Tag Archives meisner technique

“It takes 20 Years to become an Actor” – Reflections on my acting training.

By Ken Weiler


Sanford Meisner is famous for saying that “It takes 20 years to become an actor”.  So now, 20 years after graduating from Rutgers University’s MFA Acting program, I am reflecting on what I learned there and realize that there are many lessons I learned while training that I take into auditions and performances today.

One of the most important things you learn while attending a conservatory is to rehearse. It sounds so obvious, but an actor must prepare. It’s almost common knowledge now with the popularity of books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the “10,000-hour rule,” (the idea that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill) but you learn that you just have to put in the time. There’s no way around it. A musician spends hundreds of hours practicing scales, a doctor spent years in medical school, and so the actor must rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

For me rehearsal and preparation are synonymous. You can’t escape the need to give yourself as much time as it’s gonna take to prepare for a role or for an audition. Sometimes you get material that’s in your wheelhouse or fits your temperament, and then it may be easier or less time-consuming. But to pull off a powerful or hysterically funny performance is not a simple task. It’s achieved through great effort and work, though the performance itself should appear effortless. As Hamlet said, “Therein lies the rub.”

If you ever studied with Bill Esper you heard these words asked of you a thousand times, “What are you doing there?” In this question lies the cornerstone of technique. I constantly ask myself this question when I read a scene for an audition or am preparing a role for a job. It may be one of the most important elements in creating truthful behavior and it’s at the core of realism in acting. Bill stuck very closely to Meisner’s straightforward definition of acting which is “Living truthfully under the imaginary circumstances of the play.” In Bill’s book he went so far as to change it to “DOING truthfully under the imaginary circumstances…” Stanislavski delved deeply into actions and objectives in his approach for the actor. And, I am constantly asking myself, “What am I doing? What do I want? How am I gonna get it?”

Finally, to keep from sounding too intellectual or clever, perhaps the most important lesson I learned relates to spontaneity. I have to stay playful. I have to stay almost childlike in my imagination and willingness to improvise. I have to stay open, loose, and relaxed. This is a part of your performance and preparation that is not intellectual. It’s an oversimplification to be sure but, simply put, I have to have fun. I have to play.


actor & teacher ken weilerKen Weiler received his MFA in Theater Arts from Mason Gross School of the Arts under the tutelage of William Esper and Maggie Flanigan. He has taught The Meisner Technique and Auditioning at EMAS for the past 8 years. He’s worked professionally for over twenty years with appearances in dozens of films and episodic television shows including Criminal Minds, Friends, The West Wing, Desperate Housewives, CSI, Bones, and currently recurring in the STARZ series Blunt Talk starring Patrick Stewart.

He is also an accomplished musician, performing with his band The Four Postmen at various L.A. venues

Should Working Actors Continue Their Training??

Guest Post by Matthew Jaeger

Matthew Jaeger HeadshotMatt Jaeger is a 2014 graduate of The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s Professional Meisner Training Program. He is currently starring in Chinglish by David Henry Hwang at East West Players. Other credits include Recurring and Guest Star appearances on Criminal Minds, Switched at Birth, CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. See Matthew Jaeger on IMDB.


When I came to Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, I’d already been a working actor for four years. I worked primarily in commercials and television, doing the occasional film and the even more occasional theatre project. I came to EMAS because of one these more occasional theatre projects, a play called Short Eyes, where I played the title role. It was an incredibly demanding role, and I found I hit a wall when trying to access certain emotional parts of myself. I would get to a point and then just… nothing. It was scary and incredibly frustrating. So I faked it when I needed to, and got through the run. But afterwards I was left with the feeling that I should have gone farther, made the role not only deeper but given it more levels and color. My girlfriend (now wife) suggested I look at Elizabeth Mestnik’s Meisner Summer Intensive when it came around that summer. So I did.

To make long story slightly less long, in that short intensive, I dug deeper than I ever had before. I liked what I found, and what it did to me as an actor. So I joined the full Professional Program. What followed were nine months of some of the hardest work I’ve ever done as an actor. Remember, I make my money acting, so I was very nervous to mess with my process or give anyone else input as to how I approached my craft. But the more I relaxed and opened up, the better things got. It was SO much work, but every minute was worth it. I continued on into the 2nd year’s advanced work and my confidence grew as I solidified what I learned and absorbed it into my daily work.

In going through the 2 Year Meisner Program, I not only grew as an actor, but as a person. I made lasting friendships and came to know myself in ways I never thought I would. It was great. But if you’re like me, you want to know, bottom line, “Did the acting get better?” Aka “Did you start booking more?” Well, I’m about as anal retentive as they come and I actually track my booking percentages, so I can answer that question.

Yes.

I started class in 2012. My stats for that year were:
Callback: 20.7%, Booking: 8.8%
(I told you I was anal retentive)

During 2013 I was changing my process and rebuilding my craft, and the numbers dropped.
Callback: 10.4%, Booking 5.2%
Needless to say, it took some real trust to keep with it when my stats dropped by half. But I believed in Elizabeth, Jordana, and Ken. And like I said, I could see my growth as an artist. And most importantly, I was ENJOYING acting more.

By the time I graduated, in June 2014, everything was back to normal. My stats for 2014 were almost identical to 2012:
Callback: 20%, Booking 8.6%

Today I’ve had a year to settle into my new process and really put what I learned to work. It’s the first complete year of acting work I’ve had since graduating, and my stats have definitely improved As of November, my 2015 stats are:
Callback 25.4%, Booking 19%

That’s right, my booking ratio more than DOUBLED in my first full year after graduating from the EMAS 2 Year Meisner Program. And my callbacks have increased as well.

Also, before and during the class (2012-2014) I averaged working 18 days a year. For 2015, I’m on track to work 91 days. True, this probably would have been a good year anyway, part of the ebb and flow of any career. But it could never have gotten this good without EMAS studios. My training there has upped my game to a new level.

So, to sum it all up, only someone as anal retentive as me can tell you, with objective proof, the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio works.

Now Interviewing for Meisner Technique Classes

meisner technique acting class image

As the fundamental philosophy behind our acting classes here at the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, we’re excited to have opened up registration for two different Meisner Technique classes in 2015.

More than just “acting,” the Meisner technique teaches the actor to be truthful and honest, with both themselves and the scene. As powerful as this is, it is nonetheless a skill which is achieved step-by-step. This is the wonderful thing about the Meisner technique – it lays down a path which allows the actor to gain self-knowledge and skills that eventually lead to acting out of instinct rather than intellect.

As of April, 2015, we’re accepting interviews for two classes which will take actors on the first steps into the Meisner technique: the Summer Meisner Intensive, and the Fall Meisner Program.

The goal of Summer Meisner Intensive is to fully immerse the actor in both the philosophies and the practices of the Meisner technique in a short period of time (three days a week for three hours at a time). Despite only lasting five weeks, the nature of the class allows students to not only become familiar with the Meisner technique but also to take the first significant strides towards becoming an emotionally honest and intuitive actor.

The Fall Meisner Program is an opportunity for students to begin their first year of the Meisner Technique or to continue into their second year of study. We truly believe that the power of the technique and the commitment of our acting coaches will give the student at either point in their studies the best opportunity to grow as an actor and a person.

Basics of the Meisner Technique

Great Acting Requires:

two actors in a scene trainingConnection: You must know how to listen and give yourself permission to be affected by your acting partners and the imaginary circumstances of the scene.

Focus: You must learn how to focus on something outside yourself and how to really do what you are doing… for real, no pretending.

Expression: You must constantly work on being free to express emotion:  which means allowing your feelings to come out in behavior.

Self-Knowledge: Developing your Unique Point of View about the world:  you must know how you feel about things, people, and the world around you and what defense mechanisms you use in the real world to keep these feelings at bay.  These defense mechanisms must be stripped away before any truthful behavior can be revealed.

Impulsiveness: All good acting stems from an actors instincts, by honoring impulses and not intellectualizing the work.  We need to learn to act from our gut not our heads.

And you must have trained body and voice that is strong and dextrous enough to do all of this.

Technique: (noun) A systematic procedure, formula or routine by which a complicated task is accomplished; the way in which the fundamentals, as of an artistic work, are handled.

All serious artists commit themselves to learning the technique of their craft, no one is asked to play a Bach concerto at their first piano lesson, but in many acting classes beginning students are given complex scenes on the first day – asked to perform them, given a few perfunctory notes, and this is considered acting training.

The Meisner Technique, however, takes the training of actors as seriously and as systematically as the training of dancers and musicians.  As teachers of Sanford Meisner’s work, we consider a mastery of “technique” (the SYSTEMATIC procedure needed by actors to create great performances) absolutely necessary.  The Meisner Technique is a systematic, step-by-step process that allows for actors to gain the skill sets required to create a character and live in the imaginary world of the play. The skills required to act go way beyond how to memorize lines and hit your marks.

Everything we do in the Meisner Technique takes us back to those 5 major skill sets – and so how do we gain skills?  How does an NBA player improve his jump shot?  Not in the game – but through drills, exercises and PRACTICE! – and that is how we improve our connection, our focus, our emotional expression our self-knowledge, and hone our instincts – PRACTICE!