Actors trained in the Meisner technique are some of the best-equipped students to enter commercial acting auditions. Here’s why. Meisner students work all the time. Not just for the few hours a week they may be in class but, daily, hourly.
By studying the people around them, taking notice of both every day and more intense circumstances Meisner actors can take in and use what they have “recorded.” Then they use this recollected information and the power of their imagination to develop characters with full-blown sets of life circumstances.
Because the world of commercial acting is so fast-paced, everything is ramped up. Obviously commercials have a very limited time frame and the sooner an actor can access a “real” character to play in the commercial the better off they will be.
Meisner students are also trained to react and play off of the other characters they are working with. This serves them well in commercial work as well. In other cases, they may be the only character and the “person” they need to play off of is the camera. This is the kind of additional training that can be helpful when pursuing commercial work.
Improvisation is another skill that many acting coaches recommend when pursuing commercial acting work. While commercial scripts are controlled by the agency, how the character is played is an opportunity for an actor to present the part in a way the producers and agency may not have originally envisioned it. Improv classes or a commercial acting class with an improv component is a great way to prepare for this kind of audition.
Character development for commercial work may seem like it should be easier. Not true. There is far less time, often fewer words at your disposal to connect with an audience. Time limits and limits of camera framing require that you be brilliant in a very short period of time and within limited visual parameters.
Commercial acting is it’s own art form and is deceptively more complex than you might think at first. Human nature is at the heart of any acting endeavor, and the true, authentic emotion being presented must be spot on or the entire effort is wasted.
By taking classes that focus on commercial acting techniques you can better prepare for this often lucrative form of acting while at the same time develop additional skills that will help gain opportunities it other arenas.
To learn more about the commercial acting class at the studio, you can visit the class page here: Commercial Acting Intensive
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Meisner Training is an inter-dependent series of training exercises that build on one another. The more complex work supports a command of dramatic text. Students work on a series of progressively complex exercises to develop an ability to improvise, to access an emotional life, and finally to bring the spontaneity of improvisation and the richness of personal response to textual work. The technique develops the behavioral strand of Stanislavski’s ‘system’ (specifically developing his concepts of communication and adaptation), via its articulation in an American idiom as Method acting. The technique emphasizes “moment-to-moment” spontaneity through communication with other actors in order to generate behavior that is truthful within imagined, fictional circumstances.
Early training is heavily based on actions, in line with Meisner’s emphasis on “doing.” The questions “what are you playing?” and “what are you doing?” are asked frequently, in order to remind actors to commit themselves to play what Stanislavski called a “task” or “objective,” rather than focusing on the words of a play’s dialogue. Silence, dialogue, and activity all require the actor to find a purpose for performing the action involved. By combining the two main tasks of focusing attention on a partner and committing to an action, the technique aims to force an actor into “the moment” (a common Meisner phrase), while simultaneously propelling the actor forward with a concentrated purpose. The more an actor can take-in about the partner and the surroundings while performing in character, the more Meisner believed they can “leave themselves alone” and “live truthfully.” One of Meisner’s famous quotations that illustrates the emphasis on “doing” was “An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words.”
The most fundamental exercise in Meisner training is the Repetition exercise. Two actors face each other and repeat their observations about one another, back and forth. An example of such an exchange might be: “You’re smiling.” “I’m smiling.” “You’re smiling!” “Yes, I’m smiling.” Actors observe and respond to the other’s behavior and the subtext therein. If they can “pick up the impulse”—or work spontaneously from how their partner’s behavior affects them—their own behavior will arise directly from the stimulus of the other.
Later, as the exercise evolves in complexity to include “given circumstances,” “relationships,” actions and obstacles, this skill remains critical. From start to finish—from repetition to rehearsing a lead role—the principles of “listen and respond” and “stay in the moment” are fundamental to the work.
As in all Stanislavskian-derived approaches, for a Meisner actor traditional line-memorization methods that include vocal inflections or gestures are avoided. These traditional approaches merely increase the chance the actor will miss a “real moment” in service of a rehearsed habit or line reading, the technique assumes. Meisner actors learn lines dry, “by rote,” without inflection, so as not to memorize a line-reading. When the line is finally to be delivered, its quality and inflection are derived from the moment of articulation.
The improvisatory thrust of the technique does not give permission to an actor “to wing it” or to fail to prepare. Meisner training includes extensive work on crafting or preparing a role. As students mature in the work, they get to know themselves and can make use of this self-knowledge by choosing actions that are compelling to their particular “instrument.” They “come to life” through informed, provocative choices. Actors prepare emotional responses by “personalizing” and “paraphrasing” material and by using their imagination and “daydreaming” around a play’s events in highly specific ways that they’ve learned are particularly evocative for them personally. Solid preparation supports the spontaneity, in line with Martha Graham‘s observation that “I work eight hours a day, every day, so that in the evenings I can improvise.”