Tap to Read ➤

Everything You Need to Know About the Meisner Acting Technique

Mary Anthony
Actors have been known to method act for a long time, but a revolutionary technique in which one learns to act spontaneously and with real human emotional response is the Meisner acting technique. This story will give you more details on this specific acting technique.

Did You Know?

The Sanford Meisner Center, originally located on Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood, California, was the only school in Los Angeles founded by Sanford Meisner himself.
The legendary creator of the 'Meisner acting technique', Sanford Meisner was born on August 31, 1905, in New York. While working in the Theater Guild Production of Sidney Howard's They Knew What They Wanted he realized that he had the acting bug in him.
In 1931, he and a group of influential actors of that time established the Group Theater, which was the first permanent theater company, with the influence of Konstantin Stanislavsky, that brought 'method' acting into the limelight in America.
He acted in 12 Group productions. In 1933, he grew wary of the pure 'method' acting and felt that actors should not be manipulated into acting.
In 1985, he and James Carville co-founded the Meisner/Carville School of Acting on the Island of Bequia in the West Indies, which later extended to North Hollywood, California, with Martin Barter.
They later opened the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts in March 1995, which later combined the theater and school to Sanford Meisner Center.

About The Meisner Acting Technique

Emotional memory has been a part of 'method' acting since time immemorial, but the revolutionary impact of the Meisner technique cannot be ignored. It states that the basis of acting is the reality in doing it. It totally eliminates the act of pretending in acting, an actor must feel and do the moment rather than spending time in watching oneself act.
This technique encourages the actor to be imaginative, feel the emotions, and to act spontaneously and creatively while on stage. The key is to personalize the character, it is to feel in the character's shoes, and think and imagine the situations and the circumstances that would have prompted the character to take decisions and choices.
When one identifies with the character and acts as they would do, the actor will eliminate the barrier between the actor and the character making it a meaningful performance. The crux is the actor should never 'act', the actor should 'be' the character.

The Meisner Technique Exercises

This technique is based on a set of 'exercises' which the actors have to perform in order to master the technique. This is done to work with spontaneity and fun, it does not work off the words, it works off the behavior behind the words.

Repetition Exercise

It's all about repeating and observing the behavior of one another, trying to get a connection between the two actors as they repeat a phrase describing how they feel.
The phrase is then repeated over and over with each actor building in on the inflection and subtext the other is giving on the phrase. This exercise allows the actors to concentrate on one another, and removes the importance of complex memorization.


Actor 1: You're smiling.
Actor 2: I'm smiling
Actor 1: You're smiling!
Actor 2: Yes! I'm smiling.

Independent Activity

A meaningfully difficult task that the actor is required to complete under imaginary circumstances and with a limited time period. This makes the actor less neurotic and robotic in his acting, because the actor feels the character rather than just acting out a given scene.

Knock on the Door Exercise

This exercise combines with the independent activity. It requires the two actors who are placed in different imaginary circumstances, and one is outside the door while one is inside.
It all depends on how the knock is placed on the door to how the actor inside reacts to it, or how the actor outside the door will react to the situation that has happened inside the door once the door is opened.

Emotional Preparation

It is a set of exercises where the actor is required to enter a room in a heightened state of emotion. The emotions may vary, it could be extreme euphoria or a sudden depression, the key is to live the emotion rather than act it out.

List of Actors/Actresses who have studied The Meisner Technique

Alec Baldwin
Christopher Waltz
Christopher Lloyd
Diane Keaton
Dylan McDermott
Grace Kelly
Gregory Peck
James Caan
James Franco
James Gandolfini
Jeff Goldblum
Jon Voight
Leslie Nielsen
Mark Rydell
Mary Steenburgen
Naomi Watts
Robert Duvall
Sandra Bullock
Scott Caan
Sean Astin
Steve McQueen
Sydney Pollack
Tina Fey
Tom Cruise
To conclude with a quote from Sanford Meisner himself would be rather apt, he says, This technique is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there's no mentality to it.
Studying this technique may appear rigid and not all actors follow this method. But it's a good and valuable start recommended for young actors who wish to instill focus and preparation. Its principals can be used as building block to discover one's own style of acting.