1 Nov 2016
Sanford Meisner Training For Actors
Studying acting is one of the most noble and brave endeavors anyone can undertake. If you have the driving impulse to study performing arts you quickly ask yourself where to start. If you live in America you will inevitably run into three major names:
These three individuals are the leaders in the field of acting training in America who each created a unique take on the legacy of acting left by Constantine Staneslavsky.
Staneslavsky’s work revolutionized the way humans performed theater arts. Before Staneslavsky, theater was presentational, formal, and heavily influenced by ancient Greek tragedy. Staneslavsky, and the work of his students brought acting into the accessible modern age and made it an art form that is deeply personal, dangerous, and exciting.
During his lifetime, Sanford Meisner did not like to refer to his teachings as a method or an approach because he did not want people to think it was a set philosophy. Sanford Meisner Training is more like an algebraic formula that is flexible and adaptable. It promotes creative thinking and self-empowerment. People often argue about the best way to learn how to act and some even compete with each other like sports teams, suggesting that their approach is the “right” way.
There is only one right way to act- and that is your way. Studying the different approaches to acting will not teach you the right way to act. It will offer suggestions for your own imagination to build your own signature approach.
You should study them all.
You should even study the avant guard approaches that emphasis physical movement and non-linear story telling.
Study modern dance and comedy improv.
Anything you do on a stage will teach you about the performing arts.
Personally, my journey with acting led me to deeply favor Sanford Meisner Training best of all. For me- it offered the least amount of stress and was something that changed every time I engaged it. Sanford Meisner based his exercises on placing one’s attention on the other person- (one’s scene partner). He (knowingly or not) stumbled onto the magic that is now described by Eckhart Tolle as the Power Of Now. Placing attention on what is happening in front of us is the same as living in the present moment. Learning to respond honestly and with passion is one of the most pleasurable activities life has to offer. Learning how to respond honestly and with passion while in the imaginary circumstances of a play or script can be one of the most addictive pleasures life has to offer.
My experience with Lee Strassberg’s approach nearly caused me to leave the craft. Best known as “method” acting, this approach believes the individual actor must personally experience that which she is asked to portray in a character by directly accessing her past and remembering emotions similar to those the role is asking for. Since I had a painful childhood, as many sensitive artists do, this approach was unsustainable for healthy, long-lasting career because it left me drowning in past pain. That pain I worked to conjure up over and over, eventually grew numb to my efforts and left me just feeling blank. It wasn’t as fun as the Meisner approach because memories never change, while the present moment never repeats.
Sanford often said in his classes: It has never happened before, and it will never happen again.
That is a pretty profound sutra for life, really. Sanford Meisner Training is not only helpful in acting, it is helpful in communicating with people and not making assumptions that you know how a thing is going to play out based on past experiences.
What is happening now has never happened in this way before. And it will never happen in this way again.
That is really the essence of what is celebrated in true storytelling.
Stella Adler’s training was a bit more fun that the Method because, instead of memories, her work focused on one’s imagination, which Sanford Meisner also focused on. Training the imagination is the most important daily activity an actor can do. Daydreaming is part of the job. Adler and Meisner were actually good friends who acted in plays together. Their work shares a lot of philosophies.
Where Meisner really stands out is with his advice for learning text. He advises it be learned by rote- with no emotion- as if the words were a phone number. It feels very strange to do this the first time. You feel a bit like a robot. But then when you get on stage and place attention on how the other person is making you feel, you are totally free of any inflection patterns that may have been learned in the memorization process. It is quite extraordinary and I hope you get a chance to experience that magic.
Sanford Meisner worked at the Neighborhood Playhouse for most of his life. He taught a Master Class in acting to a group of students in 1980. The clothing and hair styles are just awesome… and oddly back in style. The teachings are flawless. From Sanford Meisner himself. If you are new to acting, you really can’t go wrong with checking out the Sanford Meisner Master Class. It is available on instant streaming and DVD.
The instant streaming version has improved sound. The DVD version includes longer takes and more examples of the work being taught. But some people find the sound quality difficult to follow. Both versions are subtitled. And both cost practically nothing in comparison to an acting class and offers priceless information about the craft.