Usually, actors, especially those that have embraced the field of method acting, are encouraged to look for internal sources of inspiration to get into the skin of the character. We have all heard of the extreme situations that actors put themselves through to ensure authentic performances that don’t reek of artificiality at any point. But Sanford Meisner begged to differ. According to him, the sources of inspiration for performances must be garnered from external sources. The actors must react to the performances of their fellow actors and must closely observe their behaviour before deciding on the emotion and the dialogue that they deliver to convey the feeling. When they are stuck in awkward situations, they can have recourse to external cues to keep the scene moving.
Who was Sanford Meisner?
Sanford Meisner was a renowned and esteemed New York-based actor. During the early 1930s, Meisner, along with a few fellow actors like Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, formed a theatre company called the Group Theatre. Ironically, they espoused method acting initially and strived hard to promulgate the art. They meticulously studied Stanislavsky’s naturalistic approach and were deeply attached to it. But later, Meisner, finding the style of method acting inadequate, devised his own technique called the Meisner technique.
The repetition exercise
When students look to master the Meisner Technique, they are initially introduced to the Repetition Exercise, an activity that is specifically devised to train an actor’s responses. In this exercise, two actors just face each other and repeat a phrase continuously without any pauses. After every few repetitions, they vary the tone and intensity. What this seeks to achieve is the elimination of the comfort zones and the promotion of truthfulness, integrity and sincerity to the craft.
The actors get a glimpse of the underlying emotions that motivate the characters’ actions, and these insights will develop their performances in a much better manner compared to just the rote-memorization of the dialogues. As these exercises progress, students are encouraged to steer clear of pretending and are instead asked to focus on responding with genuine emotions and maximum authenticity. In the superior stages, the teacher will ask the students to do many physical tasks in addition to dialogue repetition. Here, the students are exposed to the approaches that they can use to deal with more sophisticated, tricky relationships.
Preparing to emote
Another significant aspect of the Meisner Technique deals with the emotional preparation that’s required for a more authentic performance. Here, the actors delve deeper into their own personal experiences to come up with parallels between the circumstances that they have faced and the situations that their character is going to face. By internalizing the character, they will be able to furnish the audience with a more vivid, personal portrayal of the role. While this might remind of the process involved in method acting, it’s important to note a few differences. For method acting, this character absorption phase is the most pivotal and crucial phase when preparing to play the role. But here, this phase is just a supplement to the more important ‘repetition phase’.
Developing a strong sense of imagination
Every person is in a way constrained by the limited variety of experiences and people that he/she is exposed to. It would therefore be a futile exercise to try and imbibe the characteristics and the emotional dilemmas of characters that have nothing to do with our lives. To really expand the range of emotions and to convince the audience with conviction, it’s highly essential to learn more about the world of the character. Any actor must forage for real-life parallels that mirror the fabricated world created by the director and the screenwriters. If you are looking to play an army veteran, you must try and solicit information from actual veterans. If your performance appears to be contrived to the eyes of the audience, you can bid your chances of approval goodbye. To turn into the character and deliver a fierce, compelling performance that fires the audience with enthusiasm, you must enter the world in which the character resides. There is a myriad of ways for you to gather information about the circumstances of the character. You could go and query your family and friends about any similar experiences that they might have had. Some actors binge on interviews online while others flock to the nearby community libraries to glean ideas from books on the relevant subjects. A consummate actor would then organize all these ideas that they have sourced from external avenues and blend them into a blueprint for a riveting performance.
Of course, you need improvisation!
Meisner didn’t scorn improvisation at any point in time. He was congruous with many other popular actors at least in this respect. He always believed that true talent could only germinate and manifest in instinct. He also thought that an actor must value authenticity over detailed planning, and this necessitates a desire to experiment and take risks on behalf of the actor. This might prove to be challenging for most actors, and it won’t be surprising to see them reluctant and apprehensive about such a spontaneous approach to any scene. They would love to see their scenes properly scripted so that they wouldn’t have any impediments during the course of the scene.
While the differences between method acting and the Meisner Technique may not be very evident or conspicuous for the layman, actors do brood over the choice between the two for considerable periods. Weigh the options and don’t remain stuck at crossroads for too long. If you like to get into the shoes of a character through rigorous, real-life experiences, go for method acting, but if you have a penchant for learning through repetition, you have the Meisner Technique at your disposal.