"To be an interesting actor - hell, to be an interesting human being - you must be authentic and for you to ever be authentic you must embrace who you really are, warts and all. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to not care what people think about you? Well, that's what we're here to do."
Sanford Meisner taught acting for over sixty-five years. Early on he realized there was a fundamental problem even with what was considered “good acting” and that was this: rarely was anyone truly listening or present. Consequently you didn’t believe them. It was this realization that led Sandy to create a process, a way, a technique that would turn his actors into spontaneous, impulsive, instinctive, present, human, free, fearless, grounded, connected, authentic, moment to moment, gut to gut machines. And if you were able to consistently work this way, then your acting would be believable, which was everything to Sanford Meisner.
“Acting is the ability to behave absolutely truthfully under the imaginary circumstances.”
The Meisner Technique is a brick by brick process designed to get you out of your head and into your gut. For that to happen, you must learn to put your focus and attention on the most important thing — the other actor. And from this very simple principle, Sandy created the Repetition Exercise.
Now you may have experienced the Repetition Exercise at some point along the way. And I’m sure, at some point, it seemed almost ridiculous, even pointless. It’s what it evolves into that’s so extraordinary because over the next three months “your shirt is blue,” “your shirt is blue,” transforms into a moment-to-moment connection between two world-class listening machines. Also, during this time the Independent Activity is introduced, which was founded on the other core principle of the Meisner Technique — acting is NOT talking. It is doing. Can you do whatever it is you’re doing truthfully under the imaginary circumstances?
During the entire first year of work, a myriad of “bricks” are added to these foundation exercises so the actor’s work continues to deepen. Early on, one of Sandy’s most important and dynamic teachings is introduced — Preparation. This topic of Preparation is where Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg were diametrically opposed. After years of “emotional memory and sense memory exercises,” Sandy came to the same conclusion that Constantin Stanislavski, the “Method’s” original creator, came to about Preparation — the most important ingredient for an actor is a vivid imagination and not a tortured upbringing, but to Sandy’s credit he stressed,
“If sense memory works for you, use it! Whatever works for you, use it. I simply believe actors are not emotional guinea pigs to be discredited by amateur psychologists. Instead, I believe there’s a much healthier way to work.”
The Technique’s Evolution
By the end of the first year, these teachings — combined with scene work and the Fantasy, Private Moment and One-Action Exercises — create a foundation where all “acting” has been stripped away so that the actor’s instrument will no longer push, force, indicate, fake, or act, but instead, only works truthfully, moment-to-moment from their gut and not their head. Students have a deepened sense of truth, freedom and public solitude.
During the second year scene work increases and with that, Character is introduced along with impediments and building and deepening truthful relationships while still maintaining the moment-to-moment, organic connection. Finally the Spoon River exercise is introduced challenging students to literally “put it all together.”
And then it’s time to leave, which is another wonderful thing about what Sandy created. Students leave the training with a foundation that is solid. You will call yourself an actor and it will truly mean something. And you will now be ready to go fulfill Sandy’s vision for all of his graduates — to work in any medium, opposite anyone and know what you’re doing. Sandy said,
“That’s what technique is. That’s what craft is. It’s not needing me anymore and knowing how to work and how to fix it when it’s not working.”