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Encyclopedia > Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner (August 31, 1905-February 2nd, 1997) was an actor and acting coach well known for the Meisner technique. The Meisner Technique has influenced some of the most popular stage and screen actors of our time. ...


Early life

He was born in Brooklyn, New York City, as the oldest son of a family of Jewish immigrants that came to the United States from Hungary. Two years after Sanford was born, his younger brother Jacob, who would soon come to have a very lasting effect on his brother, was born. A year later, the family took a trip to the Catskills in an attempt to improve Sanford’s health, and Jacob was fed unpasteurized milk. The child soon contracted bovine tuberculosis, and died shortly thereafter. In an interview many years later, Meisner would identify this event as “the dominant emotional influence in my life from which I have never, after all these years, escaped.” (Longwell 5) The young Meisner would soon become isolated and drawn-in, unable to cope with feelings of responsibility for his brother’s death, having been told by his parents that if it hadn’t been for him, they would not have gone to the country and Jacob would not have died. Brooklyn (named for the Dutch city Breukelen) is one of the five boroughs of New York City. ... Nickname: Big Apple, Gotham, NYC, City That Never Sleeps, The Concrete Jungle, The City So Nice They Named It Twice Location in the state of New York Coordinates: Country United States State New York Boroughs The Bronx Brooklyn Manhattan Queens Staten Island Settled 1676 Government  - Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R) Area... Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. ... Immigration is the act of moving to or settling in another country or region, temporarily or permanently. ...

He found release in playing the family piano, and although he attended the Damrosch Institute of Music to study piano for a year after graduating high school, the idea of acting professionally had always followed him, even since early youth. At 19, he learned that the Theatre Guild was hiring teenagers, and he jumped at the opportunity. After a brief interview, he was hired as an extra for They Knew What They Wanted. The experience deeply affected him, and he began to realize that acting was what he had been looking for in life.

The Group Theatre

Despite the intense misgivings of his parents, Meisner continued to pursue a career in acting, receiving a scholarship to study at the Theatre Guild of Acting, during which time he would meet two fellow theatre lovers who would change his life entirely, Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg, a man destined to become another of the century’s most influential acting theorists, and the father of Method Acting. The three became friends, and in 1931, Clurman and Strasberg, joined by Cheryl Crawford, another Theatre Guild member, would select 28 actors, one of whom was Meisner, and form the Group Theatre, which exerted a profound influence, not only on Meisner, but on the entire art of American acting. January 20, 1978: Lee Strasberg talks about his craft during a two-week seminar in Germany. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... The Group Theatre was a left-wing theater collective, formed in New York in 1931 by Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg. ...

After working with the Group Theatre through the 1940s, Meisner went on to become a teacher at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. It was in teaching that he found a level of fulfillment alike to playing the piano as a child, and it was here that he began to develop his own acting technique, based on the work of Konstantin Stanislavski and his old friend Lee Strasberg, aptly called the Meisner Technique. The Neighborhood Playhouse is an actor training school in New York City, generally associated with the Meisner technique of Sanford Meisner. ... A portrait of Konstantin Stanislavski by Valentin Serov. ... The Meisner Technique has influenced some of the most popular stage and screen actors of our time. ...

The Meisner Technique

As a teacher, Meisner was brilliant, his techniques both unorthodox and effective. Actor Dennis Longwell wrote of sitting in on one of Meisner’s class one day, in which he brought two students to the front for an example. They were given a single line of dialogue, told to turn away from him, and instructed not to do or say anything until something happened to make them say it, one of the fundamental principles of the Meisner Technique. The first student’s line came when Meisner approached him from behind and gave him a strong pinch on the back, inspiring him to jump away and yelp his line in pain. The other student’s line came when Meisner reached around and slipped his hand into her blouse. Her line came out as a giggle as she moved away from his touch. (Longwell 34) His techniques, while somewhat unusual, were extremely effective.

The goal of Meisner’s namesake, the Meisner technique, has often been described as getting actors to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” (Silverberg 9) The technique emphasizes actually carrying out an action truthfully on stage, and letting emotion and subtext build itself based on the truth of their actions and on the other characters around them, rather than simply playing an action or emotion. One of the most well known exercises of the Meisner Technique is Repetition, in which one person would spontaneously make a comment based on their partner’s behavior, and the phrase would be repeated back and forth in the same way until it had changed on its own, not merely for the sake of change. The objective was always to react truthfully, not merely change because it felt like change was called for.

Throughout his career, Meisner worked with and taught a great wealth of important names, including famous actors such as James Caan, Robert Duvall, Gregory Peck, Bob Fosse, Jon Voight, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Kelly, Sydney Pollack and others such as well-known writers Arthur Miller and David Mamet. Though he rarely appeared on film, he appeared in the films Tender Is the Night, The Story on Page One and Mikey and Nicky. His last acting role was in an episode of the television medical drama E.R., an episode which Noah Wyle referred to as the highlight of his career. Meisner’s work is almost universally admired, and he has been regarded as one of the most important acting theorists of the 20th century. James Caan (born March 26, 1940) is an Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated American film, stage and television actor. ... Robert Selden Duvall (born January 5, 1931) is an Academy Award-winning American film actor and director. ... Gregory Peck (April 5, 1916 – June 12, 2003) was an Oscar-winning American film actor. ... Bob Fosse, early promotional image. ... Jonathan Vincent Jon Voight (born December 29, 1938) is an Academy Award-winning American actor. ... Jeff Goldblum, 1985 Jeffrey Lynn Jeff Goldblum (born October 22, 1952) is an American actor. ... For the Mika song, see Grace Kelly (song). ... Sydney Pollack (born July 1, 1934 in Lafayette, Indiana) is an American actor, producer, and director. ... Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) is an American playwright, essayist, and author. ... David Alan Mamet (born November 30, 1947) is an American author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and film director. ... Tender is the Night book cover Tender is the Night is a 1934 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. ... The Story on Page One is an episode from the second season of the FOX animated television series Family Guy. ... Mikey and Nicky is a 1976 film written and directed by Elaine May. ... Wyle (right) playing Carter on ER Noah Strausser Speer Wyle (born June 4, 1971) is a five time Emmy Award nominated American TV and Film Actor best known for his role as Dr. John Carter on the television drama ER. His last name (Wyle) is pronounced Why-Lee. Wyle was...

Sanford Meisner moved to California in his eighth decade of life and opened to the Sanford Meisner Center in 1995. As passionate as ever, Meisner was determined to turn the sixty seat theater into a lively school in which Meisner graduates would interact with other artists. His school still exists today under the direction of his long time partner Jimmy Carville.

Sanford Meisner died on February 2nd, 1997 at the age of 91.

Famous Meisner Quotes

"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances."

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

"You know it's all right to be wrong, but it's not all right not to try."

"There's no such thing as nothing."

"Silence has a myriad of meanings. In the theater, silence is an absence of words, but never an absence of meaning."

"May I say as the world's oldest living teacher, 'Fuck Polite!'"

"Acting can be fun. Don't let it get around."

External links

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is an online database of information about motion pictures, actors, movie stars, TV shows, TV stars, production crew personnel, movie pictures, cast, crew as well as video games. ...


Silverberg, Larry. The Sanford Meisner Approach: An Actor’s Workbook. New Hampshire: Smith and Kraus, Inc., 1994

Longwell, Dennis and Sanford Meisner. Sanford Meisner on Acting. New York: Random House, 1987

“Sanford Meisner.” The Internet Movie Database. 20 February 2007. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0577073

Sanford Meisner: The American Theatre’s Best Kept Secret. Dir. Nick Doob. Perf. Sanford Meisner, Robert Duvall, Gregory Peck, Sydney Pollack. 1985. VHS, 1985.

  Results from FactBites:
Sanford Meisner - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (366 words)
Sanford Meisner (born August 31, 1905 in New York City, died February 2, 1997 in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, California) was an actor and a teacher of acting.
The goal of the Meisner technique is to get actors to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." Built on the work of Konstantin Stanislavski, the father of the Stanislavski System and grandfather of Lee Strasberg's Method Acting, Meisner's work encourages a more specifically active, "moment-to-moment" spontaneity.
Meisner's last acting role was as Joseph Klein in a 1995 episode of ER, "Sleepless in Chicago".
Meisner technique - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1127 words)
Sanford Meisner developed his technique while working with the Group Theater at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse and continued its refinement for fifty years.
Meisner students work on a series of increasingly complex exercises designed to develop an ability first to improvise, then to access an emotional life, and finally to bring the spontenaiety of improvisation and the richness of personal response to scripted text.
The Meisner technique is sometines rounded out with more character-based, physical practices such as Michael Chekhov and with study of style, physicality, and period.
  More results at FactBites »



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