Meisner Acting Method | Actors Door Studio

Meisner Technique & 'Method Acting'

A brief history

The Meisner Acting Method or more commonly the Meisner Technique, is a comprehensive system of training exercises for actors developed by Sanford Meisner. The method trains actors to give powerful, truthful and moving performances on stage and screen. Widely recognised as the most effective contemporary training method for actors, the Meisner method, has produced some of Hollywood's biggest names. It continues to influence actors, directors, drama teachers and playwrights around the world.
The history of the Meisner Technique begins with the Stanislavski System of acting training.

CONSTANTIN STANISLAVSKI AND THE SYSTEM

Constantin Stanislavski (a transliteration of Konstantin Stanislavksy) was a Russian theatre director. Through his close association with infamous Russian playwrights such as Anton Checkov and stage actors of the time, he developed a set of training exercises and techniques for actors aimed at bringing 'truth' to stage performance.

“All action in theatre must have inner justification, be logical, coherent, and real.”

Constantin Stanislavski

The teaching techniques of Stanislavski revolutionised acting in the West and in Hollywood in the 1920's and 30's. A generation of young American actors, drama teachers and directors got to experience the magic of 'theatrical truth' when Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre toured in the US for the first time in 1923. Those young actors soon joined acting schools and classes where students of Stanislavski now taught in America, and thus began a new chapter in American acting and stage craft.

METHOD ACTING IN AMERICA

The Stanislavski method in America really begins with the establishment of the Group Theatre in New York in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, converts to the Stanislavski teachings. Very soon after its establishment, many now infamous figures of the acting and stage world - actors, directors, playwrights and teachers - joined the school. Among those, most notably Stella Adler and of course Sanford Meisner.

The Group Theatre was run as a not for profit enterprise, a factor which eventually led to its demise in 1941. In its ten years of operation it came to redefine stage craft and the art of teaching acting itself through the development of a new method to acting which was based on the Stanislavski system.

“The human being who acts is the human being who lives.”

Lee Strasberg

NEW DIRECTIONS IN METHOD TRAINING

However by the time of its closure, the Method developed under the direction of Lee Strasberg became a point of contention between some of the founding members. By the time the Group Theatre dissolved, some of the founders and original members had began establishing their own schools. In some cases, they taught acting techniques which, although were still based on the Stanislavski teachings, differed fundamentally from the earlier formulations of the Stanislavski method that had been so popularised by Lee Strasberg.

The points of contention arose from the fact that Stanislavki revised his techniques throughout his life. Earlier formulations of his technique focused on developing the actor's ability to bring truth to performance from the inside out - that is by utilising the actor's memory of their own sensory and emotional experiences. Lee Strasberg's Method is heavily invested on this idea and in his own technique he developed this further into what came to be known as Affective Memory.

“You have to get beyond your own precious inner experiences.”

Stella Adler

The decisive moment occurred in 1934. In that year, Stella Adler visited Paris and got the opportunity to study under Stanislavski himself. By this time Stanislavski, who had always remained unsure not only of his own acting ability but on his method in general, had according to Adler, shifted the focus in his approach. Stanislavski's system was now apparently aimed at nurturing actors' ability to approach character from the outside in. Upon returning to America she announced to the Group Theatre the revisions which marked a fundamental shift in methodology in the 'method'. This shift was not accepted by all members of the Group Theatre and in fact led to a rift between Lee Strasberg on the one hand and Stella Adler and Sanford Meisner on the other.

“Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances”

Sanford Meisner

In the case of Meisner, this led to him joining the Neighbourhood Playhouse in 1935 where he developed his own theory based on the Stanislavski System, the highly respected Meisner acting method, The Meisner Technique. He continued his association with the Playhouse until the end of his life. In the 1980's he set up his own school the Meisner/Carville School of Acting in the Carribean first and then in Hollywood. His split his time teaching between the three locations until his death in 1997.

Adler developed her own technique through her own school The Stella Adler Studio of acting which she founded in 1949. Strasberg developed his 'Method' through The Actor's Studio which he joined in 1951.

Method Acting continues to be taught by the students of these great masters of stage craft. Reputable acting schools that purport to teach Method Acting will teach some variant of the Strasberg, Adler and Meisner acting method.