Sanford Meisner (1905-1997) continues to influence generations of American actors. His technique is an improvisational approach to acting that develops a facility for instinctive, truthful behavior and emotional expressivity. His students included actors Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, directors Sidney Lumet and Sydney Pollack, and writers Horton Foote and David Mamet, among many many others. 

Meisner was a founding member of the legendary Group Theatre, together with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis and others who, collectively and apart, were instrumental in disseminating Stanislavsky’s methods to American actors. During the 1930’s, Meisner appeared in or directed twelve Group productions, including the Broadway premieres of all the plays of Clifford Odets. 

He continued to act and direct for the New York stage through the 1950’s. In Los Angeles, he worked in film and television and founded his own acting school.

But it was in his role as teacher for nearly fifty years at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse that he made his greatest mark. Playhouse student and playwright/director David Mamet has said: "...We all knew we were in the presence of genius every time he walked into the room. Of course, he created a way for actors to work that is beyond description, beyond comparison. No teacher in the history of acting has produced a more prodigious who’s who of actors than Sandy. Period."

Over the long course of his professional life, Sandy Meisner sustained a fiery and infectious passion for truthful acting, which he instilled in his students and shared with audiences even into his final years. He retired from teaching at the age of 86, and gave his last performance as an actor on the television series, E.R., at 89.


The Meisner technique is a progressive system of structured improvisations for developing concentration and imagination, freeing instincts and impulses, and achieving "the reality of doing" in performance. 

"My approach," Sandy Meisner said, "is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there’s no mentality to it."  

In Meisner’s view, great acting depends on the actor’s impulsive response to what’s happening around him. His key exercise, spontaneous repetition, is designed for the actor to develop the capacity to respond impulsively to every stimulus.  

Meisner’s approach trains the actor to "live truthfully under imaginary circumstances," to discover or create personally meaningful points of view with respect to the (written or improvised) word, and to express spontaneous human reactions and authentic emotion with the utmost sense of truth. 

Robert Duvall said of his teacher: "I owe everything I am, everything I’ve achieved as an actor to Sanford Meisner.... He made me aware that acting is... not speaking a text but creating behavior so that the emotional life underneath brings the text to life."  

Meisner technique is elaborated in the books, Sanford Meisner on Acting, by Mr. Meisner, and The Actor’s Art and Craft, by William Esper.