The Meisner approach to acting is an excellent way to train actors to live authentically and fully in their scene work and stop “pretending” to be someone else. It is challenging and profound work that gets to the heart of acting because it actually gets at the heart of what it means to be truly human. The work trains you to be thoroughly responsive, emotionally alive, spontaneous and absolutely grounded in the reality of what is happening at any given moment with any given person.
Unfortunately, Meisner acting classes have also developed the reputation as being places where actors are encouraged or even forced to act out in less than truthful ways — throwing punches, being sexually provocative — more for the sake of histrionics than for any real learning. Students learn to push and sacrifice their truthful impulses in exchange for the ones they believe will be more “interesting” for their teachers and classmates.
My mentor, Larry Silverberg, who runs the True Acting Institute, agrees that this is not what Meisner is all about.
This week, I asked Larry to write a guest blog for us on how to find a good Meisner acting teacher. Enjoy!
I remember a story about a renowned Broadway actress of the 1920s who would arrive at the theatre early, before every performance, to walk through the house and make sure nothing was left in the aisles or under the seats. She wanted to be confident that the audience was walking into a clean space when they came to see the play. It stuns me how disinterested many acting students are in the quality of space. I begin with the physical space as it is the most obvious. As a student, how much care do you take in making the room ready to be worked in and clearing it for those who will work next? Or do you leave the “pile of dishes” for others to scrub? Wasn’t it you who just enjoyed the meal?
Just as essential is the more subtle, unseen “space” that the student walks into. Is it “clean”? Has there been a deep caring invested by the teacher in making a space founded on respect, compassion, clarity of purpose, honesty, deep listening, simplicity and a loving sincerity? These are some of the qualities necessary to offer a place where students will gain the courage to take leaps into the unknown and into the space of creation itself. I do believe that this kind of class, this kind of teacher, is in the great majority.
But for years, and again today, actors have shared their experience of teachers encouraging violence in their classrooms, teachers manipulating students to be mean spirited, hostile, sexual without true desire, physically and emotionally explosive without an honest impulse, hitting each other, spitting in each others faces and more… What do the rest of the students learn? They learn collectively that they too must fake their way into explosive states of being, they too must ramp up their meanness, they too must masturbate emotionally for the teacher’s approval and so win entrance into “the club.” Of course, none of this has any relationship to the craft of acting, but it is too late as the students have become chained to the teacher, artistically crippled. If it is not yet clear, the tip for the day? Be on the lookout for a clean space.
Want to learn more about the Meisner acting technique? Join Larry Silverberg and Andrew Gallant for a webinar on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.