Meisner – On Acting

BOOK: Sanford Meisner – On Acting

Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell

Firstly I want to say that I really enjoyed this book!

I can really recommend it, even just as way to understand where he was coming from with his exercises and ideas. It also made me to reflect on my own thoughts about what acting is, and how to achieve the best I can in the roles I play.


“[acting is…] living truthfully in imagined circumstances” [P15]

“The playwright gives you what to say. Your job as an actor is to fill the role with life” [P49]

“The definition of acting is the reality of doing” [P24]

It is hard to put into words, to really get to the bottom of what acting is – is it ‘pretending’ or is it ‘living’? What is a ‘character’ if you are ‘living truthfully’ from your own impulses and instincts? I enjoyed reading about how his students grappled with his concepts of character and truth, because at times they seemed contradictory.

There is a wonderful analogy of the relationship between text and emotion. Where he describes the text as a canoe which is taken down the river [emotion] and how the journey the canoe [text] takes is ultimately at the will of the river. [P115]

He talks about never coming into a scene empty [without emotion/intension] and that preparation in order to do this is key to a truthful performance.

‘Cry, then talk. Don’t talk and then expect to cry’ [P199-200]

He writes about the important difference between showing emotion and feeling it and how that impacts you as an actor and you relationship with the audience. [p84] His driving force seemed to me to be all about living a truth on stage – ultimately giving the audience no choice but to be taken in by you (believe in you) and to be carried along with the story/characters’ journey. It reminded me of something David Mamet says in his book ‘True or False’, that if an audience can see you don’t mean what you say or what you do then they feel that they are being lied to, instantly alienating them from the whole experience.

I would have liked him to have written more about why and how he believes ‘emotion memory’ can be less effective than ‘imagined memory’ – I understand how both can be effective in their own way, but he seemed to think the imagined could be even more powerful, I would interested to know why.

All-in-all I really like this book and I will read it a second time, because I’m sure I’ll find something new!