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About the Meisner Technique

"Take it from a director; if you get an actor that Sandy Meisner trained, you've been blessed." - Elia Kazan


"He has been the most principled teacher of acting in this country for decades now, and every time I am reading actors, I can pretty well tell which ones have studied with Meisner. It is because they are honest and simple and don't lay on complications that aren't necessary." - Arthur Miller

The Meisner Technique is one of the most respected techniques in the professional world of acting, and when a director or casting director sees that you have studied the Meisner Technique for a considerable length of time, they know that they can expect an actor who is truthful, connected, present, grounded, believable, committed, free, authentic, spontaneous, imaginative, emotionally full and with a fully developed character informed by talented, strong choices and the craft to earn every single moment. These are all gifts that the Meisner Technique brings. One of the great strengths of Meisner Technique training is that it is a clear, step-by-step approach to the craft of acting. It develops complete freedom of expression and confidence in your craft. Sanford Meisner intended for each exercise to build on the last, which is why it is critical that students study with teachers who were specifically trained to teach the Meisner Technique in the way that Sandy intended. The Meisner Technique is not "the Repetition Exercise." The Repetition Exercise is simply an exercise introduced early in the training upon which every other "brick" in this brick-by-brick process is laid in order to build a solid foundation.  The Repetition Exercise is exactly that - an exercise.  The Meisner Technique is what the Repetition Exercise evolves and grows into with months and months of study and practice, along with all of the other "bricks," like Emotional Preparation, the reality of doing, Independent Activities, the Fantasy Exercise, the Private Moment, the One-Action, Impediments, History, the Spoon River exercise, and more - all under the guidance and support of a trained and skilled teacher.

The Meisner Technique is applicable in any medium. At Empowerhouse, our expertise is in helping actors use the Meisner Technique to connect in a far more truthful and meaningful way to themselves, their characters, their scene partners, their imaginations, the text, and the imaginary circumstances given by the script.

Born August 31, 1905 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Sanford (Sandy) Meisner graduated from Erasmus Hall in 1923 and attended The Damrosch Institute of Music (now Juilliard), where he studied to become a concert pianist before talking his way into a job in a Theatre Guild production of Sidney Howard’s They Knew What They Wanted. He realized then that acting which really “dug at him” was what he was looking to find.

In 1931, a fervent group of young actors, including Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Harold Clurman, amongst others, joined together to establish the Group Theatre. It was the first permanent theater company that brought “method” acting, rooted in methods of Konstantin Stanislavsky, to practice and prominence in America. Sandy appeared in twelve Group Theatre productions, including the first, The House of Connelly, and all of Clifford Odets’ plays, 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.” Sandy had ongoing discussions about technique with Stella Adler, who worked with Stanislavsky in Paris and Harold Clurman, who had 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,” an American approach was needed. The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York provided him with a venue to develop that approach on his own. In 1936, he headed the Drama Department at The Neighborhood Playhouse, while continuing to act and direct plays produced by The Group Theatre until its disbanding in 1941. He also appeared on Broadway in Embezzled (1944) and Crime and Punishment (1948). He directed The Time of Your Life (1955) and acted in The Cold Wind and the Warm (1958). Sandy left The Neighborhood Playhouse in 1958

to become 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.

Sandy returned to The Neighborhood Playhouse as Head of the Drama Department from 1964 to 1990. In 1985 Sandy and his long-time companion James Carville founded the Meisner/Carville School of Acting on the Island of Bequia in the West Indies.

Sandy received commendations from Presidents Clinton, Bush and Reagan. He was honored by California Governor Pete Wilson and was named the “Humanitarian of the Year 1990” by The Washington Charity Awards. His final appearance as an actor was in a guest starring role on a special episode of ER in 1995. Backstage West dedicated an issue to Sandy and his world-renowned “Meisner Technique."

Sanford Meisner passed away on February 2nd, 1997, leaving behind a legacy of actors, directors and writers committed to consistently creating believable work through his technique, including Gregory Peck, Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, James Caan, Tony Randall, David Mamet, Jeff Goldblum, Sydney Pollack, Bob Fosse, Sydney Lumet, Arthur Miller, Mark Rydell, Eli Wallach and Mary Steenburgen. Other notable actors who are trained in the Meisner Technique include Alec Baldwin, Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christoph Waltz, Jim Carrey, Dylan McDermot, Allison Janney, Timothée Chalamet, Stephen Colbert, Ashley Judd, James Franco, James Gandolfini, Jeff Bridges, Naomi Watts, Sandra Bullock, John Turturro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Amy Schumer, Connie Britton and Tina Fey. 

 

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