Customer Reviews: Sanford Meisner on Acting
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on May 10, 2000
I am currently studying the craft of acting at one of the 3 year professional acting acadamies here in LA. I very much enjoyed reading this book and have done so at this point several times. I would most highly recommend it to anyone thinking about or currently studying the craft of acting.
In the first chapter (Setting The Scene: Duse's Blush), we are giving a chronology of Meisners life and how he came to be such a great and beloved teacher. It is also in this first chapter that Meisner recounts the story of Elenora Duse, a legendary Italian actress who played the role of Magda in Hermann Sundermanns Heimat. In the first scene of this play, as the story goes, she is a young girl that has an affair with a guy from the same village, and she has a child by him. Twenty-five years later, or thereabouts, she comes back to visit her family who live in this town, and her ex-lover comes to call on her. She accepts his flowers and they sit and talk. All of a sudden the actor realizes that she is blushing, and it gets so bad that she drops her head and hides her face in embarrassment. Although we learn that this does not happen every performance, it is this blush that is the epitome of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. This is Meisners definition of all good acting.
The foundation of acting, is the reality of doing. It is this basic premise that is the spine of this book of exercises intended to bring the actor closer to their emotional self. It is an approach that is based on bringing the actor away from the intellectualizing of character analysis back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. Through preparation, the actor is bought to a full state of emotional aliveness for those first precious moments on the stage at the beginnings of any scene. It would be impossible to escape the powerful impact of emotion or the importance of being able to realize and use effectively this impact in your performance.
Once those first precious moments of emotional aliveness that the actor has prepared for have elapsed however, the actor must be willing to enter into a state of, what Constantine Stanislovsky refers to as public solitude (as opposed to public exhibitionism). A complete surrendering of ego and willingness to make oneself vulnerable to the ultimate revealing of truth in who we are in the context of the words and circumstance written and demanded of the actor by the playwright.
Everything in acting is, of course, a kind of heightened intensified reality but it is based on one that is fully justified. Good acting isn't just the emotionless reciting of lines of text as mindless chatter. It is responding truthfully to the other person or persons on the stage. To fill words with the truth of your emotional life Meisner suggest that you must learn text coldly without expression in a completely neutral way. This learning should than be taken further through repetition mixed with a distracting independent activity. It is this repetition coupled with a distracting independent activity that takes the actor out of the intellectual mind into that of the of instinctual. That is, not thinking but simply acting and reacting honestly to what's happening on stage in every moment. But again, in order to get out of your head and into the emotional life of the instinctual, you have to know the lines so well that you don't even have to consciously think about them. As the logic goes; if you don't know your lines cold you can not get to the emotions. If you can't get to the emotions than you are nowhere near the heart of your instincts and can therefore not act or react honestly. </font></p> Learn lines and pick up impulses. This is what Meisner suggest is crucial if you are to always be in the moment of a scene honestly and most importantly, realistically. It is the truth of your instincts that is the very root of the foundation from which you must build not only your character, but also all of the honest emotional actions and reactions asked of you on stage. Living the emotional life of the character truthfully under imaginary circumstances. It is this emotional honesty and openness that will most profoundly move you and the audience for the enjoyment of you both.
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on February 21, 2003
I agree... Sandford Meisner is by far one of the best kept secrets in acting. I stuided the Meisner Technique approach to acting with the wonderful Rachael Adler and it has absolutely changed me. Not just my acting but my life as well. This is a MUST HAVE for ANY actor. Whether this technique is right for you or not, the information you will get from this book will most defenitely help you understand what makes good acting.
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on October 26, 2001
Since I studied with Sandy for two years at the Neighborhood Playhouse and continued to study with him in his private class after I graduated from the Playhouse, I believe that I can speak with some authority. The book that Dennis Longwell has edited does an admirable job of describing the organic process of learning to act. Please note that reading is not a substitute for "the reality of doing."
Sandy was an extraordinary pragmatist and a man of deep sensitivity. However, he was unsentimental; astringent; and gifted with a wonderfully mordaunt sense of humor. He once said, "I like to think that I prepare artists to survive in a world that doesn't always want them." In a way, he was preparing his students for battle. If he was tough, he did so only in order to be kind. Personally, I really liked him and I always think of him with real affection. Learning from him personally was a privilege and an honor.
All in all, he was one of the most extraordinary people whom I have ever known, as well as one of the most influential. In a field all too often occupied by charlatans, he took a stand against pseudo-intellectuality and some self syled amateur psychiatrists posing as men and women of the theatre. His close friends included Harold Clurman and Stella Adler, whose influence he never failed to credit.
Sandy didn't live in an ivory tower, or teach in some backwater college. He was truly a man of the theatre, with more than 30 Broadway credits. In fact, he was a very good actor. You can see for yourself in the 1958 movie THE STORY ON PAGE ONE, written and directed by his close friend, Clifford Odets.
If you aspire to be an actor, you can get an idea from this book of what is involved in learning the Meisner Technique. Sandy had no "b.s." He cut right to the heart of the matter. There is no technique that will give you acting talent if nature has failed to provide it. On the other hand, if you have talent it will take dedication and hard work in order to learn how to use it well.
If you are an American, forget about reading Stanislavski. The Hapgood translations are terrible. They leave out nearly half of what he wrote. Furthermore, Stanislavski belonged to a time and culture so remote from our own lives that you can waste years trying to understand him. Instead, read Sandy Meisner, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis, and Harold Clurman. There's no "b.s." in it. Then you will actually need to study. Hopefully, you will find someone whom Sandy actually trained as an actor and teacher!
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on December 31, 2002
I did a 1/2 semester project on Meisner's acting techniques for an acting class (we had to compare and contrast another technique with the Stanislavski technique most of us are familiar with). at the conservatory I attend, and found this book answered just about all my questions. It was an interesting read, but from a research standpoint, would have been easier to use had it not been in journal style. However, I have come acrossed nothing better as a resource exclusively dealing with Meisner. Read something about the Group Theatre as well, which may just lead to study of some techniques of some of Meisner's contemporaries and help you to combine styles to find your own unique approach to the art.
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on November 7, 2001
I would have to say that this is one of the best books on acting around. Although I am too young to have ever studied with Meisner, I am a student of his technique, and I think that this book helps give you a brief insight into what this extraordinary man had in mind. He professes a no nonsense approach to acting, "The reality of doing," that will truly benefit an aspiring artist. Meisner's belief of actually feeling something as opposed to faking something seems self evident, but was revolutionary for his time. Why substitute a response, when you can actually experience the emotion. If you are supposed to be angry actually get angry, don't fake angry. I do however have to agree with the other reviewers in saying that a book is no substitute to actually finding a good teacher with a good core group of students to work through the technique. You come to acting through feeling it, not intellectualizing it. In that you need to actually do it to feel it. It takes a long time, a lot of discipline and perserverance, but it is an extremely rewarding pursuit. The book helps as a guide post, but it is by no means that road that you will need to travel to develop your art.
As with any great teacher, Meisner's lessons can be applied to more than just the subject material. There are several Life's Lessons in this book, and I would even recommend it to people who are not actors or students of theater.
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on August 16, 2002
this is a good book with some good points to make. if one has any experience with the meisner technique it might even be very helpful. unfortunatly, i have never had any training in meisner and found the book hard to follow and uninteresting. there were some good basic lessons and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, but with out knowing first hand about the exercises i got very little out of reading about the experiences and exercises of the students. i would not recommend this to actors who have not taken at least some basic meisner classes.
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on August 30, 2004
sanford meisner on acting was recommended to me by my first meisner teacher five years ago. I had done a lot of local theatre before and wanted to improve my technique. This book not only enhanced my study of the technique but has become an often used, well worn reference guide. The technique not only made me a better actor, but i have become a much more effective communicator in my "real" life. It is a wonderful thing to feel as if you are truly "present" and "in the moment" when you are onstage. Meisner teaches better than anyone else that "acting is reacting". A great read for anyone (not just actors) wanting to increase their communication skills.
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on April 9, 2004
Sanford Meisner brings every actor who genuinely wants to stretch and bring stellar performances the wisdom to do so in this profound book.
The definition of acting is "living truthfully under imaginary circumstances" which I learned from this book, along with top training at Playhouse West in North Hollywood, CA, where this book was required reading.
Emotional preparation is crucial, BEING the character, and taking all focus off of you, while you react genuinely to the other person's movements, words, gestures, and actions moment by moment.
If you are serious about your acting career, this is the one book that will provide solid ground, which must accompany solid training and steady practice. Highly Recommended!
Barbara Rose, author of "Stop Being the String Along: A Relationship Guide to Being THE ONE" and 'If God Was Like Man'
Editor of inspire! magazine
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on September 12, 2000
This book is a very good introduction to Meisner's work. As one of the other reviewers said it would be best to do this while studying in a class setting (can you imagine doing the word repition game by yourself?). The thing that's always impressed me about Meisner's work is that you won't find anything like it anywhere else. Strasberg was influenced by mainly by Stanislavsky's early work and Adler was influenced by his later work. Meisner took influences from everywhere (Michael Chekhov, Duse, etc.) and synthesized them into something all his own. This is one, I believe,of only four books on his approach to acting so this is as close to the source as you're going to get!(Meisner passed away in 1996). Buy the book!
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on April 17, 2006
The fact that this book consists of nothing but dialogue between Sanford Meisner and his students is what makes Meisner's theory come through loud and clear, and makes the book a pleasure to read. Some may find it hard to follow because it's not in the form of traditional textbooks or books on acting - I find that the dialogue form makes it EASIER to understand what Meisner is trying to convey.

You can't learn acting by reading a book. You have to learn it by DOING it or at least observing it. As you read this book, you feel like you're sitting in on Meisner's class at the Neighborhood Playhouse. You feel like you're observing the students as they go through Meisner's exercises. You find that questions pop into your head as you read, and those same questions are asked on the next page by the students and answered clearly by Meisner. You get a feel for how he interacted with his students. No doubt, Meisner was tough on his students. He didn't take anyone's BS or excuses. He wanted to turn his students into good actors - and you can't get better without a teacher who's hard on you and sees through the fascades and barriers you put up. You need to be broken down and rebuilt. Meisner wanted his students to let go of their inhibitions and let it all out; let themselves out. You can't accomplish that with a teacher who babies you.

As far as Meisner's theory and technique goes - as an aspiring actress, I think it really hits home. The basis of his theory is that you should focus on what your fellow actor in the scene is doing, and react truthfully and spontaneously based on what you sense - as opposed to being in your head and trying to force emotions inside yourself as you're playing the scene. Meisner aims to get you out of your head, and into what's happening around you moment by moment. It's the most accurate, practical, and learnable theory on acting I have ever come across. As you learn it, you get that eerie feeling that you've hit upon the truth.

Overall, I think this book is the best way to understand Meisner's theory short of actually taking a class based on his technique.
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