Meisner technique

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The Meisner Technique is an approach to acting which was developed by the American theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner.[1]

The Meisner technique develops externally, as opposed to "Method" acting, which develops from an internal source such as emotional recall, sense of memory, etc. The focus of the Meisner approach is for the actor to "get out of his head," such as that he or she is behaving instinctively to the surrounding environment. To this end, some exercises for the Meisner technique are rooted in repetition so that the words are deemed insignificant compared to the reactions. In the Meisner technique, there is a greater focus on the other actor as opposed to one's internal thoughts or feelings associated to the prescribed character.

About Meisner[edit]

"To be an interesting actor - hell, to be an interesting human being - you must be authentic and for you to be authentic you must embrace who you really are, warts and all. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to not care what people think about you? Well, that's what we're here to do." - Sanford Meisner[2]

Meisner developed this technique after working with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler at the Group Theatre and while working as head of the acting program at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse. He continued its refinement for fifty years.

"In 1935, Sanford Meisner, one of the founding members of The Group Theatre (along with Stella Adler, Bobby Lewis, Harold Clurman, and Lee Strasberg), joined the faculty of The Neighborhood Playhouse. Over the years, he developed and refined what is now known as the Meisner Technique, a step-by-step procedure of self-investigation for the actor now globally recognized and among the foremost of modern acting techniques."[3]

"Meisner believed that the study of the actor’s craft was rooted in acquiring a solid organic acting technique. It was a cornerstone of his teaching that this learning process occur not in a theoretical, abstract manner, but in the practical give and take of the classroom, where as he once said, “the students struggled to learn what I struggled to teach.” Through that struggle the gifted student, over time gradually begins to emerge solidly in his or her work."[3]

Followers of Meisner[edit]

The William Esper Studio was founded in 1965 as a school for the performing arts in Manhattan, New York. The school is considered an internationally recognized authority on the acting technique of Sanford Meisner.[4] Its founder, William "Bill" Esper (1932 - ), is often referred to as the best-known of Meisner's first generation teachers, and his most "authentic protege".[5]

Sebastián Ligarde has been teaching acting at Taller de Actuación Sebastián Ligarde since 2006 in Miami. He trains actors in film acting, and is the only known "Meisner in Spanish" teacher. After 35 years as an actor he now enjoys his own acting academy and has, for now, retired from acting.

Joanne Baron is known for her dedication to the work of Sanford Meisner and is a teacher of the Meisner Technique.[6] She trained with Neighborhood Playhouse alum and master Meisner teacher, William Esper, who founded the MFA and BFA Professional Actor Training Programs at Rutgers University. [4]


Meisner Training is an interdependent series of training exercises that build on one another. The more complex work supports a command of dramatic text. Students work on a series of progressively complex exercises to develop an ability to first improvise, then to access an emotional life, and finally to bring the spontaneity of improvisation and the richness of personal response to textual work. The techniques developed the behavioral strand of Stanislavski's. The technique is used to develop improvisation skills as well as "interpreting a script, and creating the specific physical characteristics of each character the actor played".[7]

An example of a technique Meisner invented to train actors' responses is called the Repetition Exercise:

"In this exercise, two actors sit across from each other and respond to each other through a repeated phrase. The phrase is about each other's behavior, and reflects what is going on between them in the moment, such as "You look unhappy with me right now." The way this phrase is said as it is repeated changes in meaning, tone and intensity to correspond with the behavior that each actor produces towards the other. Through this device, the actor stops thinking of what to say and do, and responds more freely and spontaneously, both physically and vocally.The exercise also eliminates line readings, since the way the actor speaks becomes coordinated with his behavioral response."[7]

List of Meisner-trained actors[edit]

Sydney Pollack, together with Charles E. Conrad served as Meisner's senior assistants. The technique is helpful not just for actors, but also for directors, writers, and teachers. A number of directors also studied with him, among them Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, and writers such as Arthur Miller and David Mamet.

Prominent actors who have trained in the Meisner technique include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Foster, Hirsch (2000). Actors and Acting (Hardcover ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521669597. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Jarrett, Jim. "The Meisner Technique". Meisner Technique Studio. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "About Us". Neighborhood Playhouse. Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "About William Esper". The William Esper Studio. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Actor’s Art and Craft (review)" (PDF). Project Muse. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Schiffman, J. (2010-7-15): Hey Teach, Backstage. Retrieved 2010-9-25.
  7. ^ a b "About the Meisner Acting Technique". Robert Epstein's Acting Studio. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  8. ^ "Between Takes at CBS - Amanda Setton". CBS. Retrieved 2013-10-29. 
  9. ^ "Amy Schumer Biography". TV Guide. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  10. ^ "Christoph Waltz - Dill Pickle". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  11. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (19 June 2013). "James Gandolfini Is Dead at 51; a Complex Mob Boss in ‘Sopranos’". The New York Times. p. 2. Retrieved 19 June 2013. "Mr. Gandolfini, who had studied the Meisner technique of acting for two years, said that he used it to focus his anger and incorporate it into his performances."
  12. ^ Urban, Karl. "Actor Biography" (PDF). Johnson & Laird. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Resume: Pitillo, Maria - Innovative Artists
  14. ^ Ferrucci, Nick. "About Nick". Nick Ferrucci. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  15. ^ "Stephen Colbert shmoozes about family deaths". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-08-19. 
  16. ^ "Conversations with Tatiana Maslany of ORPHAN BLACK". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-05-11. 
  17. ^ Wheaton, Wil. "in which i remember to keep it simple". Wil Wheaton dot Net. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 


  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Courtney, C. C. 2000. "The Neighborhood Playhouse." In Krasner (2000b, 291-295).
  • Hirsch, Foster. 2000. "Actors and Acting." In Wilmeth and Bigsby (2000, 490-513).
  • Hodge, Alison, ed. 2000. Twentieth Century Actor Training. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-19452-0.
  • Kraner, David. 2000a. "Strasberg, Adler and Meisner: Method Acting." In Hodge (2000, 129-150).
  • ---, ed. 2000b. Method Acting Reconsidered: Theory, Practice, Future. New York: St. Martin's P. ISBN 978-0-312-22309-0.
  • Longwell, Dennis, and Sanford Meisner. 1987. Sanford Meisner on Acting. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-75059-0.
  • Postlewait, Thomas. 1998. "Meisner, Sanford." In Banham (1998, 719).
  • Silverberg, Larry. 1994. The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook. Workbook One. New Hampshire: Smith and Kraus. ISBN 978-1-880399-77-4.
  • Wilmeth, Don B, and Christopher Bigsby, eds. 2000. The Cambridge History of American Theatre. Vol 3. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP. ISBN 978-0-521-66959-7.

External links[edit]