The actors instrument is a commonly heard phrase in Meisner acting classes. This is a concept that tries to define the aspects of what makes an actor great and gives him or her a way to go about developing and mastering the craft. The Meisner acting technique considers there to be an endless list of abilities and skills that an actor can develop and use but, for the sake of simplicity it is possible to narrow it down to about six general aspects. The actors instrument includes physical expression, emotional expression, imagination, sensory expression, intelligence and empathy.
Intelligence is a overused phrase that has lost its meaning over time. While the watered down version of the phrase would indicate someone who is “smart” in some vague way, someone who knows a lot. However, the concept of true intelligence goes much deeper. It includes a heightened ability for abstract thought, and ability to understand concepts, an ability to communicate in complex ways, the ability to reason, learn and retain information and perhaps most importantly the ability to problem solve. Surprisingly, this might be considered the very definition of a great actor, and the actors instrument.
An actor’s physical presence and expression is important, as is their ability to imagine a character’s life, emotions and experiences in a way that it becomes real to them, which is very much what Meisner acting is all about. They must also be able to “be” that character, and express that in an emotional and physical way. How they go about this is a highly personal choice. However, the intelligent actor will work through the preparation of a character differently every time, depending on the circumstances.
The Intelligent Actor Creates Dimensional Characters
A list of the greatest actors of all time is a list of intelligent actors, people who have mastered this aspect of the actors instrument and Meisner acting. For example, considered by most to be one of the greatest actors of all time, Marlon Brando was a high school drop out. In addition, he didn’t always play intelligent people. But, HOW he played these people was extremely intelligent. Famed director Eli Kazan claimed at the end of his life that Brando was one of the art’s true geniuses.
Brando made method acting famous but, Sanford Meisner’s technique took this idea of an acting discipline and fine tuned it even more, taking it in a new direction, which is now known as the Meisner acting technique. Brando knew how to present a certain kind of intelligence in a performance, even when playing an uneducated or “simple” character. The aspects of intelligence required to cultivate and perfect roles are the same as those included in the definition of intelligence. A heightened ability to explore abstract thoughts can help imagine a character that is truly unique, drawing from a variety of disciplines and resources to inform the character. Learning to communicate in complex ways and present a complex character (even a seemingly simple one) always provides a more arresting performance. And, who needs to problem solve like genius more than actors? They must express things about a character without making it obvious, plastic or one dimensional.
And of course, learning and retaining what you know about the human condition, what you have learned from your own life, from people you have known, from characters you have played previously, all of these things can be remembered and used in future preparation, giving you an endless array of jumping off points as you begin to formulate the next character. Fine tuning the actors instrument by heightening your acting intelligence will go a long way toward increasing your success as an actor.
Meisner Acting Classes Create a Strong Foundation for a Long Career
The Maggie Flanigan Studio provides the highest quality Meisner acting instruction for serious actors who are committed to improving their craft. The studio was created by Maggie to provide a unique conservatory-based acting program for talented young artists. The studio and the faculty are committed to the belief that acting is a creative art and that true excellence can only be achieved through mastery of the actor’s craft.
To learn more about Meisner acting classes and other programs at the studio, call (917) 794-3878.