To be an interesting actor, you must be authentic. For you to ever be authentic, you must embrace who you really are. 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
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: actors were rarely listening or present. Consequently you didn’t believe them. Sandy created a process, a technique that would turn his actors into spontaneous, impulsive, instinctive, present, human, free, fearless, authentic, moment-to-moment machines. If you could consistently work this way, your acting would be believable, which was everything to Sanford Meisner.
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. From this very simple principle, Sandy created the Repetition Exercise.
You may have experienced the Repetition Exercise. I’m sure, at some point, it seemed almost ridiculous, even pointless. What’s extraordinary is the repetition’s evolution; over three months, what began as, “your shirt is blue,” “your shirt is blue,” transforms into a moment-to-moment connection between two world-class listening machines. During this time, the Independent Activity is introduced, which was founded on the other core principle of the Meisner Technique — acting is NOT talking. Acting is doing. Can you do something truthfully under imaginary circumstances?
During the first session, we add a myriad of “bricks” to these exercises to deepen the actor’s work. Early on, one of Sandy’s most important and dynamic teachings is introduced — Preparation. This topic is where Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg were diametrically opposed. After years of “emotional and sense memory exercises,” Sandy came to the same conclusion as Konstantin Stanislavski, the “Method’s” original creator — the most important ingredient for an actor is a vivid imagination, not a tortured upbringing. 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. I believe there’s a much healthier way to work.”
These teachings — combined with scene work, Fantasies, Private Moments, and One-Action Exercises — create a foundation where all “acting” has been stripped away so that actors will no longer push, force, fake, or act, but instead, work truthfully, moment-to-moment. Students have a deepened sense of truth, freedom and public solitude.
Students accepted into the 4th session will increase scene work, and with that, Character is introduced, alongside impediments and building and deepening truthful relationships while maintaining the moment-to-moment, organic connection. Finally the Spoon River exercise challenges students to put it all together.
Our students develop a foundation that is solid. After studying with us, you will call yourself an actor and it will truly mean something. And you will 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.”
Who was Sanford Meisner
“If you ever meet someone who calls themselves a Master Teacher run from this teacher! What arrogance and ego. I am not a Master Teacher. Even after a half century of teaching I’ve mastered nothing. I’m simply a teacher dedicated to teaching truthful acting and I will never master that.”
Sanford Meisner is a quiet force behind the modern history of American acting. He is an open secret, known to generations of the most successful and admired actors, writers, and directors, many of who were his devoted students. However, most outside this group have never heard of the master teacher. who influenced more careers than all of the top acting teachings in America combined.
Born August 31, 1905 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sanford Meisner graduated from Erasmus Hall in 1923. He went on to attend The Damrash Institute of Music (now Juilliard). While there, he studied to become a concert pianist. His plans changed when he talked his way into a job in Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted. He realized then that acting really “dug at him.”
In 1931, a fervent group of actors, including Sandy, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Harold Clurman established the Group Theatre. It was the first permanent theatre company that brought “Method” acting, rooted in Konstantin Stanislavsky’s methods, to prominence in America. Sandy appeared in twelve Group productions, including the first, The House of Connelly, and all of Clifford Odets’s plays. Notably including Waiting for Lefty, which Sandy co-directed with Odets in 1935.
In 1933, Sandy became disenchanted with pure “Method” acting. He wrote,
“Actors are not guinea pigs to be manipulated, dissected, let alone in a purely negative way. Our approach was not organic, that is to say not healthy.”
He had ongoing discussions about technique with Adler, who worked with Stanislavsky in Paris, and Clurman, who took a deep interest in the American character. Eventually Sandy realized that, if American actors were ever going to achieve the goal of “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” they needed an American approach. The Neighborhood Playhouse provided him with a venue to develop that approach on his own.
In 1935 he headed the Drama Department at The Playhouse. While there, he still acted and directed plays produced by The Group Theatre. This continued until the Group’s demise in 1940. He also appeared on Broadway between 1944 and 1958.
Sandy left The Playhouse in 1958 to become the director of the New Talent Division of Twentieth Century Fox. He moved to Los Angeles, where he was also able to cultivate his career as a film actor. He starred in Odets’s The Story on Page One (1959), Tender Is the Night (1962), and later Mikey and Nicky (1976).
Sandy received commendations from Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Reagan. He received honors from California Governor Pete Wilson and the “Humanitarian of the Year” commendation in 1990 at The Washington Charity Awards. His final appearance as an actor was in a guest-starring role on a special episode of “ER” that aired in February of 1995. After his death on February 2, 1997, Backstage West dedicated an issue to Sandy and his world-renowned “Meisner Technique.”
Arthur Miller once said of Sandy, “He has been the most principled teacher of acting in this country for decades now, and every time I am auditioning actors I can pretty well tell which ones have studied with Meisner. It is because they are the most honest and simple and don’t lay on complications that aren’t necessary.”
Until his death on February 2, 1997 at the age of ninety-one, Sanford Meisner was one of the world’s most influential and respected teachers of acting. In fact, no teacher of acting in the history of theatre and film has produced a more extensive and prodigious “who’s who” of actors than Sanford Meisner, yet most people outside the professional world of theatre have never even heard of him.
The Story of Jim and Sandy
At the age of twenty-five, Jim Jarrett was stumbling through his life wondering what he was supposed to do with it. “Find your passion” … “Live your dreams”… “Blah, blah blah” … Great advice when you know what your dream is, but when you have absolutely no clue, it’s depressing.
Jim went on with this soul-searching for the next three years. Eventually, he fiiiiinally got down on his knees and prayed. Hard … “Look, I have tried driving this bus called, ‘my life’ for twenty-five years and because you have blessed me with many gifts, I can drive it pretty far, pretty straight. But eventually, I crash it. Every time. And I’m sick of it. Really, really sick of it! I have become a mediocre person with a mediocre life and I can’t believe this is how I, or anyone, am supposed to turn out, so, I surrender. I have no idea what you want me to do, but I’m ready to do it. I’m yours … Amen … Please.”
Now most of us at some low-point in our lives have prayed a similar prayer. But this “bottom” was different from all of the “previous bottoms” in Jim’s life because, this time, his prayers were answered.
Two weeks later, he went to a movie in San Francisco that changed his life forever.
The film was The Deer Hunter, and it absolutely blew Jim away. As time passed, he felt the impact more, so he went again, two nights later. Same result. Blowwwwn away. Except this time, it wasn’t the film that moved Jim; it was his realization — a good movie can actually impact people’s lives, and if it’s great, a movie can change lives. On that day, Jim Jarrett’s life changed forever, and he knew it. When he got back home that evening he called his girlfriend.
“How was the movie?”
“I’m gonna be an actor.”
“I’m going make movies and I’m going to be an actor and you want to know the really weird part — I’m sure of it.”
They split up two weeks later.
NEW YORK CITY
Jim spent the next two years “setting the table” for his dream. Then, in March of 1987, at the age of 29, with no acting experience, he moved from Sausalito, California to New York City to begin his dream of someday becoming an actor.
Three weeks later, Jim had the biggest break of his career when he met with an actor who told him he should be studying with Sanford Meisner. Jim had heard the name but knew little else, so he went to the library to do some research.
The first article he came upon was from the front page of the New York Times dated one week earlier – “Sanford Meisner, who for over a half century has taught acting at the celebrated Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater here in New York City, was honored at the White House over the weekend for his contributions to the world of acting, theater and the arts … this partial list of his students serves as testimony to his influence and teaching brilliance: Gregory Peck, Geraldine Page, Grace Kelly, Joanne Woodward, Robert Duvall, Steve McQueen, Diane Keaton, James Woods, John Cassavettes, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Peter Falk, Jeff Goldblum, Mary Steenburgen, Susan Sarandon, Sydney Pollack, David Mamet, Mark Rydell – the list literally goes on and on.”
To say the least, Jim ran home and dialed the number.
“Hi, I’d like to study with Sanford Meisner.”
“Send a picture, resume and letter explaining why you want to study with him.”
“I started three weeks ago. I don’t have a resume – I don’t even have a picture.”
“Well then, write the letter.”
JIM AND SANDY
He wrote the letter, and two weeks later he came home to the following phone message: “Jim Jarrett, Mr. Meisner will meet you tomorrow at 3:00 pm at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater. Don’t be late.” Click.
Jim arrived two hours early. At 3:00pm sharp, he was escorted into Sanford Meisner’s office for the shortest interview ever. As soon as he sat down, Sandy asked, “Why do you want to be an actor?” When Jim attempted to speak, a flood of emotion overtook him.
Sandy turned to his assistant and softly said, “Put him in the class.”
“Sandy, that’s impossible. We have a three-year waiting list.”
“Put him in the class!” he screamed! In that moment, Jim’s relationship with Sanford Meisner and his career as an actor began.
One month later, Jim was on the island of Bequia, Sandy’s summer retreat.
Sandy brought twenty actors per month to this small island in the Caribbean, over a three-month period, to study with him. From this group of sixty actors, twenty were selected to continue on in Sandy’s two-year professional class. Jim Jarrett was one of those twenty students.
On November 15, 1987, the first class after Bequia began, and with it, the most remarkable two years of Jim Jarrett’s life. He knew immediately something extraordinary was happening because, for the first time in his educational life, he was actually taking notes – writing down, every word out of the legendary teacher’s mouth.
One day, Sandy approached him and asked, “You’re lucky to get me at the end of my life, do you know why? Because after a half century of teaching acting I finally figured most of this stuff out and I speak so poorly you can write it all down. Why are you writing it all down?”
Jim wanted to say, “Yeah, because everything you’re saying is blowing me away.” Instead, he replied, “No, sir.”
A long pause, then Sandy smiled, turned and walked away.
On the last day of class, Sandy called each student over to say good-bye. By his turn, Jim was a mess. Sandy asked, “Why are you so upset? We’re not finished with each other. Now it’s time to work with me so when you’re ready to teach, you’ll know what the hell you’re doing.”
Stunned, Jim said, “Sandy, I don’t want to be a teacher. I want to be an actor.”
Sandy smiled and said, “You’ll have to teach. You’ll have no choice. Do you know why?”
Again Sandy smiled and said, “You’ll see.”
Jim never hesitated and spent two years working exclusively with Sandy, both as an actor and teacher-in-training, then two more working as a teacher with Sandy as his mentor.
After his two-year apprenticeship, Jim emerged as Sandy’s last teaching protégé and became one of only a handful of people in the world personally trained by Sanford Meisner to teach The Meisner Technique. The best part for Jim was that Sandy was now more than his teacher — they were family.
In Hollywood, Jim continued to teach while working his way up “The Hollywood Food Chain” — first in student films, national commercials, and eventually in guest spots on network series (including “Columbo” and “China Beach”). By the end of his third year, he was co-starring in movies-of-the-week, as well as in independent and feature films.
But Sandy’s teaching ran too deep to ignore: Sandy had instilled in Jim the larger principles, purposes and potential impact of the art and craft of acting. So Jim formed his own production company in 1993, to concentrate on work he felt could more strongly “stand for something.” He left Los Angeles, relocating to the island of Hawaii where he remained for four years. During that time he raised his young daughter, taught acting, made his own films and grew as an actor himself.
Ironically, it’s while living in Hawaii that Jim had the second biggest break of his career. One of his former students sent him a play entitled, Vincent, with the following written on the cover, “This play was written for you.” Jim went back to his studio and read it. An hour later, he called Mr. Nimoy, the playwright, and secured the rights to produce the show himself. From there, Jim spent the next two-and-a-half years simply working on, what he knew was, the role of a lifetime.
In October 1996, Vincentopened in Kona, Hawaii with SRO crowds for the entire six week run. From this exposure, Jim was invited by Bruce Willis and Demi Moore to perform at their newly renovated theater in Sun Valley, Idaho for the Christmas holidays. People were sitting in the aisles as word of mouth spread throughout the resort town.
Jim has toured ever since, and now, twenty-two years later, Vincent has become one of the world’s most successful and respected touring productions — playing to over a quarter million people in the world’s premier performing arts centers, museums and universities.
In 2008, Vincent was the smash-hit at The International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. Competing with over 3000 shows per day, Jim played to sold-out houses throughout the festival. The prestigious FRINGE STAGE AWARDS also nominated Jim “Best Actor in a Solo Show” from over 30,000 performers as well as “Best Show.”
Besides touring Vincent throughout the world, Jim also tours three shows for children -Manners Matter (K-5), “The worst thing about me is…” (Middle School), and a powerful, few-holds-barred, rabble-rousing “commencement speech” entitled Graduation Day: Now what am I really supposed to do? (High School). All three shows embarked on a nation-wide tour, and Jim is currently working with his agents at William Morris Endeavor to adapt his kids’ shows into a television series.
Jim’s most popular project presently is MEISNER. It all began in 2000 when Jim was invited to The International Theater Festival in Manila to perform Vincent and give the Keynote Address. The Festival’s theme was ‘Theater’s Greatest Influences,’ so Jim was asked to speak about the time he spent studying with Sanford Meisner.
While there, Jim spoke before an SRO crowd, doing his best to bring Sandy’s passion and integrity to life, impersonating him and recreating the most memorable moments during his time spent with the master teacher. When he finished, the audience was so inspired by “Sandy” that hundreds of people poured forward to thank Jim personally for introducing them to a man whom thirty minutes before, most had never even heard of.
Overwhelmed by the response, Jim left the hall with a new idea – he would introduce the world to Sanford Meisner.
As he began to tackle this goal, Jim finally realized the true gift of having written down everything during his four years with Sandy. He would not just teach from these notes or tell stories about him, but he would literally bring Sandy’s genius to life by portraying him onstage for new audiences.
MEISNER debuted its World Premiere at San Francisco’s historic Magic Theatre in August 2006 and was a critical and commercial success. Next, it moved to Los Angeles and was the smash-hit of the summer season, playing to sold-out crowds for the entire six week run. MEISNER has returned to Los Angeles every year since and has sold-out for 52 consecutive performances.
“I wouldn’t have thought it was possible but I was literally taken back to Sandy’s classroom through your incredible play and talent. I wept throughout with gratitude and appreciation for what you’ve created.”
Mark Rydell, Academy Award-winning Director of On Golden Pond, The Rose, Cinderella Liberty
In 2005 Jim made good on a promise he made to Sanford Meisner many years before — he opened The Meisner Technique Studio in San Francisco to establish an acting school dedicated solely to the teachings of Sanford Meisner. The studio also also has teaching centers on The Island of Hawaii and in Sun Valley, Idaho. He also teaches his Actors Intensive-Retreats & The Business Of Your Dream intensives in these two locations.