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.