The Meisner Technique (exercises)

"The foundation of acting is the reality of doing."

Exercise one 

Listening - really listen, do not pretend to listen

Go outside with notebook

(2 minutes) - LISTEN for particular things - cars, birds, peoples voices. 

WRITE: "What do you hear?" 
(Describe it on the page)

-"what did you hear specifically that you didn't anticipate?"
-"Why do you think is this important for the actor?"

Exercise two  

Observing - a focused observation of an acting partner.

WATCH: sitting, standing, walking, talking

What is always important is the reality of doing the task, not the results. The observation is the focus...record second.
WRITE: "What do you see the person doing physically?" 
(Describe it on the page) 

-"What are the unique things that catch our eyes when watching people closely?"
-"What is the importance of this activity for the actor?"

Exercise three

Repetition - "ping-pong game".

Phase 1) Listening and Repeating the phrase - just the words not the attitude behind them.

example: "you have long hair"... "you have long hair"... "you have long hair". 

Phase 2) Repetition from a "point of view" -

example: "you curl your hair."... "Yes I curl my hair."... "Yes, you do."... "Yes, I curl my hair."..."I can see that you do."..."Yes, you can see that I do."

example: "You're staring at me."... "I'm staring at you."... "You admit it?"... "I admit it."... "I don't like it."... "You don't like it."... "You don't care for it?"... "I don't care."

You don't have to play a character, it's in the reality of doing it. ____________________________________________________
INSTINCTUAL - a spontaneous and impulsive reaction to the moment at hand.

Meisner's approach is to bring back the actor to his emotional responses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and there's no mentality in it.

Phase 3) putting repetition with an independent activity. The activity needs to be difficult and have meaning to the performer. This takes you out of the "classroom" and into the instinctual reaction.


The actor is looking for a young woman's name in a phone book. K.Z. Smith. There are a lot of smiths in the phone book. Another actor enters...

A: "Looking for something?" 
B: "Yes, I'm looking for something."
A: "You're looking for something."
B: "Yes I'm looking for something."
A: "Stop doing that and look at me!"
B: "Stop doing this and look at you?" 
A: "Yes, stop doing that and look at me." 

...and so on.


Actor is busy painting a cartoon, doing something personal and there is repetition with another actor. Actors need to find an activity with some difficulty to it.

Meisner appreciates the Stanislavski concept of Public Solitude. The idea that the actor is almost poetic in his display of behavior that would seem to be private - relaxed, smooth, no pretense.

"The truth of ourselves is the root of our acting."


three knocks, three meanings, answer the door. repetition.


Meisner on actor "preparation" - the device that permits you to start your scene or play in a condition of emotional aliveness. 

Preparation only happens for the first moment of the scene, and then you never know what's going to happen to reach that truth in the moment. 

Use your imagination to give yourself an impulse that moves you, and you alone. 

Warning: do not indicate the emotion, use it to stimulate you.


Meisner on "Character" - Character is an emotional thing. Accents and mannerisms are external attributes - definitely not as important as being in the moment reacting truthfully.

"Acting is living under imaginary circumstances...The text is like a canoe and the river which it floats on is the emotion. the text takes on the character of your emotion." - Meisner


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