Meisner For Improv 2

Image Source: PBS

I’ve been taking improv classes with Laura Derry at Bay Area Theater Sports (BATS), which is our equivalent of Chicago’s Second City. Although we’re tackling improv basics like spontaneity, I love our three-hour sessions because they demand vulnerability. Plus, being goofy and laughing your afternoon away is a pretty good way to spend the day.

Last week, I saw a sheet of paper titled “MEISNER FOR IMPROV” tacked to the wall in the BATS green room. Sanford Meisner is an icon in the acting world, and his philosophy really clicks for me. In fact, one of my Vagina Monologues directors, Jamie, cited Meisner when she addressed my surprise breakthrough, writing that “unconscious adjustment is the CORE of Meisner work.”

I’m really looking forward to learning more about his methods, but for now, the Meisner quotes on that sheet of paper will suffice.

(Notes compiled by Kasey Klemm, 9/18/07)

Act before you think.
An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words.

-Signs in Sanford Meisner’s Acting Studio

“The foundation of acting is the reality of doing.” -Sanford Meisner

“The text is like a canoe, and the river on which it sits is the emotion. The text floats on the river. If the water on the river is turbulent, the words will come out like a canoe on a rough river. It all depends on the flow of the river which is your emotion. The text takes on the character of your emotion.” -Meisner and Longwell, 1987

“Let there be no question about what I’m saying here. If you do something, you really do it! Did you walk up the steps to this classroom this morning? You didn’t jump up? You didn’t skip up, right? You really walked up those steps.” -Sanford Meisner

“Repetition demands of actors that they verbalize what they perceive in another actor…Meisner explains that actors out to observe behavior, and in turn, ‘your instinct picks up the change [in the other actor’s behavior] and the [repetition] dialogue changes, too.” -Alison Hodge, Twentieth Century Actor Training

“As actors gain confidence through repetition, their insight deepens with respect to the other member of the scene…rather than saying, ‘You’re staring at me,” they begin to address the feelings that lurk behind the stare.” -Alison Hodge, Twentieth Century Actor Training

“For Meisner, impulse is a response to internal or external stimuli…the actor responds by acting on the stimuli, creating an ‘impulsive’ behavior that emerges truthfully and spontaneously…rather than from pre-planned behavior.” -Alison Hodge, Twentieth Century Actor Training

“The repetition is designed to build an authentic connection between the actors.” -Sanford Meisner

Use the comments section to tell us if the Meisner technique–or another method–has helped you. I’m speaking for myself, but when it comes to my acting toolkit, I’m all ears–or in this case, eyes!

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