Students often ask, “Is the Meisner Technique for theatre or film actors?”
My answer is it helps with all of it.
Actors need a solid technique.
What happens to a house that’s built without a foundation? It crumbles. Sanford Meisner created a step-by-step method to help actors build a solid foundation for their technique. His repetition exercises dig into what acting is at its core and puts us through our paces strengthening necessary skills that every actor needs, whether they’re acting on stage, in front of a camera, at a renaissance faire, on a crew ship, you get the idea. No matter the medium, as an actor you’ll need to be adept at listening, being present, spontaneous, and authentic.
It’s easy to get sucked into the business of acting and forget about the importance of having a solid technique. Acting classes that focus on auditioning, monologues, or self-tapes are all very important but we must dedicate our energy towards learning how to act rather than just how to book roles. Many actors go years without having a technique to rely on for their work so every time they step up to the plate they’re trying something new, unsure of what they did when things go well, or when things go poorly. Our method of teaching Mesiner’s technique here at Green Shirt lays out a step-by-step process to tackle a script, omitting any guesswork from the work.
And do I think the Mesiner technique is all you need to study to be a well trained actor? Of course not! There are many techniques and skills that actors need to dedicated time and energy towards. I’m biased but I do think Mesiner is the most effective, straightforward way for actors to practice and perfect the most essential ingredients of their craft.
It’s Focused On Authenticity
For our first day of Level 1: Living Truthfully in our Meisner Acting Program, we do an exercise called the joyous object exercise that helps our students see that, “You Are Enough.” It lays the groundwork for the rest of Level 1 where we explore what it’s like to know that, in our acting, we don’t need to try to be interesting. That we are inherently interesting and we don’t need to put pressure on ourselves to be anything except who we are. We start here on our first day of Level 1 and continue to deepen our understand of how we can accept ourselves as enough in our work throughout Levels 1-5.
Actor Keegan Michael Key spoke really elegantly to this point on Mike Birbiglia’s podcast Working It Out. When Mike asks Keegan what he wants to get better at as a performer he says, “There are people who I watch who, I go, I don’t wanna be just like them but if I could find a way to tap into, like organically and truthfully, tap into the essence of….their ease. There is a quality about Bill Murray or Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt, they all have this ‘I am Enough’ energy that I want to lean into more…a supreme confidence within yourself that makes you go, ‘You know what I am infinitely interesting.’ So I don’t have to do anything I can just say these lines and I’m interesting enough that people will watch me.”
This is a skill that any performer needs to hone, regardless of what medium they want to perform in because our audience can see when we’re in our head wondering if they’re on board or pushing to try to make them come along on the ride. You can see an actor faking it in a tiny black box theater, a huge performance hall, or if their face is 12 feet tall on a movie screen.
There’s A Clear Track Record
Many talented, wildly successful actors studied with Mesiner or his technique. Actors like Sam Rockwell, Michael Shannon, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Duvall, Christoph Waltz, James Gandolfini, Jon Voight, Diane Keaton, and Kathy Bates.
And there are many more fantastic actors that studied the Mesiner technique who haven’t gotten famous. I started teaching Meisner here at Green Shirt in 2016 and I’ve seen countless students from diverse backgrounds and levels of experience come into our classroom and work extremely hard and grow into strong practitioners of their craft. These students have gone on to work in TV, film, commercials, and theater. I’ve loved every minute of helping Green Shirt students work towards their goals and explore what acting means to them.