By studying the Meisner Technique, actors have a chance to explore the concept of the actors instrument. Making a comparison between acting and an instrument is helpful in categorizing aspects of the acting craft and what makes a good actor. Audience members are quick to determine whether actors are portraying a new reality well enough to hold their attention. They don’t need a great deal of theatre going experience to sense when the acting is fantastic. If this is the case, it is likely that the actors instrument is just not well developed.
The actors instrument as six general categories. Those elements include emotional expression, sensory expression, physical expression, empathy and intelligence. These six aspects of the actors instrument are identified and developed when studying the Meisner Technique. It is easy even for non actors to identify professional actors who have mastered the different aspects of their “instrument.” Legendary actors are those that have mastered all six.
For example, an actor like Stallone is known mainly for his physical expression and presence. While this does not mean the Stallone cannot express a character emotionally, he is general know for his physical expression, which is the most powerful of his acting tools. As an actor he expresses emotional in a very physical, often external way. Actors must focus and learn about all the aspects of the acting instrument, which will help them be diverse and capable of many types of roles.
Emotional expression is the most common aspect of the instrument that actors are focused on. Thinking deeply about how a character feels about something and trying to emulate it is a very common thing for up and coming actors to try and master. One one hand, it is short sighted to place too much emphasis on this particular aspect of the actors instrument, however, emotional expression is certainly a key aspect. Each of the six aspects need to be studied and mastered so that they can all work together.
Meaning in a story is derived mainly from the emotional expression of its characters. It clues the audience in to what the character is about, the conflicts they face, what their deepest needs are. Meisner acting in nyc is very popular, and these actors work hard to develop an emotional composite of a character, which they in turn, figure out how to express using the other aspects of the instrument. In Meisner acting students study emotions diligently, their own and those of others. They work hard to create a foundation of human emotion and way of communicating based on real people and fictional characters. Specific characters can be created by delving very deep into the imagination and using the “library” of human behavior they have created. They create and live the emotional life that the character would live so that it is instilled in them and can be called upon at will.
Take as an example, vulnerability which is an expression of insecurity or perhaps innocence or even strength. There are many actors who, with hard work, can learn to differentiate and express this complex emotion. But, unless they have developed other aspects of their instrument, such as empathy or intelligence, the character will not be authentic. Vulnerability might be expressed by smashing a vase to pieces, or by simply sitting still and the challenge is to use ways appropriate to the character. This is a subjective, creative process.
The myth is that acting is simply pretending to have an emotion. Simply reciting inflections and gestures that express certain emotions is not acting. Sanford Meisner was often heard to say, “acting is DOING.” In other words acting is being in the moment and allowing any number of emotional reactions well up and take you over and turn you into the actual character. Great acting is, moment by moment, opening up to the character and allowing them to take you places you may not have imagined. Great actors do not force themselves to cry. There are genuine emotions in their performances, often unpredictable ones that appear as they work as character. This process requires that an actor develop the capacity to create and feel true sensations, and then express that through all channels of their instrument. As an actor you must give yourself permission to feel fully and live truthfully, whether you are in character or not.
The Maggie Flanigan Studio provides training for serious actors committed to improving their craft. Find out more about meisner by reading this article about actors instrument by visiting the studio website.