The Meisner Technique in Context
The Meisner Technique is a comprehensive system of training exercises for actors developed by Sanford Meisner. This detailed method enables actors to give truthful and powerful performances on stage and screen.
It has long been recognised as the most effective contemporary training method for actors and has helped to produce some of cinema and theatre’s most famous names. To this day it continues to influence actors, directors, drama teachers and playwrights around the world.
There can be some confusion over the differences between Method Acting and the Meisner Technique as they both evolved from Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski.
KONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKI CHANGES HOLLYWOOD
The Meisner Technique was derived from the teachings of Russian theatre director Konstantin Stanislavski. Through his close association with famous Russian playwrights such as Anton Chekov and stage actors of the time, Stanislavski created a set of training exercises and techniques for actors aimed at bringing truth to stage performance.
Stanislavski’s techniques revolutionised acting in the West, and in particular Hollywood, during the 1920s and 30s. A generation of young American actors, drama teachers and directors were able to experience the magic of theatrical truth when Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre toured America for the first time in 1923.
Students of Stanislavski soon began teaching his method across America and thousands of students turned actors helped to start a new chapter in the history of American stage and screen.
All action in theatre must have inner justification, be logical, coherent and real.
THE HISTORY OF METHOD ACTING
The arrival of the Stanislavski method in America begun with the establishment of the Group Theatre in New York in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, who were all converts to Stanislavski’s teachings. The Group Theatre quickly grew in reputation and welcomed a host of famous figures from the world of cinema and theatre into its fold. Most notably this included Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner.
The Group Theatre was a not-for-profit enterprise, a factor which sadly led to its demise only a decade later in 1941. Even though its tenure was short, across the course of its ten years the collective helped to redefine stage craft and the art of actor teaching by developing a new method of acting based on Stanislavski’s system.This period proved to be crucial in the history of method acting. This new method developed by Lee Strasberg came to be called conventionally, ‘method acting’.
The human being who acts is the human being who lives.
NEW DIRECTIONS IN METHOD ACTING
By the time the Group Theatre had closed, the new method developed under the direction of Lee Strasberg became a point of contention between a number of the founding members. This led to some of its founders and original members establishing their own schools. In some cases they taught acting techniques which, although based on Stanislavski’s teachings, were significantly different from the evolution of the Stanislavski method popularised by Lee Strasberg.
This difference of opinion was derived from knowledge that Stanislavski revised his own techniques throughout his life. Earlier forms of his technique focused on developing the actor’s ability to bring truth to performance from the inside out – which meant utilising the actor’s memory of their own sensory and emotional experiences.
Lee Strasberg’s style was heavily invested in this idea and he used this philosophy to develop his system. Strasberg went on to develop his Method Acting technique further at The Actor’s Studio in New York which he joined in 1951.
If we cannot see the possibility of greatness, how can we dream it?
METHOD ACTING VS MEISNER TECHNIQUE
In 1934 former Theatre Group member, Stella Adler, visited Paris and was presented with an opportunity to study directly under Stanislavski himself. According to Adler, Stanislavski started to alter his methodology because he was not only unsure of his own acting ability, but of the method he was teaching. Stanislavski’s system was now apparently aimed at nurturing an actor’s ability to approach character from the outside in.
Upon returning to America Adler announced these revisions to the Group Theatre which marked a fundamental shift in the philosophy of the method. These changes were not accepted by all the members and eventually led to a rift developing between Lee Strasberg on the one hand, and Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner on the other.
Adler set-up the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in 1949 and continued to develop her own technique.
You have to get beyond your own precious inner experiences.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE MEISNER TECHNIQUE
Meisner joined the Neighbourhood Playhouse in 1935 where he developed his own theory based on the Stanislavski System, which we now refer to as the Meisner Technique. He continued his association with the Playhouse until the end of his life. In the 1980s he set up the Meisner/Carville School of Acting on the Caribbean island of Bequia, and gave classes at another school, Playhouse West, in Hollywood. Until his death in 1997, Meisner divided his time between the three locations, helping thousands of actors to develop their craft.
Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.