Many people will say they have had exposure to the Meisner technique. They might say things like, “I did some Meisner, I did a little of that repetition.”
And while there is repetition in the Meisner training, that’s only for the very start of its instruction.
When an actor starts out with Meisner, repetition is used to ensure their attention is off of themselves and that they’re fully listening and answering. This results in the actor being able to fully and freely respond unselfconsciously. While this is one of the foundations of good acting, it’s still only the beginning of the Meisner training.
Sadly, Meisner is often reduced to the smallest part of the technique: actors thinking it’s only repetition or improvisation. But the reality is that the brilliance of Meisner is that he introduces advanced principles for character interpretation and script analysis from the very beginning. By the time the actor has delved into the works of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, John Patrick Shanley, and Shakespeare, the complex principles for approaching these sophisticated works have all been covered thoroughly.
So what comes after “that repeating exercise”? Once an actor has done the exercise—repeating until they know how they feel and can come to their opinion—repetition is swiftly removed. The next step is the introduction of emotional preparation, behaviorally-difficult activities, relationships, and shared circumstances. Throughout all of this, the student is introduced to scripted, increasingly more complex scene work, material that allows for truthful, organic scenes without character interpretation. Once character analysis and script interpretation are introduced, the character work begins and the training builds on what has come before. These building blocks allow the actor to select and plan behavior that illuminates the truth of the character they’re inhabiting.
Just look at people like Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Tina Fey, Allison Janney, Robin Wright, Jeff Bridges, Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, David Mamet, Sydney Pollack, Sidney Lumet, and hundreds of others who have trained in the Meisner technique and have gone on to use its comprehensive, all-inclusive teachings to create enduring careers.
They may have started with simple repetition, but they did move on to the sophisticated elements required for great acting.
So yes, the Meisner method does utilize repetition, but only at the start. There is so much more to this powerful technique beyond the basic level work. We encourage anyone who is curious to look more deeply at this career-making transformative technique!
*This post was originally published on April 13, 2018. It has since been updated.
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