A challenging aspect of Green Shirt Studio’s Meisner acting classes is that we ask our students to dig into what’s personally meaningful to them. While some acting methods lead you down the path of using past experiences to tap into meaning, the Meisner technique asks us to use our imagination to explore what’s deeply meaningful to us.
While this may seem daunting, tapping into the Meisner method starts with one simple rule: don’t overthink it! Remember, “You are enough!” You are everything that you need to become a successful actor, you just need to spend time and effort crafting your process.
To start building a daily practice, the Sleep Exercise is a simple exploration into allowing your imagination to flow and you can easily work it into your routine. Like any skill, your ability to allow your imagination to flow is a muscle that must be honed.
What Are ‘Sleep Exercises’?
Sleep Exercises are simple, yet powerful expeditions into our imagination. All you need is a quiet space to sit or lay down.
Once you are in position, think of an emotion. Happiness, sadness, fear, or courage for example.
Now, close your eyes and repeat that emotion word silently to yourself for about thirty seconds. Once you’ve repeated the word for some time, allow your imagination to run and see what comes up. This is an imagination free association. The whole point is to let it go, to not try to control what happens. “Be prepared to let it go astray!”
An important note—try not to fall asleep. While a “Sleep Exercise” where you are not supposed to sleep is a little counter-intuitive, we also like to call it “Anti-Meditation” because it is meant for you to feed into your stream of consciousness instead of focusing on your breath and clearing your head. With some practice, this exercise can feel like that state between wake and sleep. When your “dreaming brain” is switched on but you’re still awake and your imagination is running wild without your control.
After “anti-meditating” for some time, “wake” yourself and journal about your experience. Journaling and cataloging your experience is such an important part of this process! What did you think of? How did it feel? Did your mood change? Did your imagination go somewhere you didn’t expect? Then, when you’ve written down your thoughts, try to think of an emotion that is opposite of your initial choice (e.g., “happiness” instead of “sadness”; “pride” instead of “embarrassment”).
Then repeat! Easy enough, right?
This exercise really puts your imagination to the test. The nice thing about this exercise is that you can do it anywhere. Keep in mind that you don’t need to actually lay down and pretend to sleep in order to commit to this exercise. It’s perfectly acceptable to be in a sitting position if you feel uncomfortable lying down.
That being said, the true challenge that comes with this exercise is turning it into a practice; finding at least 20 minutes a day to commit to working out your imagination. Give yourself the space to catalog your experience through journaling.
Finding Time at Home
The most convenient time and place for this exercise is at home on the weekends or when you’re not working.
If you’re a morning person, you can make this part of your morning routine. However, we recommend that you get out of bed and move to another place to do this exercise so that you don’t just fall back asleep.
You can also make it part of your nightly routine, but the same rule applies. Try not to do this exercise on your bed because you’ll unintentionally fall asleep before you know it.
Finding Time During Lunch
You can also find time in the middle of the day if you are a quick eater or have longer lunch breaks. You’d be surprised at how refreshed you will feel after completing the exercise. It is also less likely that you’ll fall asleep during your practice in the middle of the day.
Finding Time Outside
It is important to make this exercise feel good for you. If you love to be outside, then find a spot in your backyard or at the park. You can literally take this practice anywhere.
As you continue your practice, we encourage you to change some of the variables to see what sort of differences they make in your imagination exploration. Maybe try listening to music one day or turning off the lights when you’re inside.
Everyone engages with their imagination differently, and this exercise aims to discover our innate ability to let our imagination run wild. We could do this as children because we allowed ourselves the luxury of exercising our imagination without social constraints. Through experiences like the Sleep Exercise, we can reconnect with our unfettered imagination and tap into it when needed.
Defining Your Human Experience
Working Sleep Exercises into your daily routine will help you not only grow as a professional actor, but also help you understand the power of your imagination. Life can be so busy and hectic that it feels like we lose ourselves in our day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.
Finding the time to slow down and listen to yourself is a great habit to build as an actor and a human. It creates a visceral connection to your deeper thoughts, helps you understand what’s truly on your mind and how that might support your point of view as an artist, and it can be accomplished in under 30 minutes—all you need to do is find a time that works for you and commit to a daily practice.