I love Meisner! This acting technique may not be for everyone but I just love it!
A couple of years ago I took a six month class with Barbara Woods from the Actors Studio and have missed the training ever since. Two weeks ago I finally started a new class and so far it's a blast!
This is how the Wikipedia article on the technique sums it up, 'Meisner
students work on a series of progressively complex exercises to develop
an ability to improvise, to access an emotional life, and finally to
bring the spontaneity of improvisation and the richness of personal
response to text.' So Meisner technique teaches actors to discover,
strengthen and use their intuition and instincts to achieve presence and
emotional truth in a performance.
The basic exercise is called 'repetition'. It is a form of improvisation
in which two people are repeating observations made about each other,
at the beginning some physical trait for instance ('You're wearing a
green sweater.'), later what they understand emotionally about each
others behaviour and emotional state. For me this exercise is just so
much fun! Even on a bad day, maybe even particularly so, I can come to
class and work, and leave energised and grounded at the same time. On
the other hand I can understand why people would hate this exercise.
From my experience though, most people who do are simply trying too hard
to understand the point or goal of this exercise. Since there is no
point or goal to achieve, this would be a little frustrating.
Repetition is about being instinctive, present in the moment, and about
listening. If there is a point to repetition it is to strengthen just
these skills. My teacher compares the exercise to a physical workout in
which you strengthen your muscles, only in our case we are strengthening
our 'instinctive muscle', the ability to get out of the way of
ourselves, out of our heads. An actor, acting on instinct and freed of
any inhibitions is able to access a great depth of emotional life
instead of 'acting' emotions. An actor who has the ability to listen and
pick up on others' emotions, subtext and subtle details and to let them
affect him/her, has the ability to 'live truthfully under the given
Meisner is also about training your imagination, not from a place of intellect but from a place of emotion. Unlike Method Acting
for example, for Meisner actors it isn't necessary to go back to prior
experiences to find emotional truth. For a Meisner actor there is little
need of having experienced particular situations and emotions to be
able to live them in an imaginary setting. I find this idea very
liberating! I actually really don't like the idea of 'affective memory' taught by Stanislavsky and Lee Strasberg.
Firstly it creates a need to have experienced or to experience
situations and emotions in order to feel them in a performance.
Secondly, I can imagine that you would get desensitised the more often
you use a past experience until eventually that situation is 'used up'
and doesn't work for you any more.
A well-trained Meisner actor on the other hand only has to access his
imagination and ask himself 'What would have to happen to me or to my
loved ones in order for me to feel a certain way?'. This kind of
imaginative ability of course requires very accurate self-knowledge but
which acting technique doesn't? The rest is listening - to your scene
partner and to your own gut response.
It will take a lot of practice and hard work to get to a point where
this technique, as with any other I'm sure, is innate to my performance.
For now I am exited to do the work, strengthen my intuitive muscle and
get the hell out of the way of myself!