Meisner Technique – An introduction!21 Jan 2018, Posted by Casting Tips in
At the end of last year we had a great guest blog and hosted a workshop from John Osbourne with his incredibly inciteful work on the Spiritual Psychology of Acting. I had some very positive feedback on this and so over the forthcoming months I like to build this into a series focussed on professional development for actors through guest blogs from leading acting teachers that will hopefully whet your appetite to learn more.
So on today’s blogs we are focussing on the Meisner Technique. There is so much mystique about the Meisner Technique, that I once thought it was something from a script for Casualty ( Quick Sasha she’s gone tachycardic let’s give her the Meisner Technique)…
…but no it is not so. In fact The Meisner Technique is one of the leading acting techniques.
Today’s guest blogger is Meisner practitioner Steph Morgan who runs the Both Feet in Leeds. Steph will talk us through what makes the Meisner Technique so special and gives ten easy tips that you can incorporate into your acting TODAY.
But this isn’t just an advert for Both Feet. I would love to use these blogs to create a register here on the blog for actors to be able to find teaching practitioners across a variety of techniques and methodlogies. So if you are a Meisner teacher please drop us a line and we’ll include you at the bottom of the blog.
Anyhow enough of me. Here’s Steph…
The Meisner Technique Background
The Meisner Technique was born thanks to the theatre giant Stanislavski who had revolutionised the idea of truthful acting in the early 1900s. His teaching travelled across to America by Richard Boleslavski in the 1920s and a few years later became the central practice of the Group Theatre (at the time headed by Lee Strasberg). I’m sure we all know it’s not uncommon for artistic visions to collide and eventually the group separated. From here we can track actor training (particularly in America) in 3 clear directions, Lee Strasberg’s METHOD, Stella Adler’s ‘The Art of Acting’ and Sanford Meisner’s Technique. Meisner split mainly because he disagreed with the emphasis on the unnecessary use of an actor’s ‘emotional baggage’ (aka emotional/affective memory) so he set about creating a different way, a way which would focus on something other.
Why should I train in The Meisner Technique?
Meisner’s work, and our own at Both Feet, identifies two very clear problems for actors (you’ll no doubt know exactly what I’m talking about!):
1 – we don’t listen, and
2 – we are self conscious.
All actors need to know how to listen and yet sadly too many of us don’t, by this we mean, you can be on one side of the stage doing your lines and staging, and I could be on the other doing mine, but we aren’t really having the same conversation, we aren’t in the same world, you could be saying nonsense.
As actors we all have an ‘inner critic’, that self-critical voice in our head which is always the loudest voice in the room. ‘Do they like me?’, ‘Is it going well?’, ‘Why did you do that!?’.
Meisner’s carefully designed exercises gives us a step by step process to learn how to quieten our inner critic, put our attention on someone other than ourselves and to observe accurately and respond richly. The knock on effect? You’re free from your every day shackles to truly live in the moment. To be fearless. Isn’t that what every actor wants?
What is The Meisner Technique?
Anyone who comes to Both Feet acting classes knows how hard it is to put The Meisner Technique into words. Our bumpf says “Our training is designed for actors wanting to develop their listening and responsiveness skills and to find greater authenticity, depth and emotional truth in their acting.” Which is what The Meisner Technique is about but I just find the words empty in comparison to the journey that actors really go on during their training.
The Meisner Technique begins with the famous repetition exercise. This involves two actors placing their attention on to each other and observing and responding to their partner’s behaviour whilst repeating a simple observation. After that there are a series of exercises which build back in all the elements an actor needs to do their job.
A common misconception is that the Meisner Technique IS the repetition, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The repetition exercise was crafted by Meisner as a means to get actors out of their heads and to simply LISTEN. Once we’ve got actors who are able to really listen, as if for the first time, everytime, THEN we can teach you how to act.
Is this training a quick fix?
No. Absolutely not. Sadly too many actors are hoping for that quick fix but you won’t find it here (or probably anywhere!!). Meisner is famous for saying “It takes 20 years to become an actor” and 80% of that has absolutely nothing to do with the craft of acting. I see Meisner as fundamental core training. Throughout our lives we are programmed and our impulses dulled, we have to be to survive in society. However, to be an actor we need to be able to remove the armour and the programming at the drop of a hat to do our job. This doesn’t come naturally which means we need to keep on practising until one is as natural as the other.
What level of actors is this for?
Meisner only works for actors who are open to change – this work is all about being open to all the possibilities.
At Both Feet we only work with professional actors and actors who are working towards their acting career – the dynamic in a room is so precarious and precious we need to ensure we have the right people. We know how important it is to stay in shape. A 100 meter sprinter doesn’t just turn up to race, they practice, train and stretch every day. It should be no different for an actor.
Sadly too many actors of all levels don’t take their training as seriously as they should or they’ve completed their 3 years at drama school and think that’s it but it’s just not the case. As an actor you need to always be ready!
What if I’ve trained in something else?
Great! Actor’s come from various backgrounds and methodologies and the Meisner Technique is designed to compliment or add to any prior training. Meisner himself was never an autocrat, he didn’t own the market on good work, however, we really believe that the technique Meisner created can give you a really solid instrument, you. Fully realised in all your, open, vulnerable and truthful glory.
Does everyone teach The Meisner Technique the same?
Definitely not! We say we’re rooted in The Meisner Technique because actually, Sanford Meisner is dead and he was the only one who taught his technique. Also, it’s worth noting that our understanding of the way brains and human emotions work have developed through research in the time since Meisner came up with his work. He truly was a visionary, but it’s only in recent years we can clearly put into words the result his work can give. Over time people take their influences and modify their practice, just as we have done, we hope he approves!
Will this training affect other aspects of my life?
I don’t know how it couldn’t to be honest! It’s powerful and liberating and a total game changer. Human beings are terrible listeners in real life. Think about it. How many times has your mind wandered away from the conversation you’re having, or how many times have you stopped listening to your friend while you’re already busy in your head formulating your witty reply. I believe this work makes us more authentic humans, and really understand our true selves and in turn, others. What a gift.
Steph and Adam’s Top Ten Meisner Tips
1. Be open to change
2. Listen, don’t pretend to listen, really listen
3. Learn your lines and know them inside out, only then will you be able to be truly in the moment.
4. Commit 100% to every moment
5. Be the nicest person in the room
6. “The most important thing about me, is you”
7. Never tell another actor how to do their job
8. Be fearless
9. You only give your best performance once, so take the pressure off yourself to be perfect, be human instead
10. Take time to develop yourself as a human. Your life experience is your biggest source of inspiration. Go to the theatre, read, visit museums. The richer your well of experience, the more you have to work from. Turn off your phone and go and live.
About Steph Morgan
Along with Adam Stadius (also head of acting and course leader for musical theatre at SLP College ) I am one of the founders of Both Feet. I’ve worked in most areas of theatre over the years and from 2009-2016 I ran West Yorkshire Theatre Network. Adam and I both trained with Scott Williams, the man who, after training with Sanford Meisner, brought this joyous technique to the UK from America. It blew everything I thought I knew about the art of acting out of the water. It is the love and passion for this powerful acting technique that brought Adam and I together to deliver ongoing training for the professional actor rooted in Sanford Meisner world renowned exercises.
Our students have gone on to work in theatre works such as The War of the Roses (Directed by Trevor Nunn), Sweeney Todd (London), Young Frankenstein (London), The Lion King (London) One Man Two Guvnors (UK Tour) The Shed Crew (Red Ladder Theatre), The Terminal Velocity of Snowflakes (Live Theatre, Newcastle) HYEM (North See Theatre), and TV and film work including Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, ITV’s Fearless and the upcoming Mike Leigh movie Peterloo.
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