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Sanford Meisner On Acting
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.