The Meisner Technique has helped turn many actors into household names. It was developed in the 1930s by Sanford Meisner, who would continue to refine it for the next fifty years. Developed at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, it is considered one of the most systematic and holistic acting techniques in the western world. It has made a strong influence not only on American acting and culture, but on European acting as well.
A traditional Meisner Training Program is taught over a two-year period. In contrast to Emotional Recall, where actors recall emotions from memories of actual experiences, the Meisner Technique believes that the imaginary world is a stronger and healthier way to draw out an actor’s emotions. It defines acting as “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances”, requiring actors to respond from their instincts rather than their intellect. It is a step-by-step, improvisational process that demands the actors be truthful in every moment. The first year focuses on the actors finding how they, themselves would truthfully respond in a whole slew of imaginary circumstances, whether they be joyous, maddening or devastating. The second year continues this work in the realm of creating characters quite different from the actor with the same sense of truth. When the Meisner technique is taught, it begins with simple repetition exercises using one or two sentences, then builds on this to eventually work with complex improvisations and eventually scripts.
The Meisner technique is used by countless actors on stage and in film, including Sam Rockwell, James Gandolfini, David Duchovny, Allison Janney, Kathy Bates, Robert Duvall, James Franco, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Goldblum, Naomi Watts, Stephen Colbert, , and many others.