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Putting the Technique Into Practice: A Student Reports on Her Audition

I wanted to share my student Mary Claire’s recent report on her audition for a major Network TV show.  Great to hear the details of how she applied her acting training to her work in the acting world!

Log Date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012

After submitting for a role in an upcoming T.V. episode, I did get an audition.
I am so happy to have had one now, because I have learned so much in Robert’s classes compared to my lack of acting training  when we were in California. ( I can’t thank Robert enough for his dedication to us students so we can go out into the acting world and be successful!)
Last week, I had submitted for a role in a regular TV series which reenacts crimes and criminal trials, and the audition was yesterday.
It was amazing!  They had me read sides for the part of an FBI agent.  It’s a principle role.
I kept thinking of my classmate’s recent audition while I was there.  I wondered if they would ask me to do a monologue like he had been…   But they didn’t.
Instead, they had copies of the sides (like the ones we get in class).
After signing in, I took a copy of the sides and read them over several times looking for clues as to the givens and beats/meanings.
Robert had us focus on this and how we use Meisner technique to assess the character.
I had called another classmate on Sunday just to see what this experience would be like since he had worked on this show before.
He was very encouraging and reminded me of how much we know from Robert’s classes compared to what I would experience in the audition.
Boy, was he right!!!
So, when I was called in for the audition, the casting director read one of the character parts and I read my FBI agent part.
On my first read through, I was nice to the perpetrator (his character).
Because I had heard the C.D. tell a gal going into the audition before me, to do the part as if just another day on the job.
 I decided to follow his direction.
The director sitting there told me I looked just like the FBI agent and they really wanted try again.
He asked me to be more forceful with the perp character the second read since they said my character knew this was the guy who cooked the books.
They said I should talk to him like I caught my husband in doing something wrong.
So, I let the guy have it, and the director said that was excellent!
I don’t know if they will pick me for the role since there were several gals being auditioned, but I really enjoyed the moment.
It was like being challenged in Robert’s class and I love that a lot!!!
Everything Robert has taught us was there and helped me succeed:
On-the-spot Meisner analysis of character while looking at the sides minutes before being called in. 
Doing cold readings without choking.
Allowing my impulses to surface.
Responding to the person who was reading his lines. 
Listening and taking direction as I was prompted.
Feeling at ease to enjoy the process.
If it wasn’t for all the wonderful months in class with Robert, (and you guys), working on technique, doing our scenes and making the homework count, I wouldn’t have felt so prepared to tackle this audition!
A very big “Thank You” to Robert for being so patient and always there to explain.

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The Meisner Community: List of Meisner-Based Actors

This is a first introduction to a series of posts on the Meisner community and its teachers and actors I intend to write, starting with what I think is a pretty cool list of actors who have trained with some of the prominent Meisner teachers.  Sanford “Sandy” Meisner taught several generations of actors, and he also taught a number of people who became quite effective and dynamic Meisner teachers in their own right.  In addition to teachers who still teach Meisner Technique at the Neighborhood Playhouse where Meisner taught for many years, William Espers is among the most prominent Meisner teachers in New York, and he also runs the theatre program at Rutgers University.  Maggie Flanigan and several other teachers and their professional students are also on my list, as you will see, as well as one of my own teachers, Tim Phillips, a student of Robert Patterson, whose version of Meisner Technique I studied in New York many years ago with several teachers.   Since that time, I myself have taught for almost 28 years, both in New York City and Washington, D.C.

So I am interested in who is around who studied with Meisner or with Meisner-based teachers and programs.  One of my main reasons for this interest is a fun study habit I have had over the years, tracing actors who are students of Meisner Technique, and catching their performances on stage and film.  I’m a big fan, as you can see from my other blog posts, of Meisner-based character work, and I especially enjoy watching the same actor do several different roles, watching them in a row, and see what they brought to each role and each character.  This interest is not confined to Meisner actors, though it’s a professional focus for me.  I recently enjoyed watching several film performances of Shirley Knight, a Method actor, and one of my favorite actors of any kind.  I saw her on stage a few years back in a little-promoted role Off-Broadway — how much fun was that?  Well, my gain to see her up close, but I wish more people would pay attention to these plays when they show up and go see them.  These great actors deserve an audience when they pop up.  <hint-hint to pro actors — go watch the greats and other good actors when they show up in a little play and give them an audience>  See Shirley Knight, if you are a dedicated “character watcher” like me, in a little film called “Little Boy Blue.”  She has a relatively small role, but she burns it up.  It’s a sick film, but that shouldn’t bother most actors… And she’s the good guy.   🙂

Per my hobby of watching Meisner-based actors, among other actors, I have been working on this list.  Some wonderful acting person contributed it to me some years ago, and I’ve built on it since then.  Another fun aspect of this list is just to see how many great actors have come out of the Meisner Technique.  But I hasten to add even though this list is pretty good, there are many many actors who are inevitably missing from this list.  It’s a pretty broad community.

I am also interested in creating more interaction within the Meisner community.  Individual studios tend to be somewhat insular, but the broader Meisner community has a lot to share.  A good start is to find out who is using the Meisner Technique and what projects they are doing.  And as an acting teacher I am also very interested in how other Meisner-based teachers and coaches teach, and how their students work after being trained by them. So here is the list as it stands at present.  Let me know if you have any additions or corrections, as parts of this list have come from a number of sources:


Many respected artists have studied and practised Meisner Technique,

such as Eli Wallach, Maureen Stapleton, James Gandolfini, Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Goldblum, David Mamet, Steve McQueen, Robert Duval, Allison Janney, Barry Milionis (Australian Actor), Diane Keaton, Gregory Peck, and Joanne Woodward, James Doohan [Scotty], Richard Boone, Sigourney Weaver.

Meisner’s students include the following Academy Award winners:

Joan Fontaine, Jennifer Jones, Grace Kelly, Edmond O’Brien, Jo Van Fleet, Joanne Woodward, Gregory Peck, Joel Grey, Lee Grant, Frederic Forrest, Diane Keaton, Peter Falk, Grace Kelly,  David Mamet, Jon Voight, Mary Steenburgen, Jon Voight, Jeff Goldblum and Robert Duvall, as well as directors Bob Fosse and Sydney Pollack.

Neighborhood Playhouse alumni include:

llleana Douglas, Eileen Brennan, Allison Janney, Elizabeth Wilson, Joanne Woodward, Lee Grant, Anne Jackson, Sheri Scott, Marian Seldes, Mary Steenburgen, and actors Dylan McDermott, Griffin Dunne, Eli Wallach, James Caan, Christopher Lloyd, Dabney Coleman, Leslie Nielsen, Mark Rydell (director), Tony Randall, Robert Duvall, Amanda Bearse, Darren McGavin, Patricia Donnegan.


Actors who studied with Bill Esper

Samantha Mathis, Aaron Eckhart, Richard Schiff, Kathy Bates [Oscar winner,] Bruce Altman, Arija Bareikis, Jennifer Beals, Brad Beyer, Leslie Bibb, Jessica Blank, Elisa Bocanegra, Tawny Cypress, Larry David, Kristin Davis, Kim Delaney, Genie Francis, Peter Gallagher, Greg Germann, Jeff Goldblum, Regina Hall, Patricia Heaton, Dule´Hill, Robert Knepper, Christine Lahti, Margarita Levieva, Joe Lisi, Wendy Malick, Mary McCormack, Clark Middleton, Gretchen Mol, David MOrse, Timothy Olyphant, Herald Perrineau, Jr., Tonya Pinkins, Teri Polo, David Rasche, Sam Rockwell, Tracee Ellis Ross, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Richard Schiff, Teddy Sears, Matthew Settle, Michelle Shay, John Wesley Shipp, Ian Somerhalder, Paul Sorvino, Tom Verica, Patricia Wettig, Scott William Winters, Katheryn Winnick, Dean Winters, Paul Lazar, Chelsea Altman, Michael Berresse, David Burtka, Donna DuPlantier, Craig Fols, Benim Foster, Frank Mastrone, Bruce McCarty, John Ortiz, Paula Pizzi, Rudy Roberson, Jodi Stevens, Danton Stone.

To see their pics and projects they’ve worked on, see the Esper website:


Actors who studied with Maggie Flanigan:

Some of her former and current students are Sam Rockwell, Chris Massino, KaDee Strickland, Piper Perabo, Stephen Adlis Guirgis,Yul Vasquez, Leslie Bibb, Vanessa Aspillaga, Peter Scanovino, Dean Winters, Kohl Sudduth, Scott Winters, Calista Flockhart, Kristin Davis, Jeremy Davidson, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Scott Hudson, John Ales, Andrea Anders, Chad Beckim, Chris Beetem, Alberto Bonilla, Chris Bowers, Joelle Carter, Mike Colter, Tim Dekay, Dino Graham, Eddie Kehler, Catherine Kellner, Liza Lapira, Tervor Long, Susan Pourfar, Molly Price, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Dina Spybey, KaDee Strickland, April Yvette Thompson, Terrel Tilford, Tara Westwood, Yul Vazquez, Assaf Cohen, Adam Mucci, Josh Biton, Herman Chaves.

Maggie Flanigan website:


Actors who studied with Larry Moss:

(A student of Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler and Warren Robertson):

Noah Wyle, Helen Hunt, Hillary Swank, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Hank Azaria.


Actors who studied Audition Technique with Tim Phillips (one of my teachers) in NY & LA includes:

Nancy Travis, Richard Schiff, Robert Wisdom, Wendie Malick, Nora Brennan, Kate Del Castillo, Bruce Nozick, Beth Chamberlin, Craig Anton, Deb Creswell, Butch Hammett, Chris Gehrman, Carrie Gibson, Joyce Greenleaf, James DuMont, John Doman, Craig Braun, Jeanine Bartel, Aaron Mathias, Belinda Panelo, Andre Rodriguez, Miguel Sierra, Bill Coelius.

And there it is for now.  A very interesting and impressive assortment of film, tv and stage actors who all have in common the intention to bring a sense of reality, truthful emotion and behavioral specificity to their roles.  Look up some of the actors in these lists and watch some of their roles in films or on tv shows.  I’m currently watching Piper Perabo in “Covert Affairs.”  Very nice!  Of course, if you can catch them on stage, that is a very immediate and direct way to see their work.  Once you get in the habit of comparing the acting techniques that come out of different teachers and comparing multiple roles of actors back to back, it will be a hard habit to break!  [I guess I’m just an acting technique geek…]

More on the Meisner Community in future blog posts…



Why Actors Hate Cold Readings and What to Do About It

Hi, this is going to be a long post inquiring in some detail into the almost universal hatred of cold readings by actors.  Most actors I’ve encountered over the years, whether in theatre or film, simply hate cold readings.  In response to this universal dislike of cold readings I will discuss my approach to cold reading technique and add a word about my upcoming – forthcoming – in the works…training video for cold readings at the end.  For anyone genuinely interested in successful auditioning, this will be a valuable discussion and it will be worthwhile to take the time to work your way through this whole long article.  I’m going to take my time discussing it, so grab a cup of tea and join me for a while…

So what’s the deal with cold readings?  Why are they hated, and what to do about it?  It’s kind of a strange and almost funny – if it weren’t so painful – situation in which the vehicle for most actors to get work is the exact venue that is most disliked.  That does not seem to discourage Casting Directors from utilizing the Cold Reading as their major tool for casting actors, and in fact it is the most convenient and most relevant way to assess an actor’s work for a role.  Sure, you can have them come in with a prepared monologue and hope that they are able to show you acting skills that are relevant to the role, but why not see:  a/ how they do an actual scene from the piece to be produced, and b/ see what they can do ‘on their feet’ without a lot of preparation, which does give some clue as to how they will be able to function in a stage rehearsal or under the pressure of working on a film set.  Yes, that makes sense.  The problem is that many very good actors confess that they do fine once they’re on the job, but are terrible at cold readings.  And why should that be?

To some extent it makes sense that cold readings are difficult.  Auditioning is difficult, just as going out for any job is difficult, nerve-wracking and uncertain.  You are “selling yourself” to a prospective employer and that can be inherently uncomfortable.  In addition, you are often not given adequate information to give a decent performance.  If someone hands you “sides” from a scene a few minutes before you have to do that scene, how can you tell what the scene is about and how to approach it?  In addition, how do you know what the auditors are looking for?  Well, you don’t.  In some cases you will have a chance to look at the script while you are waiting your turn, or in some cases may even be given an advance copy of the whole play or script or at least a detailed breakdown and description, but in many cases you will have no advance information and very little at the time of the audition.  So an actor has to be prepared to deduce the correct approach to the scene from the scene itself, a very zen exercise:  “Here is the material you will be playing, and it is all that you have.”

Most actors when faced with the above prospect – going into an uncertain and tense situation with little information, in which one is seeking employment – will hate the experience.  Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it seems not to go so well, but either way the actor does not look forward to going out for the job in this way.  It is very uncertain and uncomfortable.  And when you contemplate the fact that this is the way that most professional actors will be spending most of their time, that is pretty depressing.  Actors do not work all the time – that’s just the way it is.  And rather than finding one job and keeping it for a year or perhaps many years, the actor has to look for work over and over again, usually one project at a time.  And so he or she is faced with this unpleasant prospect of over and over again encountering an unpleasant situation in order to get the very means of doing their craft.  So what to do?

There are two aspects of how to solve this problem to my mind, and both of them are both accessible and important.  The first is to change the framework within which most actors hold cold readings.  In other words, change your point of view about cold readings.  Is that possible?  Yes it is.  We look at cold readings as the actor showing how well they can act in an attempt to get work, and of course this is the actual situation.  However, it is not the whole situation. There is another aspect of this situation which actors forget to take into account, and it is potentially transformative:  While the actor must perform in order to get work, the auditors have to watch.  You must perform, but the auditors are a captive audience.  They have to pay attention.  As I said, most actors will not work much of the time.  Inbetween performance opportunities is not the happiest place to be.  One of the few places where you can guarantee a chance to perform is at an audition.  The more auditions you do, the more performance opportunities you have.  And your audience is a well-educated person who cares about what you are doing.  So why not take the opportunity to act your butt off and give a great performance to an interested audience?  You may have experienced auditors at auditions who are tired, bored, inattentive and unappreciative, and this can happen after they have seen 20 or 50 or 100 actors for a role, all going through the same routine of slightly rote, slightly frightened, aiming-to-please actors who don’t take too many chances in how they do the material.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Trust me, if you step out into your audition to perform – not just to get the job, but to do the material with all of your acting skill and interest – the auditors will wake up and watch.  And you, going into your cold reading for the pleasure of acting – which is what got you into this mess in the first place – will do a much better job and have much much more fun.  So that is the first thing you can do to transform your cold reading experience:  do it to perform, not to beg.  And that will lead to you following your creative impulses and doing a much more interesting job at the cold reading, with a much better chance of being cast.

The second thing you can do is to have a cold reading technique that actually prepares you to give a good cold reading.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But it’s amazing how many actors just do not have a plan for how to approach a particular cold reading, or for cold readings in general.  It is an acting venue with its own rules and requirements and it can be approached with skill and practiced with understanding.  You don’t have to throw yourself into the cold reading situation and “sink or swim.”  You can learn how to swim.

Cold Reading technique has some unique elements, but if you are a trained actor you should be able to use your training, in a modified form, to give a good cold reading.  Right?  You’ve gone to all the trouble of studying acting, perhaps for years, and you should be able to apply your skills to this most important area.  In looking at the main ingredients of cold reading technique, let’s consider three elements of cold readings that are different from rehearsal and performance in general, and which do need to be taken into account when contemplating your cold reading technique.  Let’s discuss them at length.  There are several points I’d like to highlight that you will encounter in the discussion below:

– What Does This Role Require?

– Listen To The Director.

– Follow the Audition Rules.

– Adapt Your Training Technique.

1.  YES, IT’S A JOB.   You are in fact doing the audition to get work, to win a job, and that involves doing a good job, competing and proving your job qualifications.  So you do have to use the cold reading to show that you are capable of doing this role.  Therefore, you should ask yourself:  “What does this role seem to require?” and make sure you show those capabilities in the cold reading.  Sounds like a simple idea, but it is left out of many cold readings. I have done casting myself several times, and I have indeed seen good, serious actors come in for a role who leave me thinking:  “This is a good actor, I’d love to cast her, but I can’t tell from that reading whether she can really do this part or not.”  In such a case, I will go with an actor who gives me more certainty about their capability to do the actual role I am casting them for.  In some cases I’ve told the actor what I wanted to see and given them a second chance to do the reading and they still didn’t include that element in their audition.  In that case, I have to seriously suspect that perhaps they really can’t do that particular role, even though I still think they are a good actor.  If that is the impression you give an auditor, you’re going to greatly decrease your chances of being cast, not just in a particular audition, but in every audition.  You have to think objectively about what this role requires and show that you can do it.

Along these same lines, you have to be willing and able to take direction during an audition. This can surprise some actors and throw them off, but in quite a few cases the director or CD will do what I did in the above example and ask the actor to do it again to see if they can give them the elements of the role they want to see.  I went out for an audition myself about a year ago in which this came up.  I was taken back to the room where they were doing the audition along with a female partner, as they were seeing us in pairs.  We each had to play a particular character who was drunk, and the Director was running the audition himself, with no one else in the room but the three of us.  This was for an upcoming industrial.  After seeing my reading he said “That’s good, but I’d like to see you much more drunk, so drunk that you can hardly speak clearly.  Don’t worry about the script, just slur your words completely.” Now this is very specific direction, very clear, so you as the actor should just do it.  You don’t have to think to yourself “Does he really want it that intense, should I really do it that big?”  The answer is just “yes.”  The Director said to do it that way.  Just do it.  I did the second time much more fully and in fact had some trouble lifting my head off the table part of the time – too drunk!  The Director liked my second reading enough to ask me some questions about my glasses and what I had in my wardrobe – a clear sign that he was at least considering me, picturing how it would work if I got the job.  When he asked my counterpart to do the same – do the drunkenness much more fully and intensely, she couldn’t do it.  She did it a little bit fuller, but still tentative and holding it back – which appeared to be what she thought was reasonable, instead of taking the direction.  Big mistake!  Take the direction!  Nobody wants to work with an actor who has to be coaxed to take direction.  It is time and energy wasting.  Was she incapable of doing a much fuller version of drunkenness?  I doubt it.  She did fine on the first reading and obviously had some acting skills and experience.  What she was missing was the openness and flexibility to risk embarrassment in order to satisfy the director’s requirements and really “go for it.”  And that indeed is a red flag that the actor may not be ready and willing to do the role.  I’ve also been in the situation as a director where the actor was either hesitant to follow a particular direction, or had their own way of approaching the part and wasn’t open to a lot of direction.  As a director, you do not want to work with that person.  It is a pain and can even make it impossible to create a successful performance.  I am sure that most directors have had similar experiences and so are on the lookout for someone who maybe can act, but possibly won’t.  Don’t do that!  Take the opportunity when given direction to go beyond your boundaries as an actor and stretch to what the director is asking you to do.  It’s good for your range and your flexibility.

2. NO TIME TO PREPARE.   Since there may be little or no time to prepare for the audition, you need to adapt your technique to that which can be used immediately.  This takes some thought and practice.  Whatever your technique training is, you have to go through your approach to material and ask:  Is this a necessary part of my preparation?  And if it is, then ask:  How can I do it in a few minutes instead of X hours?  By doing this, you should be able to put together a little technical “packet” that will have your best techniques in their logical order for cold reading preparation, and in a form that won’t take very long.  Once you know that you’ve included the important elements, put them in the right order and cut down the time it takes to do them, you should have a pretty damned good preparation technique for cold readings.

In addition, you should consider two other elements:  what are the mechanics of actually doing the cold reading once I am there?  You’re not expected to memorize the text on a cold reading, so it is okay to make some notes on the sides.  If you have made some choices about what to do it’s okay to write them down and you will see them as you come to that part of the segment on your sides.

And in terms of doing the reading itself, you should practice some combination of reading without burying your head in the script, and acting fully and convincingly even though you’re standing there with the pages in your hand.  And don’t forget to act.  What I mean by that is that you can’t stand around reading from the script.  You’ve got to do or imply the action that is correct for that scene; eg, if you are having a conversation in a cafe´, you should be sitting accordingly in a chair for the reading and “chatting.”  If you are being confronted by a gunman who’s threatening to kill you, your physical behavior and speech should reflect that reality, ie, you’d better be tense and frightened [unless the role is for some super-cool super-spy who doesn’t care that he or she may be shot.]

I had one actor that I already knew audition for a role that I knew he could do.  I knew he was a good actor and I knew he was right for the role, but no matter how many times I asked him, he wouldn’t do the cold reading more fully and as “over the top” as I asked.  So I couldn’t cast him.  I couldn’t take the chance that the same thing would happen in rehearsal.  How’s that for a problem – an actor that won’t over-act.  Listen to the director.

To put it another way, this is a performance, not a rehearsal.  You’re not being asked to explore or try the material on for size; you’re being asked to do your best finished version of the scene.  That means making a commitment to the material and ‘going for it.’

3.  AN AWKWARD SETTING.  Auditions are awkward.  The auditors don’t want to get too involved in how badly you want the job, you don’t want to make a bad impression but you’re understandably anxious, and the rules for auditions are thus weird:

a/  You have to make contact and be personable while meeting and greeting the auditors for about two seconds.  Sometimes they’ll nod and say ‘let’s go,’ sometimes they’ll meet you for a moment and shake your hand.  You have to take your cue from the auditors.

b/  Once you’ve introduced yourself, however instantaneously, you have to make no contact while doing the actual reading.  Don’t ever look the auditors in the eye while reading.  It makes them uncomfortable and is bad form.

c/ After reading you have to be personable again, but brief, unless they indicate they want to talk to you.  Once they’ve said “thanks, we’ll be calling people on Monday” you nod, say thanks briefly, break contact and then quickly and gracefully exit.

If you handle the contact/no contact/brief contact/exit sequence gracefully, you won’t feel as awkward and things will go pretty smoothly.  Also be aware of those occasions when the Director or other auditor does want to talk to you, have you read again, or give you some more information.  If they are looking at you about to open their mouth, that is the wrong time to leave.  You will leave them thinking:  “Gee, that actor was pretty good, but I guess he didn’t want a callback.”  So be flexible and pay attention to what is actually happening.  A good rule of thumb is:  The director can break the rules, and may.  They are “the boss.” You can’t break the rules, but you can and should go with it if the Director or CD initiates it.

So remember these points:

– What Does This Role Require?

– Listen To The Director.

– Follow the Audition Rules.

– Adapt Your Training Technique.

Now a final word regarding my upcoming “in the works” training video on cold readings, and my approach to cold reading technique.   The video will be in process for a few months, and will deliver an accessible, clear hands-on technique for preparing and doing a professional cold reading, so that you can enjoy them and be successful rather than dread them.  I’ll keep readers of this blog updated as the video develops.  Meisner Technique, on which my approach is based, is an excellent resource for Cold Readings, combining truthful behavior with a clear way of understanding and recreating the imaginary situation of a scene.  So stay tuned!

And thanks for taking this trip with me inquiring into the cold reading situation.  More later!

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What is the Meisner Acting Technique and How Far Does it Go?

A little review of the work on which my studio is based – Meisner Technique, one of the 3 or 4 major American techniques, employed by many actors across several generations, from iconic actors like Gregory Peck and Steve McQueen to Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd and James Gandolfini.  Sandy Meisner was one of the three major teachers of the seminal generation that founded the American school – Meisner, Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg.

Meisner Technique is based on “truthful acting” and promotes a type of acting I like to call Behavioral Realism, a form of acting that it shares with Stella Adler’s work.  The other major division of American acting can be called Psychological Realism, and is represented by Lee Strasberg’s “Method” acting.  Both have a commitment to a sense of reality in acting, but Meisner emphasizes truthful behavior and imagination, while Strasberg emphasizes personal memory and emotion combined with imagination.

Meisner Technique is known throughout the acting world as a “real people” technique that is able to train actors to appear and act like actual human beings rather than like actors.  The measured and integrated behavior that Meisner-based actors provide makes the technique popular among filmmakers who like to see varied and specific behavior on film, and gestures and facial expressions that will stand up to a tight closeup without seeming forced or phony.  Filmmaker Sidney Lumet, who recently passed away, was a trainee and disciple of Meisner, and his intense version of realism in many courtroom and police dramas and other streetwise films set a standard for in-your-face reality on screen.

This sense of realistic behavior and the penchant for realism in many films of the last few generations has given Meisner Technique and its teachers a reputation for training actors in this kind of street-level behavior and realistic acting, what Meisner himself called “kitchen acting.”  And Meisner’s main exercise, the Repetition Exercise, his well-known original contribution to the actor’s training, has become known throughout the acting world as the major ingredient of this technique.  The Repetition Exercise trains actors to respond “truthfully” – a favorite Meisner word – to behavior and circumstances from moment to moment, yielding a kind of controlled improvisation in the way the actor works.  A Meisner actor can easily supply an impromptu sequence of behavior that can occur without words, between lines, or in response to an imaginary event, as JoBeth Williams – a Meisner-based actor – did years ago in Poltergeist, responding with imagination and specific behavior to the appearance of ghosts in her character’s house.

Of course, when JoBeth filmed that sequence there was nothing there. She was working against a blue screen or green screen and her response was given to imaginary suggestions of what would be there in the final film.   And this brings up an important point: while the repetition exercise teaches actors to respond truthfully to another person who is really there, it thereby gives actors the ability to respond truthfully to what is not there.  The training is not restricted to live interaction or improvisation with another person, but can then be extrapolated to other acting skills.  I would like to say a little more about this and what I feel are the consequences of mistakenly thinking that the Repetition Exercise represents the full capability and capacity of the Meisner approach to acting.

Many people in the acting community, including a fair proportion of acting teachers who teach Meisner Technique, have arrived at the conclusion that the heart of Meisner, and sometimes the whole of Meisner, is the Repetition Exercise and truthful personal acting.  That is true of what is known as the basic Meisner program, also known as the First Year work in Meisner circles, but it is not true of the technique as a whole.  I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that many more actors have taken the First Year work than have gone on to the Second Year work, also known as the Interpretive work.

And that is indeed the dividing line between the Repetition exercise in Meisner and everything else.  The First Year work teaches truthful acting and interactive improvisational work associated with the Repetition Exercise.  The Second Year work is interpretive.  It deals with breaking down scenes within the rehearsal process, and even more significantly, Character Work.  What is truly unique about the Meisner training  is not, as important as it is, the Repetition work.  It is the methodology and specificity of its Character program.  Meisner is one of very few techniques that I have ever encountered in mainstream U.S. training that has a systematic, detailed and comprehensive way of teaching actors to fully construct a complete character and transform themselves into “another living being” as one teacher put it.

This kind of complete character work, a subject that I detail in my forthcoming [hopefully sooner rather than later…] book, is the ultimate, highest achievement of the actor’s craft, because rather than being simply the ability to throw oneself truthfully into an imaginary situation – a great ability in its own right – it is an actual artistic creation that represents the fully crafted and imaginative result of the high arts, from painting and literature to the performance arts.

Yes, it is great to be “oneself” and be able to function truthfully in the imaginary world, and it is great to be able to give filmmakers realistic behavior that stands up to the scrutiny of the camera.  But this in itself does not elevate acting to the creative stature of the other arts.  Full Character Work does.  Meisner is capable of delivering this difficult and valuable creative contribution to the actor’s work and elevate the actor, an interpretive artist by definition, to the status of a creative interpretive artist, something that I will talk about in more detail in future posts.  For now, suffice it to say that those whose understanding of Meisner is focused on basic truthful work do not understand the full scope of the technique, and should really look further into it’s most important achievement, which is in its interpretive craft.  The basic truthful acting of the First Year work opens the door to interpretation.  Those who walk through that door have the opportunity to become fully fledged artists.

To make this possible we need Meisner teachers who understand and are able to offer the advanced work of the Meisner Technique.


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Detailed Acting Technique-Tools for Fixing Problems

My summer intern/assistant Sarah made a very worthwhile point about the acting technique and the way that I teach it.  She has been sitting in on all my classes, and after 6 straight hours of classes on Saturday I guess we were both in the Meisner Zone, and she said:

“hey robert–Your technique is very structured–extremely– you can’t get to B without going through A. I’ve had some acting teachers that are much less structured in their approach — a student will give a performance and they will muse as to whether it was a successful “good” performance or it was “bad” and you should fix it.  But they didn’t often say How to fix it.  Because your approach is so technical it seems much easier to break down a performance into specific bits and pieces and then those pieces can be evaluated.  It makes the performance more of a science than an overall emotional thing that you just like spit out.   What are your thoughts?”

I really related to this, as she was describing something that is very much at the heart of my teaching experience.  I find it extremely useful to have a technique that is made up of specific exercises and specific tools that can be targeted to exactly what is happening in an exercise or scene.

Sarah had pointed out that the specifics of the technique allowed the teacher to give specific feedback and that is really important for the clarity of the student and knowing what to look at to improve or progress or fix a problem.  And I added that not only do you have specific feedback on a specific problem, but there are also specific tools to address each problem, so you actually have a way to fix it.

For instance, just to take an example, there is a technique called paraphrasing, or alternately, finding meanings.  It is a form of subtext, allowing the actor to find the point of view, thought or feeling within a line of a script.  Well let’s say a particular line comes out as a line reading, which is to say that it sounds like the actor is reading from a script rather than saying something as a human being.  That would suggest that the actor didn’t have a personal understanding of what that line means to them at that moment within the situation of that scene.  By going to the meaning and working with it, a more specific point of view can be found and brought through the line of text.  With a different “text” problem, such as a line that is directed to be more emotional, the actor can find the emotional point of view through the meaning [paraphrase] and use that personal meaning to raise the emotional level of that line.

Having a detailed technique with specific tools that correspond to different aspects of the actor’s process allows the actor to analyze and work with acting problems in a very effective way.   The actor’s training is both a creative process and a practical education, and the actor’s “tool kit” corresponds to the actor’s role as a professional worker in the field.





Comedic Acting and Meisner Technique

Recently my student Edgar wrote:  “I have an upcoming audition for a comedy, which seems a bit of a stretch for me, any suggestions for being less serious or should i not worry about this?”

        Here’s what I wrote back:

Hey Edgar.
My approach to comedy, in general anyway, is to use your own reactions but just highlight them a little bit or emphasize them a bit more.  If you are chagrined, for instance, and you just “stay” chagrined for an extra second like a snapshot, it’s funny.  If you just do it normally it’s serious.  I like that kind of comedy that emphasizes character and highlights behavior, which looks funny when you examine it more closely.  So just going fully and sharply with your own impulses does a pretty good job.  If you are auditioning from a comedy script, the material will probably be funny, so all you have to do is “take it seriously” and “go with it.”  What is not funny is someone attempting to be funny.  It’s kind of an opposite kind of thing.
Example:  take a look at Tony Randall on an old Odd Couple tv show – you can probably find one on youtube or hulu.  What is funny about his behavior is that he overreacts to everything and that he takes himself so seriously.  He’s not trying to be funny, he’s just nuts. 

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Okay – Quick Bio for Robert – okay, maybe not that short…

Hey there.  Before I start ruminating, a little bit about me and my background, both prior to and including my work in the world of acting: I have a mixed arts/Eastern philosophy background.  On the arts front, writing poetry since age 12, sing, play guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxes, piano, with trumpet and violin somewhere back there; focused on sax improv for many years.  In Eastern spiritual disciplines, many years in T’ai Chi, yoga, both Mahayana and Theravadin Buddhist meditation and philosophy.  I taught Iyengar style yoga in New York for 15 years and did deep tissue therapeutic massage, for which I am licensed, and other forms of bodywork for 15 years before transplanting to DC.  On the acting front, I’ve been teaching Meisner-based programs, some of which I created and have expanded and re-contoured during more than 25 years in New York and DC.  While I may sound eclectic, I’ve taught the Meisner-based work steadily for most of my adult life, acted and directed in New York and DC, most recently directing Adams Morgan: The Movie, which premiered in May 2011 at DC’s Avalon Theatre, and Christopher Durang’s play “Beyond Therapy” for the 2010 DC Fringe Festival.  You can read an online review of the Durang production here:  I’ve taught a number of unique acting courses and workshops.  The courses include Rehearsal Technique, Character Work, Acting for Film, and Audition Technique, all based on Meisner’s principles of Truthful Behavioral Acting, which brings a sense of reality to the actor’s work – more on that in later posts.  Varied workshops have included such eclectic ones as “Improvising Characters for Film Creation,” “Acting for Voiceover,” and collaborations in my studio with casting director Jane Brody on a Cold Reading workshop, and playwright Jefferey Sweet on a Play Rehearsal workshop. My classes have been written about in several newspapers and I’ve been interviewed on Verizon Fios TV.  Here’s a link to the interview:   Anyway, that’s a “little bit” about me.  Next post – ruminations on comedic acting and Meisner, which was recently brought up by a student…

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