Sanford Meisner

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Sanford Meisner (August 31, 1905 - February 2, 1997) was a member of the Group Theatre in New York during the 1930s and 1940s. He eventually left to form the Neighborhood Playhouse which would become the central launching place of what became known as the Meisner Technique.

Based upon the later acting techniques of Konstantin Stanislavski, Meisner's training for actors was characterized by a strong foundation in behavioral exploration, both the performance of behavioral "activities" and behavioral communication between actors. Actors who use the Meisner Technique spend a great deal of time learning how to find activities that fit well into a scene. Activities could be of any kind, building, cleaning, trying to figure out a mental puzzle. The general principle is that with whatever activities one chooses, how one does these activities and how one interacts with the requisite props reveals a great deal, both consciously and subconsciously, about one's character.

Meisner's major unique contribution to the craft of acting is his "Repetition Exercise," a training exercise for building skill in behavioral communication. The experience of the exercise is difficult to describe in words, but the general rules are that you either describe the behavior of another person in the scene, or you repeat the last words said to you by the other person. The result of extended practice is that actors become very proficient in being able to understand and respond to the body language of other people. This allows them to tailor their performances to the moment-to-moment nuances of their fellow actors. They also learn to put less emphasis on the words of the scene, but instead draw out the underlying meanings of the words.

Some prominent actors who trained at Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse are Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, and Joanne Woodward.

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