Sanford Meisner said, “The seed of all acting is rooted in the reality of doing.” To provide his students with an instinctive way of working he invented his famous “repetition” exercises. Throughout the various stages of the exercises the partners place all of their attention on one another, remain in the “repetition”, and work from their truthful selves, until the teacher signals them to stop, offering corrective criticism when necessary. By remaining in the “repetition”, the thought process is removed from the work and the instinct takes over. Equally important was Meisner’s emphasis on listening. In order to be “fully” available to one another the students must learn to listen in a way that eludes them in everyday life. This may sound easy but it is not. Many of us have lost our ability to truly focus and listen in our everyday lives. There are legitimate reasons for this. Faced with the distractions of day-to-living I.e, bills, rent, loans, meetings, social engagements, et al, we lose our ability to connect in a meaningful, and consistent way. So Meisner took listening to a new and different level.
“Can you sit opposite your partner and “repeat” what you hear”? Can you listen simply and truthfully from yourself? Can you listen without adding anything onto the exercise? Can you hear the change in inflection, tone, rhythm, timbre in your partner’s voice? Can you simply listen and “repeat” without “trying” to listen. Can you allow the “exercise” to “change because it has to, not because you want it to.”? Can you react without pretense, or fabricating an emotional response. Can you allow the emotion to do you, not you do “it”? These are the elements that are at the heart of the technique. To achieve truthful behavior you have to learn to leave yourself alone and be “fully” available to the other person. To learn to “listen” and react truthfully requires the stripping away of pretense, ego, affectation, pre-meditation, and falsification of any kind. “Listening” requires that you do not “try” to make anything happen, you do not play the “results”.
Listening with our ears is fundamental, but it also requires that you take in the entire person; ticks, gestures, shifting of the body, facial expressions, are all a part of listening fully. Body language/actions speak louder than words. The attitude in certain stances/postures can arouse a myriad of emotions. Without “trying” to feel a thing I can be provoked by a person’s non-verbal responses every bit as much as their verbal ones. If you aspire to be the very best actor that you can be then you must master the art of listening. This, by the way, is not all you have to do, but it is the best foundation there is for learning how to bring all of yourself to the work. It is also the foundation of bringing the improvisational quality to your work. Actors that have the ability to improvise are excellent “listeners”. They understand that by remaining open and vulnerable they can react from moment to moment to the other person. When you truly listen you don’t have to “try” to make things happen. You begin to understand that changes occur because they have to, not because we want them to.
There are a number of acting classes in New York City that offer Meisner training. I suggest that you read up on them and make an appointment to audit several so that you can make an informed decision when you are ready to choose the class that is best for your needs. It’s important that you find a teacher that has the knowledge, expertise and ability to communicate what is necessary to get the most out of the exercises, and to guide you from one stage to the next.