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Tuning the Acting Instrument: Meisner and the Physical Self

Actors that study the Meisner acting technique might be heard referring to the actors instrument. While directors and actors are sometimes at odds due to creative differences, the truth is actors are the instruments, the components, that make up a successful production with a director as a conductor. Using the actors instrument it is the job of the actor to take the directors vision and contribute the most beautiful, profound, interesting, engaging character they can to help tell the story. Directors also need to understand the actors instrument, and remain open to the input of actors and all that they are bringing to the project.

While an instrument is built to make sound, actors must express themselves in many different ways…physical and facial expressions, voice, body movement, personality, and other uniquely human characteristics. Meisner technique actors work hard to develop all aspects of human expression, both internal and external. All of these together make up what actors refer to as “the instrument.” The actors instrument can be broken down into six parts, Physical, Intelligence, Imagination, Emotion, Sensory expression and Empathy. Being aware of these aspects of expression and where you fall in terms of development for each of them can increase your potential as an actor. The key for the most successful actor is mastering the ability to develop and control all six.

Each actor possesses a unique physical nature. However, every actor also has various levels of awareness of their physical space and the degree to which the express themselves in it. This is something Meisner acting can help actors to explore, learning how to develop and control physical expression and movement in a way that increases your versatility as an actor. For instance, movement onstage is very different than the movement required for film or television. Can you easily adjust for each situation?

Actors who are strong “personality” actors often express themselves physically much the same way, whatever the role. Off the top of your head you could probably think of ten or fifteen actors right away who do this. They are successful because they have developed this internal aspects of their instrument, a charismatic personality. At the same time, it’s easy to name actors who have the ability to transform themselves physically and change their movements, posture, arm gestures and facial expressions to express things the way a character would. Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp all have a heightened sense of how to express their characters physically.

There are also actors that are primarily physical actors, such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger. These actors have the ability to project a strong physical presence in the roles they take on. An actor who knows how to alter how they move and express themselves differently using the physical nature of the character they are playing is going one step deeper.

Physical expression is not as simple as doing stunts or changing your facial expression to express an emotion. It is inhabiting the physical world in a way that the character would, even down to the smallest gesture, or when standing perfectly still. It is mastering the art of using physical space and physical expression to reflect all of the other five aspects of the instrument. If an actor works hard to develop and maintain a strong physical ability they will not only become better actor they will be more timeless. Being good looking and charismatic is great but, won’t necessarily carry you into your fifties or sixties. Learn to master the physical aspects of a character, along with the other important aspects of the actors instrument however, and your work will be in demand for a long time to come.

Maggie Flanigan Studio is New York City’s Best Meisner acting conservatory. Located in the heart of NYC, studio was created by Maggie to provide a unique conservatory-based acting program for talented young artists to receive the highest quality Meisner training. We are committed to the belief that acting, at its’ best, is a creative art. However, excellence can only be achieved through mastery of the actor’s craft.

To learn more about Meisner acting and other acting classes at the studio, call (917) 794-3878.