction skills. Actors who trained using this technique are known for their ability to be present, connected and truthful in their performances, and for the naturalism of their performances.
Many well-known actors have studied or trained in the Meisner Technique, as it has been a popular method for developing acting skills for many years. Some examples of celebrities who have been known to use the Meisner Technique include:
- Robert De Niro: De Niro is considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, and he trained with Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. He has credited Meisner with helping him develop his craft and with giving him the ability to “live truthfully” in his performances.
- Dianne Wiest: Wiest trained in Meisner Technique with Sanford Meisner himself, she is well-known for her ability to deliver powerful performances and for the naturalism of her performances, her two Academy Awards are a testament to her acting abilities.
- Paul Newman: Newman studied the Meisner Technique at the Actors Studio, and credited the training with helping him to develop the focus and concentration required for a successful career as an actor.
- Bruce Willis: Willis studied the Meisner Technique during his time at the Actors Studio and credited the method for teaching him to be more relaxed and natural in front of the camera.
- Elizabeth McGovern: McGovern studied the Meisner Technique with William Esper, a Meisner trained actor-teacher, and she has credited the technique for teaching her to trust her instincts and for helping her to develop a deeper understanding of the characters she plays.
- Jodie Foster: Foster studied the Meisner Technique and has credited the technique for teaching her to be more spontaneous in her performances.
These are just a few examples of many actors who have studied Meisner technique, some other examples include Mark Ruffalo, Peter Gallagher, David Mamet, Kate Burton among others. It is important to note that actors may have studied or trained in many different techniques, and may not necessarily identify exclusively with one. But the Meisner technique is well known for providing actors with a strong foundation for their craft.
The Meisner Technique is taught at many acting schools and conservatories around the world. Here are some examples of schools that specialize in, or have a strong emphasis on, the Meisner Technique:
- The Meisner Studio, New York City: This is the school that was founded by Sanford Meisner himself, and it is considered to be one of the most reputable places to study the Meisner Technique. The school offers intensive two-year programs that focus on the Meisner Technique, as well as classes for actors at various levels of experience.
- The William Esper Studio, New York City: This school was founded by William Esper, a former student of Meisner’s, and it offers a two-year professional training program that emphasizes the Meisner Technique, as well as other methods such as the Stanislavski System.
- The Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio, Santa Monica, California: The school founded by Joanne Baron and D.W. Brown, who were also Meisner trained and emphasis on Meisner Technique, as well as other methods such as Michael Chekhov Technique and Alexander Technique. The school offers a two-year professional program that focuses on the Meisner Technique and is designed for actors who are committed to a career in the entertainment industry.
- The New York Film Academy, New York City, Los Angeles, and other locations: The New York Film Academy has programs that includes Meisner Technique in their curriculum and have many Meisner trained faculty member, they also have other locations around the world
- HB Studio, New York City: This school offers Meisner Technique classes for actors at various levels of experience, and the Meisner technique is a fundamental part of the curriculum.
- The Actors Gymnasium, Chicago: This school offers a Meisner-based training program, and also focuses on other physical theater techniques as well.
These are just a few examples of the many acting schools that teach the Meisner Technique. It is important to research and investigate the different programs and faculty, as well as to attend classes to see if the teaching philosophy and approach align with what you are looking for in your training.