Stanislavski vs Meisner — Pick your method

An actor has many tools in their toolbox, and one of the first things they learn is the theory of acting. There are a few schools of thought when it comes to the craft. Personally, I was taught the Stanislavski method and then a friend suggested I read Meisner’s theory and compare them for myself.

(Before we go any further, please know there is no right or wrong theory and Meisner vs Stanislavski are not the only two who have come up with their own methods.)

Stanislavski is all about what he calls the “given circumstance.” An actor has to ask, “where is my character in this scene and what is going on around him/her in order for them to say and do the things they say and do?” No matter who you study, always remember– you always move on stage, and say things on stage with a purpose. And that purpose is always to advance the scene, and tell the story.

Stanislavski also believes in finding a situation in actors’ lives that can compare to what the character might be going through in the scene. For example, let’s examine how he might suggest breaking down a break up scene with a significant other. Although you might not have a significant other, or may never have had one, you probably have had heated, emotional fights with someone in your life at some point. Stanislavski says to use that fire of the heated emotional fight, and apply it to the fight your character is having with their significant other.

Meisner, on the other hand, believes that the way you react onstage depends on how you are given your cue line. For example, a phrase as simple as “stop that!” can be said many different ways. If your scene partner decides to tickle you to get your reaction, you would giggle and maybe flirt back “stop that!” Or, your scene partner could be arguing, and you could turn around and scream “stop that!”It’s the same line, but you are reacting to the energy that your scene partner has given you as a lead-in to your line.

The way my friend explained it to me, because I was really confused and conflicted as most actors are when they are comfortable with one theory and then get introduced to another: Stanislavski is good for monologues, where you depend on you, and Meisner is good for scenes, where you need to play off of someone.

These are just a few of the acting techniques that every actor studies, but the general philosophies outlined above will give you a good idea of the kind of exercises acting students might put themselves through. Try them out next time you’re working on a show or with audition material and see what works for you!

What is your preferred acting method? Let us know in the comments.


7 Responses to “Stanislavski vs Meisner — Pick your method”
  1. Jay says:

    In my acting class we work on both techniques. Do many acting teachers do that?

    • Sami says:

      Some will, some won’t. It really depends on the teacher. I’m fortunate enough to have a teacher that not only taught me Stanislavski and Meisner, but also Strausberg and Uta Hagen. If you’re looking to go through all of the theories and practices, there are classes out there that will teach everything. If you’re looking for a more specialized class, there are schools that offer that as well.

      Then there are some teachers that will swear by one theorist and one practice and disregard the rest. That is what they will teach, and will leave students on their own to discover the rest of them.

      My advice? Find the class that’s right for you and go for it! You can always read up on the other practices on your own if the teacher you have isn’t teaching others, or you’re curious about what they all stand for.

      Break a leg!

  2. Sami says:

    It depends on the class, and it depends on the teacher. Some teachers and classes are focused on one method, while some like to compare and contrast and walk the students through both.

    My advice is to read as MUCH as you can, by ANY of the greats..take a little from everyone, and then find the class that you find most interesting…or, take the class that you need help in.

    For example, I just finished reading Meisner and don’t understand a lick of what he’s saying..solution? I signed up for a class where Meisner is taught.

    Good question! 🙂

  3. Jon says:

    What’s the answer!!!

  4. eric reed says:

    That’s actually not true. I am a graduate from the Meisner technique. What you said about method is true, but Yes it’s true we are able to work off a partner, but the real difference between the two is Meisner is based on being truthful and committed to what’s going on. And it relies on being sensitive to the truth of the moment.

  5. Savannah Marie says:

    I have personally studied both methods. I find that, for me, a combination of methods works for me, but, I think a lot of actors get too caught up in the methods. I prefer to use them during the table work while I break the piece down. Then it goes to the back of my head. The various theories are good to guide you, but we have to remember that, as actors, we can’t get caught up in technique. Technique will become second nature. The important part is to live in the moment of the scene and not wonder if you’re going through with every action you wrote in your script or if everything happens the exact way you planned. Acting is feeling, and that is something you just know how to do.

  6. Anthony says:

    I’ve also heard it this way: Stanislavski is what you do before you go on stage or onto the set. Prepare, understand your character and his/her ultimate goals and desires in the story. Meisner is what you do when the curtain goes up or the cameras roll. Not completely forgetting who your character is, you now simply must interact with other actors and allow the truth of those moments to be real.

Leave A Comment

CLICK HERE to view our Privacy Policy.