Great acting teachers have always and forever incorporated concepts of personal branding in their teachings, even if they weren’t directly referencing the topic. Sanford Meisner’s mission was to teach actors how to get out of their own heads and get into the moment in a way that made their performance unique to them as individuals. Through Meisner, you can build a strong acting brand of your own.
How do you start? By living in the moment. Your ability to acknowledge that “every little moment has a meaning all its own” as Meisner said, allows you to find the present and in that exists the conflict between who you are and who you wish to be. The struggle between desire and conflict that reveals character. Surrender to your environment and everything in it. There is an opportunity to showcase your personality when you are instinctive. Your mannerisms are unique to you and you alone.
You also have to get out of your own way. Actors who are too self-conscious to actively listen lose their ability to act, react, or respond truthfully. Remind yourself on occasion that you don’t have all the answers and reassure yourself that the other actor is doing half your work. After all, “what you do doesn’t depend on you, it depends on the other person.”
“The truth of ourselves is the root of our acting” and responding truthfully has something to do with instincts. Instincts have a lot to do with your ability to surrender to the moment. The moment needs you to feel it first before you intellectualize it. All this invents a behavioral uniqueness that we call personal choice and what we choose says something about who we are.
This is the foundation of a strong personal brand. Interestingly, Meisner’s fellow Group Theatre member Stella Adler also advocates that “your talent is in your choices.” The camera loves spontaneous human behavior. This is what makes you unique. This is what it means to “act like you.” Meisner believed that in order to behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances, an actor must allow their instincts to dictate the changes.
When we talk about an actor’s personal brand, we refer to their instincts as an actor and their choices interpreting, reacting, or responding from a unique position in the world. Acting is less about intellectualizing and more about feeling. Meiser felt that an actor suffered from two fundamental problems. The first was that they did not listen and the second was that they were too self-conscious. How can you avoid this? Try these three tactics inspired by Meisner to help shift the awareness off of yourself and on to the other person or activity in the scene.
Meisner’s repetition exercise is a listening tactic that attempts to take the anticipation out of the scene and seed the actor in the moment. As this requires another actor, here is an exercise you can do on your own to strengthen observation skills and the willingness to be affected by outside stimuli.
Exercise: Learn a short monologue, one that is simple to remember and easy to repeat. Recite it at different times of the day when you feel happy, when you feel sad, when you’re hungry and frustrated, or even as someone is recounting a boring story. The point is to start becoming aware of environmental influences that inspire instinctive changes in your behavior.
2. Emotional Preparation
Character is an emotional thing. It has to come from a place of truth: “Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances...The text is like a canoe and the river which it floats on is the emotion. The text takes on the character of your emotion.” So rather than acting excited or angry, be excited or angry. When you understand emotions you invent a condition of emotional aliveness that you can draw upon impulsively.
Try this exercise to make your imagination both vivid and curious. Do three things a week that are completely out of your comfort zone. Join a dance class or volunteer at a children’s hospital. Be conscious of your feelings. Once the fear of newness subsides you’re able to identify new feelings and call upon these truthfully.
“Are you listening to me? Are you really listening to me? […] That’s the reality of doing. If you do something, you really do it!” To “really do” something, you must take ownership, in order to make it yours. You have to listen, you have to observe and you have to respond, imagining the scene is unfolding in real-time.
As an observation exercise, attempt to observe humans with intent anywhere you can. What do you see the person doing physically? How would you describe their mannerisms? Attempt to identify people’s unique behavior under close observation? As a listening exercise, make sure you pick a safe spot and sit and listen with your eyes closed. Take note of what you hear. Is there anything that you heard specifically that you didn’t anticipate?
Remember, your instincts are unique to your personality. The choices you make affect your performance and getting to understand your instincts will make the acting yours. It’s the thing that we in the industry identify with an actor as it becomes their personal brand.
*This post was originally published on April 4, 2019. It has since been updated.
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