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ACTING IS LIVING TRUTHFULLY UNDER IMAGINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

Sandy Meisner

Sanford Meisner

August 31, 1905 - February 2, 1997

Sanford "Sandy" Meisner taught acting for over 60 years. He was one of the original members of the legendary Group Theatre. He continually innovated in his classroom as he searched for the most simple, direct and effective way to train each individual actor the difficult craft of acting. For a fuller understanding of Meisner's life, read the book, De A Tree  We, written by Jimmy Carville and Scott Trost.

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Born in Brooklyn

August 31, 1905

Sanford "Sandy" Meisner was the oldest child of Hermann and Bertha Meisner, Jewish immigrants from Hungary. The father worked as a furrier. The picture shows Sandy with his parents and his younger sister, Ruth. Two more boys were born, Jacob and Robert. Jacob died from bovine tuberculosis as a baby - an event that deeply traumatized Sandy as he believed that his parents blamed him for his brother's death. Sandy took up the piano and attended the Damrosch Institute of Music to become a concert pianist.  Hermann wanted Sandy to follow him into the furrier business. But Meisner had a different plan. He wanted to be an actor.

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Meisner joins the Group Theatre

August 20, 2025

1931

Meisner is invited to join the Group Theatre, a collection of young actors and directors. In the summer the group trains outside New York City using for their inspiration the deep tradition of the Yiddish theater. They also look to the work of Constantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre. The Group Theater produces a series of plays with acting that attains a new level of authenticity, passion and truth. These performances forever change in the US the notion of what good acting should look like. From the group emerges a generation of great acting teachers that shape the way acting is taught in the US - Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis and Lee Strasberg. The Group Theatre also produces several other great figures of American theater and film - the playwright Clifford Odets, the director and historian Harold Clurman, and the stage & film director Elia Kazan.

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Meisner joins the Group Theatre

August 20, 2025

1931

Meisner is invited to join the Group Theatre, a collection of young actors and directors. In the summer the group trains outside New York City using for their inspiration the deep tradition of the Yiddish theater. They also look to the work of Constantin Stanislavski and the Moscow Art Theatre. The Group Theater produces a series of plays with acting that attains a new level of authenticity, passion and truth. These performances forever change in the US the notion of what good acting should look like. From the group emerges a generation of great acting teachers that shape the way acting is taught in the US - Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Robert Lewis and Lee Strasberg. The Group Theatre also produces several other great figures of American theater and film - the playwright Clifford Odets, the director and historian Harold Clurman, and the stage & film director Elia Kazan.

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MEISNER BEGINS HIS SIXTY YEAR TEACHING CAREER

1935

Meisner begins teaching acting in New York City. Much of his work is at the Neighborhood Playhouse but conflicts within this program lead him to teach at several studios during his teaching years in New York. During this time he meets his life-long partner, James “Jimmy” Carville and the pair raise a son, Boolu, an abandoned deaf boy they find on the Caribbean island of Bequia. With Jimmy’s encouragement, Meisner sets up acting programs in Bequia where Sandy and Jimmy spend their winters and finally in Los Angeles, where the pair open up the Meisner/Carville School of Acting in 1985. During his years teaching, Meisner handpicks some 20 of his students to apprentice with him to learn his approach to actor training. Some 37 of Meisner students go on to become nominated for Oscars. The great American playwright, Arthur Miller, comments that he can always tell when one of the actors auditioning for his plays was trained by Meisner. Sydney Pollack, the Oscar-winning director, works as Sandy’s assistant and credits Meisner with everything he learns about directing. The great American playwright, David Mamet, also is an assistant to Sandy and credits Meisner for Meisner's influence on Mamet’s work.

MEISNER PASSES AWAY BUT HIS LEGACY CONTINUES

1997

Sanford Meisner passes away in Los Angeles on February 2, 1997 at the age of 91. Despite being hit by a van in New York City, driving a car off a cliff in Bequia, enduring multiple surgeries for cancer that required him to learn to speak through a hole in his throat, Meisner taught until the end of his long life. The teachers who trained with him continued teaching his approach. These teachers taught a second generation of Meisner teachers and the second generation taught a third generation, each generation and teacher adding their own exercises and innovations. Now Meisner’s approach to actor trainin, is taught, in multiple variations, around the world on every continent. 

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Why Study the Meisner Approach

Top 6 Reasons Why You Should Learn the Meisner Approach

1) PROVEN SUCCESS FOR 80 YEARS - Meisner taught acting for 60 years. His students achieved remarkable success, winning scores of awards, including 37 nominations for Oscars. Meisner personally trained 20 teachers to carry on his approach and this group has mentored a second generation of acting teachers. Twenty years after his passing, Sanford Meisner's name is used by teachers around the world to describe their approach to teaching actors and directors. 

2) STEP BY STEP APPROACH - Meisner believed that acting should be taught like other artistic disciplines - one step at a time. This approach came from his training as a concert pianist. Other techniques have no clear steps or direction and they too quickly overwhelm the actor with advanced scenes. Meisner developed a series of exercises that helped his students build a solid foundation of acting skills and build the actors confidence as they master each step in the training.

3) TRUTHFUL ACTING - Meisner agreed with Stanislavski that the best acting must be based in truth. His students learned how to "really do" whatever they were doing on stage. Emotions were never pushed out or faked. Meisner taught his students to trust their humanity. If the actors believed in the imaginary circumstances and really did what they were doing in the imaginary circumstances, then the proper emotions would follow. Every exercise that Meisner developed reinforces and strengthens an actor's truthfulness.

4) THE OTHER PERSON - Meisner developed a series of exercises that helped the actor focus their attention on and make use of the other person in the scene. Meisner believed that the most truthful and spontaneous acting happened when the actor was responding to the other person from one unanticipated moment to the next. The actor became the feather and his scene partner became the wind. In Meisner's approach, the other person became the most important person on the stage.  

5) SIMPLICITY - Meisner always looked for the simpliest and most direct way to learn acting. This approach helped spark the actor's imagination and open the actor's heart. Any exercise or approach that was too complex or contained too many details shut down the imagination and closed the heart.  This concept of simplicity and directness has continued to be one of the biggest differences between Meisner's approach and other approaches to acting.  

5) INDIVIDUAL APPROACH - Meisner believed that each student had their own unique path to learning the art of acting. He always followed the same principles but would tailor his comments and exercises to suit the needs of each student from one class to the next.

Become a member to learn more about the life of Sandy Meisner and to learn more about his life changing approach to actor training.